Executive Director’s Message
It has been only two months since I joined the Sisterhood staff team as the new Executive Director and so much has happened in this short period of time. From the very beginning of my engagement with the Sisterhood five years ago as a chapter member, chapter co-leader, and most recently, as a Board member and treasurer, I have been inspired by and deeply dedicated to the work and programs of this organization.
I approach my work as the Executive Director of the Sisterhood more as a mission than as a job. Although I have worked in different fields throughout my career, I have always been passionate about and involved in interfaith and social action work. My own life experiences and the teachings of my faith tradition have always pushed me to work on equality and to develop a deep appreciation for diversity in all levels of society and human existence, both spiritual and physical. The richness of the learning, sharing, and subsequent action we take comes only when we are open to each other and new experiences and perspectives. I have been, and intend to continue, working hard on building on the amazing legacy of co-founders Shery Olitzky and Atiya Aftab by deepening and further developing the work and the goals established over ten years ago.
We have grown quickly and have expanded our reach thanks to the leadership, activism, and skills that each one of you brings to this organization. We started with chapter-focused membership. Over the years, the need for broader engagement, geographically and thematically, has become evident. We have formed a number of committees to meet the needs and interests of different groups within our organization. Our Membership Committee, led by Fern Finkel and Amina Sillah, has done a thorough analysis and created a structure for outreach and support for both chapters and individual community members. Their summary of membership engagement speaks so well to our current work and future direction: “Sisterhood Members engage in inspiring and enriching opportunities for relationship building, social engagement, community service and advocacy actions. Sharing of Muslim and Jewish knowledge, values, faith and culture is ever-present in every aspect of our organizational fabric. Members also participate in an expansive and diverse array of programs, events, actions, and connections, in-person, virtually, and across social media.”
I am grateful to our dedicated President Roberta Elliott and the Board of Directors for their guidance and commitment to the organizational success and continued support of our members, regional coordinators, and staff. We will be holding a Board and Staff retreat this fall, where we plan to revisit our mission, form strategies, and define the next phase of the Sisterhood’s evolution. We look forward to sharing the outcomes of this meeting with all of you in our fall newsletter.
The Sisterhood’s main areas of focus are and will continue to be:
– Relationship building though cultural and educational events and experiential Building Bridges trips that will be either service- or education-focused
– Leadership training, empowerment seminars, and trainings on topics including, but not limited to, cultural sensitivity and competency, facilitation skills, community building, and interfaith dialogue, that will strengthen and build our leadership skills that can be used in our communities and the society at large
– Social justice work: utilizing the teachings of our faith traditions to work toward peace, equity, and human rights. To develop this work further, we have established the following Social Justice Action Groups and Committee:
-ICAS – Immigrant Communities Action Group
-Racial Justice Action Group
-Uyghur and Indian Muslims Support Action Groups
-Israel Palestine Committee
– Community-building: through local service projects and outreach initiatives, we will continue to partner with local organizations and provide services to disenfranchised and underserved groups in our society.
We are working on a number of workshops, trainings and a virtual trip. I hope that you will join us for many of these and I most certainly hope to see you at our upcoming virtual conference on November 14, 2021. Details and registration information are below.
One of my main goals for the beginning of my tenure with the Sisterhood has been to meet with as many members, partners, and allies as I can, to listen and gather information that will allow me to create strong relationships, and to assess the needs and form appropriate strategies for the future work of the organization. I would like to invite you to please contact me with any suggestions and questions or to simply have a chat so we can get to know each other. You can contact me at [email protected]. I look forward to speaking with you and working on accomplishing this important mission and providing any support you might need in addressing any of the issues you and your community face.
In Peace and Sisterhood,
Tahija Vikalo, Executive Director
Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom
Join Us to Welcome Our New Executive Director, Tahija Vikalo
This June, the Board of Trustees of the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom announced the arrival of our new executive director, Tahija Vikalo, of Bala Cynwyd, PA. Tahija comes to this position with deep knowledge of the Sisterhood, both as a co-leader of her Philadelphia-area chapter and as a Board member and Board treasurer.
Prior to the Sisterhood, Tahija worked with the American Friends Service Committee, as a program coordinator for Middle East and European programs, and then as a program director for Asia. She has also served as the Assistant Head of School, and Human Resources and Development Director for a consortium of Philadelphia-area Montessori schools.
In Tahija’s own words, “I am honored and excited to start this new chapter in my life. It comes at a time when world and national events require both Muslims and Jews to stand up and be counted in their support of all marginalized people. It is not an exaggeration to say that becoming the executive director of the Sisterhood feels like the culmination of everything I’ve worked toward professionally and personally. I look forward to working with and learning from all my sisters as we become true leaders in bringing change, justice and peace to this world.”
Tahija jumped into action and has spent her first eight weeks meeting with board members, volunteer leaders, funders, and other stakeholders, and working closely with staff and leadership to learn the ins and outs of the organization and define organizational priorities. We are thrilled to welcome Tahija into her role as Executive Director and look forward to ushering in this next phase in the Sisterhood’s development, one as committed as ever to uplifting the voices of Muslim and Jewish women of all ages and using the strength of interfaith partnerships to create positive community change.
