April 24, 2013 at 11:28 AM ET
The goal of losing weight is bringing together women from diverse backgrounds -- and might even promote peace.
Ten women in Boston have joined Slim Peace, the first U.S. chapter of a unique weight-loss group made up of Jewish and Muslim participants who meet with nutritionists for weekly weigh-ins, learning about healthy eating -- and friendship.
As they are shedding pounds, they are gaining cultural understanding.
“We were all a little nervous when we first got there,” Jewish participant Julie Bailitt said on TODAY Wednesday. “What was this going to be like?”
But she said the participants soon wanted more opportunities to talk with each other. That talk — about their weight-loss struggles and more — has brought them all closer together.
Hafsa Salim, a Muslim member, says that it began as a group of Muslim and Jewish women. “And by the end of it, it was just a group of women,” she said.
Slim Peace was founded more than a decade ago by Israeli documentary filmmaker Yael Luttwak, who brought Israeli and Palestinian women together in Jerusalem. As the weeks passed, she witnessed tension give way to compassion and understanding. Luttwak’s 2007 movie about the effort is called “A Slim Peace.”
“We’re all people,” Luttwak told TODAY. “It’s a universal topic. It’s a universal struggle and we’re more alike than we are different.”
That’s the feeling among the Boston women, too, as they learn about other religions and traditions while supporting one another's weight-loss efforts.
“I went to my first Passover seder and it was wonderful,” said a Muslim woman.
Another member of the group added: “I say to my husband, when you get on the scale, we are all exactly the same. We all want the same thing.”
Salim and Bailitt have become close friends, relying on each other for support in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing. They met for a quiet walk late last week, a tribute to their growing friendship during a tough time as the city was reeling.
“I felt really alone and knowing that I had this walk scheduled with Hafsa, who I know feels as deeply about things as I do, she’s totally helping,” Bailitt said, tearing up as she spoke.
Belonging to the group has helped Salim feel more confident in her everyday life.
“I always had this feeling of oh, if go in a store and I knew there wasn’t that many Muslim people, I just always felt like I wasn’t welcomed, so I would always walk in with my head down,” she said. That has now changed.
“Just knowing that someone’s always there for you no matter what, with the good and with the bad, it’s so comforting,” Salim said.
The goal of Slim Peace Boston, according to its website, is “a coming together of Jewish and Muslim women for the common goal of developing healthier eating habits, empowerment and healthy self-esteem.”
The group is open to members of all faiths, and chapters are planned in Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit and Washington.