In high school, Georgia H.A. Shelton ’14 was not actively involved with the Jewish community. Her hometown in Okla. did not have a large Muslim population, and she certainly had never slept in a sukkah, a temporary hut built during the Jewish harvest festival Sukkot.
But that all changed when she joined Harvard Hillel this fall.
Shelton visited Hillel last night for the annual Sukkat Salaam, an interfaith dinner and dialogue between members of Hillel and the Harvard Islamic Society. At the event, she sang “Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu,” or “Peace will come upon us,” in both Hebrew and Arabic.
During the song, the atmosphere in Hillel became festive as guests clapped their hands, tapped their feet, and nodded their heads in unison.
“It was amazing to see how some words in Hebrew and Arabic were the same, like ‘salaam,’” Shelton said, referring to the word for “peace.”
Sukkat Salaam is a student-run event that started six years ago to foster interfaith understanding while celebrating the end of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, and the start of Sukkot. The event provides members of the two faiths an opportunity to eat together and meet on a personal level.
“It’s nice to see students of various backgrounds collaborating and hosting this event every year,” Hillel Rabbanit Sharon Weiss-Greenberg said.
Though the original plan was to hold the event in the sukkah in the Hillel courtyard, the rain forced the participants to move inside.
Attendants enjoyed a kosher meal from the Hillel dining hall—chicken gyros, falafel, and apple kugel—while listening to a performance by Harvard’s Jewish a cappella group Shani, readings from religious texts, and a speech from Rachel Tal, director of English studies for Israel’s Amal Network of schools.
In her speech, Tal spoke about educational programs she designed in the Middle East to bring Jewish, Arab, and Bedouin students together in a network of 60 high schools.
“We provide a place for students to build friendship,” she said. “We teach languages—Hebrew, Arabic, and English—as an instrument to bridge the differences.”
Abdelnasser Rashid ’12, president of the Harvard Islamic Society, said he hopes that the event helped Jewish and Muslim students at Harvard to develop similar meaningful connections.