Muslim and Jewish students join together to fight hunger

Rutgers groups serve meals to the needy on ‘day of twinning’

Joining efforts at a Somerset mosque to make meals for the hungry and homeless are, from left, Brian Thompson of Highland Park, Alina Razak of Basking Ridge, and Zafar Jamil of Livingston. Photo by Debra Rubin + enlarge image Joining efforts at a Somerset mosque to make meals for the hungry and homeless are, from left, Brian Thompson of Highland Park, Alina Razak of Basking Ridge, and Zafar Jamil of Livingston. Photo by Debra Rubin

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Meals made by Muslims and Jews earlier that day in New Jersey are handed out on a Manhattan street by volunteers.  Photo courtesy Zamir Hassan Mehmet Kaplan of Muslims Against Hunger and Rutgers Shalom-Salaam board member Jane Vorkunova of East Hanover prepare trays of food for delivery. Photo by Debra Rubin

by Debra Rubin
NJJN Bureau Chief/Middlesex

November 23, 2011

Muslim and Jewish students came together to fight a common enemy that knows no religion or ethnicity.

On Nov. 20, the Rutgers University students joined community members at the Muslim Foundation Inc. Mosque in Somerset to make about 500 meals for the hungry and homeless. The meals were distributed in Newark, Manhattan, and among veterans in Bernards Township later that day.

The event, dubbed People of Abraham United Against Hunger, was one of 125 joint Muslim-Jewish events in 26 countries organized around the fourth annual “weekend of twinning” by the Manhattan-based Foundation for Ethnic Understanding.

The Somerset event’s primary sponsors were the mosque, the Pluckemin-based Muslims Against Hunger, Rutgers Hillel, and Rutgers Shalom-Salaam, a campus Jewish-Muslim coalition.

“These children of Abraham not only share a common faith, but a common fate,” foundation president Rabbi Marc Schneier said in a phone interview. “Our single destiny will strengthen only through concern and compassion for each other.”

After a morning of cooking, volunteers shared a meal at the mosque, where they were joined by its lay and religious leaders as well as children from its religious school.

As the smells of cooking wafted to upper floors, women with hijabs covering their heads chatted with men in yarmulkes. At one table, volunteers prepared Muslim delicacies, like spicy chicken with rice, according to the laws of halal. At another, they served helpings of kosher cholent, the traditional Eastern European Jewish Sabbath dish. Groups stood together chopping tomatoes for salads.

“We are people inspired by our faith, inspired by Abraham, and the name of this event is symbolic of that,” said Will Eastman of Marlboro, president of Shalom-Salaam and program co-coordinator. “Abraham is the common forefather of both Jews and Muslims. We, as his people, are inspired by Abraham’s kindness to strangers. As his descendants, we have come together to do our own acts of kindness in his name.”

Zamir Hassan, founder and president of Muslims Against Hunger and the event’s other coordinator, said, “Hunger has no religion.”

The Bedminster resident founded the organization in 2000 after visiting a Morristown soup kitchen with his son’s school.

“I didn’t realize the extent of poverty there was right in my own backyard,” he said. “We live in the richest state, but 11 percent of all residents are considered hungry. We formed this organization to help people.”

After preparing the meals, volunteers delivered them to residents of transitional housing at the Veterans Administration in Lyons. They continued on to Manhattan, where they were met by volunteers from Masbia, which runs four kosher soup kitchens in New York. On the way back they handed out another 150 meals at Newark Penn Station.

Zafar Jamil of Livingston, an active member of Muslims Against Hunger, said the event “was what we need to do in America to make this a better country.”

“Not only in America, but if everyone around the world would do this, it would give us peace,” he added. “With so many other events going on in our lives we forget these things. I really feel very strongly that this message should resonate throughout the country — that we as human beings should get together and take care of each other.”

Among the participants were three Orthodox rabbis: Akiva Weiss, Jewish learning initiative educator at Rutgers Hillel; Aharon Grossman of Rutgers Jewish Xperience; and Yossi Sirote, executive director of Abraham’s Tent bookstore in Highland Park.

“I think our communities are often very divided politically and we forget how much we have in common on other fronts,” said Weiss, who spoke at the luncheon.

He used a sports analogy to describe the day’s events.

“We have to remember we are on the same team,” he added. “If political discourse is our weakness, it is even more important we play to our strengths in other areas. I got the impression from the imams and mosque leaders and people there that they want our communities to join together.

“They struck me as sensitive and warm.”

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