Hendricks Chapel Welcomes New Chaplains

Hendricks Chapel is excited to welcome three new chaplains for the 2023-24 academic year.

Established in 1930 as a home for all faiths and place for all people, Hendricks Chapel has witnessed significant increases in student engagement in recent years and has responded with the placement of new chaplains and development of new chaplaincies to advance academic excellence at a university welcoming to all.

The Rev. Brian E. Konkol, dean of Hendricks Chapel since 2017, says diverse and dynamic chaplains are of great importance for the University community: “As confidential and trusted advisors, University chaplains accompany students of diverse religious, spiritual, moral and ethical identities and experiences. While drawing from their distinctive traditions and practices, chaplains are called upon to serve all people by building community, exploring belief, offering guidance, leading rituals, facilitating cooperation and providing care.”

Hendricks Chapel is now host to 15 chaplains and 27 religious and spiritual life groups. To connect with a chaplain, please visit the Chaplains Suite on the lower level of Hendricks Chapel, call 315.443.2901 or visit

About the New Chaplains

Daren Jaime studio portrait

Daren Jaime

Pastor Daren C. Jaime, Christian Protestant Chaplaincy, Historically Black Church

Pastor Daren C. Jaime moved to Syracuse 17 years ago and hails from Harlem, New York. His ministerial journey began in 1994, when he acknowledged his call to ministry at the Saint Frances A.M.E. Zion Church in Port Chester, New York. He is currently the senior pastor at People’s A.M.E. Zion Church in Syracuse and is very active in the local community. Pastor Jaime has also been privileged to reach a global community as an award-winning journalist, educating minds across the world through his former radio show “Power Perspectives” and his weekly live television broadcasts of “Perspectives” and “Open” on Bronxnet. You can reach Pastor Jaime at

Outdoor portrait of Rev. William Payne

William Payne

Rev. William Payne, Christian Protestant Chaplaincy, Fellowship of Christian Athletes

In March 2018 Rev. William Payne was appointed as campus director of the University’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). Payne started playing baseball at an early age, sustained a love of sports throughout his youth in Maryland, and continues to blend athletics and ministry. After graduating from Liberty University with a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1996, he went on to graduate from Baptist Bible Seminary in Pennsylvania in 2004. He served as a pastor in Michigan and Syracuse before joining the FCA. Payne is enthusiastic about ministering alongside students of the campus community. You can reach him at

Dave Schubert studio portrait

Dave Schubert

Reverend Doshin David Schubert, Buddhist Chaplaincy, Zen Center of Syracuse

Reverend Doshin David Schubert was ordained as a Rinzai Zen Buddhist monk in 1994. He is currently the head monk at the Zen Center of Syracuse. Schubert was born in Syracuse and graduated from the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY ESF) with a degree in environmental and forest biology and later received a master’s degree, also from SUNY ESF, in forest entomology. After years of working at Beaver Lake Nature Center and Burnet Park Zoo, he retired in 2023 to join the Hendricks Chapel team and spend more time with his wife, two daughters, four dogs, three cats and two guinea pigs! You can reach him at

Hendricks Chapel Welcomes New Chaplains



Hendricks Chapel Dean, Chaplains and Students Attend Parliament of the World’s Religions

Representatives from Hendricks Chapel recently attended the Parliament of the World’s Religions, held in August in Chicago. This year’s theme was “A Call to Conscience: Defending Freedom and Human Rights.” More than 7,000 participants from more than 95 countries, representing more than 210 faith traditions, attended.

The Hendricks Chapel delegates included Dean Brian Konkol; Buddhist Chaplain JoAnn Cooke; Muslim Chaplain Amir Duric; Baptist Chaplain Devon Bartholomew; Hindu Chaplain Sanjay Mathur and students Elan Fullmer ’24, Olivia Matz, Joseph Patrick Zoll G’23 and Mian Muhammad Abdul Hamid ’25, who serves as convenor of the Hendricks Chapel Student Assembly of Interfaith Leaders.

Visit SU News to view the full story!

Hendricks Chapel Dean Speaks About Food Insecurity On Thursday Morning Roundtable

On Thursday, Sept.7, Rev. Brian Konkol, Hendricks Chapel’s dean, and Professor Anne Bellows, Ph.D. of Food Studies at Falk College presented information about food insecurity and the Hendricks Chapel Food Pantry on the Thursday Morning Roundtable. Click the photo below to view the entire session. 




