December 20, 2012 | Culture and Media
The Christmas Time-Off Squad
How Muslim and Jewish women give Christians a holiday on December 25.
By Sam Ritholtz
Almost two years ago, Zubaida Ibrahim, a Muslim woman from St. Louis, and Michelle Brooks, who is Jewish, were chatting about a holiday neither of them celebrates: Christmas. “It’s the largest Christian day in the year,” says Zubaida, who thought, “so why don’t we help them out?”
They were plotting out a project dreamed up and spearheaded by the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis, which envisioned Muslims and Jews working together to give Christians the day off on December 25. As executed by Ibrahim, who works with the Islamic Foundation of Greater St. Louis; Brooks, a representative of the National Council of Jewish Women; and others, it turned into a massively successful program.
Now in its second year, the St. Louis Jewish and Muslim Day of Service gets more than 500 volunteers—of all faiths, but mostly Muslim and Jewish—to relieve their Christian neighbors of everything from preparing meals at a shelter for teen moms to entertaining nursing home residents to stocking shelves at a food pantry and delivering hot meals to the homebound.
“We do whatever they tell us,” explained Ibrahim, “We don’t change the system, we just go and make them happy and it makes us happy.” In addition to subbing for workers at Christmas, the group also holds drives during the summer to raise money and collect necessities—everything from blankets to food to toiletries—so that they can show up at their volunteering sites with supplies and donations in hand.
And what about the essential workers who simply can’t take the day off? Children recruited for the Day of Service bring cookies and other goodies to St. Louis’ police and firefighters.
“We may come from different countries, have different faiths, and different skin colors, but when it comes to helping it doesn’t matter,” says Ibrahim. Brooks noted that the program does more than give Christians the day off. “It helped to break down any barriers,” between Muslims and Jews, she says. “There was this education going on. It wasn’t obvious; it wasn’t like we are going to volunteer and learn about this religion; it was instead let’s join together for the sake of the community and do good.”
“It really creates a bond among us,” adds Ibrahim. “Before three years ago and this project, there was no contact between us. When all these groups come together it makes St. Louis a better place.”
To learn more about the St. Louis Day of Service, go to: www.stljewishmuslimdayofservice.org
For a list of Christmas-day volunteering opportunities or volunteering opportunities any time of the year, go to: www.unitedway.org and check your local chapter