Cold Night, Warm Hearts For Jewish & Muslim Teens

As a teenage girl growing up in the Washington, D.C.-metro area, I was a youth leader in the Soviet Jewry movement. Fast forward 30 years and I have become a caring adult joining with youth to make the world a better place. A sweet turn of the clock.

Sweet is an apt descriptor for what I got to do this Saturday night – and not just because of the amount of cookies and candy that were consumed! I was honored to spend a cold night outside with a group Jewish and Muslim youth as part of Interfaith Outreach’s annual Sleep Out, a community-wide campaign to support struggling families in eight west suburban communities. We slept outside to raise awareness about the increase in suburban poverty and do our part to raise $2,184,000 to address the needs of 2,184 families. Each year, funds from the Sleep Out campaign help families with emergency services, food and housing, as well as life-changing assistance through education and employment.

Shir Tikvah and Northwest Islamic Community Center youth first met each other last year during a visit exchange between the faith communities. The connection was part of a response to Islamophobia among many faith communities that Interfaith Outreach saw take shape in our area. After getting to know each other a bit, Shir Tikvah and Northwest Islamic Community Center youth expressed interest in doing good together. The Sleep Out was a great way to do that.

The night started with 120 youth from faith communities across the west metro participating in a workshop on bias. Our group of Jewish and Muslim youth then went back to the Northwest Islamic Community Center. We did normal teenage things like eat pizza and laugh and share favorite phone apps. Around a fire, we talked about the lack of affordable housing and living-wage jobs. A particularly sweet moment was when Muslim youth came into the Shir Tikvah tent just to hang out. We eventually got tired and huddled in sleeping bags through a cold windy night.

We woke before sunrise for Muslim morning prayer. We sang “Modeh Ani L’fanecha,” thanking God to have woken up to a new day of opportunities. We sang “Henay Ma Tov” to celebrate how good it is for brothers and sisters to be together. For it is good to be together, as youth of yesterday and youth of today; as Jews and as Muslims; as people who will not let an election defeat us; as social justice seekers simultaneously saying “no” to Islamophobia and “yes” to addressing human need.

Despite never doing formal introductions at any point in the evening, the kids all knew each other’s names by morning. Authentic connection turns out to be more powerful than the name games I’d planned. To the youth Affaan, Ammar, Avia, Imran, Jamin, Kinayda, May, Nehall, San, Safa, Qasim, Zaina, and Zander; and to the adults Farhana, Mateen and Saima with whom I slept out; deep gratitude for making a cold and windy night one I will always remember with a fiery warm heart.

Susan Geller is Associate Director of Operational and Organizational Advancement at Interfaith Outreach & Community Partners (, a nonprofit organization addressing suburban poverty in Minnesota. She is an active member of Shir Tikvah Congregation in Minneapolis.