Malmgren Concert Series Kicks Off with Broadway Star, Tamar Greene!

On Sunday, September 17th at 4 PM, in the first concert of the series, you’ll tease your senses and experience Broadway star Tamar Greene of the hit musical “Hamilton.” Greene will be accompanied by pianist Robert Auler during an afternoon journey of the eclectic tones of an opera, reggae, jazz, theater, and R&B musical fusion. Known for his role as George Washington in “Hamilton,” Greene brings his immense talent and powerful vocals to the stage for a performance that showcases both classic and contemporary selections.

Born and raised in Rochester, New York, Tamar Greene completed degrees at SUNY Oswego and the Eastman School of Music before commencing a career in musical theater that has taken him around the world. Greene’s many credits include roles in First National Tours of “Love Never Dies,” “Porgy and Bess,” Charlie in the NY Philharmonic’s filmed production of “Show Boat,” and George Washington in the Chicago production of “Hamilton.” He has been playing the role of George Washington in the Broadway production of “Hamilton” at the Richard Rodgers Theater since 2020.

As a proud first-generation American, born of Jamaican and British parents, Greene is a versatile artist whose musical passions mirror his eclectic background. As a writer, arranger, classical pianist and an opera singer, he combines much of his inspiration from Classical music, Reggae, Hip-Hop, R&B, Blues, and Jazz. His single, “Soaring” is available on all streaming platforms.

Greene will appear at Hendricks Chapel with his former SUNY Oswego piano professor, Robert Auler, an accomplished pianist who has performed on six continents, and whose playing the New York Times describes as possessing “extraordinary rhythmic clarity and expression.” Greene’s program will also feature collaborations with the Hendricks Chapel Choir on songs from “Rent” and “Man of La Mancha.” With the stunning acoustics of Hendricks Chapel, this powerhouse duo and the choir will create an atmosphere filled with emotion, energy, and pure musical brilliance.

The Malmgren Concert Series of Hendricks Chapel has been made possible by a generous gift from Syracuse University alumna Ester Malmgren to Hendricks Chapel in 1991. The series offers the Syracuse community the highest quality of arts with free and open admission. The series includes several concerts each academic year at Hendricks Chapel, many of which feature the organ, Ester Malmgren’s favorite instrument.

Complimentary parking is available in the Irving Garage. For more information on this and other Hendricks Chapel events, visit For accommodations, please call the chapel at 315.443.2901.

Hendricks Chapel, the spiritual heart of Syracuse University, is the student-centered global home for religious, spiritual, moral, and ethical life. Established in 1930 as a home for all faiths and place for all people, the chapel hosts 15 chaplains, more than 25 student-led religious and spiritual groups, and sponsors over 1,400 programs for more than 650,000 annual attendees. Hendricks Chapel employs student workers, supports musical ensembles, offers support through the Student Opportunity Fund and Food Pantry, and partners throughout the campus community to advance academic excellence at a university welcoming to all. As a central contributor to holistic life and learning at Syracuse University, Hendricks Chapel helps to prepare engaged citizens, scholars, and leaders for participation in a changing global society. For more information, visit


Memorial Service to Honor Emeritus Professor Mĩcere Gĩthae Mũgo on July 29 in Hendricks Chapel

Mĩcere Gĩthae Mũgo, Emeritus Meredith Professor of Teaching Excellence in the Department of African American Studies (AAS) in the College of Arts and Sciences (A&S) at Syracuse University, passed away on June 30, 2023, at the age of 81. A memorial service to honor Professor Mũgo will be held at Hendricks Chapel on Saturday, July 29 at 10 AM.

Mũgo, who joined the faculty of A&S in 1993, distinguished herself as teacher-scholar, administrator and social activist. Among her leadership roles with A&S, she served as chair of AAS from 2005 to 2008, helped launch the department’s Master of Arts in Pan African Studies Program in 2005 and served as the first full-time director of the Africa Initiative from 2001 to 2005. Mũgo retired from Syracuse University in 2015 and was honored with emerita status.

