Students gather to promote peace, cultural understanding

Students gather to promote peace, cultural understanding

By Marc Larocque

There were belly dancers and hummus. There were stuffed grape leaves and drum circles. There was salad and abstract art. There was falafel and people with dreadlocks.

The event was for world peace.

About 250 students gathered at the Sheraton Hotel Ballroom Saturday night for a kickoff fund-raising gala, dubbed “Taste of Peace,” for a new regional student group called Students for Peace (SFP).

Throughout the night, there were rock bands, world music, reggae, tribal dancing and a Chasidic rapper – like Matisyahu – who combined rhymes and religion.

“I initially wanted to start an event inspired by this great peace song at a concert I went to,” said Yoni Vendriger, president of SFP. “But then I realized that I should go beyond this one event and start the intercollegiate group.”

SFP is a non-profit, Boston-based organization promoting peace and co-existence among students of all backgrounds. Through an alliance network, their website and events like “Taste of Peace,” SFP hopes to promote understanding, acceptance and respect for one another. It’s members are groups from Harvard University, Boston University, Emerson College and Northeastern. The Middle East Studies Association represented Northeastern.

SFP currently has 30 members made up mostly of Emerson students. SFP requests each member make a minimum donation of $25 to cover “many overhead costs.”

Some students were sprawled on the floor in one corner of the ballroom drawing peace symbols, smiling suns and yin-yangs, which they garnished with John Lennon quotes. Behind them was a glowing light that fluctuated from pink to green to orange.

Lending his electronic skills was VJ Zebbler, better known as Peter Berdovsky – the Arlington artist who was arrested for placing Mooninites around Boston earlier this month. Throughout the night, Berdovsky streamed dance music and added visual effects for the two projection screens that played during each performance from the stage.

“I grew up with a lot of violence in Belarus,” he said. “And, I have realized that if humans can simply start to imagine what is best for every person you cross, we can turn around conflicts in an instant. These dialogues aim to do this.”

The group originally focused on Palestinian and Israeli peace dialogues.

“I am Palestinian and Yori is from Israel,” said Raghda Jebril, a graduate political science major and co-coordinator for Taste of Peace. “But, we realized that there are different conflicts besides the Israel and Palestinian one.”

Two Indians, Rhea Verma, a Hindu, and Kehkashan Merchant, a Muslim, had a dialogue at the event about the conflict in their region. Raquel Evita Saraswadi, a lesbian Muslim, read a poem about a lesbian girl who was murdered by men who attempted to have sex with her.

“It seems like small groups of extremists have the voice in the world,” Vendriger said. “We believe there is a silent majority that really wants peace.”

Some students from Northeastern attended only to see the musical performances.

“I saw one of the performers, an NU student named Sunish, play before at afterHOURS,” said Marie Johnston, a sophomore pharmacy major. “From the website it didn’t seem like we were going to do something great to change the world. I am here for the entertainment.”

Jon Marker, a senior political science major at Northeastern, heard about the event through Facebook.

“I was intrigued by the inter-collegiate aspect about it,” he said.

The group currently has a regional focus, Vendriger said.

“But perhaps, in the future we will have different campus-based chapters,” he said.

Some students like Sana Kapadia, a sophomore pharmacy major from Northeastern, were not sure about the organization’s motives.

“I know that they are some kind of grassroots peace organization,” she said. “I think they want a Department of Peace to be created. I don’t think I am going to join.”

But other students like Christa Heffron, an undecided freshman, were supportive of the alliance. She heard about the event from a flyer she received from a friend.

“I know nothing about the group at all, but it just sounded like it was down my alley,” she said. “Peace is a good cause.”

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