Hillel and Muslim Student Association Celebrate in Union

By Gina Newman ‘11Staff Writer

On Sept. 10, two student groups, Hillel at the Claremont Colleges and the Muslim Student Association (MSA), joined together to celebrate the coinciding of Rosh Hashanah and Eid Al Fitr—the feast concluding Ramadan. The celebration, which was co-sponsored by the two groups, was a first of its kind and attracted over 150 students, faculty, staff and community members. The historic event marked the end of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, and the Jewish New Year known as Rosh Hashanah. The calendars will not coincide like this again until at least 2042.

After Hillel’s weekly Friday night Shabbat services, Rabbi Daveen Litwin gave an introduction and welcome, in addition providing an explanation of Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the Jewish calendar year 5771: “The coinciding of these sacred times in both the Muslim and Jewish calendar was a wonderful opportunity to share and celebrate our common heritage and learn from one another about similar rituals and traditions.” Litwin goes on, “This beautiful multi-faith gathering hosted by the Office of the Chaplains was a very hopeful moment symbolized by dipping apples in honey and wishing everyone a good, sweet, peaceful new year.”

The Religious Chair on the Hillel board, Nate Schauer (PO ’12), explained the significance of challah bread, which is made weekly by Challah for Hunger, which was founded by former Claremont Hillel President and Scripps alum Eli Winkelman (’07). Challah is the traditional Jewish braided bread eaten on the Sabbath (Shabbat). On Rosh Hashanah however, the challah is made in a round shape to symbolize the circle of life and the cycle of the New Year. Schauer also discussed the significance of eating apples and honey on Rosh Hashanah, which represents a sweet new year.

While students enjoyed munching on challah and apples and honey, one of the presidents of the MSA, Daniyal Shahid (CMC ’13) talked about Ramadan and it’s importance. In his speech, Shahid agreed that, “Without being exposed to other religions and understanding them, it is hard to fully understand your own.” Shahid then introduced the local Imam from the Islamic Center of Claremont, Deen Atoura. Deen gave a presentation once the feast began.

Though there are political differences which often divide Jewish and Muslim communities, the event focused on celebrating together. Anna Goldberg (PZ ’12) remarked that “Coexistence is such an important concept, and although bringing two organizations together to eat a meal may seem like a simple event, it represents so much more.” She continues, “Being tolerant and accepting of others, and being educated about people different than ourselves is the key to a brighter future. I was proud to be a part of that as a member of Claremont Hillel.”

In attendance were numerous faculty and staff members, including Tammi Schneider, a professor of religion at Claremont Graduate University. Upon reflection of the celebration, Schneider says “The MSA/Hillel event was one of the most beautiful I have participated in since my arrival in Claremont. It was amazing, that on a weekend when someone was threatening to burn holy books, the students of the Claremont Colleges, instead, decided to share their special events together. People were talking, eating, laughing, paying attention to what others were saying, sharing their experiences of being ‘different’ in the world and at the Claremont Colleges. This was a real celebration with smiles on the faces of everyone.” Hillel and the MSA hope to plan events together in the future, so make sure to stay posted. Claremont Hillel President Tammy Sacks (PZ ’12) concludes that “Working with the MSA was one of the best decisions we made at Hillel; learning about other religions, cultures, and traditions helps us get to know those who are different than ourselves, and decide what traditions we really do find important to personally continue.”