That was Sheryl Olitzky, rousing the assembly of 400+ Muslim and Jewish women. The cry sounded familiar. Daisy Khan had led that voice when the WISE women launched the movement, ‘Jihad Against Violence.’ By the way, Jihad means struggle. And if you have any doubts about women waging peace, remember the movie ‘Pray the Devil Back to Hell?’ Women in Liberia, sick of the civil war, bandied together—Muslim and Christian—and dragged their husbands to the peace table, locking them inside with a threat: make peace or we will strip ourselves in public. Peace happened.
Except that this time around, the agenda was not about ending a civil war, rather, preventing one. Okay so I exaggerated. But lets face it. If our nation does not come together as one nation under God, and if we continue to look upon one another as ‘the other’, we might as well be in a cold civil war. A very cold one.
Long before the 2016 election, Sheryl Olitzky had a vision. If you haven’t already gathered, Sheryl is Jewish. She reached out to Atiya Aftab. Atiya is Muslim. And if you haven’t already gathered, both are women. Together they launched the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom. The title says it all. The movement took off, today it over forty chapters nationwide, and yesterday, I attended their Third Annual Conference in New Jersey.
Yes the speeches were good; yes the event was well organized; yes the venue was well chosen; yes…. But what made this gathering unique was not the opportunity to learn new skills, exchange business cards, exhibit your wares (which by the way I did, signing away all copies of my book); it was the spirit in the air. Muslim and Jewish women, from all over the U.S.—not just from the coastal cities, but from middle America as well—coming together to bond in friendship, and stand by one another in solidarity. As speaker after speaker aired their feelings—I sensed my feelings echoing; as they expressed their fears, I completed their sentences (under my breath), and as they extended their hand, I felt the warmth of a hand behind my back.
But a man stole the show
In walks New Jersey Senator, Cory Booker. Before he could take the microphone, Sheryl handed him his charge, “Senator Booker, tell D.C. we will wage peace.” Go girl!
He said it as he saw it—the power in the faces of the daughters of Abraham.
“The most common way people lose power is not knowing that they have it…In this cold winter, put their feet to the fire.” I love it!
He knew we were recognizing the problem of ‘the other’:
“The most dangerous problem is that when there is a problem but it doesn’t affect you and your family, you don’t see it as a problem.”
He affirmed our voices:
“If you remain silent, you are contributing to an environment that fosters hate…hate is not actions of bad people, but inaction of good people.” Good people, listen to this.
And how about this:
“Before you tell me about your religion, show me how you treat people of other religions.”
He set the bar:
“Stop elevating tolerance. Tolerance is a floor (tolerating a cold)...Tolerance is not the American ideal. Love is...Tolerance builds fences. Love leaps over them.”
The crowd started chanting, “Booker 2020, Booker 2020”. I was sold.
As he made his way out, I rushed out of the room, over to the exhibit area, grabbed a copy of my book, scribbled an inscription—I don’t even remember what I wrote—ran back making a bee-line to the senator surrounded by hand-shakers and selfie-takers, and handed him my book. I mumbled something. “What is it about?” I made my pitch—my get-to-know-your-Muslim-neighbor pitch. “Very interesting.” I raised my phone. “I’ll take it” he said, handing the book to his aide, and stretching his very long arm to take the selfie.
Where Will The Men Pray?
It was prayer time. There were a couple of men present – guests. I chuckled when the prayer instructions were announced: Women will pray side-by-side, Muslims will perform Asr prayer, and Jewish women will offer their prayers standing next to them. The men…the men can pray to the side, or in a separate area.
Audio version narrated by author