Since last winter, a cohort of Jewish and Muslim women have met in each other’s homes to better understand one another.
From the discussions generated, the women have discovered not only obvious differences in religious practices and beliefs, but also surprising similarities in mindsets regarding family, tradition and often politics.
The 12 women — six of whom are Jewish, the other half Muslim — have met every four to six weeks, said Malke Frank, a co-founder of the Pittsburgh group that affiliates with Sisterhood Of Salaam Shalom, a national organization committed to building “strong relationships between Muslim and Jewish women based on developing trust and respect and ending anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish sentiment.”
Each meeting is co-hosted by one Jewish woman and one Muslim woman who collectively create the outline for what will be discussed, explained Frank.
The insights derived from the meet-ups have been beneficial for all parties involved, said Julie Webb, co-founder of the Pittsburgh affiliate.
“With each meeting, the women have felt more comfortable coming together,” said Frank.
“Knowing your Muslim and Jewish neighbors is the first step toward understanding and respecting them,” added Webb.
Since forming, the group has held several programs and potlucks. The varied formats present new opportunities to share and learn from one another, said the organizers.
“Just the environment when you meet these people you learn something new, not just in terms of religion, but these are wonderful women who are making a difference,” said Abeera Batool, a group member.
Last month, Batool was one of 600 Muslim and Jewish women who gathered together for the SOSS annual leadership conference, which was held at Drew University in Madison, N.J., and welcomed noted speakers including novelist Anita Diamant, comedian Dean Obdelliah and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker.
Having so many women gather together for a united cause was important for the senator to see, said Batool. “If there were only one or two women [Booker may not have come], but 600 people getting together in a platform like this, it’s so much louder than one or two voices.”
Apart from listening to keynote addresses, participants at the fourth annual gathering chose from 25 workshops dedicated to interfaith dialogue and engagement.
The connections forged through the conference were “uplifting and gave hope,” said Batool. “You talk to people you have never met and find an instant connection.”
Sara Stock Mayo agreed.
“I have kept in touch with women from other chapters around the country whom I met, and find their work to be amazing,” said the conference attendee.
As difficult as dialogue may sometimes be, the exercise yields great results, explained Webb.
“Just talking to each other actually helps, and once you make that personal connection you can talk about different things,” echoed Batool.
Such as fear of the other, explained the organizers.
When they get together in Pittsburgh “it is a very safe space to talk about anything, misconceptions, things we hear in the media,” said Batool.
And while “Judaism in the past and Islam now have gone through so many misconceptions, there are so many things that are similar, and it’s amazing,” she added.
“It’s difficult to go outside of one’s spiritual comfort zone to find our interconnectedness, especially when we sometimes have opposing opinions on other parts of the world,” said Webb. “But the way I see it, and it all comes down to this, as Pittsburghers, we are, in fact, all members of the same tribe.”
“We all need to get out of our comfort zones and do what we can,” agreed Batool.
That starts by abandoning generalizations and developing more interpersonal relationships, said members of SOSS.
“Interfaith is tough, it doesn’t come naturally to a lot of people, and you need people to be bridge builders,” said Webb.
Batool agreed. “The person-to-person connection is very important, and that’s what the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom Chapter here and the conference are for.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at areinherz