Avi Shabbat Interfaith dinner connected students of different faiths


Students and community members eat and talk together during Avi Shabbat Interfaith Dinner at Wesley Church March 22.

What do you get when you put students of Muslim, Jewish and Christian faiths into a room together?

A lively room filled with laughter, smiles and positive discussion about faith and its meaning to those practicing, according to the Avi Shabbat Interfaith dinner at the Wesley Methodist Church.

Hillel at Central Michigan University co-hosted the Avi Shabbat Interfaith dinner on March 22 alongside the Muslim Student Association and Wesley at CMU. 

The Shabbat, a day of rest for the Jewish faith, was in honor of Avi Schaeffer, a young man who focused on upholding his religious values while striving to connect people of different faiths.

Schaeffer, a student at Brown University, died on Feb. 12, 2010 when he was hit by a drunk driver. Hillel upholds his legacy by dedicating the Avi Shabbat Interfaith dinner every year to his life and the peace he spread.

President of Hillel and West Bloomfield senior Max Miller started off the event alongside West Bloomfield senior Maxwell Smolin with a prayer and the lighting of two candles to honor Shabbat and create ‘shalom bayit’, or domestic peace.

West Bloomfield senior Max Miller introduces the Avi Shabbat Interfaith Dinner at Wesley Church March 22.

Miller said his focus was to create opportunities to talk about how to practice traditional religious values in a modern world.

The opening prayer was followed by Mariam Saad, a graduate student who was born in Lebanon and is a member of the Muslim Student Association. She said a prayer for those affected by the terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand on March 15, which killed 50 people and injured dozens more. She gave solace to the group through a reading from the Quran.

Riley Anderson, senior and music director at Wesley Church, said a prayer that focused on his gratitude for the togetherness at the event.  

“Let this be a time where we learn from one another, and to gain a different perspective from those who have different beliefs from ours,” Anderson said.

The Shabbat focused on celebrating the unity of different religions while also discussing the obstacles students face when practicing.

Muslim Student Association President and Midland junior Maham Khan said these events are so important because they create room for safe discussions about religion.

“For me, this is a very visual and tangible source of support,” she said. She noted the large amount of blue worn by those in the room in support of those affected by the terrorist attack. “No matter what our beliefs, it shows that everyone is deserving of love.”

Deputy Director Kendall Farnum said she was happy to help host the event at the church. She and her pastor husband, Charlie, were dedicated to making sure everyone was comfortable. Kendall said as Christian people, they value and put importance in loving their neighbors.

“Our core values are to be open and authentic to everybody,” she said. “Whatever faith, no faith- all people are welcome here.”

While people enjoyed the Chipotle catered by Hillel, each table discussed a set of questions they received about religion. The discussion questions were meant to encourage positive dialogue about different backgrounds and similarities between the groups.

Afterward, a table was set up in the lobby of the church to write kind and encouraging letters to those affected by the terrorist attack in Christchurch.