Monday, May 01, 2006

Muslims, Jews rally against child abuse: Central New Jersey

by Enid Weiss - NJJN Bureau Chief/Middlesex
New Jersey Jewish News, NJ
April 28, 2006

More than 120 people braved the cold, mist, and intermittent rain to walk through New Brunswick Sunday, April 23, in the third annual Walk for Humanity.

The two-mile walk, a project of a Rutgers University group that is promoting cooperation between Muslim and Jewish students, raised $800 to thwart the abuse of children in the state.

“The walk has two main focuses: to raise money for a local charity — Prevent Child Abuse-New Jersey — and to show that Jews and Muslims can come together for a cause, not just as Muslims or Jews but as Rutgers students and community members,” said Adina Suberi, the Jewish the Human Development Project. The apolitical student organization supports local charities and fosters mutual understanding among Muslim and Jewish students on campus.

“On our student board every position is held with one Muslim and one Jew sharing the responsibility,” said Suberi.

Walkers and organizers seemed to embrace the event’s dual message. Several walkers said they originally came to support friends involved in HDP but came away impressed by the group and its purpose. They also liked that the Rutgers student group is not political.

“I thought I’ll be a friend and come, but it’s such a great thing,” said Janet Labendz, a Rutgers graduate student. “For the two communities to come together for an event not connected to religion, doing good for the world, I believe in that. It’s great.”

HDP includes roughly 50 students, primarily Jewish or Muslim, who aim to further social and cultural relationships between the two groups, said Suberi, a 21-year-old Jewish senior at Rutgers. Among their other projects members pack bag lunches for a food pantry. During the walk they also sold muffins, bagels, and T-shirts to raise money for Prevent Child Abuse.

To further their outreach efforts on the walk, the group’s members sent out e-mail messages to students at New York University, Montclair State University, and other NJ colleges.

The walk was cosponsored by several student organizations — including Rutgers Hillel, the Islamic Society at Rutgers University, and Salaam, an interreligious organization fostering dialogue between Muslims and non-Muslims.

“In today’s society, especially after Sept. 11, people are hearing every five minutes about Muslims on television news,” said Rana Kashlan, 20, the Muslim HDP cochair and a Rutgers junior. “I’m very active on campus as a Muslim so hopefully, I’m changing that.”

Suberi and Kashlan addressed the crowd, finishing one another’s sentences.

“When I first came to Rutgers I never expected to see such anger and animosity,” Suberi said. “There were constant political rallies, classmates harassed each other.…”

“Instead, we wanted to focus on our commonalities,” said Kashlan. “A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend my first seder with Adina….”

“We are here for more than just the Muslim and Jewish communities but for the greater community and to fight child abuse,” Suberi added.

That cause touched a chord with both communities. Prevent Child Abuse-New Jersey works to strengthen families, explained representative Carole O’Brien. The group trains teachers and other community workers to work with parents to spot and prevent child abuse and neglect. The group also offers programs for teenage parents to help them deal with stress and continue their education while raising their children.
“It’s a good cause,” said Chris Ebinger, a 20-year-old sophomore at a Pennsylvania college who was visiting a friend at Rutgers for the weekend. “Whatever happens to kids affects them their whole lives.”

O’Brien spoke to the crowd of students, friends, and parents gathered under a Rutgers University Student Center bus stop before beginning the two-mile trek down College Avenue to the Douglass College campus. Other speakers included Jewish community leader Shai Goldstein and Islam El-Fayoumi from the Muslim community. “Being good to your neighbor is important in all religions,” El-Fayoumi said, noting that April is child abuse prevention month. “It’s a human obligation. People ask me are we allowed to work with non-Muslims for a righteous cause, and I say, ‘of course.’”

Fighting child abuse is such a righteous cause, he said. He quoted a passage from the Koran in which the prophet Mohammed says if one sees a child one should pat him on the head. El-Fayoumi explained the passage means that children should be treated kindly.

Others in attendance were HDP founding member Barbara Yehaskel, now living and working as a social worker in Manhattan, and Sheema Hyder, both Rutgers graduates.

“I came back for this,” Yehaskel said. She had wondered whether the fledgling group would survive after its founders graduated last year. She was pleased to see it thriving. “I feel hopeful. It’s blossomed.”

The next step for HDP is elections to replace graduating board members.

“We’re very excited and happy,” Kashlan said about the walk and fund-raising efforts. “The group has grown every year. It was perfect — it didn’t start drizzling until we got there.”

Also see:
Resources for our Non-Jewish Friends


Post a Comment

<< Home