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Hendricks Chapel Brings Students Together for Interfaith Service Opportunity
On a recent Sunday afternoon, students from a range of religious and spiritual identities and traditions gathered at Hendricks Chapel to break bread.
Following a meal and time for interfaith conversation, the students traveled to the East Syracuse headquarters of the We Rise Above The Streets Recovery Outreach nonprofit organization, where they worked together to fill bags with hygiene items, warm socks and snacks to be distributed during the organization’s Thanksgiving outreach event that would be held later that week.
The idea for an interfaith day of service and learning started this past summer with the Muslim Student Association and Syracuse Hillel, due in part to the strong relationship of Rabbi Ethan Bair and Imam Amir Durić. While the original plan was for a Muslim and Jewish partnership event, over the past weeks Bair, Durić and their respective student leaders felt it was important to broaden the event to include more than the Muslim and Jewish campus communities.
“To share the experience with other groups was, in my view, a most wonderful idea,” says Hendricks Chapel Dean Brian Konkol. “We then invited all 25 religious and spiritual life groups associated with Hendricks Chapel to attend, and the Interfaith Day of Service and Learning was supported by representatives of various traditions and identities.”
During the luncheon conversation in the Hendricks Chapel Noble Room, students gathered into smaller groups of three to four people for discussion, including things about others’ faith traditions that they admire. “It was a wonderful way to embrace connections by embracing conversations,” Konkol says.
When the students arrived in East Syracuse, they were warmly welcomed by Al-amin Muhammad, founder and executive director of We Rise Above The Streets. The nonprofit organization provides assistance to the unhoused and underrepresented in the community, particularly through its “Sandwich Saturday” program and other initiatives.
Muhammad shared his personal experience of being unhoused for a decade. He was able to turn his life around, embrace his faith and graduate from college. He is now a full-time advocate and activist, and, since moving to Syracuse in 2015, has led outreach efforts to thousands of individuals and food-insecure families.
In speaking with the students about his experiences and his work, Muhammad encouraged them to “attach empathy” to all that they do.
Krutartha Nagesh ’25, a computer science major in the College of Engineering and Computer Science, identifies with the Hindu tradition. “The culture and tradition that I come from places Mukti (liberation) as the highest goal in one’s life,” Nagesh says. “The ancient yet timeless wisdom of the Rishis (enlightened beings) recognizes Karma Yoga as one of the paths to achieving this ultimate goal. It is the path of service and selfless action for the upliftment and well-being of all life.”
Nagesh says the day was a chance for all of those participating to walk the path of Karma. “It allowed me to keep myself aside; my likes and dislikes, my identifications and biases, to do something that will positively impact the local Syracuse area. I got to experience how seva (selfless action) can not only make a difference in the community but can also bring people from diverse backgrounds together.”
“Attaching empathy to everything that we do, in my opinion, can only happen when our sense of inclusion expands. To have an expanded sense of inclusion, we need to keep our differences aside and see how we can relate with each other,” Nagesh says. “To me, Al-amin Muhammad is a Karma Yogi. I wish to be one myself and also hope to inspire others around me to also take up the responsibility of selflessly serving others so this planet can thrive.”
Julia Ronkin ’24, an inclusive elementary and special education major in the School of Education, identifies with Jewish tradition. She took part in the day of service mainly for two reasons. “The first being that I believe interfaith work is so important for students on campus to take part in. In a time where there is so much divide, we as young people can show that there is unity and support for one another on our campus. My second reason for participating is the positive impact of connecting with other students in the broader context of the Syracuse community,” she says.
Mian Muhammad Abdul Hamid ’25, an information management and technology major in the School of Information Studies, is of the Muslim tradition. He participated in an interfaith community service event last year with Hillel packaging diapers.
“I know we all share a common interest and goal; to serve the community for the greater good. … During and after the event, I was thinking in my head, ‘this seems like something I can do.’ Just packaging items for the community whilst having a conversation with a peer from another faith was definitely a fun way to bond and was therapeutic.”
Al-amin Muhammad’s encouragement to “attach empathy” to all that they do struck a chord with Hamid. “I was thinking of packaging everything with love and care. ‘The juices I was packing in every bag are going to someone who will really enjoy it—someone who is in need,’ I thought,” Hamid says. “Hence, whilst packaging every item, I made sure to be packaging everything with love and for the sake of God. In my faith, ‘Sadaqah’ or charity, is a notable act that one can do to increase the consciousness of God. Moving forward, I am thinking about ways to help the community—not just from a faith standpoint, but to those who are less fortunate.”
The day was also an important one for the chaplains who participated. “I was grateful to serve our community alongside my friends. I admire the work that each of our chaplains puts into supporting and mentoring their faith communities,” says Christian Protestant Chaplain Devon Bartholomew. “This service opportunity gave me time reflect on the incredibly important work that I get to be part of at Syracuse University.”
Konkol was inspired by watching the students engaging in service and learning. “I believe the students chose to model the type of world they wish to live in, rather than mirror the type of world they currently live within, and in doing so they are indeed an example for others to follow,” he says. “They showed that one can be both committed and compassionate, devout and curious, faithful and hospitable. Once again, I am left honored to witness such outstanding students choosing to lead in service to our common good through religious and spiritual life.”