Viral Photo Sparks Bond Between Jewish, Muslim Families

Photos by Suzanne Tennant
Text by Mimi Sager Yoskowitz 

“The photo was really beautiful and powerful because there was this amazing parallel between the two families,” said Yael Bendat-Appell.

She was talking about a photograph that depicted her husband, Rabbi Jordan Bendat-Appell, and their 9-year-old son along with Fatih Yildirim and his 7-year-old daughter. Both fathers talked while their children were perched atop their shoulders, smiling and holding signs that included, “Hate Has No Home Here.” Meryem, the little girl, wore a scarf; Adin sported a yarmulke.

The photo of the Jewish and Muslim families, taken during a protest of President Trump’s first travel ban inside O’Hare International Airport by Chicago Tribune photographer Nuccio DiNuzzo, went viral. Those parallels Yael discussed sowed the seeds of a friendship between the Bendat-Appells and Yildirims. Since February, they have gathered three times for meals at each other’s homes.

During one of these recent dinners, the children, ranging in ages from 18 months to 15 years old, played together while the adults spoke in the living room, finishing each other’s sentences and laughing easily with one another.  

“We’re people who are busy with families and work and life. [Yet] this is really important to us, and so we’re making it happen,” said Rabbi Bendat-Appell about the families finding time to bond and solidify their friendship. “But it’s not an extraordinary thing. Anybody can do it.”

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The Bendat-Appell family from left: Jordan, Orli, Adin, Yael and Shaiya. The Yildirim family from left center: Amy, Ihsan, Fatih, Meryem, Yasemin and Destiny.
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The fathers were discussing kosher steak houses when a Chicago Tribune photographer snapped a photo of them that went viral this winter. In an effort to expand upon their families’ growing friendship, the Bendat-Appells and Yildirims recently gathered with six other couples from their own communities to begin widening the interfaith circle.
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“Our values as human beings feel very similar, so it’s exciting to share that,” said Yael Bendat-Appell, serving dinner to the children.
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“The kids need to reach out. They need to get outside of [their] bubble,” said Amy Yildirim. “Kids have this purity, they’re not contaminated yet.”
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The kids gelled quickly. “We end up sitting together ourselves, and the kids are off doing their own thing,” said Yael Bendat-Appell.
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Fatih Yildirim said seeing the Bendat-Appells and other non-Muslims at the protest was “touching.” Here he plays with his 22-month-old son Ihsan and 18-month-old Shaiya.
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“I think that God brought us together for a reason. It’s a good match, and it’s going to keep continuing,” Fatih Yildirim said. “This is just the beginning.”


kate-barsotti-pen-bw257Suzanne Tennant is a freelance editorial, commercial and family photographer based in the Chicago area. She was a staff photographer with Sun-Times Media Company from 2006 to 2011. During that  time she won awards in the Illinois Press Photographers Association “Best of Photojournalism.” She has also been a freelance photographer in the Seattle area.

kate-barsotti-pen-bw257Mimi Sager Yoskowitz is a Chicago-area freelance writer, mother of four and former CNN producer. Her work has been featured in Chicago’s JUF News and on various sites including “Kveller,” “Brain, Child” and in the Contributor Network of “The Forward.” Her essay about motherhood was featured in the anthology “So Glad They Told Me.” Connect with her at

Copyright © 500 Pens. May 2017.

A Salon Where Women Who Cover Their Heads Can Let Their Hair Down

By Barbara Spindel

The January opening of Le’Jemalik Salon and Boutique in the Bay Ridge neighborhood of Brooklyn was, for Huda Quhshi, the realization of a cherished, long-held goal. “At 17, I sketched out what my dream salon would look like,” the 37-year-old cosmetologist recently recalled. “I’ve always loved beauty. It’s something I always had a passion for.”

Yet for Quhshi, a Yemeni-American from Greenpoint, Brooklyn who wears a hijab, her passion came with a complication. Women who cover only allow men who are close relatives to see their hair, making salon visits a fraught endeavor.

“When I wanted to get my hair curled or blow-dried, I’d try to find the most secluded area, a salon that was on a side street, that barely had any windows, and that seemed small enough that there wouldn’t be too many clients walking in,” Quhshi said, adding that a stylist once hastily moved her into an uninviting hallway after a man walked in midway through her appointment. Over the years, hijabi clients told her stories of beauty parlors that stuck them in basements or others that erected makeshift dividers but then rushed them through in an effort to remove the unsightly barriers as quickly as possible.

Le’Jemalik means “for your beauty” in Arabic. Photo by Sue Jaye Johnson.

Quhshi, who had spent most of her career freelancing, carried her supplies from home to home because many of her clients didn’t want to worry about being in a public space where men might enter. She found herself coloring hair in settings without proper ventilation or doing makeup without adequate lighting.

