The stage was set for peace.
A rabbi, a reverend and a Muslim doctor conversed while the organizers and peace-wishers socialized and set up for the candlelight peace vigil on Wednesday, to promote peace between the UM community and the Middle East.
Sounds of nature played and the Merrick fountain served as both backdrop and accompaniment to the event.
Sophomores Emily Horowitz, Lily Asfour and Oded Ashkenazi came together to organize the vigil, in collaboration with COISO-the Council of International Student Organizations-after tensions arose during last week’s International Week.
“There have been problems here in the past week and this has been one of the main forces [behind the vigil],” was all Ashkenazi would say about last week’s disagreements.
“The three of us were discussing what happened. It’s based off of rumors,” Asfour said.
“Lila and I have been friends since the second grade. We see each other as friends, not as a Jew and a Muslim,” Horowitz said.
Although no one really wanted to comment on the incident-the vigil was after all, about coming together-organizers agreed that the end result was a good one.
“The same tensions half a world away found their way here,” said Nikki Chun, outgoing COISO president. “I’m glad that this was the response.”
“I’ve seen in my own family the pain. I went to New York City and I have seen the pain in people’s eyes,” Ashkenazi said. “When I saw the pain in people’s eyes on my campus, I felt it was time to do something.”
Reverend Frank Corbishley, Rabbi Russel Fox, Dr. Moiez Tapia, chairman of the Institute for Islamic Education and Research, as well as COISO president-elect, Cory Cain were the guest speakers.
“We had speakers from three different religions because we wanted to neutralize, have a balance and include all,” Horowitz said.
Each gave their two cents about what it would take to bring and keep peace alive today.
“I have my own vision about what peace would look like,” Corbishley said. “I might be wrong. We need to come together in our willingness to take one step back from our opinions and defer to God and it will be right.”
Rabbi Fox spoke about the difference between being a lover of peace and a pursuer of it.
“We can agree that peace is a good idea. The hard part is to pursue peace,” he said. “That means taking a risk. The true battle is not between those on the one side and those on the other. It is between those who love peace and those who do not.”
Dr. Tapia spoke in agreement stating, “When you deny any person his or her basic rights, it is against God’s law and it is not peace.”
“Both Muslims and Jews are required to greet each other ‘Assalama’ or ‘Shalom’-Peace. It means you have nothing to worry about from me,” Tapia said.
Cain felt that his job as speaker was perhaps, not to speak, but to get the audience to listen.
“I’m not going to talk anymore,” Cain said.
He then initiated a moment of silence for the crowd to contemplate everything that has happened to them lately.
The only sound to be heard was the gentle waterfall of the fountain. Some people had their eyes closed. All of them seemed to be concentrating only on what was going on inside their minds.
As the sun began its descent and a light breeze began to blow, the organizers starting lighting the candles. The light breeze, however, proved to be a problem as the candles began to blow out.
“It’s good this way that they’re hard to light. That way you have to get really close to one another,” Fox said. “Just like with peace.”
COISO advisor and director of International Students and Scholar Services, Theresa de la Guardia gave the opening and closing remarks.
“All of our speakers have given us a lot to think about, a lot to contemplate, and I’d really like us to keep it in our hearts,” she said as the vigil came to an end.
Organizers were pleasantly surprised with the turnout of about 40 people.
“It’s an excellent turnout,” Ashkenazi said. “I thank COISO for their sponsorship and their efforts to help in all the ways they can.”
“Someone brought an American flag,” he added. “I wouldn’t allow it in the ceremony. I’m against nationalism. That promotes wars.”
“More people showed up that expected,” Horowitz said. “People had really great appreciation for the event.”
“I think it’s important we all get together and generate some positive energy for all people in the world,” said continuing studies student, Alina Soto. “By showing up here it’s my contribution to positive energy.” “I’m not Muslim or Jewish so it was great to hear other religion’s opinions,” said senior Paul Stout. “God is peace. It was universal throughout all the religions.”