Banding together to help others

http://www.lfpress.com/news/london/2010/03/03/13104001.html

Banding together to help others

By NICOLE VEERMAN, Special to QMI Agency

INTER-FAITH RELATIONS: Western’s Jewish and Muslim students strive for positive change

Smack dab in the middle of Israeli Apartheid Week at the University of Western Ontario, a group of Jewish and Muslim students have joined together for positive change.

“It’s a very politically charged week,” said Ben Rosen, a student organizer for the Tzedaka/Sadaquah Project — an initiative that began a year ago to unite Muslim and Jewish students through charity.

This is Western’s first year participating in Israeli Apartheid Week, an event organizers say is devoted to the respect and protection of the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes.

The use of the term apartheid has been criticized by Jewish communities and condemned by MPPs in Ontario.

“Those kinds of events are the ones that get all the exposure. We think it’s very important to have some positive exposure . . . about Jewish and Muslim students building a relationship,” Rosen said.

As part of their effort to create a positive bond, more than 75 Jewish and Muslim students joined together Wednesday at the University Community Centre in the spirit of charity — a value important to both cultures — to make more than 250 sandwiches for the Out of the Cold program at the Dundas Street Centre United Church.

The group has been volunteering with the program that provides hot meals to the needy for more than a year, but Wednesday was the first time both making and serving the meals, said Aisha Birani, a Muslim student organizer for the project.

“This is our first annual sandwich-making day,” she said. “Students came to the event and made a sandwich and literally helped an underprivileged person in London.”

The students also baked cookies and provided fresh fruit, while the church was responsible for a light soup, said Fred Faas, Out of the Cold co-ordinator.

Faas has happily accepted the group as regular volunteers and has even had to limit how many come each week to six, so his other volunteers can still participate.

“They’re really great people to work with,” he said. “They asked if they could come and volunteer, and in that way the group can overcome their differences.

“There’s always a bit of tension between the Jewish and Muslim communities, so to share in this way, the differences don’t seem that great.”

The group doesn’t overlook their differences though; they recognize them and even discuss them, said Rosen, who’s working to start a group at McMaster University in Hamilton.

“We recognize the uniqueness in the relationship between the Jewish and Muslim faiths . . . because of the history and distrust that exists, students are prevented from working together,” Rosen said.

“We wanted to find some shared values between the communities.”

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