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A Jew and a Muslim walk into an office…

[April 2020]

What we’ve learnt through working together

With the Jewish festival of Passover fast approaching tomorrow, it got me thinking about the meanings and themes of this particular celebration. Passover emulates ideas of spring, rebirth and new beginnings. These are not dissimilar to the themes of Easter, coinciding on the same dates as Passover this year. Furthermore, these themes of renewal are reminiscent of the Islamic practice of Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca.

There is a plethora of overlaps between the three Abrahamic religions which is something Zaynab, a Muslim colleague and now friend of mine, and I, a modern-Orthodox Jew, have discovered in the past 18 months of working together. Now, working in an interfaith environment is not, and should not be, a novelty or a big deal. However, for both of us this is our first interfaith job and as our work revolves around our two communities it has led to ample learning opportunities as well as some hilarious moments!

What have we learnt?

  • Talia - We share a lot of the same language: One time when we were rushing out of the office to go to a school I shouted ‘yalla’ at Zaynab, a Hebrew word meaning ‘let’s go’. Before I even had time to explain myself she was promptly out the door...little did I know the word originated from Arabic!

  • Zaynab - A coat can double up as a prayer mat: Not only have we learnt about our different ways of practicing but we’ve also learnt to celebrate them. I remember having sessions at a particular school where, for a few months, I had to pray twice a day on a hard wooden floor and without asking Talia would offer her coat for me to place on the ground to pray on. It has since been appropriately named the ‘interfaith coat’ and I can confirm it makes a great prayer mat when you don’t have one!

  • Talia - What it truly means to be an ally: I don’t think I ever fully understood what it meant to be an ally before I started working at Stand Up!. Being a true ally, by standing up for the rights of others, can often be difficult. In sessions we have often been confronted with attitudes and opinions that have shocked us and made us feel vulnerable. It is in these moments, that without hesitation, we have stood up and supported each other's others communities. This became all the more prevalent for us in the lead up to the December 2019 election. Both of us were feeling anxious, with antisemitism and Islamophobia being rife in the UK political system. When I cast my vote on the 12th December I had the Jewish community at the forefront of mind, but I also had the Muslim community there too.

  • Zaynab - Understanding our differences: Alongside our similarities we also have our differences and we don’t shy away from these. Instead we’ve fostered an office environment where we learn from each other. Talia knows by now not to walk past me when I’m praying and to warn her dad from popping his head into our Zoom meeting when my hair is uncovered! Equally, I plan our work events carefully around Shabbat and Jewish festivals and I know now not to offer Talia any pasta or bread during Passover (although she still struggles not offering me food and drink during Ramadan)!

  • Muslims and Jews can talk about Israel/Palestine: Both of us have grown up with an education about the Middle East which has excluded the story of the other. We have had countless open and honest conversations about the ongoing conflict and there are still definitely points that we disagree about- but that has never stunted the discussion. We have both learnt more from each other in the past few months than from any previous form of education. The key to having these debates is simple...listen.

There is certainly more for us to learn through working together and even though our experience is not unique, it’s most definitely a partnership and friendship which we are proud of. To all those celebrating in the next few days or weeks, we wish you a happy and healthy festive period. Yalla, bye for now!

- Talia Pins and Zaynab Albadry, Project Coordinators at Stand Up!




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