Hillel Hopes to End Campus Conflicts

UC Irvine’s Jewish Student Union, Hillel, has often been in the spotlight over the past few years because of intermittent clashes with the Muslim Student Union.
‘I think that anyone who knows the delicate balance between the MSU and Hillel on campus knows that there are issues between our groups that need to be resolved,’ said Alex Chazen, a third-year political science major and president of Hillel.
Chazen hopes to work this year to address these conflicts.
‘Instead of avoiding past conflicts, I would love to confront and resolve these conflicts,’ Chazen said. ‘I feel that it is important for people of all faiths to work together. There is so much common ground between the two religions, yet there is such an unwilling attitude to come together and partner in religious education.’
Hillel provides both a social and religious outlet for Jewish students at UCI. Hillel’s goals include increasing the comfort level of Jewish students on campus and creating a positive Jewish experience for its members.
‘A very high percentage of people in this country believe in a god of some sort, and it doesn’t make sense for faith-based organizations to have feuds like the one that Hillel and MSU appear to have,’ Chazen said.
Chazen is even willing to settle the feud by having a face-to-face meeting with MSU officers and members.
‘I am most definitely willing to have a face-to-face meeting,’ Chazen said. ‘I’ll do it in person. I’ll do it over the phone. I’ll do it over e-mail. I’ll do it on KUCI. I think it’s important that we sit and talk in a nonconfrontational manner. If this can be done, I believe it will be a giant step forward for our two groups on campus.’
One step forward is about to be taken as MSU and Hillel host ‘Religious Diversity: An Interfaith Dialogue,’ their first cosponsored event on Nov. 1 at 7 p.m. in HIB in partnership with the Cross-Cultural Center.
The program will feature two panelists, Sudallah Khan, executive director of religious affairs at the Islamic Center of Irvine, and Rabbi Richard Steinberg of the congregation Shir Ha-Ma’a lot.
Chazen is unsure of what lasting effects the program will have.
‘I fear that with the exception of our cosponsored program there will be little dialogue, just as there has been in the past,’ Chazen said.
Naz Farahdel, second-year social ecology major and vice president and social chair of Hillel, said, ‘I don’t know how much talks can solve problems, but I know that if done right, with a chance for both sides to speak, then they are a step towards helping.’
Aside from the group’s intermittent involvement in controversy, Hillel has plenty of other things to offer UCI and the community at large. In the past month, Hillel has celebrated the two holiest Jewish holidays, Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashana.
To honor these holidays, Hillel held widely attended services at the Bren Events Center for the second year in a row. The services included festival meals for both holidays, with a meal before and after the 25-hour fast on Yom Kippur, along with spiritual services.
In addition to celebrating the holy days, Hillel hosts Shabbat dinners at the Interfaith Center on a weekly basis. Other activities planned for the fall quarter include a visit from a Facebook executive on Nov. 2 to discuss the founding and organization of the popular Web site, community service projects with other Hillel chapters to benefit the greater Los Angeles area and hosting the annual Hanukkah party at the end of November. Hillel also built a Sukkah, an outdoor gathering area in honor of the holiday Sukkot, which can be found in front of Langson Library on Ring Road.
Members are cautiously optimistic about the upcoming year.
‘I feel it’s frustrating because there’s so much animosity when there shouldn’t be,’ Farahdel said. ‘It’s ironic; we’re both fighting to get peace. I really want to plan an event with [Hillel and MSU] and do something fun, like go bowling! We’re still people, and we still want the same things, we all want peace.’