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Feast in the Mideast an unexpected success

Organizers were late putting together the event.

Flyers were only distributed within participating groups.

A-frames and advertisements didn't go up until the day of.

Yet somehow, crowds were so large that extra seats had to be brought into the Shriver Heritage Room last Monday night for the Feast in the Mideast, a collaboration between multiple religious groups on campus.

If you ask Miami's Muslim Students' Association (MSA) president Zaheer Choudhury or Miami's Hillel president Sam Adler, both will tell you the same thing - it was a success they didn't anticipate.

"We definitely did not expect as big of a turnout," said Choudhury. "It all worked out really well."

The unanticipated number of guests were treated to a dinner of authentic Israeli and Arab cuisine. Later in the night, attendees enjoyed a stand-up comedy show performed by the Laugh in Peace Comedy Tour, an interfaith trio of stand-up comedians representing Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

"It was awesome, amazing," said the Reverend Susan Sparks, one of the comedians. "So many faith groups coming together like this is a great show of unity and says a lot about this campus."

Although the Laugh in Peace trio were brought to campus primarily to perform, they also were able to enjoy the food.

Among the dishes served were Kosher beef, curried vegetables, Mujaddara (a Lebanese lentil dish) and more.

"The food was amazing," said Muslim comedian Gibran Saleem. "I had everything except maybe the knishes. It perfectly hit the spot."

When asked about the success of the food, Choudhury simply motioned to empty trays and said, "Well, it's gone."

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Saleem, who was marketed by fellow comedians Sparks and Rabbi Bob Alper as the "headliner" of the comedy show, has appeared on platforms such as MTV in the past. This, however, was his first time performing with Alper and Sparks as a part of the Laugh in Peace Tour.

"It was good seeing so many backgrounds," said Saleem. "[Interfaith shows] can be hits or misses, but this was great."

Choudhury offered a theory on why the feast ended up being such a popular event.

"Maybe people remembered the event from last year and wanted to come back," Choudhury said. "Hopefully now it'll be an annual thing."

Choudhury had played a part in organizing last year's Feast in the Mideast with the former Hillel president. A difference this year, however, is that a few Christian organizations, such as the Progressive Christian Campus Ministry, were sponsors of the event as well. Last year's Feast in the Mideast had only been sponsored by Hillel and the MSA.

"The Christians were definitely a welcome addition," said Adler. "The turnout was really wonderful, it was great."

Overall, six organizations collaborated on the event.

Although organization and planning of the feast began late, Choudhury said that having the experience from last year helped them move the process along quicker.

"This year, we sort of knew what to do, who to contact," said Choudhury. "Even though we started [planning] late, it wasn't bad."

Choudhury said the choice of the Laugh in Peace Tour was influenced by the choice to include Christian groups in sponsoring the event.

"When you laugh together, you can't hate each other," said Alper, who started the Laugh In Peace Tour in 2001. "Laughter brings people together."