We came across a story in the New York Times about the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom. Here was an unlikely alliance of women responding boldly, despite their differences, with an example of building intentional friendships – one Muslim and one Jewish woman at a time. As Sisterhood Co-founder, Sheryl Olitzky often states, ‘It’s hard to hate someone that you really know.”
We began filming at a solidarity vigil the Sisterhood was holding in New Jersey in response to the 2017 Muslim ban. The school cafeteria was humming with women, and some men, of different faiths, backgrounds and ages. Everyone in that room had come together, across lines that seemed to divide them, to provide emotional support to one another, pray, and directly challenge the idea that “the other” should be feared and shunned. Vigils like this were happening with over a thousand Sisters nationwide.
For two years we filmed numerous local chapters of the Sisterhood, across several regions of the country. We witnessed the transformative power of creating relationships with those you consider “the other”. The care and cultivation of these Sisterhood bonds, the commitment to intentional relationship and deep listening and the power these practices have as a pathway out of fear and hate was deeply inspiring to witness.
We could not imagine that more than 3 years later, as we prepare to share the film, the country would find itself roiled by crisis. That Americans already exhausted by years of division, now in the grip of a pandemic, would face a reckoning of racial trauma and justice that has been a long time coming. So much pain has been laid bare in this moment. Watching the film now, the flashpoints of hate we include in the story strike us as early warnings of the current tumult.
Never has it felt more important to embrace the lessons of the Sisterhood. Near the end of the film, a group leader speaking to Muslim and Jewish sisters about the Israel-Palestine conflict explains, “In conversations such as these, we want to lead with what we’re not certain about.
We’re listening not to react, but to go deeper into a relationship with one another.” More than we could have anticipated, these words ring out with a stinging moral clarity. This kind of listening, in such a fractured time in history, is a radical act.
The story of the Sisterhood has planted in us the seeds of bravery needed to look closely at ourselves, examine our biases, listen hard and reach out as allies to “the other.” We witness how the mission of building supportive friendships in solidarity with each other, across lines of difference, can be a powerful way to create change. We hope this story inspires audiences to move through the uncomfortable fear and embrace curiosity, trusting that there is so much we all share and that our differences, rather than a threat, can be a source of joyful discovery.