Because the Media Cannot Define My Enemies

Never Again. The mantra has deep personal meaning for me: never again should any innocent human being endure what my grandparents went through; never again should an entire people be subjected to ethnic cleansing. Unfortunately, our world holds no such reality.

Many descendants of Holocaust survivors still carry the trauma that their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents endured. Holding on to this trauma leads to feelings of fear, alienation, and brokenness. It is a vicious cycle, because actions that stem from a sense of alienation tend to further one’s own isolation, and can lead to a blind hatred of the “other.” This cycle, caused by our trauma, prevents us from working to fulfill the injunction of never again.

How can we break the cycle of trauma? By stepping out of our comfort zones and engaging with those who look, seem, act, speak, and believe differently.

When I was younger I truly believed that I could really change the world. Growing up and coming to the realization that I, myself, could not bring world peace was crushing. The easy response would be to accept this reality and choose a life of blissful ignorance. And for some years, I did. But I did not feel whole; eventually, I realized that I must do something.

So, how could I make an impact on the world’s conflicts? By being an agent of peace and understanding. By questioning “truths.” By being open to those with radically different opinions. By stepping outside my comfort zone and joining the NYC Muslim Jewish Solidarity Committee (NYCMJSC).

It’s a strange paradox that while the world media tend to stereotype and discriminate against both Jews and Muslims, they also perpetuate the myth of the age-old “Muslim-Jewish conflict,” and sensationalize the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

The NYCMJSC works against these misconceptions. We do not let the media define our cultures, our enemies, and our actions. We get to know each other—at meetings and events, on the phone and through e-mail chains. We build bridges and respect one another. Because, at the core of discrimination-based hatred, is ignorance of the unknown—the perennial “other.”

We’re making a small difference in our corner of the world by treating each other with love. And this is just the beginning.

An Interfaith Family Journey

My current involvement with interfaith communities and organizations brings strength to my life and hope for a better world. As a social worker, I was always involved in social justice and human rights work but rarely was it faith related. Interfaith work started to play an important role in my personal life when I met a wonderful man, fell in love, and got married. My husband is Muslim and I am Jewish. Our family thrives from the opportunity to be part of both interfaith communities and open inclusive spaces within our respective religions.

Our story begins with how we met. Like many busy professionals today we met on an online dating site. As we were getting acquainted on our first date, he shared he was Muslim and I revealed I was Jewish. He made a joke about how this would never work out; we both laughed and continued to learn more about each other.

I was raised as a Reform Jew in a very liberal family in suburban Long Island, NY. I celebrated Jewish holidays with my family, attended after school Hebrew school and Sunday school, Jewish sleepaway camp, and had a bat-mitzvah. My husband was born in Guyana, South America and as a young child immigrated with his family to a residential neighborhood in Queens, NY. He went to public school but also attended Madrasa, which I learned was very similar to the Hebrew and Sunday School I attended, except he learned Arabic and studied the Quran. Growing up he observed Ramadan, celebrated Eid and his family observed the Islamic dietary rules of Halal.

Our narratives although seemingly very different have many similarities. We had many memorable moments getting to know each other’s families and customs. He came with me to my cousin’s bar mitzvah and I attended my first Islamic wedding. We attended Jewish holidays together at my parent’s house and his family’s annual Eid celebrations at the end of Ramadan.

Although we had some moments that were confusing and new, such as where do I get an Indian Sari to wear to his Hindu friend’s wedding and how does he learn to dance salsa for my Puerto Rican friend’s party with Latin music. But through it all, we laughed, learned, and enjoyed our time together.

Early in our relationship my husband asked if I would consider converting to Islam but I told him “no”. As our relationship grew, religion became a unique challenge in moving forward together. He felt adamant about raising children in Islam. Initially, I agreed with the understanding that I still needed to learn more about Islam and culturally we would still celebrate Jewish holidays.

As part of my religious exploration I attended services in a few mosques. The prayers in Arabic sounded like many of the familiar Hebrew chants I heard growing up.   However, the challenging difference was the gender segregation during prayer services. Men and women were either in separate rooms where women could hear prayers through speakers or in the same room but the men prayed in front of the women. Although I knew that in Islam men and women are viewed as equal in the context of the religion, I could not reconcile this separation, which caused feelings of anger and confusion. When I asked my husband what he was taught growing up, he explained men and women were separated because of the physical position of prayer, which includes kneeling over close together. The concept was that the separation prevents the men from being sexually provoked during prayer. In my mind, if this were the case wouldn’t the women get sexually provoked from the men’s prayer position in the many mosques where women prayed behind them? And what about gay and lesbian Muslims, where would they fit in? I would challenge my husband about these issues but in his opinion this was just the way it was. He didn’t disagree with me, but he also didn’t feel the same passion I did for pursuing the issue. I worried about our relationship, knowing that I did not want to raise children under these values or assumptions.

As a clinical social worker and therapist, I strongly believe that therapy is a very effective tool and resource in helping individuals and couples work through issues in their relationships. Culturally, counseling was not something my husband was accustomed to, but he agreed to try it. I found a therapist who specialized in working with couples in interfaith relationships and could understand the nuances of a intercultural, interethnic, and interracial relationship.

