Café Finjan: “It’s Not About Being Jewish or Muslim, It’s About Being Human”

By Kayla Higgins

On the evening of Thursday, March 17, nearly 150 Jews and Muslims gathered at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) for Cafe Finjan, an evening of performances by Jewish and Muslim artists hosted annually by the Jewish-Muslim Community Building Initiative.

The theme of Café Finjan 2011 was “Chicago Crossroads,” with performances that focused on the themes of Chicago diversity and social justice.

There were two hours of performances with a short discussion break for small groups of audience members to discuss the question, “When have you been at a crossroads, and what path did you take?”

The evening included a diverse repertoire of art: singing, poetry, storytelling, photography and more. One of the highlights of the night was an interfaith conga line formed during an upbeat musical performance by Sirina Issah, a Muslim refugee from Ghana. By the end of her song, almost the entire room was on their feet and dancing.

Sirina Issah performing at Café Finjan 2011

One of the emcees of the evening, Rochelle Rickoff, who also did a joint storytelling performance alongside a Muslim coworker, said, “The similarities in our writing were astonishing and Café Finjan provided the platform that pushed us to discover our shared interest in creative writing.”

Tom Bornstein, a new member and participant of Cafe Finjan and JMCBI said, “It is both thrilling and motivating to experience the Messianic goal of friendship-building between these two ancient civilizations that can occur in the USA!”

As a testimony to the uniqueness of this type of event, another audience member at Café Finjan remarked, “As I was live-tweeting at Café Finjan, a friend of mine from London in the UK responded to me saying, “I wish we had something like that here!”

And one inspiring comment from the student host from UIC’s MSA was, “It’s not about being Jewish or Muslim, it’s about being human, and if this event enticed just a single heart towards peace than it was well worth it!”

For information on other JMCBI events visit

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