Mũgo earned a bachelor’s degree at Makerere University in Uganda, a master’s degree at the University of New Brunswick, and a Ph.D. at the University of Toronto. Before her time at Syracuse University, she taught at Cornell University, St. Lawrence University, the University of Zimbabwe and the University of Nairobi. While at the University of Nairobi, she served as the first female dean of an African university, before being forced into exile with her two daughters, Mũmbi wa Mũgo and the late Njeri Kũi Mũgo, in 1982 due to her political activism.

As a teacher-scholar of African Oral Literature (Orature), Mũgo wrote and lectured extensively on the subject and organized numerous events at Syracuse University, including campus visits by Wangari Maathai and Wole Soyinka, winners of the Nobel Peace Prize and the Nobel Prize in Literature, respectively. Mũgo authored six books and four monographs, and edited eight supplementary school readers and the journal Third World in Perspective (Third World Conference Foundation). She was also well-known for her co-authored 1977 play, “The Trial of Dedan Kimathi,” which had a highly publicized 10-day run at the University of California at Irvine.

Mũgo was recognized numerous times for her efforts in social activism and academia. She was named an Elder of the Order of the Burning Spear, Kenya’s highest honor, and received several prestigious awards including the Marcus Garvey Award from the Canadian Branch of Universal Negro Improvement Association, the Rockefeller Foundation Award for writing and publication and the Flora Nwapa Award for excellence in Africana literature. Mũgo was also inducted into Phi Beta Kappa Society (the oldest honor society for the liberal arts and sciences) and was invited to speak at the United Nations.

A committed community activist, Mũgo participated in numerous organizations, including the Ghana Society of Central New York, the Pan African Community of Central New York and the United Women of Africa Organization, the latter two of which she founded and served as inaugural president. She also participated on many other boards of directors, editorial boards and advisory boards around the world.

Following her passing, several leaders posted their condolences on social media, including the former Chief Justice of Kenya, Willy Mutunga, who said, “Our Comrade, Sister, and Revolutionary, Professor Micere Githae Mũgo joined our ancestors some four hours ago. May she shine in the light of the ancestral abode as she shone on earth with revolutionary light. Her revolutionary Spirit LIVES.”

An additional obituary for Professor Mũgo has been published by the Burns Garfield Funeral Home.

All are welcome to attend the memorial service for Professor Mũgo:

Hendricks Chapel of Syracuse University
Saturday, July 29
10 AM

Parking will be available in lots across campus on a first come, first served basis. Visit for information and direction. For questions about the service or accommodations, please call 315.443.2901 or email

Bringing Joy from Ghana: Joseph Maxwell Ossei-Little Has Big Plans as Inaugural Hendricks Chapel Organ Scholar

Jospeh sits at a wooden organ wearing a black and gray jacket.

By Binaka Norris ‘23

The music scene in Ghana is often nothing less than vibrant: songs of hope, love and joy fill the streets, vocalized by community choirs and church groups. Music weaves itself into everyday routines of Ghanaian communities, creating a melodic home for many. From this musical environment, Setnor School of Music organ faculty member Dr. Anne Laver invited Joseph Maxwell Ossei-Little to enroll in the master’s degree program in Organ Performance as the inaugural Hendricks Chapel Organ Scholar. Joseph, a newlywed with a newborn son, made a solo journey from Ghana to Syracuse in August of 2022 following several pandemic and visa tribulations.

As the son of a Methodist minister, Joseph often changed schools, friends, and houses because of frequent family relocations. Through these disruptions, Joseph discovered his deep connection to music. When his school entered a regional music competition, they needed a sight-reader (a person who plays a piece at first sight) to represent them. Joseph’s older brother had been chosen but was unable to compete. So, as a last resort, the church organist offered Joseph two quick organ lessons and sent him to participate. Out of 16 candidates, Joseph placed fourth. Given his impressive musical ability after just two lessons, he decided to keep practicing. As he continued moving to new locations, music remained a constant in his life. His practice sessions kept him connected to his passion for music despite his ever-changing surroundings.

While Joseph certainly had a passion for music, he also had another love—the sciences. Originally, he graduated with his bachelor’s degree in pharmaceutical studies. “I really didn’t have a social life because pharmacy was really packed,” said Joseph. “So right after lectures I would rush over to the music department to play the organ!”

