On February 8, 2013, Hillels across the nation joined with the Avi Schaefer Fund to remember Avi Schaefer, z'l: former Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldier, and paver of a path leading towards dialogue and perhaps even peace between fighting nations.
At University of California, Santa Barbara, the students and staff of Hillel were fortunate
enough to not only take part in this memorial, but also to meet Avi’s entire family. Avi’s father, Rabbi Dr. Arthur Schaefer, delivered a moving dvar torah (speech related to the text of the Torah) at Friday’s services. Rabbi Schaefer spoke about his son’s dream, and how there were now momentous steps being taken towards achieving a possibility of peace among Palestine and Israel by creating dialogue between the two populations, “allowing barriers of demonization to be crossed.”
Diverse groups from UCSB gathered at Hillel to remember a life that modeled the way for dialogues among all nations and cultures. Jewish and Muslim students joined for services and dinner, in a demonstration of how interfaith students can come under one roof to support a universal cause. After services, a representative from the Muslim Student Association, Nadim Houssain, shared his experiences as a Muslim in the United States, and afterwards, recited Jewish and Muslim prayers for peace with Hillel student leader Maia Kurland. Nadim shared that, “The Avi Schaefer Shabbat was a rewarding and unique experience. It was very nice to see individuals from various faiths and political backgrounds come together and engage in important dialogue to realize that we all share a common sense of humanity and yearning for peace.”
Beyond the Avi Schaefer Shabbat, other notable programs of the Avi Schaefer Fund include the Avi Schaefer Symposium, held annually in Jerusalem. The Symposium is a step towards breaking the barriers of ignorance and helping students from across the world share their viewpoints on the current state of the conflict. “It was started by people impacted by his death,” says Rabbi Dr. Schaefer, “and now it’s an event to illustrate how one young person can make a difference.”
In addition to the Symposium, Avi’s identical twin brother Yoav Schaefer has since followed his brother’s dream. A student at Harvard University, Yoav helped create the “Avi Fellowship” program, an opportunity for college students who have previously served in the IDF. During dinner, Yoav spoke about the importance of dialogue and committing ourselves to empathy.
All who attended this special Shabbat left feeling inspired and motivated, and the evening was a great success.