In the wake of religious turmoil gripping the world, Muslim and Jewish students at Binghamton University chose to set aside differences and set their plates for dinner instead.
The Muslim Student Association (MSA) and Hillel-Jewish Student Union collaborated to co-host an “Interfaith Shabbat” dinner in the Chenango Room. Instead of Hillel’s usual Friday Shabbat dinners, the organizations teamed up to celebrate diversity and the mingling of the two beliefs in their third-annual interfaith dinner.
Friday night’s event, which was inspired by the memory of Avi Schaefer and paid for through Hillel’s Avi Schaefer Fund, had the highest turnout yet with 210 guests, according to organizers.
The evening began with the recitation of blessings by Hillel members. After dinner, guests drank grape juice and shared challah bread in traditional Shabbat dinner style, and the presidents of both organizations gave speeches.
“I think this is incredibly important, there are opportunities for Jews and Muslims to come together and get to know more about each others beliefs and religions,” said Josh Jurysta, the president of Hillel and a senior double-majoring in history and economics.
The meal consisted of Mediterranean-style cuisine, with vegetable and hummus appetizers, chicken, noodles, soups and kugel, which is a baked pudding-style dish. In between bites, students participated in an icebreaker game to share responses to different questions about holiday traditions with their table.
Prior to the dinner, attendees were able to participate in their normal evening prayers. Several rooms were available to observers, with one of each dedicated to the Islamic Isha prayer, and Jewish Reform, Conservative and Orthodox followers.
Further efforts to collaborate include a second-annual trip on March 8 co-hosted by the MSA and Hillel. Students will visit the Beth David Synagogue in Binghamton and the Islamic Organization of the Southern Tier, and also speak to a rabbi and imam.
Sarah Khan, the president of the MSA and a senior majoring in philosophy, politics and law, said that these events have contributed in building better relations between Muslims and Jews.
“When you look at Israel and Palestine, it’s caused a lot of friction between Jews and Muslims,” Khan said. “It’s caused by land and politics, but people often associate religion with it. This is an area that people can talk about their faith and really understand that we’re more similar than different.”
For some, these types of dialogues foster a better understanding of different faiths and beliefs.
“I personally have been influenced by these dinners,” said Ahmed Shaikh, a senior majoring in computer science. “I went to a boarding school with other Muslims, not with other ethnic groups or other religions.”
Shaikh stressed that common ground between individuals should not have to be based on religion.
“Not everyone is particularly inclined to talk about faith,” Shaikh said, “and maybe that will open a discussion along the road about your faith. But maybe it won’t, it’s just nice to have this.”