Over the course of the time I have spent planning the Muslim-Jewish youth dialogue event (coming up on April 22nd!), I’ve been met with various challenges. In my previous interfaith work in Glasgow and on Georgetown’s campus, I had the benefits of the in-person, pre-pandemic world. The physical community, as well as the ability to gather, eat food, and alternate the people you talk to within the larger group, was really the cornerstone of successful interfaith engagement. In addition, the contexts of Glasgow — a tight-knit city with its own clear culture and politics — and Georgetown allowed the interfaith events to feel more localized and intimate. I’ve always found it really important for interfaith dialogues, and especially interfaith social justice events like faith-based organizing for housing or food justice, to be situated within the local community and being of service to it.

Before even starting the outreach for this event, I knew that it was not going to have that localized quality. We began with the city of D.C. as a geographic perimeter, but after realizing that we would need to reach as many people as possible, we expanded our area to include the entire DMV. Our outreach then extended to George Mason University and the University of Maryland. Although the DMV area is definitely a community just like Glasgow or Georgetown’s campus is, it encompasses many more communities in two different states and D.C. It definitely gives less of a local area impression. The added necessity of Zoom furthers this challenge and brings up more difficulties. In the past, Rumi Forum could connect people across the D.C. area to one another by hosting in-person events. Since last March, everything has taken place on Zoom, which immediately makes events more distant and less intimate. I have organized events for Georgetown’s Jewish Student Association all year, and they have definitely not felt the same as when we were in person. With this pandemic raging on for over a year, Zoom fatigue has affected all of us, and fewer and fewer people want to go on optional calls.

The main issue that I, and the rest of the Rumi Forum team, have been presented with is selling our event to a very fatigued group of people. The past year and the pandemic have been extremely difficult on all of us. The election, the storming of the Capitol, and the recent mass shootings have put marginalized communities, in addition to religious minorities like Muslims and Jews, on edge even further. Therefore, the efforts of different groups affected similarly by hatred to cultivate increased allyship are essential right now. I believe that the framework of faith allows us to engage in deeper conversations that honor differences while finding common wisdom, and turn these conversations into meaningful action. As the pandemic continues, interfaith community work will continue to be adversely affected.

However, there are some added benefits of Zoom. It would have been extremely hard to extend the reach of our event if we were in person, so I have been able to connect with people I would have not been able to work with outside of the online capacity. I am hoping that our wide outreach will allow the event’s attendees to broaden their horizons and engage with people outside of their local circles. In order to understand the lived experiences of others and investigate our innate prejudices, this is vital. The convenience of attending this event from one’s own home will allow us to break barriers. While previously we have viewed “community” in a more tight-knit manner, I believe we can redefine community and mold our work around it. This last year, I have felt community with people across the country — we were united not by living minutes away from each other, but by common goals. I have had to become a lot more creative in planning this event since I cannot rely on physical togetherness, so I hope it will be a learning experience for all of us.

Author: Rebecca Stekol