By Olivia Rotter
March 8, 2018
Who would have thought that nearly 600 Jewish and Muslim women would gather in celebration of each other? Until joining the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, I’d have considered that vision a pipe dream, part of an imagined America that wasn’t plagued with the religious, racial, and ideological divides that seem to be emerging around us. But that hopeful vision is, in fact, a reality — and I saw it firsthand at the annual national conference of the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom in November 2017.
The Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom is an organization that is defying all odds. By providing a space for Muslim and Jewish women — women who belong to religious groups that have historically been at odds — to build relationships and share their stories, the Sisterhood works toward the larger goal of ending anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish bigotry. It's work that is sorely needed in today’s America. I believe the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom is essential to the success of our country, not only for the specific work it does but because it demonstrates a model of building bridges across difference — in this case, across religious faiths — that is truly successful in reducing bigotry.
The nonprofit Civil Politics conducted a study of members of our organization and found that Salaam Shalom participants report “having more in common with members of each faith, as well as more improvement in their comfort with others and greater commitment to speaking out against divisive rhetoric.” Recently I was driving my Syrian friend home from an event and she told me that she hates that people look at her like she's a terrorist just because she wears a hijab. Hearing about my friend's experience was eye-opening and helped me understand how important it is to stand up for people when they are misunderstood.
One of the reasons this movement is so powerful is that it engages Muslim and Jewish women of all ages and taps into a huge spectrum of communities as a result. I am a 16-year-old Jewish teenager with ancestors from Eastern Europe. Once I found out about the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, I knew that I wanted to be a leader in this incredible group of women. I wanted my own Jewish community to see the power of togetherness and to recognize our strong similarities with Muslims in our country. Ultimately, I wanted to break racial and religious barriers within my community — and that is exactly what we are doing when my chapter meets monthly. Together we help our local community by serving at soup kitchens, collecting food for homeless shelters, and teaching Muslim and Jewish children the extreme similarities between the two religions. The end goal is for the Muslim and Jewish children to form a bond and to base their perception of the other religion off of that friendship instead of politics.
The Sisterhood also shows that providing women a platform to tell their stories not only strengthens their voices as members of our larger community but allows others to connect with their humanity. A member of my chapter recently journeyed here from Syria, and hearing her story and witnessing her bravery has added to my own life and changed the things that I value. I am so lucky that we have formed this sisterly bond and to have her as a passionate voice in my chapter.
We are teaching the world how to “love thy neighbour.” We are living proof that there is still peace in this world. I have no doubt in my mind that we will continue to inspire people to unite instead of succumbing to ancient stereotypes. So this International Women’s Day, I encourage you to look to the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom as an example of where hope for our country lies: in celebrating our differences as well as our shared humanity, and in reaching across differences to lift up voices, especially those of women and marginalized communities, that will help lead us toward peace — together.