By Camille Chrysostom, for the Mitzpeh, @Mitzpeh
The office of Multicultural Involvement and Community Advocacy (MICA) and Maryland Hillel will sponsor a Shabbat dinner for students of different religious backgrounds on May 8.
The idea for the Interfaith Shabbat Dinner initially came from the MICA office’s interfaith series, which is an ongoing program that hosts events for students of different religions to come together. The dinner will be an opportunity for Jewish students to explain the significance of Shabbat to students of other faiths while also allowing non-Jewish students to discuss significant themes of their own religions.
“It’s important for people of different religious backgrounds to get together and consider a topic we share,” Yael Nagar, one of the Jewish student panelists said. “I think that each of the faith-based communities on campus is really strong in isolation, and it’s a shame we don’t cross those boundaries more often.”
The event will host around 30 to 40 students and will be divided into two phases. First, a small group of three to five students from various religious backgrounds will have a panel discussion about the theme of the evening: “Separating the Sacred from the Everyday.”
“We chose the theme because we thought this was a topic that people from any faith background could speak about,” Rabbi Sarah Tasman, Hillel’s senior Jewish educator said. “There would be common ground, but unique perspectives to share.”
The second phase of the event will be the Shabbat dinner itself, during which students will have a chance to discuss their own spirituality in conversations led by specific students at each table.
Jennifer Olson, MICA’s graduate coordinator for interfaith and spiritual diversity involvement, said one of the organizers’ main goals for the event is to educate students about other belief systems.
“It’s a great opportunity to learn about [Shabbat] in an atmosphere that’s conducive to dialogue, learning and understanding,” Olson said.
The Shabbat dinner will not be the first event MICA has cosponsored with Hillel as part of the Interfaith Experience Project series. Olson said organizers planned a similar program at Hillel last year.
The series also included a trip to a mosque last year and a visit to the Catholic Student Center and the Hindu Temple of Metropolitan Washington earlier this semester. Because of the success of these events, Olson said organizers at Hillel and the MICA office “wanted to do the same again this year.”
For Jewish students, the interfaith dinner will be a chance to experience the sacredness of the Shabbat in a new way, by sharing the rituals with students of different faiths.
“[I expect students will gain] a new perspective on someone outside of themselves, and the understanding that there’s more that unites us than divides us,” Nagar said. “I think this is especially important because religion can be deeply personal but also very otherizing. It’s easy to get defensive about it and feel misunderstood, and the real gains are made when some of those walls come down. It’s a humanizing experience.”