After graduation, he decided to become certified as a professional musician. He completed exams to attend the Royal College of Music in London. The Royal College of Music annually sends examiners to Ghana to hear performances. Through this process, Joseph met Samuel Kuffuor-Afriyie ‘20, who organized a musicians’ workshop in Ghana, taught by Syracuse University faculty. At the workshop Joseph met Dr. Laver and Dr. Peppie Calvar, Associate Director of Choral Activities at Syracuse University. With the encouragement of Kuffuor-Afriyie, Laver, Calvar, and members of the Ossei-Little family, Joseph decided to pursue a master’s degree in organ performance at Syracuse University. But getting to the United States proved to be an almost insurmountable challenge.

As many international students are aware, the visa process can be difficult to navigate. Joseph applied for his visa in February 2020, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic which brought travel to a stop in March 2020, his educational process was quickly halted. After applying twice for a visa, Joseph finally received approval in August 2022.

Joseph performs at Hendricks Chapel for a variety of events, such as the popular Music and Message series.

Since arriving at the Setnor School of Music, Joseph has immersed himself in both academics and campus social life, particularly through his position as the Inaugural Hendricks Chapel Organ. The inaugural Hendricks Chapel Organ Scholar is a relatively new position in which Dr. Laver, along with Dr. Calvar and others, guide students who are passionate about organ performance and expand their music skills.

“Hendricks Chapel Dean Brian Konkol agreed to create this new graduate assistantship in consultation with me to provide more support for the chapel’s expanding music program, says Laver. As the inaugural Hendricks Chapel Organ Scholar, he assists the Hendricks Chapel Choir and performs at Hendricks Chapel’s programs such as Holidays at Hendricks and Music & Message.

Ossei-Little says, “I’ve really loved singing on Sundays at Music & Message! The choir and directors really make the program amazing. After performing, you receive applause and analyze your presentation. You feel like you are on top of the world.” But not everything is perfect. He has been married for just over one year and his baby son was just born. He left his new wife and baby, parents, siblings, and his job as a pharmacist back in Ghana. Despite this, Joseph remains inspired. After finishing his studies, he hopes to pioneer the first program for organ music in Ghana.

“One of my biggest dreams is to create a program for organ music in Ghana. It’s really been my passion to get a program started in Ghana when I go back. I know there’s a lot of talent in Ghana.” Joseph has already co-founded a new association for organists in Ghana with another Syracuse alumnus, Augustine Sobeng G’21 and he hopes to work with universities in Ghana to create undergraduate programs for students in organ performance. While he hasn’t worked out all the details, he explains, “The primary aim is to be able to impart all that I’ve learned at Syracuse University and inspire the next generation.”

Joseph and his wife on their wedding day.

Lutheran Chaplain Announces Retirement from Syracuse University

After 15 years of service as Lutheran Chaplain at Hendricks Chapel of Syracuse University, Rev. Dr. Gail Riina has announced her retirement, effective at the end of July.

Pastor Gail (as she is often known by students) served in numerous campus contexts throughout her years of ministry, including George Washington University, Cornell University, and The State University of New York at Buffalo before arriving at Syracuse University in 2009. Through her focus on vocational discernment and pastoral counseling, Pastor Gail was committed to sharing a Lutheran expression of Christianity in ways that met the evolving needs of a diverse student body.

Lutheran pastor Rev. Gail Riina stands with fellow chaplains in her white pastor's robe.
Lutheran pastor Rev. Gail Riina stands with fellow chaplains in her white pastor’s robe.

“Throughout her years of ministry at Syracuse University, Pastor Gail Riina embodied her Christian faith through a genuine care for students and principled commitment to inclusive community impact,” says Rev. Dr. Brian Konkol, Dean of Hendricks Chapel. “Through a remarkable ability to both proclaim her own beliefs and also learn from the beliefs of others, she empowered countless students to grow and flourish as leaders, and she now leaves a foundation for others to build upon and appreciate. I am personally grateful for her friendship and wish her the fullness of God’s blessings for the next chapter in her journey.”

