Israel-Hamas Violence Strains Jewish-Muslim Interfaith Groups In U.S. The fighting between Israel and Hamas is straining U.S. interfaith groups, even during the cease-fire. They've lost some members because of the pressure. But others are forging ahead.

Mideast Violence Tests The Relationships That Interfaith Groups Work Hard To Build

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The cease-fire between Israel and Hamas is holding for now, but it's fragile. Here in the U.S., interfaith groups of Jews and Muslims are trying to figure out how to navigate this moment. Deena Prichep reports on how this conflict is testing the relationship that they have worked so hard to build.

DEENA PRICHEP, BYLINE: Like a lot of Palestinians in the U.S., Aziza Hasan has been hugely affected by what's happening in her homeland.

AZIZA HASAN: This - right now, like, I'm in a world of pain.

PRICHEP: Hasan leads NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership.

HASAN: And it's people reaching out to me and me reaching out to people that starts to help us figure out what we can do together.

PRICHEP: Like many interfaith groups, they work to build relationships. It's not about sermons from imams and rabbis. It's about individuals, programs and trainings and events where, over the years, tens of thousands of people have talked and found common ground and learned how to disagree but still hear each other.

HASAN: It's just really hard work, especially, like, right now. We have people who are saying I'm done, like, I need space.

ATIYA AFTAB: It's very hard to sit at the table when you think others don't understand what you're going through.

PRICHEP: Atiya Aftab is one of the founders of the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, which has over 150 chapters across the country. Like several interfaith groups, they specifically avoided addressing the situation between Israelis and Palestinians at first because it is so divisive.

AFTAB: Let's build the relationship first and then we'll get to that when we're ready.

PRICHEP: It took about 10 years to get ready. During that time, the group issued statements on synagogue attacks in the U.S., Muslim Uyghurs in China. But then last year, they visited the U.S. Mexico border.

AFTAB: Where we literally stood in front of a wall, where we literally went through checkpoints, and it became clear to us that we could not not talk about Israel and Palestine anymore.

PRICHEP: With a lot of talk, and a lot of tears, they wrote a statement supporting nonviolence. And more recently, they wrote another condemning the Israeli police attacks against worshippers in East Jerusalem, the evictions of Palestinians from their homes and the violent responses from Hamas and the Israeli military. Some members thought the group went too far; others, not far enough. But they're coming together - to talk, to cry, to pray. Other groups like New York's Muslim Jewish Solidarity Committee are having a harder time finding that common ground. Michelle Koch is the executive director.

MICHELLE KOCH: We've been doing all this work for five years, trying to create dialogue, trying to create openness and hoping that when we get to these moments, people will somehow hold hands and, you know, bring peace. But that's not necessarily the case.

PRICHEP: Koch still has family back in Israel and knows people are hurting. But...

KOCH: I thought that people would be more willing to talk. And some are, but a lot are not.

PRICHEP: They're trying to figure out what's next, coming up with guidelines to get people back in the room together and talking, really hearing each other. At NewGround, Aziza Hasan is also looking ahead.

HASAN: Because I believe that Palestinian children's lives are sacred, and I believe the Israeli children's lives are sacred.

PRICHEP: And, Hasan says, the way to protect those lives is by working together.

HASAN: When we stand together and we try to make the world see each other, maybe, just maybe, we can stop at least ourselves from hardening our hearts and allowing that cycle to continue.

PRICHEP: A heart that's open is also one that can break. But Aziza Hasan hopes that heart breaks open to other's stories and understanding and peace.

For NPR News, I'm Deena Prichep.

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