Setting for interfaith seder
The setting for the interfaith seder at the Jewish Community Center. Photo my Mimi Pollack

Gunshots at a synagogue in Poway brought a tragic end to local Passover celebrations, but earlier in the week San Diego demonstrated how bridges of understanding are built with a holiday meal organized by an organization of Muslim and Jewish women.

The seder, a special meal celebrating Passover, was held by the San Diego chapter of the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom at the Jewish Community Center in La Jolla.

The national organization was co-founded in 2010 by Sheryl Olitzky, who is Jewish, and Atiya Aftab, who is Muslim, to fight hate and negative stereotypes that made the Holocaust possible. That philosophy has resonated among women of both religions, and today there are over 165 chapters with some 3,000 members.

Saima Akhter (;eft) and Eliza Slavet. Photo by Mimi Pollack

One of the leaders of the San Diego chapter is Eliza Slavet, a UC San Diego graduate with a doctoral degree in literature and a scholarly book, “Racial Fever: Freud and the Jewish Question,” to her credit.

“The day after the 2016 election, I woke up to the fact that I needed to do something to respond to the political divides and hatreds,” said Slavet. “I began looking for ways to get involved with interfaith activism and community-building in San Diego. I also wanted to commiserate with my Muslim friends.”

Slavet learned of the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom and found out there was no local chapter.

“I started to attend events at the Islamic Center of San Diego—both to learn about what sorts of actions were already in process, and to connect with Muslims as friends and neighbors,” she said. “As I met people along the way, I made little flyers and handed them to people at the grocery store, at the gym, at the Islamic center and beyond.”

Slavet is currently studying to be a rabbi, a process which has given her new insights into Jewish history and traditions, and this came through as she led the interfaith seder in an entertaining yet educational way.

Her Muslim counterpart at the event was Saima Akhter, who decided to join the sisterhood after long conversations with Slavet and the experience of attending a seder at her home. Like Akhter, a growing number of Muslim women are joining with their Jewish counterparts in the local sisterhood chapter.

There were about 50 women at the interfaith seder, almost evenly divided between Jews and Muslims. It was a truly international affair with women from many different countries, including Ukraine, Afghanistan, Morocco, Syria, Somalia, India and Pakistan.

Seeing a large interfaith group in San Diego engage in open dialogue as a counterpoint to the hatred in this world should give us all hope.

Mimi Pollack is a former English as a Second Language teacher and a freelance writer.

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