Bagels and pita bread, egg salad and hummus — the students piled their plates high with both as they enjoyed a meal after their respective fasts: the five Muslim students for Ramadan and the 10 Jewish students for Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. But as they took their seats, there was a clear separation around the table: Jews sat on one side of the table, Muslim students on the other.

Still, for Emory Hillel director Michael Rabkin, Religious Advisor for Muslims Aysha Hidayatullah and Dean of Religious Life Susan Henry-Crowe, it was enough that the students were gathered together in the same room. It was the first official Muslim-Jewish break fast in Emory’s history and marked the start of what the Religious Life officials hope will be an ongoing dialogue between the Muslim and Jewish students on campus.

“On the occasion of the Jewish high holidays, we are joining in a cultural and religious experience of a break fast together,” Rabkin said as introduction.

Hidayatullah noted that the first community of Muslims fasted with the Jews on Yom Kippur in solidarity and honor the legacy of Moses, an important prophet to both peoples. After the month-long fast of Ramadan was instituted, Muslims could choose to keep the fast on Yom Kippur if they wanted. It was at this point that tensions between certain Jewish tribes and Muslim people of Medina started to surface, Hidayatullah said, and the fast symbolizes the spectrum of emotions that surround and suffuse the relationship of the two peoples’ today.

Rabkin and Hidayatullah both explained the religious significance behind their respective fasts. For the Jews, Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year and offers an opportunity to re-evaluate oneself and behavior.

“It encapsulates a moment of solidarity and a moment of pain,” she said.

And with those introductions, Hidayatullah and Rabkin sat back and challenged the students to carry on the conversation.

Silence hung in the room for a moment, until one by one, students explained why they chose to come to this invitation-only event.

Many had participated in other interfaith dialogues or had friends of a different faith and described the desire to push beyond those personal relationships to something community-wide.

“I think we need to heighten the degree of understanding between the two traditions,” College sophomore Yoni Endelman said.

The discussion then focused on a topic to which both the Jewish and Muslim students could relate on Saturday — fasting. (MORE)


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