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I Spent the Shabbat After Trump’s Election With Muslim Leaders from Across America

Now of all times, we should listen to what they have to say

Yair Rosenberg
November 15, 2016

This past shabbat, I was originally supposed to give a talk at my local synagogue about the election results. Instead, I spent the weekend with Muslim leaders from across America. I’d previously been asked by the Shalom Hartman Institute to address their Muslim Leadership Initiative retreat on Sunday. But after Trump’s surprise victory, they requested that I join them for the entire weekend—and I couldn’t imagine a more appropriate and important place to spend the first shabbat after Trump’s election.

For those unfamiliar, MLI is a one-of-a-kind program pioneered by the Hartman Institute to foster dialogue between Jewish and Muslim leaders, particularly around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Now about to inaugurate its fourth cohort of participants, the initiative is headed by Imam Abdullah Antepli of Duke University and Hartman’s Yossi Klein Halevi and Daphne Price.

The attendees at this past weekend’s MLI alumni retreat spanned the gamut of the North American Muslim community. There were African Americans, Indians, Turks, Pakistanis, doctors, campus chaplains, imams, lawyers, writers, and political professionals from both sides of the aisle. For their courageous efforts to build relationships with the Jewish community and learn about the Jewish narrative, many of these leaders—like Rabia Chaudry, of “Serial” fame—have been subject to public shaming campaigns by absolutists in their own communities. And yet, they have persevered—and chose to spend the weekend after Trump’s seismic election with Jews.

Imagine for a moment being in their shoes. Imagine hearing a presidential candidate promise repeatedly to block members of your faith from entering the country and ruminating on the prospect of a registry for your fellow adherents. Then imagine that candidate was elected president by your country’s citizens. Imagine the uncertainty, the sense of betrayal, and the fear.

That was the context for the weekend. The MLI members expressed anger, grief, and determination, all while studying Jewish texts with their Hartman teachers and mining them for religious and political insight. In one of the more remarkable and frank conversations of the shabbat, they even sought advice from their Jewish instructors as to how they might weather a Trump presidency, given how much experience Jews have had with periods of persecution. (Halevi offered them eight different possible responses from Jewish history.)

These sorts of open and honest conversations seldom happen within religious communities, let alone between them. And they’re near impossible in our world of social media silos and political polarization, whose echo chambers almost always exclude the other. But in the aftermath of Trump’s election, we’re going to need to foster this discourse more than ever.

For decades, there have been those in the Jewish and Muslim communities who have been heavily invested in ensuring that both communities hate each other. On the one side, there are Jewish Islamophobes like Pamela Geller, and on the other, many in the BDS movement. MLI is the ultimate repudiation of these zero-sum worldviews, and living proof that progress is possible even as difference persists. And Trump’s election has exposed the rejectionists’ carefully cultivated communal hostility as morally myopic and politically untenable.

That’s why this week, we’re going to be turning over The Scroll to some of MLI’s members to address Tablet’s readership. Rather than have us write about American Muslims, as is too often the case in contemporary journalism, we’re going pass the microphone and let you hear from them.

Because now, more than ever, we need to hear their voices.

Yair Rosenberg is a senior writer at Tablet. Subscribe to his newsletter, listen to his music, and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.