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Building Bridges: A Talk with the Cofounders of the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom

“It’s easy to hate someone you don’t know, but when you know them it’s harder. When you care and love them, it’s impossible.” —Sheryl Olitzky

On February 18, ICJS hosted a film discussion of “Stranger/Sister” with Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom cofounders Atiya Aftab and Sheryl Olitzky. The film, which premieres in March 2021, chronicles the life and work of the Sisterhood, whose mission is to build trust, respect, and relationships between Muslim and Jewish women and teenage girls. Filmed over the course of three years, Emmy-winning filmmakers worked with Sisters from across the nation to capture this powerful story of building a network of hope in a time of chaos and hate.

The ICJS program began with Aftab and Olitzky describing the work they do, and what drove them to such tireless yet important endeavors. Given the alignment between the work of the Sisterhood and ICJS, the two organizations are frequent partners as both work to fight ignorance, bigotry, and hatred by building community.

Following the opening discussion with Aftab and Olitzky, there was a lively question-and-answer period followed by small-group breakout rooms in which participants discussed issues from the documentary, such as shared values, including religious pluralism, diversity, and conviction. With participants joining from 20 states and countries, there was a wide range of conversation.

“We have no reason not to come to the same table,” said Aftab of the importance of collaboration across differences. “Let’s get to know each other; let’s walk in each other’s shoes; let’s learn each other’s stories; and maybe we can come to a better understanding that we need to learn to love and respect [each other].”