Muslim-Jewish couples held hands in New York. What happened next?

A viral video captured New Yorkers' reactions as two traditionally clad couples strolled through Muslim and Jewish neighborhoods, prompting insults, but also encouragement.

Dan Balilty/AP
Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men pass through a Muslim quarter near Damascus Gate in Jerusalem.

Two couples walked hand-in-hand down the streets of New York in a social experiment: a Muslim man and a Jewish woman, and a Jewish man and a Muslim woman. Strolling through heavily Jewish and heavily Muslim neighborhoods, the couples received varied reactions, all documented on camera in a video that has garnered 1.3 million views within a week.

Produced by Karim Metwaly, Alaaldeen Shehadeh, and Moe Zahrieh, the video features Mr. Shehadeh dressed as a Hasidic Jew walking with a woman wearing a burka. Mr. Zahrieh, meanwhile, is dressed in traditional Muslim garb, and holds hands with a woman wearing a long skirt and long sleeves in the style many Orthodox women wear.

The couples strolled through Borough Park, Brooklyn, where many Hasidic Jews live, and Astoria, Queens, which the video calls a "Muslim/Arab" neighborhood, but which also includes large Greek, Hispanic, and Italian populations.

While the couples were met with many stares and unpleasant comments (and even a water bottle that was thrown at them), the video ends on a positive note.

"This is wrong on so many levels," someone said. "It's the wrong picture, you're making Islam look bad." Another person in the Queens neighborhood screamed a profanity and gestured at them rudely. In the Jewish neighborhood, someone called Zahrieh a gay slur, "a stupid Muslim," and a "terrorist," while someone else threw a water bottle at the couple. 

Yet, in addition to the varied harassment, the couples also received some positive feedback. "I think Jews and Arabs can be friends, I think everybody can be friends," two Jewish boys said. "We're cousins for a long time," a Muslim man said. Others in both neighborhoods called the sight of the couples "inspiring" and "highly liberating."

This video is the second made by Shehadeh and Zahrieh, who last month dressed in Jewish and Muslim garb to carry out a similar experiment. Both videos are part of a creative effort to bridge the divide between Jews and Muslims, playing out in unexpected spaces from social media to the office. 

Abraham Gutman and Dania Darwish, Jewish and Muslim classmates at Hunter College in New York, came up with the hashtag #JewsAndArabsRefuseToBeEnemies.

"With tempers only rising both on the ground and in social media platforms, we thought it would be productive to remind people that they are allowed to refuse to join hateful discourse," Mr. Gutman wrote in 2014, during the war in Gaza.

The organization Seeds of Peace, a summer camp for Israeli and Palestinian teens, is also looking to expand its reach. The camp has more than 5,000 graduates, now moving into leadership roles in their professional fields. Seeds of Peace aims to empower their graduates to make change in various sectors, from women's rights to technological innovation, in hopes of sustaining peace over time.

Professional sectors, in fact, are often where workers from diverse backgrounds first encounter their differences, and similarities. Dr. Mahmoud Abo Salwook, a Tel Aviv-based endocrinologist, is from the Arab village of Kafr Qassem. He has worked for nearly a decade in clinics in Jewish neighborhoods, including the ultra-Orthodox Tel Aviv suburb Bnei Brak, and says racist remarks in his office are rare.

"It speaks to the humanity of people, even though it requires a lot of investment," Abo Salwook told Joshuah Mitnick for The Christian Science Monitor. Observant Jews and Muslims have more in common than they may think, he says: both are religious, and he considers them marginalized in Israeli society.

"I understand these people; they aren't a lot different from Muslims. We are also believers."

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