NCJW Celebrating Muslim, Jewish Women

What started as a group that came together from their shared advocacy for gun-violence prevention, has turned into a partnership that neither the National Council of Jewish Women Minnesota (NCJW) or Reviving the Islamic Sisterhood for Empowerment (RISE) saw coming.

This burgeoning partnership led the group, Muslim & Jewish Women of Minnesota (MJWMn), to come together for the NCJW’s spring event Root to Rise: A Celebration of Muslim and Jewish Women of Minnesota, on May 9 at Beth El Synagogue.

NCJW Executive Director Beth Gendler said their annual spring event is typically a deep-dive into one of the social justice policy issues the group has worked on.

While we can’t claim success in changing public policy yet, the sisterhood that we’ve built is a shining point of light and hope during these dark times,” she said. “We thought there was no better way to come together this spring than in celebration of our newfound friendships and strategic alliances. Our gatherings have been warm and nurturing for everyone who’s participated. We want to bring that warmth to the rest of our community.”

MJWMn started meeting initially in June 2016, during a rally for National Gun Violence Awareness Day. The themes that came out of that event were the need to build a faith-based network to leverage our shared power and challenge assumptions about Muslim and Jewish women, and that both are committed to lead change in the progressive policy areas where there are shared beliefs and values.

Nausheena Ali Hussain, the founder and executive director of RISE, said that her organization started out to be a platform to connect Muslim together. However, what she didn’t know would come from it was that the platform and network would grow to include women of other faiths.

“Regardless of faith, women, in general, are facing a great deal of discrimination, bias, and inequities that leave them vulnerable or paralyzed,” Hussain said. “When Muslim women came together, we were stronger, smarter, and more confident in making change. Starting a dialogue with the Jewish women in Minnesota pushed us outside of our boundaries.”

Hussain said that talk of President Donald Trump’s Muslim ban started, the first allies to step up and denounce it came from her “Jewish sisters.”

“When anti-Semitism started to surface in graveyards being desecrated and schools receiving bomb threats, it was Muslim sisters that voiced their condemnation and asked, ‘how can I help,'” she said. “It made us focus on things that we have in common, on issues that affected both of our communities, and the realization that together, we could create change.”

Sara Schonwald of Listen to Lead Consulting and a regular volunteer for NCJW leadership events said her work with MJWMn is her favorite thing that she does for the organization.

“We have found that our communities are hungry for this partnership,” she said. “But we’re also building friendships with one another that go beyond our advocacy platform. And, we’re challenging the all-too-prevalent narrative that Muslims and Jews don’t get along. And we’re having a lot of fun.”

Hussain said that part of what makes the group work is finding the commonalities.

“We break bread together, we laugh about our teenaged kids’ drama, and we hold each other in our hearts,” Hussain said. “So many people want to focus on the things that divide us. Yes, we are different, because, in the Quran, God says, ‘We have made you into nations and tribes, so you may get to know one another.’ As Muslims, we are fulfilling that command. We are getting to know our Jewish sisters and doing righteous deeds – in social justice and in making our communities safer – being welcoming, inclusive, and full of love for our neighbors.”