My religious identity was not something I would talk about until quite recently. I used to consider it an indeed very private matter, of individual faith and personal choice. Interculturality, but also interfaith were the most natural way of life to me. Why would I ever need to attend an international interfaith meeting? Then one day, everything changed.
I was teaching, when a student, who happens to be Muslim, said “I hate all Jews”. Twice. For a moment, I couldn’t breathe. I was shocked, and felt hurt. Personally hurt in my family’s history, my Jewish part of identity, my friends’ identity. Hurt as a human facing Anti-Semitism, ignorance, hate. But also and maybe most deeply hurt in my faith, hurt that my brother in faith would say such a thing, think such a thing. My heart started racing. I knew I had to react. As a teacher. As a citizen. As a human. But also from this most intimate position, as a Muslimah.
Suddenly and painfully aware of my religious responsibility, I applied for the 1st MJC, hoping to contribute to a Muslim Jewish dialogue and to find ways to counter prejudices.
The 1st MJC was a great experience, working on a unique and in many ways groundbreaking declaration, but also meeting so many outstanding people. It was also incredibly enriching to meet people from the same faith, but with so different backgrounds and experiences, different understandings of religious identity and community. And long-lasting deep friendships formed, across continental and –often imagined- cultural divides.
I was happy to help in the organization of this year’s second MJC, eager to do more, really engage. And throughout the year, working on different projects, meeting people, traveling, it was at times still difficult to grasp the value of interfaith conferences, and the unique value of the MJC. And then, I saw, I felt what happened in Kiev. I am so thankful for this experience, and proud and honored to be able to continue working with the MJC over the next year.
I saw people getting to know each other, talking, breaking down barriers, young people laughing and crying together, sharing so much of themselves. Visiting the Babi Yar memorial site was emotionally incredibly challenging, but we were holding each other, reaching out and supporting each other, as some cried. And by the end of the week, besides the fantastic and professional work on projects, I saw people who had become friends, open to one another and showing an amount of respect I’d never had imagined. And I understood how unique that experience was, how precious the possibility to get to know each other over the days and work together. Seeing the projects created almost instantaneously coming to life was simply amazing – inspiring and motivating.
After the closing ceremony and the first goodbye hugs, the week ended with a very personal, familiar Shabbat dinner. For me, the happiness of seeing so much goodness happen, the last months’ work pressure lifting off my shoulders, the sadness of the end and goodbyes, all moved me to tears. And as Ben led us through prayer so wonderfully, as we remembered, all together, those we have lost recently, I wept. And warm hands reached out for me, arms opened to hold me, Jewish, Muslim, Muslim, Jewish, compassionate, human, friends, and the right words were said, Urdu, English, German, English, … Muslim, Jewish, what does it matter.