Agents of Change at #SoSSPeace15
Last weekend I traveled to Princeton, New Jersey to take part in the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom annual leadership conference. The conference brought together women from around the world, is the largest gathering of Muslims & Jews anywhere, and is comprised almost entirely of women. It was my honor to be a panelist at this event, and to learn from many other outstanding women who are dedicated to promoting peace between our two great faiths.
The Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom is a chapter organization founded by Sheryl Olitzky & Atiya Aftab that brings together groups of Jewish & Muslim women for the purpose of building long-term relationships, and promoting dialogue and co-work for peace.
The conference agenda included song and prayer; keynote talks by such luminaries as Ruth Messinger, Dr. Mehnaz Afridi, Maharat Rori Picker Neiss; and a stunningly beautiful story of impossible friendship from Ruth Ebenstein & Ibtisan Erekat. The conference organizers gave an award to a local grocery store manager who stood up for a Muslim woman that was being harassed in his store; Rabbi Amy Eilberg facilitated an intense workshop on entering into political dialogue; and the day closed with the lighting of the Chanukah menorah (as it was the first night of the holiday).
Each and every one of the 350 women at the conference was there as an agent of change.
Being an agent of change isn’t just about demanding change from a comfortable place. It involves sacrifice, hard work, and sometimes even fighting back against your own community. Many of the women who gathered together at the conference have been told they were not ‘qualified’ to be agents of change; some have been called sellouts. Each woman has her own reason for being willing to participate in this movement; but I believe the most important reason for choosing to be a change agent is this:
The alternative is unbearable.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has begun to do irreversible damage to us as Muslims & Jews–emotionally, psychologically & spiritually. Even those of us who are not citizens of Israel or Palestine, by virtue of being a part of our greater religious communities, are affected. We witness deep pain and destructive anger that has threatened our safety and peace, and the very lives of people we hold dear.
But we are not without recourse.
For centuries, men have led in the public sphere while women have devoted themselves to the work of nurturing our families, cultures & tribes from within. In this time and place, however, we as women are increasingly empowered to ‘face outward’, and we are ready to do so. We know all too well that what happens ‘out there’ can become a threat inside our homes, schools and sacred spaces. Women can no longer stand passively by, praying that our predominately male leaders will have our children’s best interests at heart. If history and experience has taught us anything, it’s that those in power are all too often willing to sacrifice our innocents for their own gain.
As women, we are intimately connected with one another across race, culture & religion. We are willing to work with each other locally, nationally and internationally. We stand firmly together when we declare that the status quo of today, which sacrifices the safety and happiness of our children is not good enough.
We refused to be dismissed, or allow our sister allies to be dismissed. Let no one tell us that we are not qualified to do this work. Having been cut off from power for most of our history, women are the original grassroots activists–capable of overcoming minor differences to leverage our collective will when we need to.
We stand together as agents of change, because the status quo has become more terrifying than the work itself. Because if we don’t do it, there is no guarantee that anyone else will; and because as women, as mothers, as people of faith… it is what each of us is being called to do.