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Essay prize-winning Cambridge University student experiences first-hand the importance of building better Muslim-Jewish relations

16th February 2022

Sylvie Hodes, 22, who is studying Hebrew and Arabic at Cambridge University, documented her experiences as a Jewish woman studying at an overseas campus in a 1,500-word essay, and is the joint winner of the 2022 William Kessler Essay Prize Competition run by the Woolf Institute, the world-leading experts on interfaith relations.

Sylvie was presented with her £250 prize alongside the other winner Akram Nazir, 20, who is studying to be a doctor, and whose essay challenged the ideals of how governments can incorporate more religious diversity.

Established in 2020, the Woolf Institute’s William Kessler Essay Prize Competition invites UK Undergraduate and Graduate students once a year to submit essays which address a range of topics connected to interfaith. Essays are judged by the Woolf Institute’s leading academic staff, all internationally recognised for their expertise in researching and understanding relations between the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths. Prizes are awarded to two winners.

Sylvie spent six months in Egypt last year studying at the University of Alexandria, and in her essay, explains how her experiences there deepened her understanding of the delicate nature of interfaith relationships.

She says, “There used to be 80,000 Jews in Egypt and now there’s just a handful. Religion is at the forefront of the Egyptian culture, and it would be normal for someone to ask what your name is and then what your religion is. I wanted to write about my experiences in the essay and I was delighted to be selected as a winner.”

Akram Nazir says of his prize-winning essay, “There were so many interesting topics, and I was so shocked to win. Government structure isn’t always inclusive to people of different religions, and I wanted to look at that. It’s an important subject to me and I’m glad the judges were impressed.”

On winning the prize, Sylvie says, “I was surprised. I listened to the other presentations and was shocked that the judges chose mine, but it was great to validate my experiences in Egypt and bring voice to this important issue.”

Paying tribute to all the entries, the Woolf Institute’s Director of Studies Dr Emma Harris says, “As ever, we were impressed with the quality of so many entries, challenging a wide range of topics. It was hard to select a winner, but the judges on the day went with Sylvie and Akram’s entries. William Kessler, the father of Ed Kessler who co-founded the Woolf Institute, was a great supporter of our work. He believed in our vision from day one, encouraging staff and making generous donations including to the capital campaign for our new building. The essay prize competition enables us to continue his legacy and nurture young talent from different faith communities.”

Click here to read the shortlisted essays.

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