More than 120 people attended the formal launch of the Nisa-Nashim, the Jewish-Muslim Women’s Network.
The launch at the Islamia Girls School in Queens Park, north-west London was attended by Melanie Dawes, permanent secretary at the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), which is supporting the initiative.
Ms Dawes said: I’m a passionate believer in the power of women’s networks and one of my priorities as Gender Champion is to rejuvenate and support gender and women’s networks across the Civil Service. By tapping the ideas, passion and knowledge of people who work there, effective networks can help both to create change in organisations, and support leaders and managers in implementing it.”
She added: “My congratulations to Julie Siddiqi, Laura Marks and all the Nisa-Nashim team on the success you’ve had so far.”
Three pupils from the school spoke about peace, harmony and their hopes for the future while Muslim storyteller Jumana Moon told a Jewish folk story.
Ahead of the event, Baroness Williams, parliamentary under-secretary at the DCLG said: “I think [interfaith initiatives] are always important, but obviously now it is a good time – in terms of diffusing some of those tensions for people who share common values together.”
She said both communities valued “the importance of family, education, achievement in employment and the importance of their faith.”
Given the current escalation of violence in the Middle East, Julie Siddiqi said: “The timing makes this more important, not less – it encourages and motivates us more.” Laura Marks added: “We need to show that that Jews and Muslims have more in common than that which drives us apart. Women are genuinely looking for ways to engage with one another and reach out to do something. Nisa-Nashim gives us permission and confidence.”
Nisa-Nashim means women in Hebrew and Arabic and emphasises the two communities’ shared roots rather than their differences. Early projects include Come Dine With Me style dinner parties with groups of Muslim and Jewish women, interfaith cookery for asylum seekers, walking groups and collaboration with organisations such as the Separated Child Foundation and Mitzvah Day to support refugees. As the project develops, Nisa-Nashim’s aim is to influence the integration agenda in wider society.
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©2013 Women in Jewish Leadership / Board of Deputies of British Jews / The Jewish Leadership Council