In addition to her on-campus presence, Pastor Gail also championed many community initiatives, such as “Success Saturdays” that involved tutoring New American students, providing support, and building cultural competency. “Pastor Gail has shaped both the Lutheran Chaplaincy and Hendricks Chapel’s Chaplains’ Council in countless ways by infusing the values of loving-kindness, social justice, and care for the earth in all that she does, says Associate Dean, Rebecca Reed Kantrowitz. “Gail’s work with area refugees, coupled with numerous community service projects, has made a lasting impact not only on the Central New York community but also on the hundreds of students, staff, and faculty with whom she has worked.”

Pastor Riina delivers a heartfelt message at the Blessing of Students.

“My greatest joy has been to be a part of building relationships of trust and dialogue, and to witness how community is the catalyst for students’ growth,” says Riina. “My experience has deepened my faith in the power of God to heal and transform and my hope for greater peace throughout the world.”

In partnership with Dean Konkol and Hendricks Chapel, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Upstate New York Synod will launch a search for the next Lutheran Chaplain.

Hendricks Chapel Presents “Return to Community: A Sunday Gospel Jazz Service” in Conjunction with Syracuse Jazz Fest

As the grand finale of Syracuse Jazz Fest in 2023, Hendricks Chapel at Syracuse University will host “Return to Community: A Sunday Gospel Jazz Service”, featuring The Dillard University Ensemble (New Orleans, LA), Black Celestial Choral Ensemble (BCCE) of Syracuse University, and a community choir composed of Syracuse area residents.

This first-of-its-kind program will offer a dynamic and inclusive spiritual experience that fuses and celebrates Gospel and Jazz music, includes a pre-event welcome luncheon, and seeks to spark and sustain renewal in our local community and beyond. The program and luncheon are both free of charge, and open to all.

No registration is necessary however, you may join the Facebook event to receive reminders.

“Return to Community: A Sunday Gospel Jazz Service”
Sunday, June 25, 2023
Program: 3:00 PM
Pre-Event Luncheon: 12:30-2:30 PM*
*for the first 1,000 attendees

Click here for more information on the luncheon.


Several choir members in black choral wear sing with their hands raised in the air. The Dillard University Ensemble

Through the leadership of Samuel Carver Davenport, Dillard University’s Ray Charles Endowed Professor in Music, the nationally renowned Dillard University Concert Choir features vibrant student voices from across North America. The choir recently performed for the nationally televised Historically Black College and University (HBCU) All-Star Game as well as the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) Annual Education Conference, with the choir being described as “surpassed only by the angels of heaven.”

Located in New Orleans and established in 1869, Dillard University is Louisiana’s oldest historically Black college. As a private faith-based liberal arts university that offers 22 majors and two certificate programs, the university “cultivates leaders who live ethically, think and communicate precisely, and act courageously to make the world a better place.”

The Black Celestial Choral Ensemble (BCCE) of Syracuse University

Founded in 1977 by Rev. Dr. Seretta C. McKnight to provide a spiritual home for Black students at Syracuse University, the Black Celestial Choral Ensemble (BCCE) ministers through Gospel music that fosters and supports academic excellence at a university welcoming to all. Led by student director Gabrielle Pinkney ’24 and supported through The Alumni Group (TAG) of the BCEE, the choir has performed at numerous venues throughout North America, including the Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church (Atlanta, GA), the spiritual home of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and currently led by Rev. Dr. Senator Raphael Warnock.

Gospel Jazz Community Choir

To honor the 2023 Sunday Gospel Jazz Service theme of “Return to Community,” a diverse community choir composed of Syracuse area residents will be led by Cora Thomas, known locally as the “First Lady of Gospel Music.” Born and raised in Syracuse, Thomas supports numerous community organizations and hosts “Sunday Morning Gospel” on WAER 88.3 of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.

All interested in participating in the community choir may contact Cora Thomas at or Hendricks Chapel at or 315.443.2901.

For additional information on 2023 Syracuse Jazz Fest, please visit


Pre-Event Outdoor Welcome Luncheon

Sponsored by the Fellowship for Emerging Leaders in Ministry (FELM), and to express the 2023 Sunday Gospel Jazz Service theme of “Return to Community”, a pre-event outdoor welcome luncheon, featuring free food and refreshments, will take place on the Kenneth A. Shaw Quadrangle of Syracuse University from 12:30-2:30pm. At 2:30pm all luncheon guests will be invited into Hendricks Chapel for the 3:00pm Sunday Gospel Jazz Service start time.


