Jewish and Muslim Communities Bonding Over Health in Brookline
Brookline-based Slim Peace is fostering cultural understanding through health education.
Tuesday evenings at Brookline Community Center, 10 women meet up to talk about health, dieting, mothers-in-law, and the events of the day. But this is not just a women’s support group, and these women share more than the bond of sisterhood. Five are Jewish, five are Muslim, and all have a desire for cultural diversity, a desire to understand each other, and a desire to live a healthier life.
Based in Brookline, Slim Peace Boston is the first U.S. version of the non-profit group for women ages 20 to 60-plus that focuses on healthy living with an emphasis on fitness, nutrition, and self-esteem.
An article this week in the New York Times explains the background:
Yael Luttwak, a documentary filmmaker, founded the first group during the second Palestinian uprising, more than a decade ago, hitting upon a formula of using women struggling with their weight as a tool for Israeli and Palestinian connection. She was in a Weight Watchers group in Tel Aviv and wondered if the leaders at the time, Ariel Sharon, Israel’s prime minister, and Yasir Arafat, the Palestinian Authority president, might be more likely to talk peace if they tried to lose weight together.
When Ms. Luttwak, who made a documentary film about the first Slim Peace group, visited American Jewish communities to talk about her work, they told her they had problems in their own communities with anti-Muslim sentiment and anti-Israel sentiment, and it occurred to her that the Slim Peace model could be brought here. After a talk and screening of her film in Boston, she was approached by Emma Samuels, who said that she would like to help start such a group here and that she had just the partner to run it with: Aminah Herzig, a close friend and fellow dietitian who is Muslim. They now lead the Boston group, facilitating conversations on healthy eating and cultural differences.
The group meets for 10 weeks and is run neutrally by both a Muslim and Jewish leader. The goal is that the group learns important steps to live a healthy life, but also to develop empathy for their counterparts, which as Slim Peace says on their website, “will result in acceptance and understanding, as well as personal and physical transformation.”
With the success of the Boston group (which just finished its final meeting this week), Slim Peace hopes to expand to other cities like Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, and Washington D.C. Alumni of the first group will continue to meet once month at each other’s homes because friendships were forged, pounds were lost, and stereotypes were dismissed.
Yuttwak says that they hope to reach one percent of all Jewish and Muslim women in the communities that they work and live. She also says that registration is now open for the next session which will continue to be held at Brookline Community Center on Tuesday nights at 7 p.m. starting April 23rd. The 10-week session is $140 and that includes a pedometer. Visit slimpeace.org to sign up or make a donation.