Two years ago, I was struggling with where I fit in the Jewish community. Even though my entire family is Jewish, my completely secular upbringing and relative apathy toward Judaism that I had until college made me feel that I was not Jewish “enough” to claim a connection with the Jewish people. At the same time, I became highly interested in studying historical trends of religious and ethnic intolerance, with an emphasis on antisemitic rhetoric and motifs. At the end of my sophomore year, I was awarded a grant to research the Jewish community in Glasgow, Scotland, with the added requirement of working at an organization that champions social justice. After frantically searching and reaching out to different organizations, I landed a volunteer internship position at Interfaith Glasgow, an organization that focuses on interfaith dialogue and mutual aid.
Due to this circumstance, I describe my entrance into interfaith work as jumping off a cliff and hoping that I would land on my feet. I was nervous that I still did not know enough about Judaism to represent it in dialogues with those of other faiths, and practically I had no experience in faith-based organizing at the time. I had so much to learn.
I soon fell in love with this kind of work. In many of the events and dialogues I attended, I was the only Jew there, so I was asked really insightful questions from others at the dialogues who were curious to know more about Jewish identity. I pondered questions that I never really had to think about in solely Jewish spaces, such as how I became so connected to Jewish peoplehood despite my lack of strict observance of Judaism as a religion. I was able to educate participants about antisemitic tropes (in history and today), while I learned so much about other faith identities, traditions, and the intolerance others face for their religious identity.
When I returned to Georgetown that fall for my junior year, I launched into interfaith work on campus with the goal of making our Jewish Student Association more outward-facing. Through this work, I made wonderful friends from other faith communities and facilitated conversations about allyship and cross-cultural understanding. Interestingly, I was able to find where I fit within the Jewish community while also figuring out my place among other people of faith.
As an intern at the Rumi Forum, I am hoping to build on the skills that I have developed in interfaith dialogue by organizing an event for Muslim and Jewish college students and young professionals across the DMV area. This event is titled “Combating Prejudice from Inside and Outside our Communities” and will take place on Zoom on April 22nd, 2021 at 6PM. Directly after the dialogue, we are excited to host an Iftar social hour. My hope is that from this conversation, Muslim and Jewish young adults can share their own experiences of prejudice while learning to become better allies against rising antisemitism and Islamophobia in the U.S.
This project requires me to establish contacts with many more people than I am used to. While pulling this together will be a challenge, my hope for this event (and the reason behind my pitching it) is for Muslim and Jewish young adults across different campuses and parts of the DMV area to form coalitions, learn how to be better allies, and perhaps investigate their own identities as well.
Author: Rebecca Stekol