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The Story Behind That Protest Image of The Jewish Boy and Muslim Girl

Over the past five days, there’s been a warmth and generosity of spirit to the protests at O’Hare International Airport’s Terminal 5, where demonstrators have continued to show up in solidarity with the travelers detained by the presidential ban barring refugees and nationals of seven primarily Islamic countries from the country.

People from all over the city have come to protest and to bring food for the lawyers working to free those who’ve been detained. They’ve been talking and getting to know one another. And Monday night, Chicago Tribune photographer Nuccio DiNuzzo took what has become the most emblematic photo of the wave of airport protests nationwide.

The photo shows two children, 7-year-old Meryam Yildirim and 9-year-old Adin Bendat-Appell, sitting on their fathers’ shoulders, holding handmade protest signs—“Love” and “Hate has no home here”—and apparently having a conversation. Meryam wears a head scarf, while Adin wears a kippa. Below, their fathers, Fatih Yildirim and Rabbi Jordan Bendat-Appell, are having a conversation of their own.

The Yildirims, who live in suburban Schaumberg, had come to the airport, Fatih told the Tribune, to bring chocolate chip cookies to the lawyers. The Bendat-Appells, who live in Deerfield, had come so Adin could learn about the value of standing up for his beliefs. The ban on refugees is important to them, said Jordan Bendat-Appells, who is the regional program director for the Institute of Jewish Spirituality, because Adin’s maternal grandparents are Holocaust survivors.

None of them were aware that DiNuzzo had taken the photo. The fathers told the Tribune they’d been discussing where to find a good kosher steakhouse—an issue important to the Muslim Yildirim no less than to the rabbi, since Muslims may eat food certified as kosher in lieu of food deemed halal to remain in accord with Muslim dietary prohibitions. The children either wouldn’t say or couldn’t remember why Adin was grinning so widely. After the kids climbed down, they exchanged names and their fathers exchanged phone numbers. When the photo appeared in the Tribune on Monday and went viral, and they began hearing from family and friends, they texted each other. Jordan Bendat-Appells invited the Yildirims to Sabbath dinner next week, and they began discussing ways to bring their communities together.

“Ever since the election,” Bendat-Appells told Vox, “ I felt like one thing I could do better is just to connect with people outside my community. When we were at the protest, meeting Fatih and speaking with him and his family, I was thinking, such a nice guy, sweet family. My kids go to a Jewish day school. They have no Muslim friends, so what a great thing it would be to connect our families. I think that’s something we all can do, reach out of our comfort zone and the confines of our communities and just meet new people.”

The photo demonstrates the solidarity that is growing between the Jewish and Muslim communities in Chicago. Some of that solidarity is political, as in the case of Jewish Voice for Peace, and some of it is personal, as with the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom—whose members are discouraged from discussing the situation in Israel—and some of it falls in between, like the synagogues such as Am Shalom in Glencoe that have volunteered to sponsor Syrian families.

“I know the tension between the Jews and the Muslims,” Fatih told the Tribune. “People think we hate each other. But we’re not fighting. When we come next to each other we can have normal conversations. We can promote the peace together.”

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