Jewish, Muslim, and Christian Students
Learning and Serving Together
By Gilana Levavi, Class of 2018
Rutgers Hillel Blogger of the Semester, Spring 2015
Toward the end of winter break, I found myself immersed in intense discussions about service, faith, and the game Resistance (which I still don’t understand). Together with 8 other Jewish, Muslim and Christian college students, including Rutgers sophomore Samantha Glass, I participated in the first If We Serve Retreat at Pearlstone Retreat Center in Reisterstown, Maryland. The brainchild of Rachel Zerin, a senior rabbinical student at JTS (Jewish Theological Seminary) and former rabbinic intern with Rutgers Hillel, this 5-day interfaith program combined community service with text study. It was co-facilitated by Zerin; Hannah Lyon, a student at Union Theological Seminary (a Protestant Christian seminary); and Ailya Vajid, Muslim chaplain at Swarthmore College.
Together, we pondered why we serve, we volunteered at Paul’s Place and Muslimat Al-Nisaa, we visited Repair the World, we studied and discussed Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditional texts related to why and how we serve, we discussed the question, “Why doesn’t G-d talk to everyone?”, and we did a lot of “fried chickening” (the technical term for when you actually laugh out loud—see Samantha Glass for more info), in addition to much more. It was great to be part of an amazing group of individuals and to really get to know each other in the short but intensive and immersive time that we spent together. The rapport among the group, and the culture of thoughtfulness, care, expression, deep listening, humor and friendship that developed so quickly was incredible to experience. It was truly a pluralistic experience, in which 12 individuals with diverse and unique backgrounds, religious identities and stories came together to be enriched by learning from one another.
I’m hoping to bring some of what I learned and experienced at this program to Rutgers. I believe that pluralism and interfaith dialogue — in which individuals learn from and with each other, each representing their own individual religious identity — is crucial to destabilizing the many stereotypes and prejudices about religion that unfortunately exist. Also, I personally find interfaith work to be fascinating, challenging and stimulating. And I believe in service, in doing my best to help repair the world in an effective and intentional way. Yes, service may seem like a relatively innocuous topic to discuss in an interfaith context. Yet when I studied texts from Judaism, Christianity and Islam about this topic with practitioners of each religion, I found it fascinating to see how deeply rooted some specific similarities are, and to appreciate how each tradition and each individual approaches aspects of these topics from a unique perspective. And in order to do productive interfaith work around issues that may be more contentious than service, strong relationships need to be built between individuals of different faiths and dialoging skills need to be developed through experience centered around any topic. Fueled by the energy from the If We Serve Retreat, I hope to continue growing in both of these areas — service and interfaith work — this semester.
For more information about If We Serve, see http://www.ifweserve.org.
Want a small taste of this experience?
Save the date: On Sunday, February 8 at 2 pm, Rutgers Shalom/Salaam will be hosting the United Against Hunger event. We will be making sandwiches to provide food for the homeless. Food for thought about why we serve, whether or not religion is a component in why we serve, and how feeding the hungry is a shared value in many religious traditions, will also be “served”. Hope to see you there!