Baked treats and tolerance were at the center of a fundraiser held by California University of Pennsylvania to benefit the victims of the Tree of Life synagogue tragedy and promote and celebrate diversity.

“Take a Bite Out of Hate: Cookies for a Cause” offered the campus community a way to donate in the wake of a regional tragedy that made national headlines last October, as well as to spread positivity while sampling sweets from various backgrounds.

“We want to promote people of all backgrounds, all ethnicities and all religions. It sends a message to the community that Cal U. is a place of tolerance,” said Dr. Christina Toras, who organized the event with colleague Dr. Emily Sweitzer.

The event, held Feb. 26 in the Performance Center inside the Natali Student Center, featured a dozen cookie variations with origins from various countries – including Mexico, Norway, Germany, France, South Africa, China, Italy, the United States, Poland, Scotland, Canada and Israel – meant to introduce people to cultural, ethnic and religious differences and spark conversation about those differences, said Sweitzer.

All proceeds from solicited donations from attendees will go to the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s Fund for the Victims of Terror.

“The message was more important than the monetary amount. We wanted to call attention to the terrible event at the Tree of Life,” said Toras.

Tragedy struck Oct. 27 when a gunman opened fire during morning services at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood, killing 11 people and injuring six, including four police officers, in a purported anti-Semitic attack.

“Our university president, Geraldine Jones, sent out a heartfelt message to the campus after the shooting,” said Sweitzer. “My colleague and I discussed the tragedy and it touched us. We thought, wouldn’t it be wonderful to show how much not only the Cal U. community but the broader community cares.”

Sweitzer, a sociology professor, said the two disciplines – Toras is a legal studies professor and director of the university’s Institute for Law and Public Policy – are well suited to address the issues of tolerance and anti-discrimination.

“We wanted to do something that shows our disciplines are more than just words – they’re community in action.”

Area students provided their interpretations on love, hate and tolerance for the event.

Approximately 20 students from Calvary Chapel Christian School in Brownsville performed a medley. Students at the K-12 school also created a slideshow presentation denouncing hate and promoting love, peace, respect and tolerance that displayed on large projector screens in the Performance Center throughout the duration of the event.

A dozen preschool children from Cal U’s Karen and Tom Rutledge Institute for Early Childhood Education sang a song for attendees and created a banner by drawing in crayon what they believe love is. The students drew hearts, rainbows and smiley faces.

Cookies for the event were prepared by Cal U Dining and Hospitality Services. The Cal U String Orchestra provided music.

The organizers hope to make the fundraiser an annual event with even greater inclusivity.

“It just speaks to how in this crazy world that we live in that love will conquer hate,” President Jones said of the fundraiser. “This kind of event shows what kind of university community we have here.”

For the Observer-Reporter

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