And so her vision for her own business involved making it a women-only space; Le’Jemalik (“for your beauty” in Arabic) is thought to be New York City’s first salon to cater to hijab-wearing women. Men are allowed in the reception area but not through the double doors that lead to the salon floor and to the downstairs bridal shop, which houses a collection of brightly colored, intricately laced and beaded gowns.  

Quhshi stresses, though, that Le’Jemalik is “open to all women”: among her clients are Muslims who don’t wear hijabs and Orthodox Jewish women, who, like hijabis, only allow males who are close relatives to see their hair. A beaming Quhshi says the community response to her opening has been “unbelievable.”

She has been especially moved by the encouragement she’s received from women of all faiths, whether in person or on social media. “I think women are excited to support another woman who opened a business that’s specifically for women,” she said. The support has been meaningful given the widespread misconceptions about Muslim women who wear hijabs. “A lot of people have this misunderstanding that we are forced to be covered up by our husbands or by our family, and we’re not,” Quhshi, who is married and has three teenage children, said firmly. “It’s a decision that we make based on our faith.”

“If a woman goes out in a bikini, she made that choice on her own,” she continued. “I can’t tell her, ‘You’re underdressed.’ And it’s the same thing for us. Just like she has a choice to reveal her body, we have the right to cover our bodies. It’s a beautiful thing, to me, to be able to cover up and kind of say not everybody gets to see my beauty. I show it to who I want to show it to. It’s my choice.”

Quhshi is aware that some see a contradiction between covering up out of modesty and focusing on beauty. (She’s been asked, “Why would you even do your hair if you’re going to smush it under that scarf?”) “Just because we cover it up to the outside world doesn’t mean we don’t want to look beautiful,” she explained, adding that she socializes often without her headscarf, but at women-only parties. “We want to pamper ourselves as well. We want to get our nails done, we want to get facials.”

“With everything that’s going on, I feel like everyone’s come together more than ever,” said Huda Quhshi. Photo by Sue Jaye Johnson.

The timing of the salon’s opening is striking. In a period when hate crimes against Muslims have surged, when the Trump administration has tried twice to restrict travel to the United States with what many consider a Muslim ban, when Attorney General Jeff Sessions is threatening to withhold federal funding from sanctuary cities, Quhshi has created her own sanctuary for Muslim women.

She demurs a bit at this interpretation. She is, in her words, “not a political person,” and she says the daily conversation at the salon revolves around personal lives, not politics. Still, she does see serendipity in the timing. “It took so long to build this place, but I think it was meant to happen when it happened,” Quhshi said. “With everything that’s going on, I feel like everyone’s come together more than ever. All religions are coming together and saying we are all human and we’re here to support each other. Sometimes something bad happens but a good thing comes out of it, and I think that’s what’s happening right now.”

Of course, there are concerns. Quhshi and her husband have family members in Yemen; they worry about the worsening conflict and humanitarian crisis there. Closer to home, she hears troubling stories from her community: travel postponed, Muslim-Americans who were out of the country when the ban was announced and who struggled to get back home. “It’s installed a fear in all of us. It just makes no sense,” she said. Then she smiles and adds, assuredly, “But we’ll get through it.” 

kate-barsotti-pen-bw257Barbara Spindel is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in Slate, the Atlantic, the Daily Beast, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Barnes & Noble Review, Details, Tablet and other publications. She holds a Ph.D. in American studies.

kate-barsotti-pen-bw257Photographer Sue Jaye Johnson is a documentary artist working in radio, photography, film and interactive technologies. A two-time Peabody Award winner and a 2017 TED Resident, Johnson’s work frequently looks at the role of women in society.

Copyright © 500 Pens. May 2017.

Cincinnati Suburb Unites Around Neighbor Accused Of Terrorist Ties

By Anjali Enjeti

One day this past January, upon returning to her home in Mason, Ohio, a quiet suburb 25 miles northeast of Cincinnati, Rawd Saleh learned that fliers accusing her of having a terrorist connection had been distributed to her neighbors.

One side of the flier contained images of Saleh and her home. It listed her first and last name and her address. A Google map image pinpointed the exact location of her residence.

Neighborhood terrorist warning, it began. We have someone linked to terrorism living in our neighborhood.

On the back of the flier was a copy of a 2003 Cincinnati Enquirer article which stated that Saleh’s father, Omran Saleh, may have funded terrorist bank accounts in the Middle East. Though a Hamilton County judge later cleared him of any terrorist connections, he was eventually sent to jail for one year for defrauding the state of tax funds. “That was an awful time,” said Saleh. “The worse thing we’d ever been through.”  

Saleh was stunned that someone could be so cruel as to dig up her father’s 15-year-old false accusation, attack Saleh for having links to terrorism herself and paper the neighborhood with a lie.

