One Among Us Justice Award goes to interfaith friends

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Barb Arland-Fye
Lisa Killinger, left, and Gail Karp will receive the One Among Us Justice Award Sept. 13 in Davenport during the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award ceremony.

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

Gail Karp, who is Jewish, called her longtime friend Lisa Killinger, who is Muslim, to talk about the possibility of forming a local chapter of Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, which builds relationships between Muslim and Jewish women. Lisa loved the idea. “Salaam” is the Arabic word for peace and “Shalom” is the Hebrew word for peace.

The two had known each other for decades, connecting because of their shared interest and participation in social justice advocacy efforts in the Quad Cities. Gail is a retired cantor and Lisa is a past president of the Muslim Community of the Quad Cities.

“Lisa and I already had a relationship, and the trust and the access to the community. We could hit the ground running,” Gail said. So, seven years ago, she and Lisa co-founded the Quad Cities’ chapter of Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, which has been building friendships, baking bread, feeding the hungry and celebrating each other’s faith ever since. They never imagined themselves as local honorees alongside Atiya Aftab and Sheryl Olitzky, who co-founded the national Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom.

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Atiya and Sheryl, who live in New Jersey, will accept the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award on Sept. 13 at St. Ambrose University in Davenport. At the same time, Gail and Lisa will accept the One Among Us Justice Award, first presented in 2017 to recognize local peace-fostering efforts.

The interfaith Pacem in Terris Coalition, which the Diocese of Davenport oversees, selected Atiya and Sheryl for the award on the recommendation of Lisa, a coalition member. Later, the committee chose to honor Gail and Lisa with the One Among Us Justice Award but kept the decision a surprise from the recipients until public announcement of the Pacem award honorees. Gail and Lisa called each other when they learned the news, surprised but delighted.

“Sometimes we place peace and justice champions on a pedestal. We celebrate their accomplishments and walk away thinking, ‘but I could never do that.’ We are honoring Gail and Lisa for taking an inspired idea into a local reality. Our community is better for it,” said Deacon Kent Ferris, the diocesan Social Action director who chairs the Pacem in Terris Coalition.

Among the first events of the Quad Cities’ Sisterhood chapter was a Passover Seder, which the group of 13 Jewish and Muslim women prepared at the Muslim Community of the Quad Cities in Bettendorf. The Muslim members learned about food items that are acceptable for Jewish people to eat and food combinations to avoid.

They learn about each other’s faith traditions and cultural customs. “When one of our Jewish sisters was going to get married, she invited the whole Sisterhood to attend,” Lisa said. The 2018 ceremony took place in Temple Emanuel in Davenport. “It was the first time for the Muslim women to have been at a Jewish wedding,” Lisa added. Gail thinks they may have discussed wedding customs and traditions beforehand, which led to the invitation.

The Sisterhood’s members have attended a dinner for World Relief Quad Cities, a nonprofit agency that provides services to refugees and immigrants in Western Illinois and Eastern Iowa, and volunteered at River Bend Food Bank in Davenport. They get together for dinner and open each gathering with a hug. During a TV interview a few years ago featuring their Passover Seder, Gail told the reporter: “When we’re out in public, I hope when people see us hugging it will mean more to them than anything we can tell them.”

While Sisterhood members talk about their faith and cultural traditions, they avoid politics or other divisive topics such as the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis. “We get to know each other and do good works,” Lisa said. “We focus on relationship building,” added Gail, who learned about the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom through her connection with Sheryl and Rabbi Kerry Olitzky. The couple attended rabbinical conferences with Gail and her husband, retired Rabbi Henry Karp.

The pandemic took the Sisterhood to Zoom video conferencing. The group has slowly returned to in-person gatherings. During the summer, the group takes a break because some members return to their homelands to visit family. They plan to attend the award ceremony next week.

Gail and Lisa intentionally keep membership around 13 members to enhance the rapport and friendship fostered in the Sisterhood chapter. “We have spent time getting to know each other. It’s meant to be lifelong relationships,” Lisa said. “So we keep it small, keep it tight. Now we’re natural friends.”

An invitation to the Pacem award ceremony

What: Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award ceremony.
When: Wednesday, Sept. 13, 7:30 p.m.
Where: St. Ambrose University in Davenport.

Recipients: Atiya Aftab and Sheryl Olitzky, co-founders of Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom. Gail Karp and Lisa Killinger, who co-founded a local chapter of the national organization, will receive the One Among Us Justice Award.

About the Sisterhood: The mission of the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom is to build strong relationships between Muslim and Jewish women based on developing trust and respect and ending anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish sentiment. The four pillars of this mission are social media, annual conferences, domestic and international trips, and local chapters, which are the heart of the Sisterhood’s work. Each chapter of around 8 to 20 women focuses on three main areas: dialogue, socializing and social action.


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