December 20, 2014   28 Kislev 5775
Multi-Generational Muslim-Jewish Women’s Dialogue and Joint Social Action Project
Mar. 29, 2013
Through the sharing of reciprocal meals and structured 1:1 dialogue followed by group discussion, B'nai Israel Synagogue found that warm human relationships can be fostered despite seemingly outward differences.

Community Contact Information:
B'nai Israel Synagogue
Rochester, MN

- Uncover common values and create a deeper understanding and appreciation of one another's religions and cultures.
- Prepare and serve Christmas dinner and engage in prayer, music, and fellowship with guests at the Dorothy Day House for homeless individuals and families.
- Share perspectives on family, dignity, and expectations of women as they grapple with the modern world.

Through her interfaith work in the community, our Rabbi saw an opportunity to initiate direct conversation between B'nai Israel and local Muslim women. An enthusiastic response to a kick-off brunch and dialogue at the synagogue was followed by Iftar and Sukkot events, a movie screening, all followed by discussion and a decision to work together on social action projects.

First we recruited members of B'nai Israel to prepare meals at the synagogue or attend Iftar dinners offered by the Muslim women during Ramadan. This was followed by meetings with the Rabbi and Social Action Committee members to determine structure and strategy for initial brunch and dialogue. We prepared 1:1 dialogue questions, coordinated and cooked meals and finally arranged delivery dates with Dorothy Day House staff.

Project Implementation:
In July of 2011, a group of B'nai Israel women and adolescent girls, led by members of the Social Action/Social Justice committee, invited the Rochester Muslim Women's Circle to a brunch and discussion at the synagogue. Following the meal, participants were asked to pair off randomly to discuss two questions related to ways in which their religion influences their world views. Once we reconvened, highlights of those 1:1 encounters were shared. The response to this initial event was enthusiastic and the Muslim women invited our group back the next month to break the fast with them at an Iftar dinner during Ramadan. Again the evening consisted of 1:1 structured dialogue based on a probing question related to culture and religion followed by discussion and a meal. This event followed with another dinner and the screening of the movie, "Arranged," about a young Orthodox Jewish woman from Brooklyn and her friendship with a Muslim woman. The movie prompted the women and girls to share perspectives on family expectations, dignity, and the role of women as they grapple with the modern world. Since then, we have continued the tradition of reciprocal meals and discussion, at Sukkot, Tu b'shvat (set for 2013), and again during Ramadan 2012, developing deeper and more meaningful relationships with one another.

At our initial event, the Muslim women were interested to hear about other activities of the Social Action/Social Justice committee. Believing that working side by side with others is the best way to get to know them, we invited the Muslim women to join us in serving the 2011 Christmas dinner. They accepted our invitation with great joy, bringing along their oldest children to help out and loads of wonderful food to share. Beginning in 2013, we will also be serving a summer meal together at the Dorothy Day House and exploring other joint projects.

Through the sharing of reciprocal meals and structured 1:1 dialogue followed by group discussion, we found that warm human relationships can be fostered despite seemingly outward differences. In the process we learned to better understand and appreciate one another's religious traditions. We then chose to build upon these relationships by working on a social action project together. The Dorothy Day House provides meals and temporary lodging to individuals and families in a homeless situation. They are always hard-pressed to find volunteers willing to provide a home-cooked meal on Christmas. The Jewish and Muslim women saw this activity as a perfect fit for our families who are not otherwise occupied on this Christian holiday.

The true blessing in this activity goes beyond the joy of working side by side to prepare and serve this meal with Jewish and Muslim families and beyond the offer of both Jewish and Muslim prayers before the meal, always inclusive and inspirational. The true blessing is found in our interactions with the guests as our families break bread with them and remain to converse after the meal, discovering our common humanity with those who find themselves in less fortunate circumstances.


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