Posted on September 1, 2017
Beth Borrus has a bold vision for the future: Jews and Muslims learning about and respecting one another’s cultures, breaking down walls of misinformation and mistrust, building lasting friendships and living in harmony.
Promoting such an interfaith concept truly spoke to Beth as she began to learn more about Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom (SoSS), a national women’s organization with 150 chapters across the country dedicated to growing the relationships between Jewish and Muslim women in order to fight negative stereotypes, hatred and prejudice. Members pursue these goals by sharing stories with one another, cooking together, doing charitable endeavors for the community and, most importantly, listening to each other. Women from both faiths have varied backgrounds, with many working in diverse professional fields, raising families and enjoying their faith.
Beth first heard about the group through Jodi Siegal, then chair of TBE’s Social Action Committee. “It’s really very interesting,” said Beth, who began attending SoSS meetings at the Islamic Center of Hunterdon County in Flemington and went to a SoSS national conference last December at Drew University in Madison to learn more about interfaith connection. “I can’t explain the magic of it, but it is magical. I think it’s a really exciting time. It’s very inspirational to be part of this.”
Pam D’Amato, along with Randi Schweriner and Jodi Bogen, is co-leader of the Raritan Valley chapter of SoSS, which serves Somerset and Hunterdon counties. Pam, who is Muslim, first became involved with Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom in early 2016, after spending decades working with interfaith groups in an effort to mitigate negative perceptions, media coverage and stereotypes about Muslims. She is also a former New Jersey outreach coordinator for SoSS.
The Raritan Valley chapter meets once a month, on average. The group hopes to do family brunches on occasion, however, as a way for the group to strengthen its bonds and deepen friendships through meeting one another’s families. Currently, the chapter is trying to keep its numbers stable because of the size of the group: 24 Muslim and Jewish women. Pam notes that the ideal group size is typically 10-12 women, 16 maximum, and chapters are typically built along geographic lines. The national office tries to keep the numbers of Jewish and Muslim women equal within each chapter. The best way for interested women to get involved is to go to sosspeace.org. On the site, under the “What We Do” tab, there is a tab for joining a chapter.
Pam explained that programming for SoSS is based on research that shows if people of very different backgrounds come together in a safe space, they can develop common interests and bonds of friendship. The theory behind that research has been proven countless times, she said.
“Every time our chapter has a meeting and women share something about their faith or beliefs, there is a mutual nodding of heads as we all kind of remark at how similar our traditions, holidays and beliefs are,” Pam said. “It’s beautiful to behold.”
Beth, too, had early exposure to different traditions and also lived in a different culture for a number of years. As a teacher, she has worked with Muslim students, and as a musician, she has had the opportunity to listen to and appreciate Arabic music. Add in her natural curiosity, and it’s no wonder Beth wanted to learn more — and be a part of — Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom.
“I am an educator,” Beth emphasized. “I have zero patience for hate and disrespect for anyone.” Pam understands there are many who are skeptical about Jews and Muslims bonding and developing friendships, but points out that the path to peace must start somewhere.
“In order for peace and understanding to occur, someone has to make a move toward friendship. If people like Robi Damelin of ‘Path to Peace,’ an Israeli and Palestinian organization, can lead the way in Israel/Palestine, why can’t others of us who are not as severely impacted make similar attempts at peace and reconciliation?” Pam reasoned. “In the final analysis, we are all human and want the same things: peace and prosperity for our families, enough to eat, and a little leisure.”
For more information about Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, visit: https://sosspeace.org.
Originally published in the September-October 2017 Shofar. For more, visit the Shofar archives.