By Mary Jane Fischer, Senior Staff Writer
Students crowded the Armstrong Pavilion on April 11, some seated at tables and laughing with friends, others waiting in line for the food that was being served buffet-style. The room smelled like a savory medley of spices as traditional foods like tabouleh, hummus, knishes, brisket, mujadara and baklava were served.
The event, “Feast in the Mideast,” was hosted by Hillel: Association of Jewish Students and the Muslim Student Association (MSA) as part of an effort to break down the barriers between the two cultures and celebrate diversity on campus.
The event featured New York-based comedic duo Scott Blakeman and Dean Obeidallah, who are Jewish and Muslim, respectively. In their show “Stand Up for Peace,” Blakeman and Obeidallah focus on starting interfaith conversations through comedy, continuously poking fun at themselves, each other and even audience members. Favorite topics durng the show included current events like the upcoming election, anecdotes about living in New York and stereotypes that Blakeman and Obeidallah face based on their religions.
Using laughter to discuss a subject that is typically viewed as serious gives the audience a chance to start a dialogue about important issues in a productive and inclusive manner, Blakeman said.
“The goal is to get groups together and sit in a room, eat tremendous amounts of food, laugh and relate and meet people for the first time,” said Blakeman.“It’s just a way to open people’s eyes and I think that’s really our goal.”
And that’s exactly what happened: whether they were Jewish, Muslim or of other faiths, students of all different cultures gathered together to eat traditional Middle Eastern food and enjoy each other’s company.
“Feast in the Mideast” was not the first event hosted as a collaboration between Hillel and MSA. Last semester, when keynote speaker Eboo Patel came to campus to discuss interfaith relations, Hillel’s President, Nikolai Levinsohn, and the Muslim Student Association’s president, Zaheer Choudhury, met and started talking about hosting a joint program. This was followed by an Interfaith Thanksgiving service.
“Feast in the Mideast” was, however, their largest event, with over 125 students in attendance.
Megan Harkavy, the director of Jewish student life in Hillel, attributed this success to the development of the relationships made in the fall. Although the religions have historically been in conflict, bringing them together on campus was a way to look past those differences.
“We are told to love each other as we love ourselves. I think that’s the bottom line for any religion, and it’s important to bring faiths together because there is so much hatred in the world,” said Harkavy. “We need to be able to see the similarities and see that we’re all one, and that we’re all people, and that we should really all just love each other.”
Thanks to the joint efforts of Hillel and the Muslim Student Association and the talents of Scott Blakeman and Dean Obeidallah, students were able to enjoy a night of comedy and good food without having to worry about discrimination or antagonism.
“Comedy can reach people that would never go to a speech, or attend an academic lecture, or read a serious article, especially with younger people, and hopefully from the comedy show maybe they learn something, said Obeidallah. “Our great aspiration is to be funny, so you’re definitely gonna laugh, but maybe also learn something at the same time.”