Fostering dialogue through Shabbat dinner

Publication Date
Organizers of the Shabbat dinner

Uma Kalsoom and Hannah Ellen are pictured with Muslim Student Adviser
Genghis Khan and Hillel Director Bonnie Cramer in Everest Lounge, site
of the annual Avi Schaeffer Shabbat.

On Friday, Feb. 8, Hillel and the Muslim Student Association will host the ninth annual Avi Schaefer Shabbat at Union at 6 p.m. in Everest Lounge.

“This Muslim Jewish Dialogue Dinner is an amazing event open to students, staff and community members of all faiths and backgrounds,” says Hannah Ellen ’19, Hillel social justice chair, who has helped lead and champion the dinner since coming to Union.

“I'm very grateful that we have this event at Union,” said Uma Kalsoom ’19, co-president of the Muslim Students Association, who has been involved since her sophomore year. “It’s a perfect opportunity to engage in constructive dialogue about relevant world issues that affect both Muslims and Jews.”

Hillel President Liza Wolf ’19 explains that the event honors the memory and work of Schaefer, a Class of 2013 student at Brown University and son of an American rabbi. He had served in the Israeli Defense Forces with his twin brother and was committed to creating dialogue and building bridges between Jews and Muslims. But shortly after starting his first year, he was killed by a drunk driver in Providence, R.I.

“Avi’s family created a fund in his name to foster cross-cultural understanding and respectful discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” said Hillel Director Bonnie Cramer, a Brown alumna. “The Shabbat dinners have spread to college campuses across North America.”

Union was one of the first schools to participate, with programming ranging from jumah prayers to Kabbalah Shabbat.

“Since the 2016 presidential election, dialogue has mostly focused on shared issues around rising anti-Semitism and Islamophobia,” Cramer said.

Last summer, both Ellen and Kalsoom and received one of the inaugural Avi Schaefer Seek Peace and Pursue It Awards sponsored by the Avi Schaefer Fund.

They were among 11 winners from nine schools who were recognized as “campus change makers who share, express and put into action the values that Avi lived,” and “who have stood up in a public way and led the way for peace, justice and compassion.”

“It is such an honor to hear diverse perspectives and opinions on cross-cultural collaboration, concepts of peace and conflict, and fundamental similarities between the two Semitic populations,” Ellen said. “Plus, the dinner is always phenomenal.”

Those who are interested in attending can RSVP, or