BY FALGUNI BASNET ’21
Every Wednesday from 12 to 1 p.m. people mingle and enjoy vegan lunches and Chef Jeff cookies in the Blanchard Unity Space for the interfaith lunch. Attendees discuss social justice issues like feminism in Pakistan, DACA and homelessness in the Pioneer Valley to name a few.
The Eliot House and Abbey Interfaith Sanctuary offer interfaith lunch and other weekly religious events. The interfaith lunch is one of the most popular weekly events. It is usually planned by the Eliot House chaplains, but every few weeks a student faith group facilitates the discussion. “The discussion is a great way to interact with new people,” said Emily Carle ’21, a member of the Interfaith Leadership Council. “It’s mostly about having discussions with people with different backgrounds and identities.”
There are also other weekly events organized by religious groups on campus, like the Puja which Students of Hinduism Reaching Inwards (SHRI) organizes. There is also the Muslima Student Association’s (MSA) Jumma lunch and prayer, the Jewish Student Union’s (JSU) Kabbalat Shabbat and a mindfulness meditation hosted by the College’s Buddhist group.
Many of these groups have seen a decline in the number of people attending their weekly events. The Buddhist mindfulness meditation event and SHRI Puja have both faced this issue. None of the organizers feel that the meetings are uncomfortable for people not affiliated with these faith-based groups. “This semester, we have had two people who are not Hindu come in for one meeting, and they were pretty comfortable attending,” said Marwah. Adi Bernak, the Buddhist advisor who holds the mindfulness meditation sessions, said, “It doesn’t matter whether you are religiously affiliated or not, everyone is welcome to attend the weekly meditation sessions.” Bernak encourages the College community to attend the sessions during busy times of the year. “It’s so automatic now, everybody watching things and using technology, but meditation is a great alternative to that,” she said.
The organizers and attendees of Jumma lunch and the Jewish Kabbalat Shabbat, both held on Fridays, share this philosophy. At Jumma lunch, attendees talk about matters that affect the community and relate them to a Quran verse over Halal food. “Being a Muslim can be difficult if you are facing prejudice from a larger mainstream Muslim community or if you are from a mixed background,” said Nabeeha Noor ’20. “So, discussing how you not only maintain your identity, but also not put up with any kind of disrespect has been our focus.”
Students without a Muslim background are also welcome. “There is no reason people should be hesitant, this event is very welcoming. We have a few non-Muslim members too,” said Guneet Moihdeen ’21, a board member. “It’s always good to have a sense of community, being away from home. It can make your experience here a lot more meaningful.”
According to the Eliot House, Jumma lunch and Kabbalat Shabbat have 20 to 30 attendees each week. “This has been our busiest year,” said JSU co-chair SJ Bernstein ’19. “When I was in my first year, I would be here by myself doing candle-lighting. And over the course of my time here . . . we [grew] and we have at least 5 or 6 students attending.”
“Plenty of people, regardless of what their beliefs are, can come to Shabbat and share a meal with us,” said Zohar Berman ’20. “It’s a very important way we. . . celebrate our culture and history,” said Zohar Berman ’20. The events also bring together people who otherwise might not interact. “We have a large group of over 30 people who regularly attend,” said Carle, “but it shouldn’t intimidate new people from coming. It is a place where we can each bring our own backgrounds and contribute without fearing rejection or hate.”