Both the Torah and the Quran mandate followers to welcome weary travelers into one’s home. This mandate is less culturally applicable today, but at a recent Manzil Midrash event, Muslim and Jewish students practiced the spirit of welcoming the stranger over a traditional Mediterranean meal.
Oregon Hillel and the Muslim Student Association organized the event as part of the Manzil Midrash dialogue series to encourage conversations about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Discussions at the event, which took place in the Many Nations Longhouse of the University of Oregon on Feb. 20, centered around using food to bring people together.
Before everyone could dive into the falafel, hummus, pita and salad from the Eugene restaurant Mediterranean Network, students from the MSA and Hillel gave a presentation about food customs in their faiths.
The discussion focused on how both religions’ sacred texts instruct people to be generous to strangers with food no matter what someone’s background is. As the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues, students said practicing that common custom can help make progress.
“We want to send students wherever they end up with experience learning from others’ perspectives,” said Andy Gitelson, the executive director of Oregon Hillel. “These discussions plant important seeds because this conflict is not going to be resolved by my generation. It’s going to be resolved by the younger generation.”
The event attracted students interested in issues of the Middle East who were unaffiliated with Hillel and the MSA.
“Growing up, my family always came together around the dinner table,” said sophomore political science and international studies major Momo Wilms-Crowe during a discussion about the role of food in communities. “Over time I’ve realized just how important those meals were to me.”
The event concluded with a presentation by several alumni of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, which is located in the Arava Valley South of the Dead Sea between Israel and Jordan.
The Arava Institute focuses on educating students about how people affected by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can work together to address the region’s common environmental problems such as water and food insecurity. The student body is one-third Israeli, one-third Palestinian and one-third international students.
While discussions at the Institute can get contentious between students who have differing perspectives of the conflict, presenters said that at the end of the day, they all respectfully share one dining hall where they reconcile their differences. Presenters Noa Gluskinos from Israel and Ashraf Akram from a Palestinian community of Jerusalem also discussed how they have been personally affected by the ongoing conflict.
“In my family we have a saying, which is: ‘Either you bring something positive to the conflict, or you step aside,’” Akram said.