Muslims, Jews cook for St.

Patrick’s Day

SDSU students (from left) Jackie Tolley, Ruth Kerman and Saba Michael, members of the Jewish Student Union and the Muslim Student Association, prepared meals yesterday at the Veterans Village of San Diego. — Peggy Peattie / Union-Tribune

Written by

Jeanette Steele
12:04 a.m., March 18, 2010

SAN DIEGO — They were Muslims, Jews, veterans. Recovering drug addicts and people just off the streets. But, on St. Patrick’s Day, they were all a little Irish. The corned beef at Veterans Village of San Diego yesterday was prepared by Jewish and Muslim students from San Diego State University, in the first partnership between two college groups that represent cultures at war elsewhere in the world. Spirits were light.

“It’s interesting for me, personally. I’ve never prepared corned beef!” said Saba Araya Michael, 23, vice president of the Muslim Student Association. But the underlying principle was serious. “We feel it’s important to show the community and the world that although there are political aspects that show rifts between our two groups, that there still are a lot of similarities,” said Michelle Golan, 21, Jewish Student Union president. “Culturally, our groups do have a lot in common, and we’re able to connect on that.” The two student associations started talking last year and began planning a fast-a-thon to bring attention to world hunger. It takes place today. Embrace, a San Diego nonprofit that encourages college students to volunteer, organized the St. Patrick’s Day meal. Downtown San Diego and La Jolla hotels donated the ingredients, and College Area diner D.Z. Akins donated house salad dressings. Embrace founder Sean Sheppard said he was touched by the students’ partnership when they called him about donating fast-a-thon proceeds to his group. “They were already setting an example before I met them,” said Sheppard, who often focuses on helping the homeless. He didn’t choose St. Patrick’s Day for the event on purpose, but he said he enjoys the irony. “I have Muslim and Jewish groups coming together on a Catholic holiday,” Sheppard said, laughing. But he added, “It’s not about religious beliefs. It’s about serving a population that’s in need.” Sophomore Kacey Kurpinsky, 20, agreed. Kurpinsky was helping chop vegetables for a salad, while other students — sporting hair nets and paper hats — scooped cooked cabbage from a giant pot. “What matters is that we’re American students helping American veterans,” she said. The 155 residents of Veterans Village, in San Diego on Pacific Highway, are former service members getting treatment for substance abuse in a yearlong program. Chief Executive Phil Landis said the veterans appreciate the efforts of the student groups, a segment of the population they don’t often see. More typical volunteers are church and civic groups during the winter holidays. “It’s truly exciting and rewarding for the residents when we have volunteers from the community who choose to spend their time in support of the veterans that we serve,” Landis said. Many of these veterans used to live on the streets. Most are 40 to 60 years old.

Former sailor Domenic Watts, 21, is the exception. Watts struggled with alcohol and ended up homeless. Watts said he heard about recent racial tensions at the University of California San Diego. Especially in contrast to that, he said he appreciates the Jewish and Muslim student groups working together. “What they are trying to represent, at any level, is positive,” he said.