Jewish and Muslim Community at Harvard - A Story and A Message

This week in the Torah, we read of nations contending within Rebekah's womb (Genesis 25:22-23), of siblings competing with one another. We read of a neighboring potentate saying to our father, Isaac, "Move away from us, you have become too powerful!" (Genesis 26:16). We hear of shepherds from our own camp and from another quarreling over water. (Genesis 26:19-21). But we also read of a peace treaty (Genesis 26:26-28), and a feast together to celebrate a possibility between nations that is different from strife.

My team and I are so glad and proud that at Harvard, our Muslim and Jewish students point the way in our own times:

Dear Friends,

As the staff of Harvard Hillel - a Jewish center with a professional team that includes Christians as well as Jews, and staff members who come from Pakistan, Israel, and Canada as well as the United States - we write to share the following account and message:

On a Friday three weeks ago - in the wake of the general election, and following outreach among students to one another - Jewish students and members of Harvard Hillel's professional and rabbinic staff were warmly welcomed at the Harvard Islamic Society's Friday Jum'ah religious services, where our teammate and Orthodox Rabbi spoke of the importance of interfaith solidarity. On the evening of the same Friday, students from the Harvard Islamic Society joined Harvard Hillel for Shabbat dinner.

We came together with our Muslim siblings, first of all simply to be together in a mutually reassuring way. We gathered with one another to make manifest that we take part together in constituting the community of Harvard. We visited each other's sacred spaces and rites to show respect and admiration for the beauty and the uplift in one another's faiths and traditions. We spent time together in friendship to show ourselves ready to stand united if ever members of either of our communities are menaced merely because of being Jewish or Muslim.

All over this great University, following the rhetoric of the President-Elect in his campaign to lead this country, many are troubled about what may be ahead in this land, with regard to inclusion, pluralism, diversity, and mutual respect.

The way in which our Jewish and Muslim communities immediately have come together in this time reflects commitments we will continue to affirm and practice in Harvard Hillel. We will strive to live by our values and by our mission most especially now, when there is so much concern about the endurance of principles that are essential to American democracy, principles that have been integral to the development of this country in all its diversity as a single nation so manifestly blessed.

Jews at Harvard are racially, nationally, and politically diverse, and our community is diverse in sexuality and in gender identity. Harvard Hillel's community includes many second and third generation Americans as well as new immigrants and visitors from other countries, amid others whose families have been here much longer. We welcome friends of all backgrounds and faiths, who are similarly diverse. We are committed to sharing Jewish traditions and our best Jewish thinking with one another and with the Harvard community entire.

Jewish history makes all of us at Harvard Hillel acutely sensible to generalizations and threats directed against others. Just as we will always oppose anti-Semitism in all its manifestations, we will not tolerate racism, sexism, homophobia, disparagement of disability, or bigotry of any kind. We will oppose the kinds of caricatures and stereotypes that far too often have been directed at Jews through the ages whenever we see similar prejudice brought to bear on others.

Put positively, we will continue to foster our welcoming, embracing, nurturing community of friendship in diversity - for which Harvard Hillel is justly famed, in this University and beyond.

It is a human truth and a lesson of history that there is no good hope to be found in alienating or in ostracizing or in menacing one another. Faiths and peoples and nations and communities all flourish best when they affirm and celebrate one another's flourishing. In mutually supporting one another, communities and their members learn vital principles of dignity and liberty and coexistence. These are the very best traditions of this country, and its best teachings to the world - inspired in considerable measure by our Israelite heritage.

Harvard Hillel will live by such principles, the principles of respect and affirmation that have enabled Jewish community to thrive in the United States of America. We will love the stranger. We will protect those whose circumstances entail uncertain security and fear of abandonment. In all we do, we will strive to affirm the right of all individuals, and all communities of good faith represented in Harvard University, to dignity and liberty. These are our principles, our values, our non-negotiables - and they are blessings Jewish and American legacy and history have taught us, in all our diversity, to treasure.


The Professional Staff of Harvard Hillel