In collaboration with the Moorestown Jewish Association (MJA), Moorestown’s United We Serve and the Muslim Federation of South Jersey hosted an interfaith youth dialogue at the Islamic Center of South Jersey (ICSJ) on March 12.
The panel was led by Imam Zubair of ICSJ and Rabbi Michael Perice of Temple Sinai in Cinnaminson, and the topic was Islamophobia and antisemitism.
“The goal is for the American Jewish people and the Pakistani Americans or Muslim Americans or whatever area that you’ve come from … We all share our cultures and also we share our experiences of Islamophobia and antisemitism in the United States,” said Saima Bhutta, a founder of United We Serve and vice president of the Muslim federation.
Moorestown students and students from other communities were on the panel, and it was something that Bhutta has always wanted to make happen. She was proud to see everyone’s openness and was happy that people weren’t hesitant to talk about such sensitive topics.
“These kids, like my own kids who are teenagers, they’re born and raised in the United States, and they’re very, very aware of the geopolitical conditions and they want to talk about it,” she noted of the students.
“I see that my kids always talk among themselves, but why can’t we start this among a bigger youth group of different faiths?”
Bhutta hopes the dialogue helps students who are involved become more comfortable around their peers, and learn how to respect each other’s similarities and differences.
“I would like these children to become closer to each other in the community, because they are growing up in the same community, they are going to the same school systems and they need to be open to each other, otherwise they’ll never come close to each other,” she explained.
“ … Even if we have some differences, they should be appreciated, and the diversity has to be appreciated to be understood.”
Palmyra Mayor Gina Tait believes the students showed bravery by participating in an event like the panel discussion considering their age.
“It tells me that their parents are doing the right thing,” she observed. “They do have people to go and talk to, which is awesome.”
Although everyone brought something valuable to the event, Bhutta hopes the discussion will lead to something more and looks forward to seeing people come together again.
“These kids, especially the teenagers … You will see how they will bring out their experiences in today’s day, where we think that things are really good, but they aren’t for some,” she pointed out. “ … They can protect each other or they can be a voice for each other.”
“This is my goal,” she added, “to bring the communities together so that they start thinking together and start dealing with these issues that are common to them, and the community.”