By Natalie Roisman, Co-Leader, Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom Arlington Area Chapter
Members of the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom Arlington Area Chapter volunteered with family and friends as part of Volunteer Arlington's MLK Day of Service on January 15. After listening with 700+ other volunteers to inspiring words from community leaders about the purpose of the day, we worked with Bridges to Independence to pack welcome kits for families staying at Bridges' emergency shelter.
Why did we join in the Day of Service? The SOSS Arlington Area Chapter is part of a national movement, based in New Jersey, with the goal of bringing together Muslim and Jewish women to build trust, respect, and lasting relationships. "Salaam" and "Shalom" mean "peace" in Arabic and Hebrew, respectively. Co-founders Sheryl Olitzky and Atiya Aftab envisioned SOSS members influencing family, friends, and their local communities about the strength of coming together to build bridges and fight hate, negative stereotyping, and prejudice.
Our local SOSS chapter was formed in 2017 and is comprised of 15 Muslim and Jewish women. Since last fall, we have been meeting together for monthly potluck dinners in members' homes with the aim of building bridges across religious and cultural lines, exploring each other's faith traditions, forming substantive relationships, and working together to put an end to acts of hate. In addition, we look for opportunities to give back to the community and demonstrate our shared values of taking care of those in need. We felt called to make the MLK Birthday a "day on," not a day off, and to use the opportunity to give to others as representatives of our faiths and of SOSS.
In particular, the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s widow, Coretta Scott King, resonated with us as SOSS members and helped explain why we wanted to participate together in the MLK Day of Service. She said, "It is a day of interracial and intercultural cooperation and sharing. No other day of the year brings so many peoples from different cultural backgrounds together in such a vibrant spirit of brother and sisterhood." Rather than doing a service project on our own, we wanted to be part of the Arlington community's intercultural cooperation and sharing, making our Sisterhood part of a broader brother and sisterhood. Several of us also brought our children, noting Coretta Scott King's vision that "it is the young people of all races and religions who hold the keys to the fulfillment of his dream."
Just as SOSS members work to build bridges with each other, we relish the opportunity to build bridges with the larger community. And as an extra benefit of this year's Day of Service, we were able to work with Bridges to Independence, underscoring the relevance of the "bridge" metaphor and the role we all can play in bettering our world.
We were proud to be part of such an amazing community turnout and a well-run event. We hope that our engagement encourages other organizations to bring their members in the future. There is so much we all can learn and do when we come together as a community. The members of the Arlington Area Chapter of SOSS look forward to participating in the 2019 MLK Day of Service and continuing to be a model on MLK Day and everyday for community engagement, intercultural cooperation, peace, and service.