What started off as a group full of professional yet skeptical Jews and Muslims ended with a bond as strong as blood.
“There isn’t a boundary anymore, so we’re one big group of friends. It’s like we became a family,” said Deborah Tehrani, 31, a Jew from Sherman Oaks, one of 24 people who recently celebrated the conclusion of their time as NewGround Fellows. The program brings young Muslim and Jewish professionals together to help transform how the two groups relate to each other.
As part of NewGround’s annual iftar — the Muslim break-fast during Ramadan — more than 200 people gathered on July 17 at Wilshire Boulevard Temple to listen to reflections from some of the fellowship’s participants. For those leaving the program, the event was a bittersweet moment.
“I’m excited and sad because the past seven months, we’ve become very close,” said Rumaisa Rahman, 35, a Muslim who owns a promotions and entertainment company and lives in Studio City. “It started with people holding back, and now we’ve become a family.”
Outgoing participants said they look forward to applying what they’ve learned. Rahman, for example, is excited about working on the Web series the group created that will be used to post videos focused on Muslim and Jewish issues.
The event included a period during which attendees were engaged in an abbreviated version of the kind of exercises used in the program. At one point, everyone present was instructed to find someone they didn’t know. Then, in response to a question, they took turns talking for 90 seconds and listening for 90 seconds. This was followed by 30 seconds of silence during which everyone found a new partner with whom they pondered the answers of the previous one.
Topic included: Where do you find community? Who do you consider your people? What inspires you? With each new question, everyone found a new partner.
Dinner was also part of the event, and everyone was allowed time to pray, eat or shmooze.
Rabbi Sarah Bassin, executive director of NewGround, sees the outgoing participants as now part of a greater network of graduates who can use their influence to “help resolve future conflicts that may arise in the community and to act as bridge builders at a time when there is no bridge.”
NewGround currently is looking for its next fellowship cohort of Jews and Muslims. Those interested may apply at muslimjewishnewground.org. If they’re anything like Farah Abdulla, 33, a Muslim physician who lives in Pasadena, they should be ready for new ideas and growth.
“I’m looking forward to coming together with a common understanding that we’ve changed over the course of the last eight months, at least our worldviews,” she said. “I feel that I better understand the Jewish perspective and where they’re coming from.”