It all started six months ago when my husband and I first moved to Brooklyn. We had been living in South-East Turkey surrounded by family members and friends in the same complex. I wanted to bring that sense of “neighborliness” with me when we moved to the U.S. and I also wanted the neighbors to know that even though I covered and looked like a terrorist from the desert, at least I was clean and friendly.
The first week we moved in, I made chocolate chip cookies. I know Americans — every one of them loves home-made chocolate chip cookies. That’s like a given. Every culture has a deep love and appreciation for something – English love chips. Turks love tea. Irish love…etcetera.
I was probably the first person to do this in the 21st century but that’s okay. I was going to be assertive in being a neighbor. My new neighbors were going to like me AND my chocolate chip cookies.
The first few doors I knocked on in the building gave me surprised but polite responses “What a nice idea, but I’m on a diet.” “Thank you so much, I’ll give these to my sons.” “This was so thoughtful! Unfortunately I have to watch my sugar intake you know because…” I had a feeling this would happen. I knew from movies a lot of New Yorkers were on diets, especially if they were old.
It wasn’t until I knocked on the last door that I realized most of them weren’t actually on diets.
It began normal enough. I knocked on the door and was greeted by three little voices that all chimed in “cookies!!” followed by an older woman who shooed them out of the way. I explained my mission in cookie making and assertive friendliness and the woman smiled and said “Thank you, but we’re kosher.”
“Oh! Nice to meet you” (trying to shove off 3 dozen cookies to very bubbly little boys)
“Thank you so much but we’re kosher.”
Pause. “Oh okay. I’m Muslim.”
I had no idea what kosher meant. When I got home (2 flights of stairs later) I googled it and realized that the reason my cookies weren’t the assertive success I thought they were was because I lived in an extremely orthodox Jewish neighborhood that followed a strict dietary regiment (that, by the way, did not actually shun sugar).
I then realized that all of those weird Ks on packages in the market actually meant Kosher. Skirts were not an in fashion statement but a Jewish sunnah. No pizza stores open on Friday night was not an accident.
At first, I felt weird. I never lived by Jews before. Even before my conversion, I barely knew any Jews outside of extremely (and I use extremely lightly there) liberal reformers I knew from my undergraduate days. Now I was living in an Orthodox neighborhood. Completely surrounded.
But I lived here now, whether I liked it or not and since housing was so hard to find and expensive ANYWHERE in the city, I was going to have to get used to it. So I vowed to continue to be an assertive friendly neighbor. And I wrapped myself up like a ninja, made a quick dua, and went, for the first time, to a Kosher bakery.
As soon as I walked in, I was greeted with “Shalom” by a small group of black-hat and bearded Uncles. These seemed like the Jewish equivalent of old men in Turkey that sit around a shop all day drinking tea and talking, mostly because they are retired and have nothing else to do. I nodded and shuffled to the back where the cookies and cakes were. I explained to the woman working my predicament and she assured me all of the cookies baked in the store were K-certified. So I picked out a dozen and she placed them in a container and slapped on a label with a giant K on it.
I knocked on the door again and the old woman with the three little boys seemed equally as surprised when I handed her a case of K-certified thumbprints. The three little boys again squealed with excitement and inside I did too, knowing I did the right thing.
Every where (at least in the U.S. and specifically NYC) we see stickers and t-shirts with the logo “Coexist” spelled out with various religious emblems. Personally, I hate these. Coexist means just that — exist next to each other. It does not mean peacefully nor does it mean that we try to understand each other or accept each other for our differences.
When we make an attempt to truly understand each other’s lives, only then can we exist peacefully. This is the true example of interfaith.
As my little Jewish friends told me today before they stepped out of the elevator: Happy Sabbath to you too!