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Jun 20 2014

Growing Up Jewish When Your Best Friend Is Muslim

By at 2:49 pm

muslim-mother

The other day I had the rare opportunity to watch the news while the children were away at their father’s house. Apparently the Pope had invited leaders of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples together to pray for peace in the Middle East. I held my breath and felt an initial joy at the idyllic image of three faiths uniting to pray for the end of this conflict. But the emotion was quickly interrupted by my cynical thoughts… All the prayer in the world will not solve this situation. My heart could imagine a day my mind could never foresee.

As one of few Jewish families in town, I experienced my share of anti-Semitism. I realize there is little unique about my experience as a minority. I was already a quiet, unassuming child, but I did my best to blend. I was also conscious that I represented Jews for better or worse and I tried my best to dispel stereotypes. Naturally I gravitated towards others who were different from the norm. Looking back at photographs of my senior year of high school I see a group of young women of several different ethnicities. My closest friend was a Muslim of Indian descent.

In all the years we have known each other, my friend and I never once discussed the strife that exists between members of our faiths. I recall only one conversation where we compared similarities in our beliefs, mainly the importance of helping the poor. Our religions did not divide us. On the contrary, I think our otherness helped bring us closer. I am grateful for her friendship for many reasons, but I realize that I placed the same heavy burden on her shoulders I accuse others of placing on me. She is the face of Islam to me. When I hear a derogatory comment about Muslims, she comes to mind first. Our friendship forces me to consider alternative perspectives and to challenge anti-Muslim attitudes. I am indebted to her because I may have been ambivalent or worse. My heart could possibly have been hardened towards people of her faith had we not shared a childhood.

After college I lived in Israel for several years and during a trip home I visited my childhood friend. She had recently been married and was expecting her first child. During our reunion she expressed her concerns about being a mother. She told me she did not know how to ensure that her child would become a good person. I was dumbfounded by her insecurity and dismissed her worry. I told her I had no doubt she would raise wonderful children. Years later, as a mother of three myself, I understand her apprehensions and recognize my naiveté back then. Raising children to be compassionate, righteous people is no easy task.

My friend and I have both had our share of personal struggles recently. I know she prays for me, as I do for her. Though we rarely have time to speak or see each other these days, she is frequently on my mind. The two of us can not solve world conflicts, but as old friends, women, and now moms, I know that we both share so many hopes for the future, including a world in which all faiths will eventually live in peace.

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