Published December 23rd, 2019 at 11:00 AM
American Jews and Muslims are joining together to perform acts of goodwill during the holiday season.
The Kansas City chapters of the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom took part in an effort that is happening in numerous cities across the country as part of an annual tradition of giving known as the Sadaqah-Tzedakah Day.
In the Islamic tradition, Sadaqah means voluntary charity and a virtuous deed. The word is derived from the Arabic root sadq, meaning “truth.”
In Judaism, the word tzedakah derives from the Hebrew root tz/d/k, which literally means “justice.”
The Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom is an organization that cultivates relationships and understanding between Muslim and Jewish women. Founded in 2010, it currently has 160 chapters across the United States and Canada, four of which were based in the Kansas City area.
Every year Sisterhood members organize a community service project on or around Christmas Day. The Sisterhood views it as an opportunity to support their community at a time when many are so busy getting ready to celebrate Christmas.
Allison Berey, CEO of M:CALIBRATE, a strategic marketing and growth consultancy based in Kansas City and Sisterhood member since 2014, says that she especially enjoys giving back at this time of the year.
“My participation in the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom has been very personally rewarding, so I particularly love opportunities to contribute to our community along with my Muslim and Jewish sisters,” she says.
In years past the Kansas City chapters of the Sisterhood have served the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge, which provides a free home away from home for cancer patients and their caregivers.
In 2017 all four Kansas City chapters came together to cook breakfast for the patients and families of those residing at the Ronald McDonald House, which provides comfortable lodging convenient to a health facility.
Last year Sisterhood members designed care packages and delivered them to Safehome, an organization that supports survivors of domestic violence.
This year they are expanding that effort by supporting two additional shelters – Yatim House and Newhouse – which use evidence-based domestic violence intervention techniques and therapies to move more families into self-sufficiency and violence-free lives.
Volunteers from all four area chapters and some of their children met last week at the Overland Park home of one of its members, Dr. Reem Mustafa, associate professor at the University of Kansas Medical Center.
They spent the evening collecting donations and sorting through hundreds of items that they intend to deliver to area shelters before Christmas Day.
As one of this year’s Muslim organizers, Dr. Mustafa was humbled by the outpouring of support. She says that so many of her sisters drove through snow and ice to deliver donations to her house.
“For many of us who do not celebrate Christmas and especially for our kids and youth, it can be very challenging to feel that you belong to this community that you love,” she says. “The holiday spirit of giving, of helping others, and of sharing happiness is part of all religious traditions. The Sadaqa/tzedakah event helps us do exactly that.”
The women spent most of the evening assembling toiletry kits and organizing gifts and supplies based on the individual needs and requests of the shelter.
Sheila Sonnenschein, who serves on the national advisory board of the Sisterhood says they chose to support women’s shelters because they want to help women start new lives in a safe environment.
“I think it dovetails nicely with the Sisterhood because we are sisters helping sisters,” she says.
Healthcare IT professional and member of the Islamic Center of Johnson County Farha Azaz joined the Sisterhood about three years ago. She is a regular volunteer and believes in the importance of giving back.
“When God blesses you financially, don’t raise your standard of living, rather raise your standard of giving,” she says.
Near the end of the evening, everyone gathered for a group photo and then a few designated volunteers were tasked with delivering all the gifts and supplies to their destinations.
Dr. Mustafa says that the annual Sadaqa/Tzedaqa event really helps participants realize how much we have in common.
“It highlights just how much good there is in humanity.”
— Flatland contributor Inas Younis is a freelance journalist and commentator.