Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Copts teach West Point cadets about diversity

( - After a tour of Ellis Island and a lunch featuring Egyptian cuisine hosted by a Coptic Orthodox Church, 25 West Point cadets visited the church on Bergen Avenue to learn about Coptic history and the church’s role in the community.

The next stop for the cadets who are studying “Winning the Peace” at West Point’s Department of Social Science on their packed three-day trip was a Catholic Church and then a mosque.

“This trip is about learning about aspects of warfare that do not involve a gun,” said David Shields, 22, a cadet from Tampa, Fla. “We are here to learn about different faiths and communities and how they all interact.

“It’s been awesome, getting to interact with different people. Everyone here has been hospitable,” he added.

The Rev. David A. Bebawy, pastor at St. George and Shenouda Church, provided a slide show presentation about the Coptic faith, which started with a history of the language and religion.

After Cadet Lt. Nate Freeland, 23, of Keyville, Va., asked what role the church plays in Jersey City’s diverse community, the Rev. Anthony Basily explained a range of services the church provides such as helping new immigrants, bringing comfort to housebound people in the community and feeding the homeless.

The purpose of the cadets’ program is to immerse them in one of the most diverse cities in the country to give them a greater respect and understanding of different cultures.

Retired Jersey City Police Detective Rich Boggiano, who has two children who graduated from West Point, initiated the program at the suggestion of one of his sons, who was asked by the school to talk to cadets about his experiences with the culture and religion in Iraq.

“This is our eighth year,” said Maj. Andrew Gallo, the course director and assistant professor of American politics at West Point. “The community has been incredibly helpful and gracious.”

At the Islamic Center of Jersey City, where the cadets stay, program organizer Ahmed Shedeed said the visit to the city is an eye-opener for some students.

“Some of these soldiers have never seen anybody different. Some have never seen a black person or eaten Chinese food, and they come to a place like Jersey City and they understand they’re not the only ones in the world, that there are civilizations and cultures that came before theirs,” he said.

Many of the cadets who will be commissioned officers when they graduate next month will be sent to Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries where an understanding of other cultures will help them in their assignments.

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