25/04/2018 11:39 BST | Updated 25/04/2018 11:39 BST

Why 50 Leading Jewish Women Chose Now To Make A Stand For Our Muslim Cousins

When we feel isolated and under ourselves, it is also the time to stick by our friends

Yakir Zur
Jewish and Muslim together at the Nisa-Nashim conference - the largest such event in Europe

You can’t open a newspaper or log onto a website at the moment without reading about anti-Semitism.

Who would have thought that in 2018 there would be a debate in Britain’s Parliament about abuse and attacks on Jewish people? Or that Jewish MPs and celebrities would be tweeting about the vile abuse they have received.

The latest report from the CST – the charity that measures anti-Semitic attacks and intimidation – shows hate crimes against Jews at a record high. The Jewish community was targeted at a rate of nearly four times a day last year.

So why, in this climate and at this moment, did 50 well-known Jewish women write to local councillors and candidates around the UK asking them to tackle an increasing number of attacks… against Muslim women?

The list of signatories to the letter included women from all sectors of the Jewish community – from MPs Luciana Berger and Ruth Smeeth to Facebook Vince President Nicola Mendelsohn CBE to spiritual leaders and heads from Orthodox and Progressive movements.

The reason was our shock at reading stats from Tell MAMA that women who are visibly Muslim feel the greatest impact of anti-Muslim hatred – and that the majority of victims of in-person or street-based incidents are female.

This is quite astonishing – where else are women at greater risk of abuse or attack than men?

But still people asked me, why send this letter now when we have enough problems with the attacks on our own Jewish community?

My answer is that hatred of the other is one of the biggest problems in the world today, full stop.

Both Jews and Muslims tend to live in tight communities – sticking to our own boroughs, school and shops – and this is likely to become more so as we feel more under threat.

All of us tend to face in when we are afraid – and that is the pattern we are seeing today in Britain. This is counterproductive and the start of a vicious circle.

Mitzvah Day, the UK’s largest day of faith-based social action, recently commissioned a report from the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations at Coventry University.

It made a very interesting read, especially the evidence it cited that outgroups benefit particularly from positive interaction with other people and these positive feelings can actually reduce prejudice against the group generally.

Both Jews and Muslims are outgroups. We are not the only ones in the UK, but we are very specifically feeling uneasy in the current crisis.

We are hearing a great deal about anti-semitism right now, and rightly so, but who is talking about attacks on Muslims, particularly the most vulnerable amongst them, the women.

I speak to Muslim friends around the UK and they tell me of their own experiences, or those of friends. They tell of people afraid to go out, to get on public transport, to live a normal life in our British towns and villages. When they do go out, they are often shouted at and told to “get out” or “go back to your own country”.

That’s why events like the Nisa-Nashim conference - Europe’s largest Jewish/Muslim conference, attended entirely by women - are so important.

Nisa-Nashim is a national network of women of both faiths who have come together to focus on our similarities not our differences.

Whilst most of the time we talk about positive things such as food, festivals, friendship and family, sadly so often, what brings us together is a feeling of isolation and even fear. We build bridges with other sisters, mothers, daughters and cousins in a way which is inclusive, safe, and yes, female.

It has taught that we all need to take a broader perspective than only looking to our own. And that if you want to get something done, ask a busy woman!

So yes even when we feel isolated and under ourselves, it is also the time to stick by our friends.

Friendship is what makes life real and meaningful and that’s why so many Jewish women are fighting to support our Muslim cousins.