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The Jewish, Muslim and Arab communities at Penn made history last night.

With the launch of a new collaborative initiative called Bridging the Gap, these communities took a step toward building long-lasting working relationships within the Penn community.

Through dialogue and cultural events, this program hopes to foster a sense of mutual understanding that "is often lacking in the world today," said Mariam Ezz, Wharton senior and president of Penn Arab Student Society.

"While there will always be a place for partisan events on campus, an initiative like Bridging the Gap will expose Jewish, Arab and Muslim students to a way of thinking that will foster compassion and mutual understanding," added Ezz.

Ezz, who was born in Cairo, grew up speaking Arabic and was never exposed to the "other side of things," she said.

"Bridging the Gap is an attempt to provide all parties involved with a different outlook on the issues," she added.

"I found it ironic that we hope people in places like Israel will make peace when there is no effort to even engage with each other in our own backyards," said College sophomore Sam Adelsberg, co-chairman of Hillel's Israel Dialogue sector.

"An initiative like this will hopefully allow us to see each other not as 'others' but as Penn students, future leaders and tomorrow's world citizens."

At the kickoff event held in Houston Hall last night, members of both the Jewish and Arab communities gathered to hear music by a group called Intercultural Journeys, a Middle Eastern ensemble that plays Jewish and Arabic melodies.

"Music helps us find a common language," cellist Udi Bar-David said.

After the group's performance, there were musical performances by students in the community as well as a discussion panel about issues related to Jewish-Arab relationships.

At the event, the student groups accepted applications for students to join the program's steering committee, in charge of arranging speakers and cultural events.

"We're attempting to show the similarities between cultures through music to find common ground between the communities," said College sophomore Orly May.

"There's a lot of overlap in language and culture that people need to see," she added. "I started realizing that in general, the two communities are very separate here at Penn," said May.

"It dawned on me that I needed to do something about it and bring the communities closer together."

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