How an Imam and Rabbi Impact a University Campus Through Friendship

By Dara Harper

In March, two of Syracuse University’s religious leaders unlocked the potential of a funding grant, engaged their respective students, and built understanding around their distinctive religions.

It started when colleagues and friends Imam Amir Durić and Rabbi Ethan Bair had an idea for strengthening their chaplaincies through bringing students into their circle of friendship.

Both Bair and Durić have a history of interfaith collaboration. Rabbi Bair’s earliest family memories include sharing Dec. 25 with Iranian Sufi Muslim neighbors. “We had a tradition of getting together on the 25th since it wasn’t either of our holidays and we would have dinner together,” reminisced Bair. “I love the idea of not just knowing your neighbors but becoming friends with your neighbors.”

Muslim Student Association students enjoyed dinner at Syracuse Hillel.

At Hendricks Chapel, known as the spiritual heart of Syracuse University since 1930, friendships between chaplains aren’t new territory. In the mid-1990’s the Jewish and Muslim chaplains shared an office on the lower level of the chapel.

The rabbi and imam no longer share an office, but Durić and Bair wanted to engage their groups in both sharing meals and partnering on service opportunities. Bair discovered a special funding opportunity through Hillel International in partnership with the Arthur Vining Davis Foundation, allowing the two groups to sponsor a meal and a service project.

If we all just live in our own bubbles, we will end up being limited and having limited impact. Connecting and collaborating with others is really what makes us better. — Imam Amir Durić

Rabbi Ethan Bair (left) and Imam Amir Durić (right) met at the Hendricks Chapel staff and chaplain retreat in August 2022.

When the two religious leaders met at Hendricks Chapel’s annual staff and chaplain retreat in August, Durić and Bair gravitated toward one another, discussing their chaplaincies and students. They immediately recognized commonalities and identified a path toward collaboration.

Durić joined Hendricks Chapel and the Muslim Student Life organization at Syracuse University as chaplain in 2017. Durić previously served as the Imam, Khatib, and Mu’allim for ten years: three years in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Hercegovina, and seven years in the United States, Delaware Valley-Philadelphia region.

Rabbi Bair began his tenure at Syracuse University’s Hendricks Chapel and Syracuse Hillel in July of 2023, after having served as congregational rabbi in Miami Beach and as campus rabbi at the University of Southern California’s Hillel center, among other positions.

As a multifaith chapel for over 90 years, Hendricks Chapel is a place where religious leaders are encouraged to work together and share common spaces, and a genuine friendship adds an extra realm of possibility. So, when the grant from Interfaith America was acquired, Durić and Bair knew they could make their ideas of bringing the students together into a reality.

A Holy Overlap

It’s not every year that the Muslim Holy Month of Ramadan and Jewish Passover holy days overlap. During the Spring Semester of 2023, this was a unique opportunity for Syracuse Hillel to host a Muslim iftar (dinner) in the Hillel building. With Muslim students fasting from dawn to dusk, a catered meal at sundown was a welcome invitation. The Muslim and Jewish chaplaincies each invited 60 students to the dinner, and each had one or more student leads to help the groups connect with each other. Sadie Roberts ’27, a student in the School of Architecture, worked closely with Mian Muhammad Abdul Hamid ’25, who attends the School of Information Studies.

Students made fast friends at the Muslim Student Association (MSA) + Syracuse Hillel combined iftar during the Holy Month of Ramadan.

“If you show respect and you’re genuine, then you’ll be able to make good friends,” says Hamid. In that spirit, the two students created conversation starter questions for the dinner tables and a digital quiz:

  1. How does fasting work in each of your religions?
  2. Do you find it difficult to balance your religion with school related

         obligations in college?

  1. Based on the climate we live in today; how do you think religion plays a

          part in your own life or the lives of others?

  1. What keeps you grounded in your faith?
  2. What are some challenges you have faced due to your faith?
Imam Durić posed with students at Syracuse Hillel.

During the dinner those in attendance discussed how their respective fasting practices differed, and how they were similar. They discussed discriminations that they’ve faced because of their identities and beliefs. The students discovered more similarities than differences in their lives. Rev. Dr. Brian Konkol, dean of Hendricks Chapel at Syracuse University, states that the chapel aspires to be “a both/and place in an either/or world,” and that is what the students seemed to realize at their dinner.

