Jewish and Muslim students came together on Sunday to participate in community service projects throughout Los Angeles as part of an international effort to build relationships between the two religions.
The event, “Encountering the Other: Muslim-Jewish Day of Service,” was part of the third annual Weekend of Twinning of Mosques and Synagogues, which was first created in 2008 by the New York-based Foundation for Ethnic Understanding in order to increase communication and cooperation between Muslim and Jewish communities worldwide.
USC Dean of Religious Life Varun Soni said the Weekend of Twinning is an important event that brings together more than 200 mosques and synagogues in the United States.
“Jews and Muslims in the United States face similar challenges in terms of combating anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, and they also share core religious values, such as their commitment to justice and service,” Soni wrote in an e-mail.
At USC, members of the Ansar Service Partnership and USC Hillel came together to host this service-oriented event, with support from the Center for Muslim-Jewish Engagement, USC Muslim Student Union, Office of Religious Life, Interfaith Council and the Undergraduate Student Government.
Jessica Youseffi, a senior majoring in print and digital journalism and a student organizer at Hillel, said the idea for hosting this event came from a conversation she had with Rabbi Lori Schneide, director of Jewish life at Hillel.
The two approached Sarrah Shahawy, student president of the Interfaith Council and interfaith coordinator of the Ansar Service Partnership, who they said was very enthusiastic about the idea.
“We all inherently believe in building relationships on campus,” Youseffi said.
Throughout the course of the day, the students participated in a hunger walk, a beach clean-up, a blood drive and other activities. After, they shared a late lunch where they studied sacred texts and reflected on the commonalities of their respective religions.
Schneide said she hoped this event would create a lasting legacy of service between Muslim and Jewish students on campus.
“Our religions are so similar in so many ways,” Schneide said. “The concept of a common ground is really the future for us to be able to go forward with a vision for the global community.”
In an era marked by tension between the two religious groups on a global scale, the event organizers and supporters said they hoped this will better promote interfaith understanding.
“This event was designed to help create an occasion for two groups whose relationship is strained to come together around shared concerns and allow individuals to experience ‘the other’ in a personal way,” wrote Brie Loskota, managing director of the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture, in an e-mail.
This service day is the first in a series of planned joint service projects between Muslim and Jewish students on campus this year.
Hillel students plan on joining the Ansar Service Partnership on their bimonthly food distributions and Muslim students have been invited to Hillel on Friday to help out with a toy drive.
“I really feel that this form of interfaith work is the most effective,” Youseffi said. “In doing service we unite together and in some ways that takes out the ‘other’ in each other.”
“This is a great way for us to show the reality of the similarities we share,” she said. “We hope events like this will continue.”