JAM and All: JAM Women’s Group

This profile was last updated in 2006

There is not one kind of tree,

or one kind of bird,

or flower, or religion.

Life loves diversity,

and so, too,

do the members of JAM.

History of JAM & All

In response to the events of September 11th, M. David Kamrat of TAO–The South Florida Center for Jewish Renewal (formerly Temple Adath Or) in Fort Lauderdale and Maulana Shafayat Mohammed of the Darul Uloom Institute and Islamic Training Center in Pembroke Pines created a Jewish-Muslim interfaith group in order to maintain positive relations between the two religions in Southern Florida. This group became known as JAM & All: Jews, Muslims, Christians and All Peoples. The mission of the organization states that “JAM & All is a non-profit organization of Jews, Muslims, Christians and all peoples dedicated to fostering understanding, social harmony, and peace through dialogue, multicultural interaction and educational projects.” JAM & All began small, with social events, panel discussions and interfaith peace services. When a peace festival in July of 2002 received attention from the media, members of JAM & All found themselves written about in several local newspapers, as well as featured on a segment of the evening news. Since then, the organization has planned picnics, festivals, conferences, dialogues, classes, and founded a popular women’s group. Events are held in mosques, synagogues and churches, in addition to other local venues.

In its most recent brochure, JAM & All illustrates its vision: “We recognize that although there are differences and distinctions among the peoples of this planet, fundamentally, we are all equal. These distinctions must be respected, celebrated and shared as we look for the commonalities in our respective traditions.” JAM & All is a non-political organization, based on the “conviction that increased understanding, education and interaction lead to decreased hatred, ignorance and intolerance.”(1) All religions represented in JAM & All are firmly rooted in the belief that violence is never the answer, and as they become aware of others’ similarities and differences, they do so through love and compassion.
Kamrat moved to Eugene, Oregon in 2004 and is working to make JAM & All a nationwide organization with chapters around the United States that will focus on leisure activities to promote interfaith work, instead of only dialogues and discussions. “When people are with each other, they recognize the humanity in each other,” says Kamrat. “Then when they do talk, they listen differently.”(2) Just as a “jam session” combines diverse voices and instruments to create musical harmony, the members of JAM & All join together to work towards peace.(3)

JAM Women’s Group

The history
After 9/11, TAO–The South Florida Center for Jewish Renewal Women’s Spirituality Group invited some Muslim women from Darul Uloom to one of its meetings. Subsequently, a women’s offshoot group of JAM & All was formed in the spring of 2002. Emphasizing the belief that women have “a special understanding of the importance of peace,” the JAM Women’s Group was designed “to delve deeply into each others’ cultures and beliefs for a greater understanding, to create strong friendships and to treat all the world’s children with compassion.”(4) It now maintains a core group of 30 women from ages 18 to 80, of varying professions, ethnicities, and religious backgrounds, with approximately 50 more women who occasionally attend meetings. Unlike JAM & All, which has a board of directors and officers, JAM Women’s Group has found no need for a formal staff structure; monthly meetings are facilitated and hosted on a rotating, volunteer basis. In addition to the meetings, members of the group have spoken to other women’s organizations, as well as planned various JAM & All conferences, picnics, service projects, and town hall meetings.

The meetings
The Women’s Group meets on the third Wednesday of each month for three hours, most often at private homes. To start the meetings, each woman introduces herself and is given the opportunity to volunteer to tell an important piece of her life story. At first, the women shared information about their religious traditions and customs. As trust within the group grew stronger, women began to share personal experiences. Kathy Leonard, one of the founder’s of the JAM Women’s Group, explains how, “After trust was built, we spent about 6 months going deeper with exercises encouraging us to share our ‘programmed’ feelings and stereotypical ideas and respond to them.”(5) The women have even explored controversial topics such as differing views on abortion and forgiveness. One member, Irma Sulaiman feels that the group is “a rich, powerful experience. We are all there to learn. The women there are serious and passionate.”(6) The women have even created a set of guidelines for the meetings, titled ‘Principles of Women’s JAM,’ to ensure trust and compassion among all the women who participate. Through these meetings, the women have been able to develop friendships and share stories, thus helping them overcome prior stereotypes.
The women
The religious backgrounds of the women include equal numbers of Jews and Muslims, with a few Christians, two Buddhists, two Baha’i, one Shinto, one goddess adherent, and several humanists who all come together as students, professionals, and retirees to spread love and understanding. Sulaiman, a converted Muslim since 1990, is just one of the remarkable women who have joined the group in order to cultivate peace and love by building bonds and friendships. Leonard, a practicing Buddhist and member of TAO–The South Florida Center for Jewish Renewal in Fort Lauderdale says of her experiences with the other women, “I have learned that the Muslim people are gentle, kind and compassionate. I have learned so much from them.”(7) Naheed Khan, a Muslim from Pakistan who owns a restaurant in Boca Raton where the women frequently meet, finds that “The end products of our meetings are beautiful relationships. We are all about unity and uniting for peace.”(8) Sulaiman adds, “We talk, we get angry, we cry. We keep people safe, while letting them say their deepest concerns.”(9)
This cooperation and understanding is what has kept the Women’s Group running month after month for the past four years. Florence Ross, a politically active professor in her mid-80s and founding member of JAM & All, clearly describes the importance of the group when she says, “We need to become friends. No one has to be a stranger… A small group can be powerful.”(10) As the dialogues continue, the Women’s Group looks ahead towards the future. Next year, in addition to their usual activities, the women plan to initiate co-ed JAM meetings, sponsor a multicultural music festival, and find more sites for speaking engagements. Leonard expresses the group’s ultimate aim when she states, “We all hope and trust that the events we have sponsored and the experiences we have shared will ripple out among our acquaintances, our communities, and influence attitudes and policy in our state, our nation and the world.”(11)

Notes

1. Leonard, Kathy. Member of JAM Women’s Group. Email correspondence. 19 July 2006.
2. Davis, James D. “Innovative Interfaith Group Goes National.” South Florida Sun-Sentinel. 26 June 2004. Online at http://www.militantislammonitor.org/article/id/180. (Accessed 20 July 2006).
3. Leonard, Kathy.
4. JAM & All Website. Online at http://jamandall.org/activities_post.asp?id=6. (Accessed 20 July 2006).
5. Leonard, Kathy.
6.Reeves, Linda. “Bridging the Gap: Women of all faiths erase mistrust through friendship and understanding. South Florida Sun- Sentinel. (Boca Raton Edition) 27 June 2003. Online at http://jamforall.org/archives/event072704.asp. (Accessed 19 July 2006).
7. Ibid.
8. Ibid.
9. Davis, James D.
10. Reeves, Linda.
11. Leonard, Kathy.