As the Muslim worshippers filed into the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh in Oakland on a recent Friday during Ramadan, they were met with greetings of “as-salāmu ‘alaykum” (peace be upon you), and smiles and posters with words of support displayed by seven allies of various faiths standing by the entrance.
The worshippers smiled back, saying, “wa ‘alaykumu s-salām” (and peace be upon you, too), followed by “thank you for being here.”
Since the March 15 attacks at two mosques in New Zealand, Naomi Weisberg Siegel has led a grassroots effort to show interfaith support of Pittsburgh’s Muslim community.
Each week, Weisberg Siegel and other Jews and non-Jews gather at the Islamic Center from noon to 2 p.m. during the center’s Friday services. Her group can vary in number from 40 to just two or three, but it has been consistent in showing up each week.
“It’s really great,” said Mohammad Sajjad, program director of the Islamic Center “It’s amazing to see the support in the Pittsburgh interfaith community. We really appreciate it, especially since the attacks in New Zealand. They show up every week, and it’s really a beautiful thing.”
Weisberg Siegel was inspired to launch the endeavor after spending some time in New York City last year and joining a similar group organized by Congregation Beit Simchat Torah that has been gathering at the Islamic Center at New York University “every Friday since the election of Donald Trump in 2016,” she said.
“I decided to try to start a similar group in Pittsburgh when I came home,” said Weisberg Siegel. “Like many good intentions, this one fell by the wayside, until the mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand, in mid-March.”
She had some signs and banners made, and along with about 40 others, came to the Islamic Center the week following the New Zealand attacks.
“The first gathering drew people from the JCC and several different synagogues, including Rodef Shalom, where I’m a member,” Weisberg Siegel said.
Dana Kellerman, a member of Congregation Dor Hadash, comes “most weeks, if I can get off work,” she said. She makes every effort to be there for her Muslim neighbors “because it meant so much when other communities stood up for us after the shooting here.”
In addition to supporting the worshippers at the Islamic Center, Weisberg Siegel’s group is also making a statement to passersby.
“People are honking and waving,” she said. “This morning, we got a wave and a honk from a UPS guy, a postman and the driver of a University of Pittsburgh shuttle. One guy gave us a thumbs down, but other than that, it has been positive.
“I don’t know if we are changing minds as people drive by,” she continued. “But the people at the mosques like it and thank us for being here and that’s enough.”
Coming to the Islamic Center on Fridays “is the single best thing I do all week,” she said, adding that it is inspiring to see how much her group is appreciated by the worshippers.
“They have offered us bottles of water, lunch, candy, coffee, soup, everything,” she said. “They take our picture and ask if they can take selfies with us. The most important thing, of course, is that we are showing the congregants that we care, that we’re on their side, and that we cannot be separated by hate,” she said.
Chip Myers, a member of Dor Hadash, is also a regular.
“The warmth you get back from everyone is humbling,” he said. “You get more hugs than you would possibly handle in a week.”
Weisberg Siegel would like to see her group grow, and stressed that everyone is welcome to join.
“We will be here until I no longer feel the need, until we no longer have synagogue shootings and mosque shootings and church shootings, so it could be awhile,” she said. pjc
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at