United in Hunger and Holy Days
October 17, 2006Comments (1)
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Students engage in dialogue at a Ramadan break-fast hosted by Miami University Hillel.
When Jordan Herskovitz, a University of Tulsa sophomore, sat down with a plate of food at a recent interfaith campus event, he couldn’t help but notice a fellow student sitting nearby.
“When he sat down, he crossed himself and said a prayer,” said Herskowitz, president of Tulsa Hillel. “I thought, here I am, a Jewish student breaking the Ramadan fast during Sukkot on the floor of a mosque with a Christian student sitting next to me. It was very inspiring.”
Herskowitz, along with 50 Jewish, Christian and Muslim students, toured the campus mosque, ate dinner (with male and female attendees dining separately) and walked en masse to the Tulsa Hillel succah for dessert. With Shabbat descending, the Jewish students said the traditional prayers over candles, wine and challah before serving the dessert, featuring blintzes and mandel bread.
As the holy months of Ramadan and Tishrei converged this year, campuses across the country paid homage to shared holidays, an occurrence that happens every thirty years for a period of just three years. For college students, it also brought an opportunity for serious interfaith dialogue, creative event naming and some serious noshing.
“A few of us looked at the calendar and realized that Yom Kippur and Ramadan would be falling on the same day,” said Sarah Persitz, a senior at the University of Washington. “We thought: we’ll all be fasting, so why not break the fast together?”
After a series of e-mails, the Jewish students invited their fellow Muslim students to break their respective fasts at the UW Hillel.
Nearly 90 students filled the building with typical college student chatter. During the dinner, the students from the Muslim Student Association formally invited the Jewish students to participate in their “Fast-a-Thon,” a yearly event that raises money for a local charity.
“It was a reciprocal gesture of friendship,” said University of Washington junior and MSA public relations officer, Zakariya Dehlawi.
Yet with the ferocity of the war this summer in the Middle East, the shared adherence to a lunar calendar, seemed particularly significant for many.
Perhaps significant, said Rabbi Jason Klein, director of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County Hillel, is the stark contrast to the last lunar convergence. The Yom Kippur War, as it is called by Jews, and also known as the Ramadan War in the Muslim community, fell during this time in 1973.
“After this summer’s war in Lebanon, many students on our campus were concerned with dialogue,” said New York University sophomore, Jordan Dunn.
Bestowing the creative name “Ramashanah” on their event, more than 40 Muslim and Jewish NYU students shared traditional Rosh Hashanah foods like apples and honey, and dates, a traditional food for Ramadan Iftar, or break-fast.
At the event, the students realized they had many things in common, including a shared issue of concern.
“The Jewish shomer negiah [restricting physical contact with the opposite sex] students were concerned about the campus gym not offering gender-specific lap time at the pool,” said Dunn. “As it turns out, it’s a concern of the Muslim students too. We discussed ways to create a shared petition.”
While members of the Hillel of Montreal shared delicacies with members of the Muslim Student Association at their event, dubbed the equally creative “Succamadan,” Erin Grunstein, member-at-large of the Hillel of Montreal, said she “learned a lot about the different aspects of Ramadan and how similar [Islam] is to Judaism.”
Learning about each others faith was the motivation behind the interfaith Ramadan break-fast hosted by the Miami University Hillel.
“Our campus was ripe for this kind of event,” said Miami University Hillel director, Amy Greenbaum.
Set for 100 attendees, the tables were decorated with bright orange information cards. Students could use the cards to start dialogue with guests sitting next to them. The cards included such interesting facts as “Ramadan Mubarak” as the correct way to wish someone a “Happy Ramadan.” Capitalizing on one-on-one relationships was crucial to the success of the program said Greenbaum.
But for some campuses the interfaith spirit of friendship was not new.
The Jewish Student Association and the Muslim Student Association of Johns Hopkins University have held joint Iftars for years said campus officials. However, this year the students wanted it to be more than just a meal.
“It’s an opportunity to host another community,” said Johns Hopkins sophomore, Sam Chester.
And at Harvard University, a joint Yom Kippur and Ramadan break-fast was held last year as well. The result was the creation of “Jews and Muslims,” a group of freshman who met every week for meals in a campus dining hall.
“At Loyola University [the interfaith relationship] is not a new relationship; it’s actually normative,” says Patti Ray, Hillel director for Loyola University in Chicago. “It’s the environment we live in here.”
The “Building the Peace, Breaking the Fast” program at Loyola was a collective campus-wide fast-for-peace with a break-fast featuring kosher, halal and vegetarian food. It was sponsored by Hillel, the Muslim Student Association and the Hindu Student Association and co-sponsored by the Loyola Anti-War Network, Loyola Students Against Sweatshops and the Turkish Intercultural Club.
“The program did not create the interfaith relationship, the relationship has been there,” said Ray. “The convergence of Hillel doing its thing, in the face of what is happening in the world, is the best of what Hillel can be.”
California State University, Northridge