Conference Registration Now Open!
The Sisterhood is excited to announce that registration is NOW OPEN for our 8th annual conference! Capitalizing on last year’s success at our first-ever digital event, we will again be holding a virtual conference. That means you can join us from wherever you are for a day of workshops, speakers, and one-on-one meet ups with sisters from around the world. We learned a lot from last year’s experience and are ready to make this year’s event better than ever!
What Can You Expect?
– Keynote presentations from renowned peace-builders, Dr. Amineh Hoti and Rabbi Sarah Bassin
– Small group discussions focused on transformative community action and ways we can all participate in justice work
-Opportunities to meet members from across the Sisterhood
– A virtual silent auction featuring artwork, gifts, experiential learning opportunities, and vacation stays
– A meet-and-greet with the Sisterhood’s new Executive Director, Tahija Vikalo
– And much more!
If you enjoy convening with a diverse group of women leaders dedicated to interfaith coalition-building, peace-making, and justice work, this conference is for you! Join us as we take part in the powerful work of transforming strangers into sisters! Register today!
Announcing the 2021-2022 National Teen Leadership Board
In 2019, under the guidance of Board of Trustees member, Annette Rotter, the Sisterhood launched a teen program, overseen by Assistant Director Samantha Facciolo and assisted by former teen co-leader turned part-time teen engagement associate, Olivia Rotter. The program has blossomed and now draws teen girls from cities as diverse as Manhattan, Providence, Memphis, Houston, Phoenix, Sacramento, and more. Teen members have opportunities to participate in local, teen-led chapters and participate in events on identity formation, the intersection of race and religion, service projects, leadership training seminars, and more.
Recognizing that the growth of the teen program presents a unique opportunity to foster leadership and partnership at a national level, this spring, the Sisterhood convened its inaugural cohort of the National Teen Leadership Board. During the 2021-2022 school year, a select group of teens will collaborate with peer leaders from across the country to design and implement programs where fellow Jewish and Muslim girls can come together, learn about one another, and explore the intersections of their identities across faith, ethnicity, race, nationality, and other lines of difference.
Please read on to learn more about these girls and their hopes for the future of the Sisterhood and for their world.
Sisterhood Leads National Food Relief Effort
The Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, in partnership with Islamic Relief USA, is in the final preparation stages for a national program focused on food relief and refugee assistance in the U.S. In the coming weeks, we’ll be sharing our multi-tiered approach to addressing these issues and will be offering ways for members across the country to get involved. Part one of the project will involve providing meals to recent arrivals at the Casa Alitas Program, which serves up to 150 migrants each day in Tucson. Part two will be connecting our network of members with refugees and recently arrived immigrants in local communities. We can’t wait to share the details of this project and invite you to get involved with this important work!
The Sisterhood has provided space in which members can share grief and uncertainty and offer one another support throughout the pandemic. Individual chapters have created their spaces for healing, and regional coordinators have thoughtfully created opportunities for gathering, learning, and connecting, even across distance. We are grateful for their efforts and the countless ways in which they touch our members’ lives. Wherever you live, whether you are in a chapter or are a community member, we hope you find strength and nourishment in the connections you make through the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom.
We are looking for Regional Coordinators in several areas, including in Kansas City, Metro NY, the Bay area, and greater Philadelphia. To learn more, contact [email protected].
This past week, Kansas City chapters held a screening of Stranger/Sister at the Kansas City Jewish Film Festival. A talk back session featured director Kirsten Kelly, KC Fox 4 News Anchor Christel Bell, and Sisterhood members Inas Younis and Sheila Sonnenschein. See below for details on how you can host a screening in your community!
Metro New York
The pandemic has been trying for all of us, and so many people have faced increased stress. With that in mind, in May, the NY Metro area Sisterhood chapters participated in a Mental Health First Aid Training. Abeda Khanam, a Queens chapter sisters and nationally certified instructor, provided the training. Abeda is also a chaplain with the New York State Chaplain Task Force and was able to offer the training due to grant support from the Kate Spade Foundation.
Twenty sisters completed the virtual, six-hour training, in which they learned to identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental health and substance abuse crises. They earned certification through the National Council for Behavioral Health as a first responder, which is akin to a CPR or first aid certificate.
In March, all six of Sacramento’s chapters, along with some helpers from their informal Men’s Group, supplied breakfast meals for people experiencing homelessness at Loaves & Fishes. Due to COVID restrictions, the sisters couldn’t serve the guests, but they provided, prepared and delivered meals for 260 people in need.
Stranger/Sister Film Screenings
The Stranger/Sister documentary film is currently available for Community and Classroom group screenings. Sisterhood members receive a discount on the license fee. Please visit www.strangersister.com and click on “SEE THE FILM” for more information. You may contact the Sisterhood directly at [email protected] to explore screening options for your community (including arranging an event with guest appearances by Sisterhood leadership, screening and educational pairings, dinner/brunch screenings, and more!) or you may contact Louis Otero, Screening and Sales Coordinator, at Odyssey Impact directly at [email protected]. To see whether an upcoming screening is occurring virtually or in-person in a community near you, please visit https://strangersister.odyssey-impact.org/screenings/. Make sure to check back often for newly added screenings!