By Yalda Rahimi
I had gotten accustomed to attending some of the regular ‘Coffee and Conversation’ at the Interfaith Center. I enjoyed them very much; learning about other people, about their world viewpoints, values in life, and simply how different and unique they were. ‘Coffee and Conversation’ provides an opportunity for students to leave the books, the stress, the exams and the due dates behind and enter a relaxing environment. As the name suggests, students are welcome to sip free coffee as they listen and engage in conversation with the guest speaker. First the guest speaker, either a student, teacher, or a community leader gets to introduce themselves and share their stories; stories of interfaith, stories of life, and stories of values. Afterwards, the participants get a chance to ask question or to comment.
Now, there was a little twist with this specific Coffee and Conversation. It was called ‘Coffee and “Difficult” Conversation’. The theme of this event was A Lament for Peace- Hamas and Israel. The guest speakers were a Dr. Parvez Ahmad, UNF professor and trustee at the Islamic Center of Northeast Florida in Jacksosnvile, and Rabbi Jack Romberg, Rabbi at Temple Israel in Tallahassee. As I was helping set up the student lounge at the Interfaith Center for the event, I thought we would get around fifteen to twenty participants. Little did I know that the student lounge had room for 65 people! It was the biggest crowd we have had for such event.
I had been personally affected by the conflict between Israel and Hamas and had found it to be my responsibility to attend this event to explore the interfaith dialogue during such a challenging time. Although I was uncomfortable and tried to avoid situations where the topic of Israel or Hamas came up, I was encouraged and inspired to attend the ‘Coffee and Difficult Conversion’ because of the time I had spent at the Interfaith Center. The experiences during Interfaith Week, Text Studies, and previous ‘Coffee and Conversations’ confirmed for me that this event will provide a safe and respectful context for everyone. To be honest, I had no idea what to expect, I just sort of went with the flow.
The event started off with Dr. Ahmed and Rabbi Romberg sharing how they met and how their friendship was built. Afterwards a few students got the chance to ask them personal questions about themselves or about the topic of relations between Israel and Hamas. What I took away from this experience was that it doesn’t always have to be about arguing who is right and wrong, but about listening to the other side. Of course, this event was not aimed at proving who was right and wrong, its goal was to show how students and others can build interfaith dialogue and friendship during such challenging times and the perfect example was set by Dr. Ahmed and Rabbi Romberg. I appreciated the other side of the story that they showed to me. Yes, it is not easy to take in the conflict that exists between the two different parties, but sometimes instead of working on the conflict, Dr. Ahmed and Rabbi Romberg showed me to just simply listen.
I later asked one of my friends what she thought about the event since it was her first time attending an Interfaith event. Her reply really surprised me. She said that loved the event and the opportunity that it provided for her to see a different side to interfaith and replied that she never knew that Interfaith Center actually existed on campus. This shows how critical it is for students to be educated about interfaith work. This ‘Coffee and Difficult Conversation’ showed that there isn’t always a conclusion about who is right and who is wrong, instead, it focused on the importance of making meaning in our lives, and that is possible through interfaith dialogue.
To see the Difficult Conversation for yourself, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y9iNoNH8OlM
To read the article “A Lament for Peace” which Rabbi Lubliner and Dr. Ahmed reference in their conversation, visit http://www.huffingtonpost.com/parvez-ahmed/a-lament-for-peace_b_5611236.html