It’s not easy to bring together two religions — especially Judaism and Islam. At USC, however, all it takes is a little communication and some good (kosher) food.
Starting this Wednesday, an interfaith initiative co-sponsored by Chabad USC and the Muslim Student Union is bringing two kosher food trucks to campus multiple times a week.
Students in search of more kosher or halal food options at USC can now look forward to food trucks Shawarma Mia and the Kosher Palate setting up shop in the University Church parking lot every Tuesday and Wednesday from 11 a.m to 2 p.m, offering up classic Middle Eastern dishes such as shawarma and malawach.
Rabbi Dov Wagner of Chabad initially came up with the idea of providing more kosher choices for students at USC, which, until this point, had very limited kosher meal options. This was a natural extension of the new Chabad meal plan, which provides kosher food to students on weeknights at the Chabad House on Severance Street.
He reached out to USC’s Dean of Religious Life Varun Soni, who helped facilitate the process of bringing the trucks to campus and connecting the rabbi with the Muslim Students Union.
Soni, in conjunction with sophomore Daniel Silvermintz, president of the Chabad Student Board, reached out to the MSU.
“Soni contacted me about advertising the food trucks in our newsletter, and then Daniel was kind enough to reach out to discuss further potential opportunities for the MSU and Chabad to work together,” said junior Engie Salama, president of the MSU.
In Judaism, food has to meet certain requirements of Jewish law to be considered kosher, or “proper” in Hebrew. Similarly, in Islam, food has to meet certain Islamic dietary guidelines to be considered halal, or “permissible” in Arabic. Both religions’ dietary restrictions are similar in certain ways — for example, both restrict the consumption of pork.
“We wanted to work with the Muslim Student Union because of our common dietary restrictions,” Silvermintz says.
Salama responded enthusiastically.
“Not only do I believe that having such options would broaden the food selections of a large part of our Muslim and Jewish community, I think it also helps in bridging friendly relations between the two religions over something everyone can enjoy: delicious food!” Salama said.
Silvermintz said that this interfaith initiative is occurring now because of the overwhelming need on campus for such options.
“It is happening now because we have been working very hard these past few semesters to provide more kosher options,” he said. “We have been making great strides to provide more kosher options, and it is now easier than ever to keep kosher on campus.”
Salama also added that, since it is the beginning of the year, it is the perfect time to start the precedent of the two organizations working together with the hope that this initiative will open up more avenues to work together to help students adjust to USC, especially international students or those who follow strict dietary rules in each respective religion.
According to both Silvermintz and Salama, relations today between Chabad and the MSU are very good.
“We have been working well together in promoting these trucks, and it is making life easier for both Jewish and Muslim students on campus,” Silvermintz said. “When Engie and I met, we discussed how we can relate about many of the obstacles to observing religion on campus and how it is in both of our best interests to ensure the successful execution of initiatives such as this.”
Salama was also optimistic about the opportunity to create a mutually beneficial relationship.
“I would like to say that we’re turning a new page for the mutual benefit of both organizations. I look forward to working with Daniel so that our respective groups can learn to understand one another and focus on the ideals that bring us together — the similarities in our religions, the strict dietary observances and ultimately, building peace in an environment that can only be found at a place like USC.”
Silvermintz hopes it will be a successful venture, adding that the food trucks will only come as long as they have enough customers. In addition to the added choices of delicious kosher food on campus, these trucks will allow Chabad and the Muslim Student Union to work together successfully — a cooperative venture that is all too rare today.
“Diet is a concern both of our constituents consider on a daily basis, and any efforts that would improve the options available to our students are worthwhile undertakings,” Salama said.
For more information about both organizations, visit http://uscmuslims.com/ or http://www.chabadusc.com/.
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