‘WHY I LOVE TO BE AROUND MUSLIMS’ By Carla Habif, Brazil

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Let me explain this title. It comes as an answer to people who keep asking me what happened to me in the last years, why did I “get crazy” and began to walk around with Muslims. So I am telling you:

I’m Jewish. Daughter of Jewish parents, I studied at a Jewish school, and was a part of a Jewish youth movement. Judaism has always been a strong part of my life– as a religion, as a philosophy, as a tradition and – if I may cross a line here – as a kind of nationalism.

I always heard about some kind of conflict between “us” and Muslims. For some reason I never understood this. Maybe because my father had such amazing stories about his life in Cairo, where he had friends from all faiths (Jews, Muslims, Christians and more). His family had to leave Egypt after Gamal Abdel Nasser forced all the Jews to leave the country…but nevertheless, amazing stories!

I went to Israel five times– a country where plenty of Muslims live– and never got the chance to meet one, so I looked for my answers somewhere else. I found out about the Muslim Jewish Conference during a Summit in Jerusalem. This is how I found myself in Sarajevo, Bosnia in June 2013.

I was so happy to finally get the chance to meet Muslims and Jews together, to talk and discuss about our problem. Until I found out that we didn’t have a problem. We had solutions! It was amazing and I would need a whole book to tell you exactly what happened there. But let me say I had the time of my life. I gained hope, I felt in love with my new friends, and I learned a lot. In Sarajevo I met Sarah. A wonderful Moroccan girl. It took me a while to understand if Sarah was Muslim or Jewish, as it turned out, she is Muslim. She loves Morocco and kept telling us we should visit her… five months later, I went to Morocco. Just like that.

I stayed at Sarah’s house, with her family, and spent my days in Marrakesh with her friends. I used my “siddur” to pray every day, and her family prepared me kosher food. I wanted to visit their holy places and they took me to mine. No words could describe this week in Marrakesh. Sarah shared everything with me. Marrakesh is incredible; the views, the people, the chaotic traffic. Sarah’s friends – I hope I can say my friends now – were so welcoming. Some of them drink, some don’t, some of them smoke, some don’t. Some of them asked me why Jews hate Muslims. I simply answered that we don’t. We talked for hours, understanding and laughing about the misconceptions we had about each other. It was the most valuable conversation of my life. Forgetting I was a Jew among Muslims, we talked about everything. We talked about how religion is a symbol of love and respect; sadly some people manipulate religion to ruin life and use words of hate, but they are a minority… but have money for propaganda.

I cried when I left Morocco. I knew I was going to miss that place and its people.

To explain the title: “I love to be around Muslims” I love to be with them because they are curious about my religion; because I’m in love with their stories with their way of life and with their culture. “My Judaism” is not very easy to explain. It is everywhere in me. In my faith, in my culture, in my work, in the books I read. Everywhere. It is not only religious and it is not only cultural. Yes, it is very easy for me to be surrounded by Muslims.

After this wonderful week I went to Jerusalem where I took a course for teachers about the Holocaust. We were teachers from all over Latin America, from every age and backgrounds; Jews, non-Jews, religious or not. It was amazing. This course topic made us understand that prejudice can drive people to horrible actions. Prejudice comes from not knowing the other. In order to know the other, we have to be able to talk and listen with an open mind, and soul. We need to understand that when the Bible says, “Love your neighbor as yourself” it means what it means. It is not telling you which neighbor to choose.

Thank you Sarah, for giving me this amazing opportunity to know more, to love more and to get in touch with a beautiful part of Judaism. Thank you, to all my friends from Latin America who studied with me at Yad Vashem and taught me so much. For you all, I’d like to dedicate a very beautiful part of the Ethic of the Fathers: “Who is the wise? The one who learn from every man”.

Carla Habif,

YaLa Young leaders

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