Out of Many One: Stories from Boston’s Muslim Community

In December, in the wake of the election, JCRC mobilized synagogues and Jewish organizations across greater Boston to participate in a gathering at the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, as one united community across religious, racial, and socio-economic lines. Our community came together to reaffirm a commitment to our shared values and to each other. Organized by the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO), the event, Out of Many One, featured several speakers, including Senator Elizabeth Warren and Mayor Marty Walsh, who offered words of support.

For many of the 2,600 participants, the highlight of the evening came in a quieter moment, when they were invited to turn to someone they did not know and share their stories. They learned about the dreams and hopes of their neighbors throughout Greater Boston. And they heard the fears and vulnerabilities experienced in this moment, most acutely from Muslim community members, anxious and uncertain about their future in America. These moments of human connection, when we bridge the differences that too often divide us, when we listen to each other’s experience with open hearts and minds – these are the building blocks of community relations.

That memorable evening was the catalyst for an ongoing GBIO Out Of Many One initiative; a series of interfaith encounters planned in collaboration with members of the Muslim community, to hear their stories of what they are experiencing in this moment and to learn how best to ally with them. The first of these gatherings was held a few weeks ago at First Church, Cambridge; a congregation whose pastor, the Rev. Dan Smith, is a close friend as well as a trusted partner of JCRC and the co-chair of our last clergy trip to Israel.  Among the stories shared that afternoon:

  • A Muslim family, citizens and long term residents of the United States, flew home to Logan Airport after a recent vacation. To their shock and horror, they were detained. They were interrogated about a wide variety of topics, including their religious practices and who they voted for in the recent presidential election. They were required to turn over their cell phones for the immigration agents to pore through their communications before they were finally released, hours later.
  • A fifteen-year-old of Somali origin described how her Boston public school had been welcoming. But on her walk to and from school every day, she was harassed, heckled, and even called a terrorist. After completing her freshman year, she chose to be home schooled out of concerns for her personal safety.

I encourage you to read this heartbreaking account of Dr. Nassrene Elmadhun, the wife of a friend and partner of ours who has been a leader in fostering Muslim-Jewish understanding.  The chief surgical resident at Beth Israel Deaconess, she shares her painful decision to stop wearing hijab after a man threatened her and her toddler:

For Elmadhun, wearing hijab for most of her life was “a positive and powerful message, allowing me to recognize that I am not just what I appear to be, but I’m a human being who should be valued for who I am and what I have to offer.”

And though she does feel relieved in many ways, and feels safer with her son outside, “I’m also sad that I was driven to this,” she says. “I’m sad about what it means about our religious freedoms in general in our country, I’m sad that I had to give it up. I was kind of forced into this. It wasn’t really a choice.”

For JCRC, our community relations mandate – and our history as Jews – calls on us to listen and to bear witness to these stories of others experiencing hatred and fear. In doing so, we are renewed in our determination to always work to protect and defend our constitutional freedoms under duress – including freedom of religion, speech, press and assembly. And, we are reminded that the most effective way to do so is by standing in solidarity with other Americans in pursuit of a common cause.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

p.s. If you would like to learn about future Out of Many One programs and other efforts by JCRC and our partners to confront hatred and bigotry, sign up here to receive notifications.