Religion has an amazing way of bringing people together, but it also has the ability to pull people apart. As the fighting continues between Israel and the Palestinian territory of Gaza, many Jews and Muslims are finding themselves at odds. For some, relationships from the past are helping them through. Allyships, when people from different identity groups come together, are making that possible. To provide examples of how one can learn from others to move forward, we present to you three local allyships that have formed over the years. They can provide hope as to what can be accomplished when a similar goal/interest is at hand.
Multi-faith Allyship, by Rev. Alison Boden, Dean of Religious Life at Princeton University:
For four years I have been facilitating training for Princeton students on reconciliation practices. We’ve worked with the Rose Castle Foundation in the UK, a faith-based organization that hosts members of groups in conflict at its gracious medieval estate, formerly the seat of the Bishops of Carlisle.
The students I have taken to the Rose Castle have not necessarily been in conflict with each other, but they certainly have brought diversities of every kind and represented communities with long experiences of injustices. The group I just took to the UK, selected in mid-September, included Israeli and Palestinian students. The training we received is intended to give us the skills needed to be agents of reconciliation wherever we find ourselves – on campus, in our families, in workplaces, in whatever communities we make our home. When the time becomes appropriate, these students will be able to create small, ongoing dialogue circles on campus.
Our reconciliation goals do not include solving any problem, and certainly not “the Middle East.” That is not on the table. The goal is not to fix; the goal is not to reach agreement; the goal is not even to come out of the dialogue as friends. What is left, you may be wondering? What is left is simply being in relationship with the other, learning to listen deeply, and learning to share deeply of oneself. The goal is to live well together in the midst of differences and of experiences of harm.
A particularly challenging thing for the Office of Religious Life at Princeton University during these weeks of war has been that the people who are most affected by it are not ready to come together, and certainly not for a shared vigil or healing circle. Convening people is what my office does. We can’t help but ask ourselves if we are falling down on our duty.
But we aren’t. What the various communities on our campus need right now is the time and space to do their own grieving, within their own circles. The particulars of the heartbreaking loss of life in Israel and Gaza mean that the affected groups understand their grief to be distinctly tied to the other. No, coming together right now isn’t possible.
Yet when it is, I know how I want to begin the work towards living well together. It is reconciliatory relationships like these that give me hope going forward.
Hindu/Jewish Allyship, by Falguni Pandya, Hindu Clergy, Executive Board member of Hindu-Jewish Coalition and member of the AAPI Commission with Gov. Murphy:
I have an interfaith community in the country where I grew up, which is India. India is the largest democracy in the world and probably one of the most diverse countries in the world. When people ask me about India, I have a lot of stories to tell about India’s Jews, Muslims, Parsis or Christians, because we all grew up together. Hinduism is a little bit unique because we believe in a g-d as an all-pervading consciousness which can be represented in multiple forms so we can relate to the divinity in our own way. This makes us open to accepting other forms of worship. We had Indian Jews where they actually celebrate Diwali and enjoy Chanukah in an Indian way. So, for me allyship wasn’t a new concept.
I am a part of the Interfaith Clergy Association in my town of Livingston, NJ, but I have experiences locally in Mercer County as part of the Hindu-Jewish Coalition through American Jewish Committee (AJC). I have been to a Shabbat service at somebody’s home in Princeton. For me it was a time to pay respect and understanding of each other, enjoying each other’s life journeys and the stories that connect them to their roots. As part of the Hindu-Jewish Coalition, we also do a lot of networking events. Bringing communities together in a common interest. That is also a good platform, when you’re not always talking about current issues or social justice. When we do the networking events or when we invite each other to other events, there’s a little more exposure and comfort level.
Eating together is another thing and enjoying each other’s food. Things that are simply positive and that we agree on naturally, at the end of the day we want to feel good and like each other. It’s important before any conflict ever takes pace, to build friendships in your town or in your community.
Jewish/Christian/Muslim Allyship, by Central New Jersey Interfaith Stitchers for Peace:
In 2016, in response to disturbing growth in Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, a local Pastor, Rabbi, and Imam organized a series of meetings with their congregations, asking them to commit to building friendship and understanding among the three congregations and beyond. On the way home from one meeting, a member discussed with her husband what she could do. “I love to knit” she said. “Maybe I could get a few people together from each of the three congregations to knit for charity.” Another member was organizing an art show of Islamic art in the Christian Church. She used this event to make connections between the Islamic and Christian congregations. A Christian and a Jewish member were longtime friends. These women formed a Steering Committee, planned the first meeting, and sent out invitations to their respective congregations.
There were 40 people at the first meeting and soon there were over 100 people on the roster, and, except for a Covid interruption, the group has continued to meet approximately monthly ever since. Clearly there is a hunger for this kind of fellowship. There are now five sponsoring congregations and other partnerships are underway. Sponsoring congregations host the meetings and are represented on the Steering Committee. The host congregations take turns hosting the meetings.
The Steering Committee made organizing easy by becoming a ““Piece Pod” Pod” of Knitting4Peace, an international stitchers organization that serves people in need all over the world.
Each meeting begins with a brief time of intentional sharing about the faith traditions of the host congregation. Then the projects completed by the members at home since the last meeting are displayed as people move to their work tables. After about an hour and a half of shared work time, the meeting ends with sharing of food followed by a brief gathering for prayer. The joy is palpable. The finished projects are then hand-delivered both locally and globally.
Conversation flows while working on projects together and during refreshment time. It is at these times we form person-to-person relationships. The members knit, crochet, and sew hats, scarves, blankets, quilted and “plarn” (plastic yarn) sleeping mats, children’s dresses and shorts, “twiddle muffs” for dementia patients, and the most popular project, Peace Pal dolls. But the most important thing they make is friends who are committed to healing the world one stitch at a time.