For Rabbi Bair, the coming together and collaboration of their chaplaincies will hopefully strengthen their students’ personal faith and the entire University community.

“A big part of the purpose for me of having a strong Jewish community is to be able to partner with others: to share our culture and learn from other cultures. The values of diversity that we aspire to live with on campus can only happen when we take that extra step and reach out to co-plan events with other groups. I think that’s where the magic happens,” says Bair. “That night at the iftar hosted by Hillel, I walked around and saw people having some awkward conversations, some funny conversations, and seeing students getting out of their comfort zones a little bit, or maybe leaning just at the edge of their comfort. That’s what it’s all about for me.”

The other revelation of the evening included continued dialogue around an important word that is found in both traditions. While spelled differently in Hebrew and Arabic, tzedakah/sadaqah has a similar meaning and importance to both groups. Tzedakah/Sadaqah is the concept of the responsibility of charitable giving that are tenets of both the Ramadan and Passover holy days.

“During Ramadan we are expected to boost our empathy and to strengthen our compassion,” says Durić. “Community service helps with that. It is a concrete action that easily becomes part of Ramadan observance.” In Muslim texts, sadaqah holds high religious importance, as it is a term that refers to wide a spectrum of giving and compassion. The term encompasses love, friendship, kindness, generosity, and religious duty.

Students enjoying dinner together.

And, according to the Talmud, tzedakah is as important as all the other commandments combined. The Jewish law describes the act of giving tzedakah as mitzvah, which means a religious duty to perform a good deed.

“Passover has a message around food justice stating that all who are hungry, can come eat,” says Bair. “There are also messages of inclusivity and making sure everyone of every socioeconomic status has a meal to attend.”

Teaming Up to Bring Tzedakah/Sadaqah into Action

In addition to the iftar, the two groups wanted to embark upon a service project. They collectively chose to support the CNY Diaper Bank. With hundreds of dollars’ worth of diapers, Durić and Bair gathered ten Muslim and ten Jewish students to package bags of diapers for parents in Central New York.

On the drive to the facility, Bair connected with Adam Baltaxe enrolled in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and the College of Arts and Sciences. As a Jewish student with many Muslim friends, Baltaxe has chosen to fast during the entire month of Ramadan in solidarity with his friends.

Ten Muslim and ten Jewish students donated time and energy (and diapers!) at the CNY Diaper Bank.

“People forget that we’re all human. We’re way more similar than we are different. Rabbi Bair is really bringing a new perspective toward the way we look at other cultures and other people and that takes away from the divides that are currently keeping us apart,” Baltaxe says. “I mean, right now there’s enough in this world that is trying to keep different groups of people apart. Imam Durić and Rabbi Bair are trying to connect multiple communities that have long histories of battling, arguing, conflict and that is really healthy. I’m very happy to reenter this space of Judaism under Rabbi Bair’s leadership.”

What a Friendship Between Two Religious Leaders Means to Their Students

Modeling friendship in a tense world is challenging, but when two religious leaders focus their efforts not just around collaboration or academic politeness, it is felt deeply. Their relationship is authentic, honest, open, and kind.

Durić remembers his first meeting with Bair. “Sometimes you meet a person and you feel you have known them for so long. It is personally how I felt when I met Rabbi Bair. So there is some deeper connection, I guess, on whatever level. But you feel you can do more together…and then there is that acknowledgment of who you are and your shared challenges and values. When you put all that together, it is what makes it so special. Now, planning projects and programs together is deepening that relationship,” Durić says.

“Rabbi Bair and Imam Durić have such a meaningful friendship. To me it symbolizes progress and success, and it makes me proud of who I am,” says Roberts.

Bair is becoming distinctly aware of the impact that their friendship has on his students. He says, “It’s always good to have a friend, but when you can develop a friendship and also invite students into that circle, I think that’s really special. I am very grateful to have Amir as a friend.”

The Work Isn’t Over

Both Bair and Durić have been asked about future collaborations between their groups. They plan to keep up the momentum by continuing to share events and service projects. The two friends continue to pave the path forward. “I think the more common ground we create together, the safer our students may feel to engage in diverse friendships and meaningful topics down the road,” Bair says.


Imam Durić and Rabbi Bair share a moment at the CNY Diaper Bank.