Judith Flacks: “I am my sister’s keeper; we are each other’s keepers”

This is a blog from JLC Head of Campaigns Judith Flacks. It appeared on the Jewish News website on 8th March 2017 and is written in a personal capacity.

Over the weekend, I attended the Nisa Nashim inaugural conference, and there are a number of things that struck me about the day that I’d like to share.

The theme of the conference was ‘challenging the narrative’. To me, that means communities working together though individual and shared challenges, which we need to do in order to build a strong future for minorities in this country.

The best part of the day was the infectious energy and enthusiasm from participants. The most encouraging thing I have seen in a long time was this room of 200 Muslim and Jewish women, so happy to be a part of this long overdue movement, and be part of this new bracket that they can fit in to. A space where they aren’t told that they’re hippies for thinking interfaith is important, or be told the right way to do things by male leadership that they may not relate to, or wait to be told that they have permission to have the conversations they are having and friendships they are building.

It is easy to underestimate how empowering the absence of these accepted constraints can be. But this is all just the first part of a long journey to achieving better relations between Muslims and Jews.

That hungry enthusiasm I saw at the conference needs direction and it needs nurturing and support. This is where I believe we all play a part. Nisa Nashim, over time, will help guide these wonderful women in a constructive direction. The rest of us should support those who build stronger relations between communities that are traditionally perceived as being at odds with each other.

We shouldn’t pretend that all of the issues between Muslims and Jews are resolved. We aren’t naive enough to think that they are. But interfaith relationships have to try and work with those issues, not ignore them or skirt around them, but understand the true meaning of Jo Cox’s legacy ‘we have far more in common with each other than things that divide us’.

During parts of the conference, I couldn’t help but notice that there was a sense of responsibility that kept nagging at me. As a young woman in the Jewish community, what can I do to show that I’ve learnt something here? What can I do to encourage other young women to see that they can be part of all of this? What is it that I can do to show how important these relationships are?

Tell MAMA, an organization which monitors anti Muslim attacks, reports that the hotspots of anti-Muslim hate occur when Muslims use public and private transport networks, walk in public spaces, and do their shopping. The largest proportion of victims are Muslim women.

Plenty of us have seen videos go viral on social media of scenes where someone is verbally abusing a Muslim woman, and no one does anything at all. There are also videos where a similar situation is occurring, but once one person stands with the victim against the perpetrator, others are quick to stand up too.

Reverend Rose Hudson Wilkin, Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons, delivered the key note speech at the conference and said one thing that is still ringing in my ears: “I am my sister’s keeper, we are each other’s keepers”.

If the true meaning of solidarity is to stand with someone in a time of distress, then that is what I will endeavour to do, even if all that means is to simply ask if the victim is alright afterwards and show them some kindness or support.

And until I figure out what else I can do, I will continue to ask other young women to think about what it is they want to do.

I don’t expect that everyone will have an answer, but we all have a responsibility to build the kind of community we want to see and be part of. I think that building friendships across religions and standing side by side with others, especially in their time of need, is a community I very much want to be a part of.