Women’s Gatherings Break Down Divisive Barriers
Muslim teenagers in Tyler were happy to receive notes of encouragement from East Texans expressing acceptance and support at an event in early 2017. That event led to the formation of a women's group who visit and learn about each others faiths, traditions, and customs.
A Facebook post from a Muslim friend in which he expressed fear because of his faith helped start a movement of acceptance and love in the Tyler area.
In February 2017, when several of his Facebook friends read his post, they decided to show their support by dropping off yellow flowers at the East Texas Islamic Center as a sign of friendship. The purpose was to set an example of acceptance and love at a time when many Muslims are feeling very profiled, unwelcomed, and overall discriminated against.
The friends sent a private Facebook invitation to their contacts to get the ball rolling. When more than 85 people rsvp’d for the surprise event, the organizers decided it would be best to inform the mosque they were coming.
Then the mosque decided to invite everyone to dinner, and a movement began.
“Hundreds of people showed up at the mosque with flowers,” says Jen Katz, one of the event’s organizers. “The event got so big, we had to call flower shops to tell them to stock up on yellow flowers. We called the police to help coordinate traffic and the local newspaper and TV stations were there. It was bigger than any of us thought.”
That evening in February, Katz watched a stream of cars drop off flowers and cards. “It was so emotional seeing all the flowers, letters, notes, and cards. One of the Muslim teenagers started crying when she read such encouraging words as ‘We’re here for you.’ ‘You’re welcome here in Tyler.’ ‘You’re our neighbors.’”
Moved by the love shared that evening, the next morning, Katz started a Facebook group, Tyler Supports Our Muslim Neighbors, and began coordinating Women’s Gatherings at local houses of faith to help share information about different religions, traditions, and customs. The events include panel discussions where people can learn more about Christian, Muslim, and Jewish faiths. “There is an automatic bond between women and they feel very comfortable talking and answering deep questions, like ‘What is your belief in God?’”
Last year, Women’s Gatherings were held at the East Texas Islamic Center, First Presbyterian Church, Congregation Beth El, and First Christian Church, all in Tyler.
She’s also coordinated volunteer efforts at the East Texas Food Bank, where people of different faiths work alongside each other packing food, and helped promote educational events on Ramadan and Hanukah for children at the Tyler Public Library. “For kids, it doesn’t matter if you are a different religion, culture, or background. If we start cultivating acceptance when they are really young, it won’t become a barrier when they get older.”
During all these events, people are encouraged to have casual conversations with each other by answering such questions as “What’s the last movie you saw?” “What is your favorite book?” “What is your dream vacation?”
“I want to show people we’re more alike than different,” Katz says. “Many times we have perceptions about people, but if you get to know each other, you realize we’re very much the same.”
To learn more about this movement and the next Women’s Gathering, join the Tyler Supports Our Muslim Neighbors closed Facebook group or email Katz at JenKatz55@yahoo.com.