CAIRO - Drawing parallels between losing weight and reaching out to the followers of other faiths, a novel weight-loss program has been launched in different American states to break down ethnic barriers between Muslims and Jews while helping clients fight fat.
We are not a peace-dialogue group and not a conflict-resolution group, Yael Luttwak, a 40-year-old documentary filmmaker who founded the first group, told The New York Times
But we are bringing dialogue and exposure.
Luttwak has established a group named Slim Peace to bring together Jewish and Muslim young adults for a common goal of weight loss, healthy living and empowerment.
Inspired by the Middle East conflict, she was hitting upon a formula of using women struggling with their weight as a tool for Israeli and Palestinian connection.
It took six years for Luttwak to organize the first group of women, and they became the subject of her 2007 documentary.
After the screening of her film in America, Emma Samuels and her close friend Aminah Herzig launched the first group in Boston.
Herzig and Samuels said they were surprised by how quickly the women's questions to each other revolved around their backgrounds and communities.
Coming from different cultures and backgrounds, women swapped strategies for coping with cravings for food they find hardest to resist.
They were hungry for that, Samuels said.
Here we were talking about fiber, dairy and water intake, and they wanted to talk about religion.
The two friends were also planning to expand Slim Peace to four other American cities Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit and Washington all of which have significant Muslim and Jewish populations.
Though there are no official figures, America is believed to be home to nearly eight million Muslims.
A 2010 report of the North American Jewish Data Bank puts the number of Jews in the US at around 6.5 million.
Meeting regularly in workout sessions and dinners, new relations were built between Muslim and Jewish women.
I had never spent any time with any Muslim people before this group. I feel like my whole life is Jewish, Julie Bailit, 41, a Jewish member of the group who works at a health care consulting firm, told the group.
I'm really invested in my synagogue. I send my kids to a Jewish school.
I hunger for diversity.
Hafsa Salim, a part-time human resources manager who dons a hijab, had her struggle too.
When people see me they think I'm super religious, but I have my struggles, she said.
I feel I'm put on this pedestal, and it's hard to live up to that.
Each has invited the other to worship services, and they check in between meetings.
The regular meetings also helped in dashing out misconceptions about Islam and Muslims.
Yet another stereotype of Muslim men being violent, said Anne Myers, 23, a Harvard divinity student who converted to Islam.I hear it so many times, but it does not hurt any less.