Andrew Coopersmith, '18, addresses the audience during the "Avi" Diversity Shabbat on Friday, Feb. 23, 2018, in UC 303. The event was created to unite people with different identities from various groups across campus. (Logan LaClair/B&W Staff)

Diversity Shabbat dinner fosters intercultural discussion

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In the early hours of February 12, 2010, Avi Schaefer was killed by a drunk driver while walking back to campus at Brown University.

To keep Schaefer’s memory alive, his family started the Avi Schaefer fund, which aims to foster discussion among groups that often don’t communicate with one another. Schaefer had hopes of creating dialogue between Jewish and Palestinian people.

On Feb. 23, the Center for Gender Equity, the Office of Multicultural Affairs, Lehigh’s Multi-Faith Intiative, the Pride Center, the Chaplain’s Office, Hillel and the Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Equity worked together and alongside student groups to host “Avi” Diversity Shabbat, co-funded by the Avi Schaefer Fund and the Berman Fund.

Alexa Layne, ’19, the social action and programming chair for Hillel, helped organize the event across offices and clubs on campus.

“The goal of Diversity Shabbat was to bring different groups on campus so people from different identities could meet and learn about the distinct groups on campus, with a focus on intersectionality,” Layne said.

Layne said attendees were divided into small groups and then brought back together to have a discussion “at large” to have a greater spread of ideas.

Anastassiya Perevezentseva, ’18, the interim president of the Multi-faith Initiative, first got involved with planning the Shabbat after experiences she had this past summer.

Perevezentseva said her work at a non-governmental organization that promoted inter-religious discussion — as well as conversations with Lloyd Steffan, the university chaplain and the director of the Center for Dialogue Ethics and Spirituality, and Danielle Stillman, Lehigh’s previous director of Jewish student life and associate chaplain — pushed her to continue interfaith dialogue on campus.

Steffen said last semester, he along and Steve Nathan, a rabbi and the interim director of Jewish student life, worked to get a wide array of groups involved in planning the event.

“We are living and breathing diversity issues, and programming will often try to address those (issues),” Steffan said.

Al Nabhani, ’20, the marketing chair for the Multi-faith Initiative, said a primary focus of the event was to create a comfortable setting for everyone in attendance, no matter what their identities might be.

Nathan said the event was special because there are pockets of diversity across campus, but there is rarely an event where interaction can take place between the groups.

“This was the first step in hopefully getting distinct groups together in the future,” Nathan said. “Gender, sexual orientation, religion, all make parts of the identity. It was about looking at all kinds of diversity.”

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