As I mentioned in my last post, I attended the 3rd Annual Muslim-Jewish Women’s Leadership Conference hosted by the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom this past weekend in New Jersey.
Since it was my first time in the tri-state area, I had to make a short detour to New York City (my brother being in the area facilitated this). Everything takes FOREVER in New York though, as you can imagine, so I didn’t get to do much. But I did eat some NY-style pizza in the middle of Times Square – and honestly, I feel fulfilled.
There was a dessert social the night before the actual conference; and though I was nervous, it ended up going pretty well. Since I naturally gravitate toward the food table(s) at social gatherings (it may or may not be conscious on my part), I was spared the nightmare of having to go up to people; they came to me! I exchanged contact information and ate way too much sugar. I certainly lived up to the name “dessert social.”
The conference started bright and early on Sunday morning. After eating two breakfasts (one at the hotel and one in the gymnasium of Drew University where the conference was being held), we heard some pretty good speeches from the likes of NJ Senator Cory Booker (the ladies at my table were fawning over him. I liked what he had to say – he reminded me of an early Barack Obama -but I’m always skeptical of politicians’ speeches), the girl from the AT&T commercials who started her own non-profit, and others.
The highlight of the conference for me was my morning workshop on “Storytelling” presented by writer and blogger (you can guess why) Salma Hasan Ali. Since I’m now a full-fledged writer (my definition of a writer is simply a person who writes), my next goal is to take my writing to another level: story-telling.
I’ve been thinking of submitting my story to The Moth podcast. I’ve always loved watching interviews and as a child I’d sometimes pretend to give myself one. You know how journalists say they’ve always loved asking questions? Well, I’ve always loved answering them! Writing will always be my safe space, if you will. There’s a level of anonymity that comes with the act, even if your writing is public, because the sad truth is: the majority of people DO NOT READ. That can be a good thing sometimes. But being the closet drama queen that I am, sometimes it’s not.
Salma shared her story of how one simple act of wanting to record her family history eventually led her to becoming a professional storyteller, which has got to be the coolest title ever. I was inspired by her story, because I was reminded of my own trajectory since writing that little piece for The Tempest. At the end of her talk, she opened the floor to us, the attendees. While normally I’d shy away from speaking, I was in carpe diem mode this weekend and shared my story of my life-long struggles with weight. It was cathartic and I came away from the session feeling renewed.
Of course, I can’t forget all the amazing women I met and got a chance to talk to. By happenstance, I made some new friendships because I needed a ride back to the hotel. I ended up going to a dinner later that evening with these new friends and was reminded by one woman who shall remain unnamed that we weren’t invited, so that was fun. I think my favorite post-conference moment however was when one of my new friends, an older Jewish lady from Pittsburgh, who also happens to be anti-Zionist, shared with me that we have to be willing to call out our own, after she put that lady from the night before in her place.
I think that’s an unintended consequence, but still an important one, of doing interfaith work: you not only deepen your understanding of people who have different faith systems than you, you also end up shattering your own assumptions that your coreligionists believe and act exactly as you do. In my experience, I’ve found that I have more in common with some Modern Orthodox Jewish women than I do with some Muslims!
I also conquered my fear of traveling alone, although I must say the fear of Uber still remains. All in all, a wonderful weekend and I’m in an even better state to launch the Muslim Jewish Women’s Alliance, a joint-partnership between the Indianapolis Jewish Community Relations Council and the Muslim Alliance of Indiana, whose application went live just as I returned from my trip. Perfect timing, eh?
As I told Mr. Rafia on our way back home from the airport, I kinda feel like Bilbo Baggins. He didn’t want to go on an adventure at first, but as he tells Frodo later, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
For me, it all started when I approached the Spiritual Life table at UChicago three years ago, and I’m still walking.