GVSU's Muslim and Jewish students sit down together for a meal in peace
Imagine a place where the historical disputes between religions could be set aside — where people with varying opinions could sit down and talk to one another in peace. The Avi Shabbat dinner provided just this for Grand Valley State University’s Jewish and Muslim students on Friday night.
“(Avi Shabbat) is important because it’s starting to build that sense of community between Jews and Muslims,” said Noah Zucker, president of the Jewish student group, Hillel. “It shows that we can all be friends and live in harmony together.”
This is the second year that Hillel has hosted the Avi Shabbat dinner with the Muslim Student Association. A Mediterranean-themed dinner was served, including pita, hummus, chicken shawarma, and falafel, followed by baklava for dessert.
The dinner is one of many around college campuses in the U.S. It honors Avi Schaefer, a man who served in the Israeli armed forces and was an advocate for Israel and peace. The national organization, the Avi Schaefer Fund, was formed after his death in 2010 and aims to spread his messages of active listening, mutual respect and empathy.
“(Avi) felt that making friends with people was kind of the first step in peace,” Zucker said.
During the meal, topics of all types were discussed. The Jewish and Muslim attendees compared differences and similarities within their religions, such as headscarves, which are adorned in many religious traditions.
“It’s very monumental to have Muslims and Jews sitting at the same table together,” said Amina Mohamed, president of the MSA. “When you’re at an event like (Avi Shabbat), you hear lots of people and you get to hear several stories and different viewpoints and so you don’t paint everyone with one brush.”
Mohamed’s own views have been affected by coming together with the Jewish community.
“Before (attending this even last year), the image that I had of Jewish people was very similar to the image many Americans have of Muslims here, which is a very negative image,” Mohamed said. “By coming to college and going to these kind of events I’ve really, really changed my mind and the way I think of Jewish people.”
This dinner took place at the end of MSA’s Islamic Awareness week, when the MSA held a multitude of events in order to spread knowledge about Islamic traditions.
“At a university like Grand Valley, that’s predominately white and Christian, if you don’t have organizations like Hillel and the MSA hosting such events and speaking up, then no one’s going to want to learn and no one’s going to take that initiative to go and learn,” Mohamed said.
Not only do all the events conducted by Hillel and the MSA allow students to educate themselves about different religions, they provide a place for Muslim and Jewish students to build their own friendships.
“Hillel is a club where you can be with people who are like you and share things that are important to you with people who find the same values and ideas important,” Zucker said.
Although this is Zucker’s last year at GVSU, he hopes that the Avi Shabbat dinner will continue after he leaves.
“It’s a really rare type of event and I think it’s a really important thing, even if it’s just one night a year, where we bring these two groups of students together. I hope it continues,” he said.
Zucker isn’t the only person who sees the benefits of hosting this event for years to come.
“I hope that after these events we understand that there is more to every single person and every single group,” said Nargilya Gasanova, vice president of the MSA. “That what we see is not the entire story.”