By Ben Couch
When Hannah Masoud launched into the more saucy section of her stand-up comedy routine, the packed house at La Residence quickly became volatile.
But it's a testament to the cultural climate at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill that the explosions consisted of peals of laughter and rounds of applause.
Masoud's boisterous stand-up was one of several performances at "A Night Under the Moon and Stars: A Jewish-Muslim Arts Festival," co-sponsored by North Carolina Hillel and the UNC Muslim Students Association last month.
"I felt they were genuine, heartfelt performances," said North Carolina Hillel President Mark Sussman. "It was an important collaboration to see that Muslim and Jewish students could cooperate positively in an artistic setting."
The event led off with an hors d'oeuvres reception to show off visual art pieces and then featured a multitude of performers across a broad spectrum of the arts, including music, poetry, spoken word and even the chanted recitation of a passage from the Koran.
The performances were preceded by an address from Omar Ayad, who made a call for worldwide unity and commended the mutual outreach efforts of North Carolina Hillel and the MSA, which has resulted in a strong relationship between the two organizations.
Highlights included Danielle Latman's poem, "Watermelon Seeds" - accompanied by Mike Murray's guitar playing - causing organizer and co-master of ceremonies Bela Fishbeyn to quip that she was now craving a fruit salad. Also, Ibrahim Kalifa read "Lovespill," a heartfelt, wrenching poem written by his sister that explored the ties that bind families together.
And the audience even got a little of that Brooklyn "flava" from Jewish student Ben Couch, who recited two slam poems on the topic of tradition - thanks to a bit of coercion on the part of the organizers.
"Not to name names, but Hillel's [Kaplan Steinhardt Senior JCSC Fellow] Jenn Lande might have signed me up before asking me if I wanted to perform," Couch said. "Once she explained the event to me, I jumped right on board. It's awesome that Hillel and MSA backed this so hardcore."
That support revealed itself in the numbers: there were more than 200 people, and many audience members were left standing up or sitting on the floor when all the seats were filled.
"It was a great success," said Lande. "People came, they ate, they collaborated."
Ben Couch is a senior at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.