Today was simply incredible. My head is so full of emotions tonight that I can hardly think. I don’t know how to formulate my thoughts and put them down. I feel as if my head might explode. It’s 2am and I feel elated when just a few hours ago I felt the great burden of the evil humanity is capable of weighing me down and an intense sadness at the world.
Let me explain. Today was our trip around Kiev. It started on a high with a visit to the main Orthodox Synagogue, which I believe is the oldest in the city, and ended in the same way with a trip to the main mosque. I was ridiculously excited just at the thought of entering the synagogue, as it was to be my first time, and I was rewarded by being allowed to witness the performance of a traditional Jewish prayer. The recitation allowed me to ponder my own thoughts and contemplate and reflect on my own prayers. I really wanted to feel connected and in many ways I did.
Throughout this conference it has surprised me that Jews and Muslims haven’t come together in this way earlier, more frequently, across the globe, because our traditions have so much in common. Our practices are so similar. We share thoughts and ideas, our religions share many laws and values, as well as the most basic idea of “tawheed” or the oneness of God. For me, today reinforced the need to duplicate this idea, this action, the essence of this event across all our many nations and communities.
Our next stop was to make me contemplate even further. We visited Babi Yar, an area where over 33,000 Jews were massacred in 2 days and where over the course of weeks over 100,000 people were brutally murdered by the Nazi regime. It is unimaginable. The numbers scramble the brain and numb your senses. 33,000 in 2 days…
To say the least, I was affected. I felt a great pain at my core. As we walked down to the ravine, on the edge of which so many lost their lives, I questioned the humanity of those that could commit such atrocities and was reminded of my experience meeting with survivors of the massacre at Srebrenica in Bosnia. It is an experience we have been fortunate enough never to have undergone and one we can never truly grasp. I could think of nothing to do but pray. I am sure prayer was their only option too.
I think we all felt a deep connection and this was only solidified in the prayer we held on return to the main memorial. We prayed in the tradition of Muslims when they visit the graves of their loved ones, we recited Surah Fatiha, the opening Chapter of the Quran, in remembrance of those that had been lost. It was a very emotional moment.
I was again captured by the idea of how much we shared as a people: that we were brothers and sisters in faith and tradition and in many ways, in experience too. Here, we were held together in the emotion of loss, and personally I felt the need for change – to change our communities, open their eyes, and bring them together.
Yesterday, we saw a Holocaust testimony by a Tartar Ukrainian Muslim who had witnessed the massacre at Babi Yar as a young boy and helped a Jew that managed to survive. It was a tragic testimony and a surprise to many that there had been Muslims that protected and testified on behalf of the Jews during the Holocaust and beyond. This sparked a wonderful realisation and a conversation began about our shared history and the lack of its acknowledgement. How many of my Muslim brothers and sisters know that there were Jews in Bosnia who sheltered Muslims during the Balkans conflict? And vice-versa during the Holocaust? This is a message that needs to be spread.
And spread it we shall. That same evening, just a few hours ago now, my fellow participants in the MJC inspired us all with their ideas for projects over the coming year tackling Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism, both within and outside our communities, and trying to build mutual understanding by dispelling myths and stereotypes. I felt honoured to be sitting in their company, blessed to have had the chance to meet them, proud to know them, and sad that soon we would have to part company. I find myself wishing that my every day at home could be like every day I have had here in Kiev.