Photo by Hunter Franklin ’19 | Rabbi Bonnie Kopell and Azra Hussain address members of the Jewish Student Union.
By Eric Lindholm ’19
Recently, interfaith dialogues and events on campus have been successful in spreading awareness and fostering student engagement in connecting different faith traditions and forming more informed and conscious students.
The Jewish Student Union (JSU) had an interfaith event on March 18th where two esteemed leaders of the Jewish and Muslim community, Rabbi Bonnie Koppell and Azra Hussain, addressed the JSU body to explain the vast amount of similarities between the Jewish and Islamic faith in areas such as a moral values, prayer structures, food regulations, views on justice and much more.
Rabbi Bonnie Koppell was the first female Rabbi chaplain in United State’s military history, appointed in 1981. The role of a chaplain in the United States military is to tend to the spiritual and moral well-being of service members and their families.
As the co-founder the Islamic Speakers Bureau of Arizona, Azra Hussain speaks to educate people about Muslims and Islam, eradicate harmful stereotypes, build cultural awareness, and foster interfaith conversations.
In explicating the intersectionalities between Islam and Judaism, Rabbi Koppell pointed to examining the Golden Rule.
“Look at the Principle of the Golden Rule and how many faith groups have variations of the statement of that principle that the most important thing is how we treat each other,” Kopell said.
“In Judaism, we state it in the negative,” said Kopell. “That which is harmful to you do not do to your neighbor.”
Furthermore, Koppel spoke about the similarities within the rules and traditions regarding dietary regimens for both faiths.
“In Hebrew, we talk about Kosher, certain things you can and can’t eat. Same thing in the Muslim community. They have Halal,” Koppel said.
“One of the foods neither Muslims or Jews can have is anything pork related,” said Koppel.
Further expanding the breath of the similarities, Azra Hussain spoke about the language similarities that reflect in such similar prayers.
“The Muslim sunset prayer is called the maġrib prayer,” Hussain said.
“Do you know what the sunset prayers for Jews is called? A Maariv prayer,” said Hussain.
Because Hebrew and Arabic have many linguistic ties, there are many spoken and written intersectionalities between the two faiths.
In addition, Hussain spoke about the values of community and what it truly means to be your neighbor in Islam.
“For Muslims, a neighbor is not just somebody that lives next door to you. Its every house 40 houses in every direction from where I am,” said Hussain.
Further expanding the scope of what it means to be a neighbor in Islam, Hussain said, “as a Muslim, I am basically told that my neighbors should never fear me.”
“They shouldn’t fear my tongue, my actions, in fact, my neighbors should be able to depend on that I will will defend them and I will protect them,” said Hussain.
“How different is that from Judaism? It’s the exact same teachings.”
Jake Miller ’19, the President of the JSU, was the organizer of this event and has been a resourceful and engaging leader for the club and has connected students with influential and widely recognized guest speakers.
“I thought it was really good to have them speak in front of the community and show cooperation and love between two groups that are often represented in the media as opposed,” Miller said.
As the Jewish and Muslim community have communed during a period of tragedy and anguish, Miller stated that the individual relationships formed will be the stepping stones to less separation and apathy between groups of faith.
“I think it’s all about the individual relationships that we foster with each other, and if we are unable to humanize and understand who other groups are, then we won’t be able to create peace between them,” Miller said.
Ms. Kelly Guffey, the faculty moderator of the Jewish Student Union, expressed that she was well-satisfied by the event and how it helped students broaden their outlook on faith.
“Anytime we can hear from, discuss and ask questions of people that are different from us, particularly in a Catholic school where we stress so much on the Catholic faith, hearing about other faiths is important for our students,” Guffey said.
On a more personal note, Ms. Guffey expressed her own motivations for being involved in the Jewish Student Union.
“I’m a big supporter of students that want a safe space to discuss their faith, talk about issues that aren’t the mainstream culture at Brophy, and that’s why I’m involved in the Jewish Student Unions,” said Guffey.
However, while the content of the event was extremely successful, there was a noticeable missing element: the free Kosher pizza typically provided a JSU club meetings.
The JSU is sponsored by an organization called NCSY, an international orthodox Jewish youth organization, that provides the highly-sought Kosher pizza through a dedicated liaison named Chelsea Rosenberg.
Mrs. Rosenberg was not available for comment over the phone or over email.
Ms. Guffey spoke based on experiences in dealing with NCSY as the partnering organization for the Jewish Student Union over the years and their reluctance to support events that could “potentially politicize” the club.
“Last year, when they came to campus, we had a different representative from NCSY, and that person at the time said that the organization didn’t really support that,” Guffey said.
“This particular group happens to be more on the conservative side of the Jewish faith and they didn’t want to politicize a Jewish faith youth group,” said Guffey. “Sometimes people will say by bringing in Muslims and Jews to talk about similarities, then you’re automatically for a two state solution when it comes to something like Israel.”
Following the JSU’s interfaith dialogue event was the widely attended “We are Muslim” event , organized by the Muslim Student Union as a response to the New Zealand mosque shooting atrocity as well a kickoff of the newly created Muslim Student Union.
Three leaders of the club — Sirfraz Shah ’20, Colson Di Nucci ’19, and Misaal Irfan ’19 of Xavier — spoke vulnerably about their life stories growing up as Muslims, or from Muslim origins in Di Nucci‘s case, in American culture.
The speakers spoke passionately about the heavy weight and consequences of Islamophobic words and actions, finding empowerment through Islam and clarifying stereotypes and misunderstandings of the faith.
Di Nucci spoke fondly of his time spending summers in Turkey as a child and experiencing the community life with his Muslim family members firsthand, experiences he believes are important to share.
“I find the most passion when I think of my Turkish friends, who were some of the most open-hearted and loving people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting,”Di Nucci said.
“Every time someone speaks ill of Islam, I think of all the people I have met in my life, and how they would feel about being generalized into such degrading statistics,” said Di Nucci.
Furthermore, Di Nucci supports the power of having students lead interfaith events.
“Interfaith events are important because they almost [always open the eyes of everyone on campus to unique and different backgrounds,” Di Nucci said.
“I think the idea of students teaching other students about their personal beliefs or lifestyles makes it even more powerful and relatable, because now it’s not what you hear on the news or read about online, it’s someone who you walk by on your way to class every day,” said Di Nucci.
Additionally, Sirfraz Shah ’20, a primary organizer of the newly created Muslim Student Union (MSU), expressed personal feelings and experiences in relation to larger issues such as Islamophobia and misunderstanding of Islam.
“I am so passionate about this topic because I have been personally discriminated against for my religion, and I’m tired of seeing those close to me scared of telling other people that they are Muslim,” Shah said.
“Also, the shooting that happened in New Zealand really affected me because you never know when the seed of hatred is planted in anyone,” said Shah.
“Through interfaith and education, maybe that man wouldn’t have shot up those mosques.” Shah explained that he faced resistance and leaned into tension when starting the MSU, which further inspired him to make the club a reality though determination and Mr. Donlan’s assistance.
“At first, administration was reluctant to start the MSU. At one point, I was even told by a priest, ‘We don’t know how outside people would react to this on campus,’” Shah said.
“Comments made me want to create it even more because those administrators were showing the same discrimination I had faced before,” said Shah. “So, I took a different route through Mr. Donlan, an incredible and open-minded religion teacher here at Brophy, to start it.”