Service trip brings groups together

Tejas Sawant, Contributing Writer

Bridges, a Muslim-Jewish Interfaith student organization at NYU, devoted the last week of winter break giving back to the community. A group of 20 members, led by Hannah Katz from the Bronfman Center and Amira Shouman from the Islamic Center, undertook a disaster-relief service trip from Jan. 18 to 24 to the towns of Mayflower, Vilonia and Little Rock, Arkansas, which were both struck by devastating tornadoes last April.

As part of its mission, the group participates in service programs every year in regions hit by natural disasters in the United States, working in cooperation with the Jewish Disaster Response Corp.

Beginning early in the morning, the volunteers’ days were packed with work — building shelves, grouting floors, caulking, spackling, building deck foundations and painting. After a day of work, the group would then engage in an interfaith activity. On one of the evenings, they visited the Arkansas House of Prayer, where the local interfaith group hosted a dinner to welcome Bridges to the community.

CAS sophomore Afraz Khan was stunned by the hospitality despite it being Bridges’ first time in the particular area.

“It was beautiful, and it goes to show that places like Little Rock, Arkansas, in the south are taking major steps as well in bridging gaps between different beliefs,” Khan said.

Khan, a leader in the organization, described the relationship between giving back service and upholding the mission of the group as complements of one another.

“In fostering a greater level of cooperation between the Muslim and Jewish faiths here at NYU, service work plays a pivotal role in serving as a natural icebreaker to allow students to feel comfortable with one another,” Khan said.

This same sentiment was shared by another leader, Silver junior Emma Stein, who acknowledged the ability of service to bring strangers together.

“When painting the side of a house for five hours, or standing on a ladder nailing a roof to chicken coop with someone spotting you for your safety, you get to talking,” Stein said. “You learn to put your trust in a stranger who very quickly becomes a companion.”

CAS junior and secretary of Bridges Shanjida Chowdhury spoke about how, in addition to helping those in need, the service trip had a positive effect on her personally.

“It was definitely a life changing experience,” Chowdhury said. “It taught me to have an open mind and an open heart to be grateful for my faith, my family and everything that I have. We spoke to many locals from Little Rock who lost everything in the tornadoes, and they would share stories about how their faith kept them strong despite the fact that they lost almost everything they owned.”

As for Bridges’ future plans, Stein hopes to continue building the rapport between members by coming together to provide aid to more communities around the nation.

“I hope to help facilitate experiences like this in the future,” Stein said. “I hope to see more wide eyes and big smiles.”

A version of this article appeared in the Feb. 5  print edition. Email Tejas Sawant at [email protected].