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A toast to bravery

Dinner held on Main Street encourages discussion about social justice

 Hillel, the organization for Jewish campus life, hosts a dinner and discussion about bravery. The evening is a tie-in for social justice week.

It is Friday night, a time typically dedicated to parties, wild outings or a long, quiet evening with Netflix. At UMBC, 40 students choose instead to gather on Main Street in the Commons to discuss bravery and social justice over dinner. The evening is hosted by Hillel, a national organization that supports Jewish students in their campus communities.

The event is called “Ask Big Questions Shabbat.” Shabbat is a day of rest for those of the Jewish faith which lasts from Friday evening through Saturday. The “Ask Big Questions” events are intended to get students to have conversations about how they can impact their community.

Hillel hosts the Shabbat dinners twice a month. One is smaller with more of a religious focus and is held in the Interfaith Center. The second is in The Commons and intended for community building.

Those who attended are as diverse as UMBCs student body. The faiths and backgrounds of the students vary. Some came because of the free food, but many more share a passion for social justice.

The event is led by Joe Levin-Manning, Hillel’s director of engagement. Manning said that the Hillel events have been well received and that students of all faiths have been getting involved. Part of Hillel’s goal is to help students recognize the value of community.

“We subscribe to the philosophy of UMBC being a family,” said Manning.

A Tex-Mex buffet was warmed by sterno candles. The scent of cilantro and salsa was tempting, but dinner was not served until after group discussions.

At six round tables, students read through packets of questions dealing with the topic of bravery. They were asked to describe a time when they had to be brave and how they can incorporate bravery into their work with social justice. Conversation was a little stilted as these were questions students may not have given much thought.

After the discussion, the traditional Shabbat prayer was recited, led by Manning. Student Hillel members recite the prayers in Hebrew. Cards were available with the phonetic prayer and english translation so that everyone can follow along.

There were three prayers. After the first, students drank from small cups of grape juice. The second one was performed by students who chose to wash their hands. After the third is recited, students break bread together.

Two friends, Semir Abdul, a sophomore majoring in environmental science, and Micahyas Akama, a freshman majoring in global studies came to the event together. Both men are interested in social justice and helping their communities.

“I didn’t know [the event] would be about Judaism,” Abdul said, “but I took away how I can be brave.”

Akama thought it was interesting to learn about Jewish culture. Although the event had religious tones, he felt it was also about confidence building and learning to confront your fears.

Akama said, “When it comes to social justice and bravery, in order to deviate from the norms you have to be brave.”