In December, when Jewish and Muslim teenage girls organized an interfaith dinner to benefit the Palisades Emergency Residence Corporation in Union City, executive director Matt Kamin said the event would have been a success, no matter how much money it raised.
While the dinner brought in $15,000 for PERC’s new family shelter which, said Kamin, is "the only family shelter in all of Hudson County" the teenage organizers, who call their group Youth for Charity, also proved that Jews and Muslims can get along peaceably and become close friends, said Kamin.
Now Kamin’s group is planning another fund-raiser, "Project United for Children." And while the individual players have changed, Youth for Charity remains a mixed group, embracing 10 Jewish and 10 Muslim teens.
Teaneck resident Derora Tropp, a 1′-grader at Ma’ayanot High School and a member of the new interreligious group, told The Jewish Standard that planning for the event, scheduled for June 4 at Rutgers University in Newark, began in March.
Youth for Charity members meet to plan a carnival for needy children.
The new team embracing eighth-graders through college students includes three girls from Ma’ayanot, "all with religious backgrounds," said Tropp, as well as "Israeli girls, girls from Solomon Schechter and Frisch, and secular girls."
The same kind of diversity is evident among the Muslim girls, said Tropp, who noted that "some wear pants and others wear headscarves and attend public schools."
Tropp said she has become friends with all the girls in the group and has found that she "has more in common with the Muslim girls than I could have imagined."
For example, she said, "We’re all very committed to religion, we both have teachers who are weird about [things like] talking to boys, and our families are nervous about our going to secular colleges."
Tropp also now realizes "how much we engage in stereotyping. I used to tense up when I saw headscarves," she said, but now she realizes that girls in the Muslim community have the same concerns. "Girls in both groups just took AP exams and we’re all worried about tests," she said. Tropp also jokes that she is "comfortable being in a room full of people whose names are hard to pronounce."
The Ma’ayanot student, a member of the project’s public relations committee, said the upcoming event will combine a carnival for children living in poverty with a luncheon both kosher and halal, prepared according to Muslim dietary laws for their families and friends. "We’ll have clowns, booths, and prizes for the children," she said, "and performances and dances afterward."
According to Kamin, proceeds will be split between PERC’s afterschool programming for children living in poverty and the Interreligious Fellowship for the Homeless in Teaneck.
Kamin pointed out that the goal of his organization is to prevent people from becoming homeless. The group’s family shelter is designed to accommodate two families at a time, housing and feeding family members while helping the adults get jobs so they can move on.
According to the Fellowship which boasts the participation of some ’50 Bergen County congregations 90 to 100 persons are sheltered on any given night and 100 or more are provided with dinner.
Tropp said her participation in the charity project and exposure to statistics showing the large number of poor children have been eye-openers. "The Talmud tells you to look to your own community first when giving tzedakah," she said. "There are so many kids here who need our help."
For more information about the carnival/luncheon, call Matt Kamin, (’01) 348-8150.