Students volunteered in New Orleans over spring break. Their activities in the Lower Ninth Ward included fertilizing with manure, rebuilding roads and teaching a course on West Philadelphia.

While many students spent spring break working on their tans, others improved interfaith relationships while volunteering in New Orleans.

Muslim and Jewish students helped out together in the Lower Ninth Ward March 4-10 and also engaged in interfaith dialogue.

The purpose of the Muslim and Jewish Interfaith Community trip to New Orleans was to “break down the barriers that exist between the Muslim and Jewish communities” through community service, College junior and co-organizer Roxana Moussavian said.

The trip was University-funded, she added.

The program’s participants worked with two community service organizations: Our School at Blair Grocery, an alternative agriculture-focused community school, and New Orleans City Park.

At the school, Penn students taught a course on West Philadelphia and Penn’s involvement in the neighborhood.

The goal of the course was to show the New Orleans students the universality of their problems and to “tell them that people are living in similar situations in other places,” Moussavian said.

In addition to teaching, the students made manure on the school’s farm and helped rebuild roads in New Orleans City Park.

The trip, however, wasn’t just about volunteer work, Wharton sophomore Faizan Khan said.

In addition to living and working together, the students ate and prayed together.

“I’ve never had to keep kosher — it is very, very complicated,” Moussavian said. “But then again, so is keeping halal.”

On Friday night, all students went to both a mosque and a synagogue and engaged in prayer-service exchange.

“The Jewish students were right there with us in the mosque praying,” Khan said.

The most striking thing was the similarity between the two religions, College sophomore Sarah Ijaz said.

“You hear a lot about how Islam and Judaism are similar, but actually seeing it makes you realize how much” that is the case, she said.

After a visit to the New Orleans aquarium, the students said their afternoon prayers side by side.

“It was one of those moments you never forget,” Khan said.

Living and working together enabled students to engage in meaningful dialogue about religion and the Israel-Palestine conflict, according to Moussavian.

Now back at Penn, the students intend to continue working together and promoting understanding between the Muslim and Jewish communities, College junior and co-organizer Ariel Fisher said.

“This trip was the beginning of something much bigger,” he said.

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