Jewish, Christian and Muslim Dialogue:
“Night of Encouragement”
By Manya Goldstein, Class of 2019
Dozens of students filed into the Graduate Student Lounge on the cold evening of January 27, ushered in by the low lighting and warm atmosphere. They were greeted by the aroma of pizza—both kosher and Halal varieties—as some walked around greeting each other and others took seats among peers.
The Jewish, Christian and Muslim Dialogue brought Rutgers students together to engage in an open discussion about faith. The event was co-sponsored by the Rutgers Department of Off Campus Living and Community Partnerships, The Catholic Center at Rutgers, Rutgers Protestant Campus Ministries, The Center for Islamic Life at Rutgers, The Episcopal Campus Ministry at Rutgers and Rutgers Hillel.
Rabbi Esther Reed opened the Trialogue by explaining the purpose of the night: to get to know each other and ask questions. She then opened the floor to three students, one of each religion, who spoke about their faith and what it means to them.
“I’m never alone,” said Henry Grabbe, a member of the Catholic Student Association and School of Arts and Sciences senior. “There’s a model set before me—not just a list of rules but a set of tools.”
The night then shifted gears as students were divided into small groups and the room transformed into small alcoves of couches and chairs. Each group was given a set of questions to initiate discussion, including “What are some of the most common misperceptions other people have of your faith?” and “Why might a good and healthy sense of humor be an effective tool in interfaith conversations?” The conversation soon digressed, with personal questions leading to intimate disclosures about past experiences, beliefs and fears.
Students expressed their thoughts on the importance of respect and mutual understanding. “I really believe in tolerance and being close to everyone,” said Taz Ibrahim, a School of Arts and Sciences junior. “We’re human before any religion.”
Rutgers religious leaders, including Rabbi Esther Reed of Rutgers Hillel, Dr. Atiya Aftab of the Center for Islamic Life, and Father Peter Cebulka and Brother Patrick Reilly of the Catholic Center, walked around the room and contributed to student discussions. Kerri Wilson, Director of Off-Campus Living and Community Partnerships, was also in attendance and explained why she thought the event was so important. “Providing the opportunity for students to engage in conversation about their own faith and sharing it with people of other faiths is important to deepen their own commitment and learn about others,” Wilson said.
Rabbi Reed soon informed each group that the Trialogue would have no official end. Some students slowly shifted out of the room, as others remained locked in conversation long into the night.
The event appeared to be an enormous success, as it opened up the dialogue about faith and showed students they are not alone. “Living out faith on campus can be a lonely thing. This evening shows us that it’s not just your community, it’s a vast community of people striving to be faithful in college,” Grabbe said.
For the group of students gathered in the Graduate Student Center that cold January evening, it was—as Grabbe termed it—a “Night of Encouragement.”