Sami Malik was a Pakistani teenager who had never met a Jewish person. Leah Weiss was a Jewish TA. Late one night in the dome in between asteroid images, they had the kind of conversation that the world needs more of.
by Samiullah Malik ‘13
SSP not only allowed me to explore topics in physics and math which were not available at my school in Islamabad, Pakistan, but also an opportunity to interact with people from very different backgrounds. Out of all those wonderful people I met, Leah Weiss, one of our Teaching Assistants, left the deepest impact.
The month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast, fell during my time at SSP. Perhaps that’s the reason why, late one night in the observatory, we stumbled upon the topic of fasting. Leah told me she was Jewish, and explained when and why Jews fast.
It was a significant and happy moment for me. I had just come to know the first Jewish person in my life.
Even though in Pakistan I had been subjected to religious extremism regarding Jews, my perceptions of Leah as smart, friendly and an incredible mentor, did not change. I was happy that I was able to ignore the stereotypes, and focus on our similarities. We both believe in the same God, we both pray and fast, and, most of all, we share the same enthusiasm for physics.
I left SSP not only with worldly knowledge, but also important life lessons. Later, this greatly helped my transition into the University of Richmond. I am extremely grateful to SSP and all the amazing people who make it happen every year.
by Leah Weiss ’09 (TA ’13)
Returning to SSP in 2013 as a TA, I knew I was joining a wonderful faculty team. I didn’t realize that beyond the many responsibilities of every TA, as a Jewish faculty member I would also be representing my religious heritage.
One night in the dome, Sami, his teammates, and I talked about fasting, Ramadan, and the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. It is a day to fast and reflect on living morally and with kindness, trying make the world better. I told them these are goals shared by many, regardless of religion. Indeed, as Sami so aptly reflects, science has brought and continues to bring together people of diverse backgrounds.
This thrill of scientific teamwork, as exemplified by SSP, has impelled and inspired me to pursue a doctorate in physics. I marvel at the impact SSP had on my life trajectory. I write this from the European High Magnetic Field Laboratory, an internationally funded facility that invites proposals from around the world. During late-nights taking measurements of semiconductors in intense magnetic fields, my thoughts cannot help but return to warm memories of those late nights in the dome, and reflect on the enduring influence of those summer weeks.