Recently, my wife and I walked with our two sons to meet up with a small group of Indian-Americans gathered by the White House to honor the memory of Srinivas Kuchibhotla, one of the victims of the hate that these actions from the President help spread. As we joined, I thought quickly of how we came to be there. Just a few months earlier, this is a gathering we would have had no idea about. But here we were – four Jews joining a group of Indian-Americans, thanks to the information we’d received from new friends at a local Muslim Community Center.
My hope is this is what is happening across the country, or that it starts anew. Here are some quick thoughts on how to make it happen.
Just for quick background, my wife and I have long been active on connections with other communities, but largely in the Middle East. We have friends and colleagues here who are Muslim, but we’d never visited a mosque locally or been a part of organized interfaith efforts.
Like so many others, we started going to meetings about what to do next, what organizations to join and support, where to attend a rally. But we also felt we needed something more direct, more specific, and ultimately more human.
And so a few days after the election, we began the first steps on what we hope to be a long journey. We took the next step this Purim, delivering mishloach manot from our kids’ day school. The following can be a guide for connecting with the Muslim community, or any other community. The steps may feel terribly obvious, and of course there have been myriad examples of Muslim-Jewish engagement and dialogue over many years, but still they are painfully underused. And as politics creeps into these relationships at a macro-level (again), it is essential that we work at the micro-level to make these connections real.
1 – Find a local community center.
I had a vague sense of where the closest mosque was, but a quick search revealed it to be much more than that, including a school, community center, and medical clinic.
2 – Reach out as an individual/family, not as an organization.
Organizations and their leaders can have a wide range of interests, programs, and leadership dynamics and styles. We’ve found it much more powerful not to be connecting as one organization to another, but one set of families to another.
3 – Express solidarity.
It was not the easiest way to start a call, especially in an era of threats. But I started by simply saying who I was, where I lived, and that my wife, sons, and I were worried about the potential threats that a Trump presidency may unleash. And that we wanted them to know we would stand with them and hoped we could get to know their community better.
4 – Don’t be pushy, but see if there is interest in connecting.
We actually reached out to a few mosques/community centers, and some of them said “Thanks for your support; we have many friends standing by us now and are pleased to count you among them.” But they were not interested in more, which was fine. Thankfully one was.
5 – Pay a visit; find some friends to join you, but not too many. Don’t rush it.
6 – Be humble and simply ask questions.
Show up ready to listen and learn. We were fortunate to have members in our group who had studied Islam and knew some Arabic, and although this helped, it was not needed. Even those among us who did have this background simply asked questions. We did not make speeches, impose our pre-formed ideas, or propose an agenda. We simply wanted to learn more.
7 – Share a ritual.
We were fortunate to observe afternoon prayers. This deepened our connection greatly because we were now able to get beyond the immediate issues and find bridges on the spiritual levels.
8 – Let the kids do the leading if you can.
Most of us who visited brought our children, and we timed our visit to coincide with the end of classes for the Muslim students. We came together with snacks, sat in a circle, and prepared to begin some activities. But it turned out the kids had lots to ask and say. So we let that unfold, put the activities to the side, and let the kids bring us much closer together than any other format likely would have.
9 – Keep your expectations reasonable.
10 – Let your connections expand your communities.
As mentioned, thanks to this connection to the Muslim community, my family and I learned about a vigil being organized by a local group of Indian-Americans. We ended up one of the few white families there, and in what was a week filled with a focus on threats to the Jewish community, it felt good to be standing with others.
These are reflections based on one experience, of course, and one that continues to build slowly. But we don’t have time to wait or worry about whether our politics will ultimately line up. Mosques are burning, Jewish cemeteries and community centers are being attacked, and people are being threatened and killed.
Our kids are scared, and our leadership is failing. In fact our leadership is often what is making us scared.
So this is our responsibility as parents, and as people – to keep our children and our communities safe. Follow these steps, create your own, but do something. In the end, this is what will protect us from hatred abroad, at home, and from the White House.