The Jewish and Muslim community have a long history of both peaceful and violent interaction, but to the UVic Jewish Students Association (JSA) and the UVic Muslim Students Association (MSA), what matters is the present. The two student societies, along with help from the Hillel B.C. Society, held a shared culture dinner on Nov. 21, the first of its kind in Victoria.
“The main purpose of this event,” according to Rehan Sayeed, community outreach director of the UVic Muslim Students Association, “is to not let what’s going on in the world affect how a Victoria Muslim deals with a Victoria Jew or how a Victoria Jew deals with a Victoria Muslim.”
The dinner was held in the Michele Pujol room of the SUB, and included traditional Middle Eastern foods. Poster boards were set up to educate the guests about each other’s culture, and in keeping with Islamic traditions, some of the tables were segregated by gender.
The dinner began with short introductions and speeches from Rabbi Philip Bregman, executive director of the Hillel B.C. Society; Ismail Mohamed Nur, imam of the Masjid Al-Iman mosque; and Rabbi Harry Brechner of the Emanu-El Victoria congregation.
Bregman spoke on the Islamophobia and anti-Semitism that has emerged not just south of the border in the form of the “alt-right,” a white nationalist movement, but in Canada as well.
Bregman said that, should President-elect Donald Trump follow through on his plans to implement a Muslim registry, all Jews must register as well, to show that “Muslims will not be isolated and segregated out of the society.”
While Bregmen and others did mention racist acts south of the border, the real emphasis and focus was on the local community.
In that regard, the dinner was a success. New friendships were formed over Turkish delight and both communities got along great. While the dinner was never intended to create a Jewish-Muslim union, it planted the seeds of further discussion between the two communities.
“In a time of great division and hateful rhetoric, it’s important to remember that people are just people,” Arie Kelerstein, JSA board member, said of the event. “We like making friends, we like learning about each other’s culture. Oh, and we love food. Duh.”