Saturday, August 2, 2014

Solving the World's Problems with Hummus...

My social media presence is filled with passionate articles, arguments, pictures and pleas concerning humanitarian crises occurring halfway around the world -- yet are close to my heart. I have my unique take on these issues -- some which I have expressed on my own pages and feeds.

But I'm not going to talk about that here.

Just about eight years ago (August 1, 2006) my mom died suddenly. It was a shock to everyone. I grew up in a traditional Jewish household emphasizing a strong Jewish education and had learned about the process and rituals surrounding death, burial and mourning. But I hadn't experienced it so closely until then. There was the tearing of a necktie I wore which my mom liked. The visitors during the first seven days of mourning (shiva). The walk around a pond I took with my Dad at the end of that week. And the following eleven months of gathering with the community to recite the Mourner's Kaddish, a prayer with which I became all too familiar.

"I should write a book about these experiences," I thought. And I started to do just that. A (slightly humorous) chronicle of blog posts of this year-long journey following my mother's passing, explaining the Jewish rituals I was experiencing for the first time. I never finished that book.

Fast forward a few years: I had met a blogger named Faiqa who wrote passionately about her life as an American Muslim woman. The way she would explain the rituals and beliefs of her religion and culture were so interesting. And, at times, funny. I approached her -- telling her that it would be amazing to collaborate on a book where we could share our own traditional experiences in our own quirky ways.

We decided to form a weekly podcast. "Hey! That's My Hummus!" got its name from the subject of our first episode -- which dealt with a conflict between student groups over a boycott of a brand of hummus being sold on campus. It wasn't the first time that Jewish and Muslim groups on a college campus (or anywhere else) had butted heads, nor would it be the last. But it was something which we could discuss light-heartedly as friends. Over the following 75 episodes, we talked about issues from our own vantage points -- whether they dealt with our religious and cultural practices or wereripped from the headlines that week. (We somehow spent a lot of time talking about Justin Bieber.)

This was truly a learning experience for the both of us as we had both experienced some avoidance between our two religious groups in the past. Perhaps it was a knee-jerk reaction figuring that we'd fundamentally disagree from the start and that it would be best for us to simply tiptoe around any interaction. But in our collaboration, we both learned so much about the values each other held dear. It certainly opened my eyes to new possibilities.

As far as I know, our podcast hasn't produced world peace (yet). That can't happen with simply one Jewish guy and one Muslim woman talking on a weekly basis. But it stresses that we ARE just people with our own stories and experiences. It's easy to generalize about "us" and "them" -- especially when groups are in conflict with each other. Only when we take that next step and think of each other as individuals -- that's when we can truly see progress.

You can do a web search on the podcast. Or, even better, come up with your own. Form a new relationship with another individual.


Mike Scheinberg
mike.scheinberg[AT]gmail.com
Alexandria, VA USA

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