An Adelphi University student organized a dinner in Brooklyn, New York, so Jews and Muslims could get to know one another.

by Rebecca Endres

“We can do more of this–it starts with just one person or two people and it spreads.”—Nora Elbassiony

Nora Elbassiony has always accepted others, regardless of race or culture. An exercise science major in her junior year in the Ruth S. Ammon School of Education, Elbassiony is also a practicing Muslim who works at the Kings Bay Young Men’s/Young Women’s Hebrew Association, a community center populated mostly by Jews, in Brooklyn, New York.

When violence between Israel and Palestine escalated this past summer, she was hurt to see hateful remarks on social media and tension between cultures on the streets of Brooklyn. Her response was proactive—to hold an event to unite the religions.

What started as a simple Shabbat-Iftar (Jewish-Muslim) dinner among coworkers turned into a banquet with 240 guests.

“Everyone at work was so amazing,” she said. “My boss just encouraged us to move forward with it and was a great help. The fact that it went so well made me think that there are good people in the world, and it’s not just me who wants peace.”

Although her friends and family supported the idea, others weren’t so receptive.

“People were bashing me, like, ‘Why are you doing this? You’re a bad Muslim; you make us look bad,’” Elbassiony said. “But all the negativity, it made me hungry. It made me want to do this.”

Despite the criticism, she moved forward with advertising and planning the event, which occurred on her 20th birthday. “This is my day,” she recalled telling her mother. “This is how I want to spend it.”

The festive evening included an integrated group of guests—young and old—gathering on stage to sing an Arabic-Jewish peace song. Loved ones, including Elbassiony’s mother and a Jewish friend, Kilash Persad (who helped organize the event), took to the stage and encouraged guests to mingle and truly get to know one another.

For Elbassiony, it was the perfect birthday gift.

“Even just doing this, something small, might not mean much to everyone else, but it meant something to me and meant so much to the people who came,” Elbassiony said. “It proved to me that we can do more of this—it starts with just one person or two people and it spreads. The rabbi came, the imam came; it was so many people just coming together.”

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