Jewish and Muslim Students Unite In Tornado Response

Last month, a delegation of 16 students from Bridges: Muslim Jewish Interfaith Dialogue at New York University traveled to Birmingham, to work together in recovery efforts and to further their dialogue.

Their trip was their service initiative as part of President Barack Obama’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge. Bridges teamed with the New York-based Jewish Disaster Response Corps, which has been on the ground in Alabama since the April 27, 2011 tornadoes ripped through the state.

JDRC Founder Elie Lowenfeld, an NYU alumnus, accompanied the group and said he tries to work with Bridges as much as possible. Lowenfeld said that the trip was a unique opportunity for members of NYU’s Muslim and Jewish communities to develop meaningful relationships with each other, as well as provide service and hope to disaster survivors. “Disasters don’t just knock down walls and knock down homes and displace people’s lives,” he said. “They can really knock down barriers and knock down the things that divide us and really be a place where we can come together.”

Accompanying the nine Jewish and seven Muslim students were Imam Khalid Latif and Rabbi Yehuda Sarna.

Chelsea Garbell, president of Bridges and a junior at NYU, said the main purpose of the trip was to facilitate religious dialogue. “When we engage in religious dialogue and service work, we strengthen relationships among ourselves, and through those relationships we are able to provide invaluable assistance to the communities we encounter.” She added that while in some areas there is animosity between Muslims and Jews, “if we can learn from one another, and develop an understanding of our similarities and differences, we can stand together as human beings in an effort to better the world around us.”

Fatima Kutty, a Bridges executive board member who hopes to go to medical school after graduation, said she enjoys working in an interfaith environment, and through “amazing conversations,” she has learned a lot about the Jewish religion and its people. She added, “Once relationships are established people are less likely to discriminate.”

As part of their visit, the students had a dinner at the Levite Jewish Community Center, with members of You Belong in Birmingham in attendance.

 More student groups will be coming to Birmingham throughout the year, coordinated by JDRC.