Jewish-Arab coexistence group in Barcelona celebrate new years together

“Islamophobia and antisemitism have created this situation over time, and it is a vicious circle."

October 16, 2017 08:34
3 minute read.
Jewish-Arab coexistence group in Barcelona celebrate new years together

FROM LEFT: Leticia Torre, Oumaima Alouiz, Jura Zymantas and Rachel Sair engage in a discussion last Wednesday at the Salam Shalom Barcelona event.. (photo credit: DANI LINGUA / GALIT PHOTOGRAPHY)

A Jewish-Muslim coexistence group in Barcelona held its first major public event, drawing some 100 people to the cloisters of the Santa Anna church to celebrate the recent beginning of the Jewish and Muslim new years, which coincided this year – an occurrence that comes only once every 33 years.

The group, Salam Shalom Barcelona, was founded in February as a Spanish chapter of a budding global network which has branches also in Berlin, Copenhagen, Hamburg and Budapest.

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Veronica Sartore, one of the founders of the Spanish branch, learned about the movement during a visit to Berlin, when she attended a Salaam-Schalom Berlin event and was inspired by the concept behind it – to bridge between the Muslim and Jewish communities, to promote peaceful coexistence and solidarity, and to fight Islamophobia and antisemitism.

Sartore does not affiliate with any faith, though she developed a strong connection to Judaism after doing an internship in Neveh Shalom, an Arab-Jewish cooperative village in Israel.

“That is why the Jewish-Muslim relationship is a topic which is close to my heart,” she told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. Observing that Muslim and Jewish communities in the Catalan capital were “closed,” both toward each other and the rest of society, Sartore believes that an initiative such as Salaam-Schalom could help break down the walls.

“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is very present in the media, and it ends up dividing, mostly in an artificial way,” Sartore said.

“Islamophobia and antisemitism have created this situation over time, and it is a vicious circle. The more communities are afraid, the more they isolate themselves. I understand that, but this allows ignorance and prejudice to spread among people.”

Together with Jewish community leader Victor Sorenssen and a leader of the Muslim communuty Zouhair El Hairan, Sartore founded Salam Shalom Barcelona. The organizing committee includes five Jews, two Muslims and Sartore. Since February they have run regular meetings and workshops about Jewish and Muslim identity.

“People really see the need for such an initiative,” Sartore said. “The best way to fight against prejudices is to talk openly and engage in dialogue. It is hard sometimes, of course, but we think that strength lies in unity.”

Committee member Mohamed Ahsissene admitted that it was no easy feat attracting people to the organization, due to mistrust and ignorance in the primary target communities.

“Our work is to break down the many stereotypes and the lies and to show that we are people who want peace and coexistence,” he told the Post.

At Wednesday’s major public event, Ahsissene said, half of attendees were Muslim, and the other half a mix of Jews, Christians and nonaffiliated residents. He noted that there are some 500,000 Muslims in Catalonia, in comparison with some 10,000 Jews, so the ratio of Muslims to Jews is widely disproportionate.

Ahsissene is happy with the outcome of the event, which left him with the feeling that it had contributed to the reinforcement of the values of tolerance and coexistence in Catalonia.

A Muslim musician from Morocco performed with his band during the event, as did an Israeli musician with his band.

“The audience couldn’t distinguish between the Muslim and Israeli singers,” Ahsissene said, adding that this served as a bridge that connected the different communities.

“A lot of Muslims and Jews connected during the event and exchanged their contact details,” he noted, seeing in this potential for new friendships between members of the two communities.

Rachel Sair, a Jewish member of the organizing committee, said: “I loved getting to know as many guests as possible, each of whom came with an open mind and heart and genuinely wanted to be a part of an initiative that would bring people together from different experiences to make this world a better place. Hopefully, Wednesday was a step in the right direction.”

The event was made possible by a micro grant from the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation’s “MakeItHappen” project. The group was also supported by Mozaika magazine and the EuroArab association.

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