Doha: Born in Los Angeles, USA, and raised as a rabbi (religious leader), David Lazar did not meet a Muslim until he was 18 and came over to live in Israel in 1975.
Much later, he met a Palestinian Muslim, Mohamed, who lived near Hebron. Lazar now swears by Mohamed's friendship.
During holidays, their two families meet and share their traditional Israeli and Palestinian homemade food, unmindful of what people in their two communities say.
Lazar was raised as a Zionist ideologically and came to Israel since he believed the state was important for the survival of the Jewish people and he wanted to be a part of it.
Except for Mohamed, his Palestinian friend, Lazar says he has little contact with Muslims. Married and with five daughters, he lives in Tel Aviv in a purely Jewish neighbourhood.
Yet, he says he holds Islam in high esteem and is impressed with Muslims for their hospitality.
Lazar is here to take part in the Fourth Doha Conference on Dialogue Between Religions. He will present a paper on 'Religious Pluralism and Respecting the Other' at the forum today.
Lazar said that the forum provides a good opportunity to interact with people from other faiths and spread the message of peaceful co-existence and religious tolerance.
He said this was the first time he was in an Arab country and was quite self-conscious while travelling to Doha. While flying into the city, he said he had taken his traditional Jewish cap (yarmulka) off and kept it in his pocket.
However, when the plane landed in Doha and he came for the immigration check he saw some other visitors to the forum, wearing the cap. "I immediately put in on," he said. "I was self-conscious, but I didn't feel threatened."
When he decided to come here for the conference, his family was worried, he said. "My 15-year-old twin daughters asked me where Qatar was and whether it was near Iraq, I showed them the map."
According to Lazar, despite the fact that he was raised as a Rabbi, he was quite open-minded. There are three sects of Jews, namely, Orthodox, Conservatives and Reformists.
"I am a liberal conservative, " he said. About his ponytail, he said it had nothing to do with his faith.
Jews pray three times a day (mornings, noon and late evenings) and say short prayers before each meal, he said.
Contrary to general belief that since the Jews control the US economy, all American Jews are rich, there are a large number of poor Jews as well in the United States, said Lazar.
For a Jew sending a child for religious education is an expensive proposition in the US. Attending synagogues also calls for a lot of expenses as one has to pay donations.
Lazar was pleasantly surprised when told that mosques were different in that respect and poor Muslims could in fact hope to even get financial aid from them and related religious institutions.
There are Jews from a number of countries in Israel, including those from Arab nations, India (mainly from Kochi in Kerala) and Iran, among other nations.
Jews from Europe were the first to come to Israel. They began coming here some 120 years ago and the fact that they dominate politics in Israel, is not a good thing, said the Rabbi.
There are poor Jews in Israel as well and as a religious leader, he was actively involved with issues like the care of HIV victims, environment and care for the elderly, he said.