BRIDGEWATER, NJ - With the political climate of today, and the concerns over threats of a Muslim registry and reports of hate crimes, one national group is looking to get communication going between all kinds of people - and the group held its first nationwide vigil, with one in Martinsville, Feb. 16.
The Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom held 100 vigils across the country, including one at Christ Presbyterian Church, on Washington Valley Road, to raise voices in prayer and song through gatherings led by Muslim and Jewish women of the organization.
The idea for the vigil was developed at the beginning of February by Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom founder Sheryl Olitzky. The organization itself was started four years ago to bring Jews and Muslims together to have discussions.
“People need unity to reassure ourselves we’re together,” said Pam Mahmoud, co-leader of the Somerset and Hunterdon chapter of the organization. “We are bringing song, poetry and liturgy together, and we had no idea how many people would come.”
The vigil, which was attended by around 50 people, included Muslim prayers, Hebrew songs and more, and featured Rabbi Ron Isaacs, rabbi emeritus of Temple Sholom in Bridgewater, and Yasser Abdelkader, president of the Al Falah Center of Bridgewater.
“I hope this becomes an example for everyone to let go of stereotypes and embrace the beauty that comes from working together and the collaboration of all backgrounds,” Abdelkader said. “This really enforces and strengthens the ties between all of the communities, and shows the spirit and solidarity between all people.”
Mahmoud said she hopes guests understand from the vigil that people are not alone, despite all the attacks that have occurred lately, from a mosque burned down in Texas to recent bomb threats at Jewish Community Centers across the country.
“Since the election in November, the organization has been inundated with people requesting to be part of it,” she said.
Chapter co-leader Jodi Bogen said that at the recent conference for the Sisterhood, they all took a vow that if there was a Muslim registry, as has been discussed by President Donald Trump, they would all register on the list.
“The more we get to know each other, the more we realize how much we have in common.” she said.
Bogen said they kicked off the Somerset and Hunterdon chapter of the organization, with third co-leader Randi Schweriner, in May.
“As we went through the political season, it became more meaningful,” Bogen said. “This was the right time.”
Isaacs, who played guitar and led the vigil in song, said the vigil was a special experience.
“It’s literally the first time in my life I have been involved in a prayer vigil that brings Jews and Muslims together, and it felt very spiritual,” he said. “Because of what is going on in the world, this was a nice thing to do and very prayerful. It had a lot of people feeling good.”
Rev. Susan Joseph Rack, of the Christ Presbyterian Church, said she was very pleased to be asked to host this vigil.
“This is in the vein of what we always want to do for the community,” she said. “It is a place where people who are different can come and feel safe.”
Guests at the vigil sang along to the prayers and read the poems together in solidarity during the evening event.
“It was awesome, and everyone came together like a family,” said Flemington resident Rehana Dhaha, who attended the vigil as a guest. “We all blended together.”
Zarmeen Hussain, also of Flemington, agreed.
“I liked the fusion (of prayers and song),” she said. “The way they did the program, we were all in sync.”