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This morning I sat by myself at breakfast this morning speeding through the pre-conference survey for the Muslim-Jewish Conference until I got up to the part that asked questions about how I interact with Muslims. I have NO idea, I thought, I’ve never really interacted with Muslims before. Anyone that knows me will tell you I will talk to any stranger (much to my grandmother’s chagrin) but I started getting nervous; is there a specific way I’m supposed to interact with Muslims, am I going to say something offensive? I looked around the room and saw women with hijabs and men with traditional Muslim garb and thought, oh shoot, I should have been more prepared.

But then we started talking; one conversation after another, and then we shared a joke and connected over trying to find flat water in a country of carbonation (and potatoes). And after an intense day of speaking about sensitive and emotionally charged issues, both on a collective and individual level, and scouting out the local pubs in Bratislava, these survey questions are no longer relevant. I learned, yet again, that humanity is universal and people are people everywhere.

Amidst our visual differences lies a human soul, a human spirit, and a human psyche that has experienced joy, pain, loss, suffering, challenges, happiness, ecstasy, peace, turmoil, humility, embarrassment, shame, guilt, loneliness, misery, depression, sadness, goodness, times of plenty and times of lacking, spirituality, anger, rebellion and much, much more.

I won’t pretend that in one day we solved the world’s problems, or that I now know everything about Muslims and I no longer have any stereotypes, but I can tell you about the people I met. The people who are kind, interesting, wise, open and warm. The people who share my sense of humor and sarcasm and can laugh at themselves. The people who can speak honestly and respectfully, who are curious and genuine and who are here to make a human connection with people who are truly foreign to them.

So next time I’m meeting a new person I won’t be fooled by the language they speak or the clothing that they wear, because underneath it all we are both speaking the same language; the language of the human experience, the language of the soul.

By Raizel

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