Rainbow Rooms

As a freshman at Rutgers University’s Douglass College in 2003, Danielle Josephs knew of the tensions between Jews and Muslims in the Middle East, but she was horrified to find them on campus as well. After stumbling upon a pro-Palestinian protest in which she heard shouts of “death to Jews,” Josephs, a Middle Eastern Studies major, decided to take action.

As a freshman at Rutgers University’s Douglass College in 2003, Danielle Josephs knew of the tensions between Jews and Muslims in the Middle East, but she was horrified to find them on campus as well. After stumbling upon a pro-Palestinian protest in which she heard shouts of “death to Jews,” Josephs, a Middle Eastern Studies major, decided to take action.

The daughter of an Israeli father and Jewish-American mother, Josephs thought: why not establish a community in which a diverse group of women would live together and discuss issues in the Middle East daily? In September 2006 Douglass College dean Carmen Twillie Ambar helped her found the Middle East Coexistence House, located in the Jameson Residence for women.

“The hardest part about starting the house was recruiting women,” says Josephs. “You really have to commit to being comfortable with the uncomfortable.” She eventually found ten participants—four Jewish, three Muslim, one Catholic, one Hindu, and one agnostic.

Sophomore Estee Atzbi says that living there has been rewarding. “At first everyone was careful to avoid conflict,” she says. “Society has taught us that religion and politics are two things you should never talk about with people you’ve just met. We had to learn to let our guards down.”

With a weekly class taught by Miranda Vata, a Rutgers PhD. candidate in Global Affairs, the house has been deemed a success. Colleges around the country, including Yale University, the University of Texas, and the University of Wisconsin, have contacted Josephs for advice on starting similar programs.

“The Middle East Coexistence House is really a test model,” says Josephs. “I want to see it spread and get bigger and eventually take the idea to the Middle East.”

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