‘Sisters, No Matter What’


“We believe in peace, salaam, shalom,” sang Cantor Ellen Dreskin, as the group of (mostly) Muslim and Jewish women sang along. Their voices were particularly strong as the verse, “We will work for peace, salaam, shalom,” echoed through the Riverfront Art gallery at the Riverfront Larkin Plaza Yonkers library earlier this month at the opening reception for the exhibit, “Leave Your Swords at the Door.”

The exhibit, which focuses on issues of identity from Muslim and Jewish perspectives, was co-sponsored by a Westchester chapter of the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom and developed by Haifa Bint-Kadi, curator of the Riverfront library’s gallery.

Bint-Kadi, an artist and member of the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, hopes the exhibit helps people explore “how art might be a way to have discourse about differences.”

As viewers look at the various pieces, she said, even if they ask themselves, “‘Is that Jewish? Is that Muslim?’” she hopes they will also ask, “‘Why does it matter and why am I asking that?’” It’s fine if some of the work is challenging, added Bint-Kadi. “That’s how we grow. We need to lean into discomfort.”

The works represent a variety of media, including soft sculpture, textiles, photographs, oil and watercolor paintings and drawings, images of Holocaust survivors, even a joyful quilt made by third and fourth graders from Temple Beth El of Northern Westchester and the Upper Westchester Muslim Society. Some of the featured pieces focus on text, with a series of 36 olive wood forms inscribed with the Oslo Accords embedded in a sand installation, or an unfurled oak tag colored pencil and watercolor pencil reflecting images and ideas of Jerusalem.

For artist Sania Samad, an Ardsley resident who’s originally from Pakistan, her exhibit — three traditional garments worn for weddings, one from her mother’s dowry and one from her own, with a black heart stitched on top — is highly personal. She said, “The black heart is there to protect. My work is all about contradictions in the world. Your perspective changes when boundaries change. Truth is so blurry. What is the truth?”

Even as conversation sometimes turned to the terrorist attack in Lower Manhattan Oct. 31, those who gathered at the gallery found it a consoling event.

“It’s so nice to be here, especially this week,” said Aliza Sultan of Yonkers. As she admired the quilt made by the children, added, “in a nutshell, this is what it’s about. It’s celebrating your similarities and your differences.”

The exhibit represented other dimensions to the work of the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, a national network of Muslim and Jewish women committed to building bridges and working against prejudice and negative stereotypes. In Westchester, there are now five Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom chapters, each of which maintains a careful balance of one Muslim woman for each Jewish woman. While most of the activities to date have centered on social events, like holiday meals, or cultural outings to meaningful exhibits, concerts and theater; social action projects or discussions about each faith’s particular traditions and beliefs, this exhibit represents a new effort.

As Vicki Greif said, “We want to do more that brings us together, and do more that touches people. This is one of them.”

Added Adrian Stizhak, “This shows the beauty of a mixed group. Art does not come from one side or another. This raises consciousness in the community. Jews and Muslims have nothing to argue about. We have things to discuss. We are sisters no matter what.”

The exhibit will be on view at the library through Nov. 24, 2017—for gallery and library hours, please check http://www.ypl.org/riverfront/