“Appreciating the Diversity” by Przemek Dudek and Mehmet Ersoy

Why would a Jew and a Muslim decide to leave the multicultural middle of nowhere (Szczecin, Poland) and take a 14 hour long journey? The answer and the reason is not a joke but an amazing grassroots initiative – Muslim Jewish Conference.

For the fourth time, young adults of Jewish and Muslim origin met in order talk to each other. Sounds clichéd? Well, one could very much anticipate singing “Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu” throughout the six days of the conference, and though the song was not left unsung, the high level of the experience is not to be questioned.

Participants were divided into committees discussing a wide range of topics, from the historical narratives to gender and religion and from learning the basics about the two religions to anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in films. The discussions during the sessions led to creating a number of projects that are to be implemented in the near future and become a platform for a dialogue between Muslims and Jews.

In the case of MJC it seems hard to say however what is of more significance. The sessions? Muslims and Jews praying together by the tombs of the victims of Srebrenica genocide? Or maybe the fact that for many of them it is the first time to face the “sneaky Jew” or the “plotting Muslim”?

Some of the stereotypes we both had were questioned, some generalizations came to life (“I thought it is only you who can’t stop talking for a second, but it’s all of you Jews!”) but mainly both groups could see the diversity of the Others. There were Orthodox Jews and secular Muslims, Zionists and beer-loving Arabs, people with such different backgrounds, beliefs and looks that putting them together in one hall would seem possible only for another photo-shoot of Benetton. They spent time together not agreeing on everything, not coming to a consensus about the elephant of the conflict in the Middle East but for sure they were treating each other with respect and openness, sometimes being brave enough to cross the political correctness in jokes from which both sides laughed. They talked in formal situations or while being trapped together in a broken elevator (yes, it did happen).

It might seem sad that just making people come together would require a conference or a seminar. It might seem sad that because of politics or other ideology people require such an event as MJC just to spend some time together. Let’s hope one day no one will need Muslim Jewish Conference in Sarajevo or anywhere else, but till that time the whole team is doing one good piece of a job.

– Przemek Dudek and Mehmet Ersoy; this blog was originally published here.
Photo Courtesy: Daniel Shaked

MJC does not support any political agenda and would like to emphasize that these posts reflect personal views of participants that wrote about their individual experience at an MJC conference.