The Gaza war has inspired a group of Muslim and Jewish mothers to form a movement they hope can help bring peace to the Middle East.
Mothers on the Side of Peace was launched by four women across the country, including New Jerseyan Sheryl Olitzky.
“Our hearts were breaking for the moms and children,” said Olitzky, explaining what motivated them to form the group. They were in pain “for the Israeli moms in bomb shelters with their children and the Palestinian moms who did not know where to go to be safe with their children and for the soldiers whose moms didn’t know if they would wake up and their kids would still be alive.”
The group staged demonstrations Aug. 7 in Kansas City, Atlanta, Chicago, and New York. Olitzky and other women from the area held a demonstration in front of New York’s Lincoln Center, joined by actress Mercedes Ruehl and others.
“We’re all about bringing women together based on commonality,” said Olitzky of North Brunswick. She is the executive director of the Sisterhood of Salaam/Shalom, an interfaith group she helped cofound, with a Muslim partner, in the North and South Brunswick area. Three of the Mothers on the Side of Peace founders are active in the Sisterhood, which has gone national.
The group and rallies were arranged via conference call. Olitzky said a number of people stopped to talk with the demonstrators at the Lincoln Center event, and many gave them the “thumbs up” as they walked past.
“We were all feeling depressed hearing the news that was happening in Israel, in Gaza, in Syria, and around the world,” said Olitzky. “The finger pointing is getting us nowhere. Innocent people were and still are being traumatized, terrorized, and killed. I cannot imagine what the mothers of the children who are involved are feeling. We all felt that we had to do something.”
Among the rally-goers were some men and, said Olitzky, a five-year-old Muslim girl. Olitzky said it’s the beginning of what she believes will be a movement that will spread through the group’s Facebook page, press accounts, and other social media.
“The Sisterhood is all about bringing women together based on commonality,” she said. “We know from history that mothers have come together to stop wars. Even if we don’t agree on politics, we all agree that we don’t want our children killed. Rather than focusing on hate, we want to focus on loving our children more than hating each other.”
Olitzky said the Sisterhood is planning a leadership conference at Temple University in Philadelphia Nov. 2 as part of a national Jewish/Muslim twinning weekend and is continuing to launch new chapters. In New Jersey, a Morris County chapter is about to start. A meeting will be held in a few weeks in Summit and Irvington to launch chapters there.
“We are united in our belief that the status quo must end and that no more innocent victims be sacrificed,” said Olitzky. “We are committed to building societies in which children learn compassion, feel safe and secure, and are raised to use words to resolve conflict.
“We are taking sides and we’re siding with the idea of peace.”