As Americans, we are enduring an age of mistrust. In the current dialogue, there appears to be some uncertainty over the nature of the American Somali-Jewish relationship. This needs to be rectified.
The Somali and Jewish communities of America are right now in a period of growing mutual respect and collaboration. It is happening on the local levels, as well as nationally and globally. Our communities are coming together, not dividing. At this moment, it is important for us to know to a certainty that the positive trends we are seeing are real. I know this from my personal experiences as an advocate for tolerance, leading an organization dedicated to countering hate speech and extremism. I’m also American and Somali.
I recall sitting in Temple Israel in Minneapolis, having been invited by Rabbi Zimmerman. The stone walls of the temple were inscribed with, “This will be a house of prayer for all people.” We in the Somali community were invited to join the congregation, to learn and also to bring Somali artists, poets and organizations that shared our Somali culture with our fellow citizens in the Jewish community.
I reflect on how the Jewish Community Relations Council offered their security experts to all Minnesota mosques after the bombing of a mosque in Bloomington, Minnesota, which was predominantly attended by Somali-Americans. These experts worked with our mosques to implement important methods for protecting our houses of worship from future incidents, including active shooters. All of this was done without cost. It was pure good will.
I think about Shir Tikvah Synagogue that invited members of our Somali community to dinner during Ramadan. They cooked a halal meal for us and broke fasting with us. I remember this specifically because I taught the congregation to say welcome in Somali, and this house is your house.
Our mutual respect is far reaching. When an anti-Semite shot up a synagogue in Pittsburg, many Somalis went to pray in Jewish synagogues to show solidarity. After bombing hoaxes were sent to synagogues across the country, our Somali clergy in Minnesota, along with other Muslim clergy, took an advertisement in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune condemning anti-Semitism.
We Somalis and Jews have come to an understanding that we are minorities facing a common problem of extreme hate — anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and racism. The Jewish community and Somali community have built a relationship on American values of tolerance and respect. We know that diversity is our strength, and we are working to expand it within our communities. We know that we stand with each other, leaning on one another.
The relationship between Somalis and Jews in America is not only for our national benefit. We are also a symbol of what can be in the world. We can set the example, showing how human beings can live in equal dignity, with liberties and rights uninfringed. These are the values of our Jewish leaders, Somali leaders, and more broadly Jewish and Muslim leaders around the world.
The discourse of our nation must focus on the country we want to build, to seek out points of strength and grow from it. Today, it seems we can barely agree or count on anything, but one thing we can count on is the continued building of respectful and strong relationships between the American Somali and Jewish communities.