After a Marlboro Board of Education meeting at which concerned community members discussed anti-Muslim posts on social media, many realized that although the town is diverse and integrated, most people socialize within their own group and know little about other cultures.
As they were leaving the meeting, two local educators stopped to talk and decided to find a way to change that situation.
Fatima Masood and Rabbi Shira Stern, both elementary school educators, collaborated with Lubna Malik, a high school educator, creating a safe space for Muslim and Jewish women to get to know one another. On Oct. 11, the Muslim women brought dinner and dessert to Temple Rodeph Torah in Marlboro, where 35 participants gathered to break bread — and break stereotypes. They found much in common even among the differences.
As they finished the introductions, chimes rang for afternoon prayers, and many of the Muslim women put on their hijabs, their head coverings, and prayed — in the synagogue sanctuary. Following the prayers, all the women enjoyed the homemade delicacies, including dishes with “Shalom” and “L’chaim” written out in pine nuts.
Cantor Joanna Alexander led the group in the singing of “Halleluyah” to a Sufi melody, which led to some of the Muslim women singing the song in Arabic.
“We decided to start engaging our two communities by providing women with opportunities to share values and dreams and concerns within a friendly context,” said Stern. She said she was moved by the power of welcoming strangers into a spiritual space that transcended cultures and created community.
“Building on the success of this evening, we’d like to find a way to continue in this conversation,” said Masood.” We don’t have to be the same to be able to share with one another, and from small groups may come larger collaborations.”
“It was a great start which left everyone energized to move forward in a positive direction,” said Malik. “We too cannot wait to start planning the next steps.”
Plans include get-togethers for men, and then students, from the two faith communities. Support for this and future programs comes from the Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey.
A number of the women plan to take part in the second annual Muslim-Jewish Women’s Leadership Conference on Dec. 6 at Princeton University, organized by the Sisterhood of Salaam/Shalom. This year’s presenters represent women who are some of the major voices in interfaith advocacy.
For more information on the program, contact Stern at 732-308-0055.