I Found my Place as an Ally

By Clare Stern, Better Together @ UNF President and Interfaith Center Student Assistant

“Can’t lay down and wait for a miracle to change things So lift up your eyes, lift up your heart Singing, mercy will we overcome this Oh, one by one, could we turn it around Maybe carry on just a little bit longer And I’ll try to give you what you need” ~Dave Mathews,Mercy

Over the last year I have been on a journey to find out what my role and purpose in the interfaith movement is; where do I fit in? I have offered my voice in conversation, I have engaged with others across difference in planning events, and worked alongside others in pursuit of the common good. Interfaith work has come naturally to me. I have never had a problem with this; in fact I have been engaged with interfaith work the majority of my life and have found a vocation through it- yet something was missing. I have always felt there was something more that I could be doing.

My superiors at work and some of the mentors at IFYC often use the word “ally” in reference to interfaith cooperation and participation in the work Better Together is involved in. This is the part that was missing for me. I never really understood what it meant to be an ally. There were times where I have felt a call-to-action when I would see awful things in the world, most of the time happening to my Jewish and Muslim counter-parts, yet I had no idea what to do. I identify as someone from the majority. I didn’t want to intrude on someone else’s grieving process or step into a place where I may not be welcome. I would remain silent in conversation, forgetting that I too have a place in the grieving process.

Summer of 2014 during the Israel-Hamas airstrike attacks, I would hear stories in the media about how many rockets had been fired into each territory, the death count, the children that were being injured etc. My heart was breaking; yet I didn’t know how to respond to this. I didn’t think that I had a place to feel sad. My friend and IFYC Alum, Andrew Luisi was in Israel while the Israel-Hamas airstrikes were happening. I told him that I wanted to do something, but didn’t know how and that I was feeling so incredibly sad and hurt that extremists weren’t looking at another’s humanity and only at their objective to retaliate. I didn’t feel that I was allowed to feel anything since I had no direct tie to the conflict. He said to me, “it’s a humanity issue, the only way we are going to solve this is through compassion. People are hurting on both sides – were are allowed to grieve too.” These words have been stuck in my mind each and every time some intolerant act comes about in the world.

February 11, 2015 three lives were taken from this world. Although I didn’t know them I felt that they were my friends. I looked at the images of their faces and saw the faces of my friends in MSA (Muslim Student Assocation). This became personal. I was now at a crossroads in my interfaith life. Do I step up and show compassion and grieve alongside my friends or do I just remain silent? I chose to stand up and volunteer to give the opening remarks for a vigil we put on at UNF in honor of the three victims of the Chapel Hill Shooting. I am not a fan of public speaking, but I felt moved and called to stand beside my friends. There is no wrong time to say “I’m with you.” Together we can heal in our humanity and show the world that we really do work better together. The smallest of acts can make people have a change of heart. I found myself leaving my identity as student interfaith organizer and emerging into an interfaith ally. I found the strength to overcome a fear because I knew that change had to be made.

Strength in numbers can only make change. That change begins with me. Words from the vigil Early Wednesday morning, students Deah Barakat, aged 23, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister Razan, 19, were gunned down in their Chapel Hill home by a neighbor. Tonight, we the allies of: Deah, Yusor, Razan, Muslim Student Association, and all that are suffering remember that, we are bound together in a common life. Let us help each other, in the midst of our struggles for justice and truth, to engage with one another without hatred or bitterness, and to work together with mutual forbearance and respect; As a community of multi-faith and moral traditions, let our Muslim American friends see that we stand strong with them in this difficult time and reject the intolerable actions of this shooter. Let us walk out into the world with the love and light these three young people carried in their spirit. Let that light help us recognize each other in kindness and heal in our humanity.

On behalf of the students of the interfaith student group, Better Together we sincerely appreciate an give thanks to the support of the allies for our friends and loved ones of MSA.

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