During our first appointment, the therapist made us feel comfortable and allowed us both the space to voice our concerns. Throughout our sessions, we explored our personal views and individual priorities within our respective religions, cultural upbringing in our families, and opportunities for more inclusive and interfaith spaces. She helped us visualize how raising a child in both religions could work successfully.

Two organizations made a big impact in the way we could practice religion together and allow us to imagine raising a Muslim and Jewish child. The Brookville Multi-Faith Campus in Long Island has a wonderful interfaith community. Christian, Jewish, and Muslim congregations share the same building. Together they sponsor many interfaith events. Their individual religious services are open, inviting, and inclusive too! The other organization that we benefit from is Muslims for Progressive Values (MPV). MPV offers a Muslim community where men and women pray together and services can be led by a female or male. It is inclusive and welcoming of all individuals and couples including interfaith, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender.

After working through our differences and feeling welcomed by these communities, we had a fairy tale interfaith wedding, officiated together by a Rabbi and an Imam, that represented both our individual religions and our shared values.

Looking into our future, we are aware of the many challenges that come with raising children. However, the opportunity to raise our children as both Jewish and Muslim while embedding our family values is truly exciting. We hope to see interfaith communities grow and religious institutions become more inclusive where families like ours can feel welcomed and embraced. I hope that you join our family in supporting interfaith families and communities for a peaceful world.




Why we should care about the other, my Jewish brother

A Muslim, I grew up in the poor Paris suburbs during eighties and nineties. I often watched the news and I remember following the Troubles in Northern Ireland, the conflict in the Middle East and the Cold War.

During my early childhood, I was went to school with native French citizens, I myself having been born in Morocco. We would play, argue, cheat, and gossip as normal during high school. During the month of Ramadan, we spoke about about the fast and our traditions. I only remember that I did not interact with Jews. I was aware that Jews lived in France and throughout the world, but my immediate circle was filled with people from Africa, Portugal, and the Far East.

In the late eighties, a groundbreaking documentary, three hour, black and white documentary aired on public television. It was called From Nuremberg to Nuremberg, and was about World War II. During this time, I was also studying the rise and fall of the Third Reich at school, and was deeply touched by the organized slaughter of Jews, Roma, communists, intellectuals, political opponents, people with mental disabilities and so many other innocent civilians. I wasin shock, how could such a tragedy have happened ?

Simultaneously, I followed the first Intifada on television. Palestinians were protesting and rioting against the ever-growing Israeli occupation and settlements.. I was terrified and shocked by Israeli soldiers, in their early twenties, hitting Arab teenaged boys with stones and breaking their bones. Whatever these teens could have been doing, they did not deserve this gruesome and unfair treatment.

With these two extreme image, offered to me through television, I still had yet to meet or speak with a Jew.

I started my professional career in the late nineties, there I finally interacted with some French Jews. I was lucky, our intial interactions were positive and I began to realize that they behaved like anyone else. I even discovered our similarites, neither of us celebrated Christmas, and we shared comprable food contraints.I was excited when they offered to share Kosher meat with me, as Halal meat was unavailable. Some of my Jewish colleages came from my native country. They too know Morrocan culture and speak the language. I not only appreciated our similiarties, but also respected their rich identity.

Later in my carrer I began to work and travel thoughout Europe. I visited European capital cities, and toured all the Jewish museums and synagogues. I sought opportunities to further understand Jewish culture, the cultue of a population that I came to know only in my adult life. As the Budapest Synagogue, I discoved the similarities between mosques and synagogues, such as the separation of men and woman. In Amsterdam, at the Jewish Centre, I discovered the inclusive nature of the Amsterdam Jewish community. I really like the desire to include everybody in the Jewish community. By nature, this makes the community stronger.

What does it mean to be Jewish ?
According to the Jewish law, a person is Jewish if they have a Jewish mother or if they have converted to Judaism by fulfilling certain requirements. However, someone with a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother may still feel Jewish and can grow up in a family that observes some or many Jewish traditions.

In 2012, I visited Israel and Palestine for the first time. The messy and complex conflict I grew up with became crystal clear. I was appalled by the treatment of the Palestinians by the Israeli government and did not understand why a such spiritual people, so caring about the others, was unfair towards their fellow brothers.

Back in France, I discussed my experiences in the Middle East with fellow friends and acquaintances,. They proceeded to curse the Jews for bringing misery to this world. I stopped them and explained that I opposed their racism, behaving this way would fuel hate everywhere and will only help the extremists.

As a militant for peace, I believe the only way to break this negative downward spiral is to build real and genuine friendship between Jews and Muslims. Like friends, we should embrace and use our similarities to unite and elevate ourselves through the polarity of our differences. Friends can disagree and have heated discussions but in the end, we are all in the same boat. Caring for yourJewish brother is a duty and the most effective way to promote justice, peace and equality.

When anyone begins to be racist in their speech, against Jews or Muslims, I first try to explain why one should love their neighbor. Only consistency, integrity and repetition helps to fight racism.

Some Muslims, when talking about Jews, are racist simply because they know nothing about Jewish culture or people and have never traveled to Israel or Palestine. It’s this laziness in knowledge and scapegoating the other that is part of the problem of a lack of understanding between Muslims and Jews.

Jews and Muslims have a unique opportunity to stand together and promote friendship and understanding between one another. Although i requires time, effort, and challenging oneself, it is worth it. I have started to be change I want to see, and I am hoping you will follow us!