Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom Conference Fosters Interfaith Community

by Bongiwe Bongwe, Contributing Writer

“We are in the wrong place at the right time,” said co-founder and executive director of the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, Sheryl Olitzky. “My greatest hope for the Sisterhood is that we go out of business and close. That Muslim and Jewish women will be considered just women with everyday relationships.”

Love, hope and inspiring defiance surrounded the room as over 600 Muslim and Jewish women joined hands at the annual Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom conference themed Rising Up Against Hate! on Sunday November 5, 2017. Drew University’s Simon Forum hosted the Sisterhood, along with one of the organization’s fiercest allies–New Jersey Senator Cory Booker.

The Sisterhood, founded in 2010, has since seen growth and success. With several chapters across the country, a growing membership and a front-page feature of its 2016 conference by the New York Times titled: “Both Feeling Threatened, American Muslims and Jews Join Hands,” the organization is reaching new heights.  

“Acts against Jews and Muslims have skyrocketed, we need to build up hope,” said Olitzky. “The sisterhood is so important because we know that by developing trust and respect, we will commit to protect each other. It’s easy to hate someone you don’t know.”

The Sisterhood aims to create power in numbers by calling for unity. Senator Booker, in his keynote speech said,“We are not called to be a nation of tolerance but a nation of love. Love is patriotism, and patriotism is love. And you can’t love your country if you don’t love its men and women.” This was a message that resonated with the audience who gave the Senator a standing ovation. This is the second year that the Senator has spoken at the conference, leaving the audience moved and motivated.

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“Cory Booker is for the rights of all, freedom for all, justice for all. He represents the American values that we come together for,” said Olitzky, echoing the main points of his speech. The former mayor of Newark (2006-13) called for love to become the driving factor behind activism. He explained that through building shared communities and operating on the basis of love, this will become a nation that commits to one another.

This year’s conference included book signings, film screenings, six notable keynote speakers and 35 passionate presenters, one of which was Drew University’s Director of the Centre on Religion Culture and Conflict (CRCC), Dr. Jonathan Golden. Drew University student volunteers were present, dressed in purple, and happy to help and converse with the women of the movement.

“The CRCC in this case absolutely a hub for this engagement in our New Jersey region, so to play this role as a national hub is even more exciting,” said Golden. “The Sisterhood provided a chance to make connections with people, and to see the centre grow, evolve and connect with like-minded people is exciting.”

Conference presenter Ruth Broyde Sharone joined Dr. Golden’s first year DSEM class Monday morning to speak on her interfaith work and the conference. “How grateful I was to be with my sisters in the room,” expressed Sharone. “To be surrounded by 600 women doing similar work, it felt familial. We are a family doing this work together.”

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