“I am busy with life, home and work,” she said. “I’m not out there to hurt or offend anyone. I do what I can to help others. I couldn’t believe someone could do something like that.”

She was scared for her safety and angry that someone could put her or her children — ages 21, 15 and 12 — in harm’s way. For weeks afterward, she found it difficult to sleep at night and would often look outside her window if she heard a noise to make sure the perpetrator hadn’t returned.

“I don’t know who was out there thinking I’m evil or anti-American — what process they go through before they commit a hate crime. I was shocked someone could go through all the trouble to do this to me.”

Saleh, who is Muslim, moved to Mason in 2014 with her three children. The town of 30,000 is made up of approximately 17 percent racial minorities. And some 25,000 to 30,000 Muslims live in the greater Cincinnati area. Saleh, who was born in Jerusalem to a Palestinian father and a Turkish mother and immigrated to the United States when she was 6 years old, had come to love the “diversity and welcoming feel” of her community.

Saleh’s neighbors demonstrated an immediate “outpouring of support.” Saleh was sent letters that condemned the flier and offered phone numbers in case she ever needed help. Nearby neighbors redirected the lenses of their security cameras away from their own homes toward hers so they could catch the perpetrator if he or she decided to return. “It was heartwarming and reassuring,” Saleh said. 

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A Mason, Ohio rally in support of Rawd Saleh. Photo by Lori Pike.

The flier was posted to a neighborhood Facebook group, where Sarah Martin, a Mason resident, first saw it. “I was outraged,” said Martin. “I wasn’t sure what to do at that point, but I knew I needed to take action.”

Martin redacted Saleh’s personal information and re-posted the flier to her own Facebook page. Cyndi Ritter, a Cincinnati native and former co-worker of Martin’s, saw it and left a comment. The two friends discussed the need to take action.

Ritter reached out to Saleh on Facebook and asked if she wanted to meet with Ritter and Martin for coffee to discuss the flier. Saleh agreed. Martin explained, “I wanted Rawd to know that even though she had never met me before, she has a safe and supportive person on her side if and when she needed me.”

At the meeting a few days later, Ritter and Martin made it clear that though they wanted to help Saleh, they didn’t want to overstep their bounds. If Saleh wanted to walk away and forget what happened, that was fine. “I didn’t want to do anything Rawd was not comfortable with,” said Ritter.

At first, Saleh was hesitant to go further. “But then I started thinking that so many people must be going through something like this. We’re an all-American Muslim family, but someone else didn’t think so.” Saleh decided that the best way to respond to the flier was with a rally.

Ritter took the next step of securing the Mason Community Center for a rally on January 29th and created an event on Facebook entitled, “Calling All Activists: A Rally to Promote Inclusion, Peace and Solidarity of our Muslim Brothers and Sisters.”

Ritter, Martin and Saleh were astounded by the turnout, especially since they’d planned the event only three days earlier, one week after the flier was distributed to Saleh’s neighborhood. “We hoped to get 50 people at the rally,” said Ritter. Instead, an estimated 300 people turned out.

Residents of the Cincinnati metro area assembled alongside Mason-Montgomery Road, a busy thoroughfare, with signs calling for solidarity and tolerance. “We wanted to show that we were not going to tolerate that kind of behavior in our community,” Ritter said.

Ritter had no prior experience organizing. “I’m not a professional,” she said. “This rally was the first thing I’ve ever planned.” But she had attended the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. the day after the Inauguration and felt inspired. “The March is what gave me the courage and ability to stand up and make an impact.”

To date, the identity of Saleh’s perpetrator is still unknown. And at times, Saleh feels nervous about what could happen to her in the future.

“If I’m walking in the neighborhood and say ‘hi’ to someone, I wonder if this could be the person that did this to me,” she said. “Do I let my guard down? What if I let my guard down and then something happens?”

Saleh Rally 3
Hundreds gathered in support of Rawd Saleh. Photo by Lori Pike.

There’s a world of difference between the community’s reaction to her father’s false accusation in 2003, said Saleh, and the community’s reaction to the flier in January of this year. “In 2003, people cut ties with us. One of the boys in our Cincinnati neighborhood called my oldest son, who was then only 6 or 7 years old, a terrorist,” she said.

This time, the community rallied around her and her family. Saleh feels “really blessed” to live in a diverse city like Mason.

“There are so many things going on in the world that make you feel alone. There are mean, hateful people,” said Saleh. “But the ones who are kind outnumber them.”

kate-barsotti-pen-bw257Anjali Enjeti’s articles, essays and criticism have appeared in Longreads, Vice, NPR, Quartz, NBC, the Washington Post, the Atlanta Journal Constitution and elsewhere. She’s a board member of the National Book Critics Circle and can be found on Twitter: @anjalienjeti

Photos by Lori Pike.kate-barsotti-pen-bw257

Copyright © 500 Pens. May 2017.