By Hilary Temkin
Many students are aware of the differences between Judaism and Islam, but not as many know that there are a lot of similarities between the two religions. Leila Levi, a junior at Rice University and Houston Hillel's student board vice president, wanted the Muslim and Jewish students at Rice to come together and share information about their religions.
"It is a privilege and a special opportunity to live and study in such a diverse community, and many Rice students don't take advantage of that," Levi said.
Last month, many Jewish students who were getting ready for the beginning of Sukkot came together with Rice University's Muslim Student Association (MSA) during one of the holiest times of the year - Ramadan - to learn about each others' faiths. Levi said she knows why Jews fast, but she wanted to learn why Muslims fast during Ramadan. This year Ramadan and Yom Kippur fell during the same month, which made it very easy to hold a program that united the two faiths.
The event began with a conversation facilitated by Professor David Cook, who noted that he became interested in Islam when he accidentally picked up a book on it and became so interested that he earned a Ph.D. from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Cook is neither Muslim nor Jewish, but he really enjoyed learning from each of the students about their experiences growing up in a predominately Jewish or Muslim area and their first experiences with the other religious tradition.
Jewish students asked questions such as approximately how many Muslim students at Rice University fast during Ramadan. Muslim students asked questions such as what exactly is Yom Kippur. Each student got to know each other on a different level, and what began as a sharing of religions became a social event. At the end of the conversation and as the sun was setting, the Muslim students prayed together and then all the students shared the break-fast meal.
"The students seemed to really enjoy the interaction with each other, and, of course, the food was delicious," Levi said.
The event was a huge success, according to Levi, and she hopes to invite the MSA to a Shabbat dinner at Houston Hillel next semester.
"I hope that I was able to help set an example to many other universities around the country," she said.
Hilary Temkin is the Jewish student life coordinator at Houston Hillel.