Jews and Muslims in solidarity. A cynic might say, “in solidarity against each other,” but the local Jewish and Muslim associations are determined to prove this negative stereotype wrong.
The Hillel Jewish Association, in cooperation with the McGill Muslim Students Association (MSA) and Concordia’s Muslim and Hillel Associations, joined forces Thanksgiving Monday to break their fast and celebrate in a joint ‘Succamadan’ feast sponsored by Hillel.
In a setting that could have been saturated with tension, the hospitable and comfortable atmosphere at McGill’s Hillel quarters on Stanley St. facilitated genuine smiles and nods.
Concordia student Madeeha Tariq, who participated in the dinner Monday night, summed up the general feeling by saying, “Events like these are manifestations of peace and tolerance. We share the world with different people, so it’s important for us to come out of our various communities into a larger one, where we can celebrate and appreciate our differences and similarities.”
The catch? The mutual understanding that politics would not be discussed. McGill MSA spokesperson Abdullah Farooqi explained that past events had turned “sour” due to political conversations, when people expressed viewpoints “that don’t necessarily have anything to do with religion.”
He reinforced this by saying, “This doesn’t promote cooperation and peace building. At least from the start, we can build a relationship and maybe in the future, go and deal with those things.”
Their goal is to establish solid friendships. From there, respectful discussions could take place, to help students find solutions to their problems.This explains why the event’s speeches were kept to a minimum length.
Farooqi said they thought it would be enough to give basic instructions and from there people could get to know each other on a personal level.
Ryan Schwartz, the Concordia Hillel representative, said there was “no need to focus on politics. On a cultural level, there is so much in common, there really shouldn’t be any kind of wall or hindrance”.
The President of Hillel Montreal Moishie Kahan, agreed. He pointed out that no adjustments were made to the festivities in order to integrate Muslims into the Hillel house. Muslim prayers were held in the building prior to the speeches and breaking of the fast.
Kahan reiterated, “There’s so much that we share in common that a lot of our problems are based on misunderstanding. If we take the time to work together, [these misunderstandings may be eliminated].”
Both Rabbi Dov Whitman and Farooqi drew correlations between their respective traditions. Rabbi Whitman explained the tradition of dwelling in a Sukkot hut for a week each year is meant to commemorate the simple lives led by the ancient Israelites in the deserts. Farooqi explained that Ramadan honours the month during which the Prophet Mohammed received the message of the Quran from God.
Spokespeople said their religions each emphasize the need to retreat from materialistic society for a period of time, in order to contemplate the meaning of life and thank God for their blessings. Rabbi Whitman said, “Although everything [in modern society] gives an illusion of being permanent, it’s temporary. And if life is temporary, then you have to make the most out of everything.” He said that this was an opportunity to make the most out of this moment.
The humble setting of the ‘Sukkot’, (a Hebews word which means ‘hut’) that had been created, along with the floor-seated feast and shared cultural food, came to embody the entire purpose of the event; to think of life in a broad perspective lacking in materialism, give thanks and to communicate with each other to form lasting relationships.
Coincidentally, this event took place on Thanksgiving Day. The Native Americans and American settlers could not have known that the tradition of thankfulness would be emulated in the 21st century by two religious associations “building bridges”.
The President of MSA, Ayaz Hyder said that although the event was meant as a way to mend relationships, he feels they don’t have anything to mend.
“So this is a start of new relations,” he said. “It’s a start of something that is hopefully sustainable and will grow to other universities in associations and between different religious groups.”
It was also mentioned that although the Muslim and Jewish calendar may not coincide in the future, the foundation has been laid. The aim now is to organize more opportunities for positive relationships and to steer away from negative stereotypes.
Organizer and Hillel member Erin Giunstein remarked, “It is not adequate to simply take part in these events, leave and forget. Afterwards, even if you don’t maintain relations, it is crucial to open up understanding. We want peace not just for today, but a peace to last.”