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INSIDE BINGHAMTON UNIVERSITY

BSU, Hillel bring students together

By : Lindsey Klemas

It was the decision to walk together during an AIDS fund-raiser that first brought members of the Black Student Union (BSU) and Hillel together. The students had learned of Project Alliance, a collaboration originally developed at the University of Pennsylvania that unites black and Jewish college students, and decided to come together in support of the spring fundraiser. They vowed to continue to create programs that would unite both minority groups.

Devorah Serkin, Hillel’s vice president of culture and education, and Brenda Klein, Hillel’s intercultural awareness represen-tative, combined forces with Shayna Walker, the secretary for the Black Student Union, to establish programs that would both educate and entertain their members.

First, they developed a cultural jeopardy game that focused on Jewish and black history. Later, members of Hillel invited BSU members to the Kosher Kitchen for a dinner and forum on stereotypes.

“We wanted to make sure people weren’t embarrassed to ask questions,” Serkin, a sophomore history major, said. “We got to learn about each other and have fun and meet people outside of our culture.”

David Levy, Hillel’s program coordinator, emphasized the need for Jewish and black students to recognize they have more in common with each other than they think.

“Instead of looking at our differences, we need to focus on our similarities, our common history of being a minority and overcome prejudices,” Levy said. The coordinators of Project Alliance aim to unite the Jewish and black communities through multicultural programs and events that address similarities and differences between the two cultures.

One program this semester involved a speech by Reuben Greenberg, chief of police in Charleston, S.C., who spoke about his experiences being a black, Jewish police officer in the south.

“Programs like these provide me with first-hand experience at learning about the Jewish culture, which is something I wouldn’t otherwise have had the chance to do,” said Walker, a junior Spanish major.

Another opportunity for the students to learn about each others’ cultures took place in Philadelphia, where Project Alliance has its roots. Hillel and BSU members visited the African American Museum and the National Museum of American Jewish History together.

In between museum visits, the 25 participants went on a scavenger hunt in downtown Philadelphia and were able to build friendships with one another. Together, they ate dinner in a Kosher/Chinese/vegetarian restaurant where they met with guest speaker, Burt Siegel, the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Philadelphia. The talk with Siegel focused on relations between Jews and blacks in U.S. history.

Events for this semester include a second annual AIDS walk and a Passover redemption Seder. At the Seder, the story of the Jews leaving Egypt to escape slavery will be recounted.

In addition to learning about each other’s histories and struggles at the monthly programs, Hillel and BSU members are building friendships and having fun.

“Everyone tries to find people that are similar to them,” Klein said. “But it’s also important to find people who are different, who we can be friends with.”
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Last Updated: 10/14/08