Two students find a deep connection, and then put it to the test in a cookoff on Feb. 8.

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Friedman (top) is a sociology major and Elzarka is studying political science. Photo by Bill Cardoni.

Drew senior Julia Friedman, the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor from Hungary, is president of Hillel, the Jewish student group. Sophomore Noran Elzarka, a Muslim whose family hails from Egypt, is president of the Middle Eastern Student Association. No matter. These days the two student activists are practically BFFs.

“I think the basis of our friendship is we’re both passionate people who care about our community, our roots, our people,” Friedman says. “And we want to share that with others.”

Elzarka has traveled many times to Egypt to visit family. Friedman spent three weeks in Israel in 2011 on a Drew International Seminar, then spent the Spring 2012 semester studying in Tel Aviv. And while they do talk about more than just the enduring conflict in the Middle East, the topic is never far away. When Israel and Hamas exchanged rocket fire last November, Friedman and Elzarka spoke about it daily. Partners in the Junior Fellows program in Drew’s Center for Religion, Culture and Conflict, they also take part in events sponsored by each other’s campus cultural groups. “We’re able to use our friendship and learn from different student activities we’re involved in,” Elzarka says.

You might say they became friends in prison. Last fall Friedman and Elzarka enrolled in a sociology course that associate professor Caitlin Killian taught at New Jersey’s only state prison for women. Once a week they’d share a ride to the Edna Mahan Correctional Center in Hunterdon County—40 minutes each way—and they’d often use the time to discuss the legal, racial and cultural issues that the course inspired.

“No one else had this emotional reaction we had,” Friedman says. “We both kind of bonded in that we both were very struck by this profound experience. Both of us were kind of sad that when [the course] was over, it was over.”

Their friendship, happily, was just beginning.—By Christopher Hann

Interfaith Cookoff

Julia Friedman and Noran Elzarka will join Drew students from a variety of campus organizations on Friday, Feb. 8, for the fifth annual Interfaith Chef.

Taking their culinary cues from the Food Network’s Chopped contest, the students will prepare dishes from around the globe, though in a far more friendly cooking competition. (There will be no $50,000 grand prize at stake.) A panel of judges, including Sameer Sarmast, the proprietor of a popular website and online video show, Sameer’s Eats, dedicated to the finest in Halal food, will then evaluate the gastronomic offerings.

Interfaith Chef is held in conjunction with the United Nations’ World Interfaith Harmony Week. “I think it’ll be fun,” Friedman says, “and goofy.”

Organized by the Muslim Student Association, Hillel, the South Asian Students Association and the Religious Life Council, the cookoff is scheduled for 5 to 7 p.m. in the Ehinger Center. For more information, visit the Interfaith Chef site or call 973.408.3511.