Marc is Jewish; Karim is Muslim. Together, they have the same goals

By Barry Carter | The Star-Ledger
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on January 19, 2016

 

Folks are folks, right?

That means universally, we're more alike than not.

Marc Tarabour, 70, believes life is as simple as that.

It's how he was raised in Newark's South Ward, back when he and his diverse group of friends sang a little doo-wop somewhere on the corner, or in the bathroom at Weequahic High School.

"Some of the greatest acoustics in the world are at Weequahic High School," Tarabour said, laughing, the other day.

The smile doesn't last long, however, when he thinks about the intolerance that fills today's racial and religious climate, one laced with anti-Islamic rhetoric and fear.

You see, his good friend, Karim Arnold of Newark, is Muslim.

Tarabour, who lives in Livingston, is Jewish.

They grew up years apart in the same Newark community – Arnold, who graduated from Weequahic in 1984, on Bayview and Weequahic avenues; Tarabour, a 1963 graduate, on Peshine Avenue and Voorhees Street.

But together, they are co-presidents of the Weequahic High School Alumni Association, an organization, they say, that is all about inclusion and educating a community that now appears far different from its Jewish roots.

"The school today does not resemble Marc,'' Arnold, 49, said.

While that is true – Weequahic students are primarily African-American – alumni from both cultures continue to feel an attachment to the school thanks to the camaraderie and education they experienced during the school's glory years as an academic powerhouse.

It's a special relationship they want to cultivate in today's students, a sense of loyalty to their alma mater, bolstered by scholarship. In its 18-year history, the alumni organization has raised more than $500,000 in scholarships to help kids with college costs and other financial needs.

A student's nationality, religion or race is never part of the consideration. And that's also something they hope to exemplify for Weequahic students.

"There's so much fighting around the world with Muslims and Jews. We have been able to show how people of different faiths, different colors can work together,'' Arnold said.

Tarabour said he has never thought about Arnold as being inherently different from him. Of course, he knows Arnold is Muslim and, just looking at him, he can see the color of his skin. But he doesn't consider either of those things as a reason to act differently around Arnold.

"I'm thinking we should treat folks the way you want to be treated,'' Tarabour said. "The fact that they happen to be a Muslim, that doesn't automatically make them a terrorist.''

Tarabour said that the rancor of the presidential election season, with candidates spewing anti-immigrant rhetoric, makes him think back to a time in Nazi Germany when Jews were forced to identify themselves by sewing yellow cloth patches bearing the Star of David to the outside of their clothing. And that Donald Trump's call for a temporary ban of all Muslim immigration conjures up visions of when Japanese-Americans were forced into internment camps during World War II.

"I'm getting nervous for the American Muslim,'' Tarabour said.

Islamic extremists are driving American furor, not Arnold or Muslims like him.

"I love this guy,'' Tarabour said.

"We love each other,'' Arnold said.

Arnold and Tarabour have known each other five years and have much in common.

They remember egg and milk deliveries in the South Ward and the garbage man collecting trash from the rear of homes. It was so safe at one point, they said, people could leave their back doors unlocked. Aside from the nostalgia, including a well-rounded school curriculum, both men served this country after graduating from high school.

Tarabour, who wa a Marine from 1964 to 1968, did a tour in Vietnam. He is president of an alarm security business in New York.

Arnold, an Army man from 1985 to 1991, spent his time stateside and is a property investment owner.

In the effort to support Weequahic, they're an organized duo. The high school, which was scheduled for closure under the district's "One Newark" plan, remains open and alumni are digging in to make sure it stays that way.

Raising funds, however, is always taxing. Much of it comes from the older Jewish alumni, but it is an aging group that is diminishing in size. Arnold said it's up to African-American alumni now to bolster donations.

Just as important, Arnold said: "I hope people see our relationship and how we treat each together, and how well we work together.''

The same is true for Tarabour, but he circles back to the face of religious indifference.

"I wish somehow, some way, people would start to say, 'If I was a Muslim, how the hell would I feel having people treating me like that,' '' he said.

He pauses, holding onto the simplicity of his beliefs.

"Folks are folks,'' he said.

Yes, they are.

It's too bad not all of us can see that.

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