Maryam Chishti (pictured left), founding resident of Moishe House New York City – Lower Manhattan (LoMa), is both Muslim and Jewish and both Indian and American. For Maryam, holding a myriad of identities can be challenging, not only because people may not understand her, but because they may react to her identities in a way that says “you’re not Jewish enough” or “you don’t belong here.”
While attending Brandeis University for her undergraduate degree, Maryam was asked by a young woman about her background. After Maryam responded she was Muslim and Jewish, the young woman responded, “Oh, so you hate Israel?” When Maryam went to visit her family in India, she was overly conscious of the fact that she didn’t know enough Hindi. Wherever she goes, it’s possible she may have to prove her identity in order to feel accepted. So when it came to applying to be a resident at Moishe House, it was natural for Maryam to wonder if she was “Jewish enough” to be accepted as a resident.
Stories like these are common for folks getting involved in the Jewish community, even at Moishe House. Upon reflection, Maryam says she’s very proud to be both Jewish and Muslim and extremely happy to find herself at Moishe House. But she also tries to take what she’s experienced, learn from it, and craft her Moishe House experience around inclusive principles in response to such experiences.
When asked what Moishe Houses and Pods could be doing to make more residents and community members feel like they’re “Jewish enough,” Maryam responded that providing Jewish education programs on multiple different levels of understanding could be a great way to start. When residents create a program about niche and/or specific aspects of contemporary Jewry, while interesting and engaging, some folks may not understand the basics of the topic. Providing entry-level Judaic programming says to community members and future residents that Moishe House can be a place for you to grow and learn, not just expand upon your already vast knowledge of Judaism and Jewish education. She also suggested that Houses and Pods name that they are a place for Jews of all Jewish backgrounds and journeys and that Moishe House can be a place to learn more if they’d like it to be. This could be a great line to include in Inclusion or Accessibility Statements in monthly newsletters, program invitations, and social media posts.
Moishe House is better because our community builders are diverse and because they share those diverse experiences. So, how can your Moishe House learn from Maryam and her experience? How can your Moishe House demonstrate to your community that all Jewish folks are welcome just the way they are? How can you say “you are enough”?
– Megan Bernard, Mid-Atlantic Community Manager