Finally, the Kazakhstani woman's eyes lit up, and she understood.

"Oh, you mean you're humans together," she replied.

Perhaps that statement sums up the work of the group: bringing together women from Islam and Judaism for community and conversation.

The Future of Dialogue

While Gustav Niebuhr and Leonard Swidler say Muslim-Jewish dialogue is on the rise, Loskota says it is hard to tell. Some people see dialogue as innovative, while for others it is something they tried a long time ago.

Certainly, there is nothing new about interactions between people of the two faiths. Jews and Muslims have been in conversation - albeit not always with the intention of listening to one another - since the days of Mohammed, when the Qur'an recognized Jews as "people of the book."

Still, a few emerging trends appear to be developing. For instance, Chishti said much has changed with the advent of the Internet, as it has allowed those who are interested in dialogue to network much more easily than in the past. 

Another recurring trend is for more Muslim-Jewish dialogue groups to be coordinated on a civic level, Loskota said. In addition, the National Weekend of Twinning was a new kind of event in that it happened on such a grand scale.

Indeed, optimism seemed to well within the halls of Temple Emanuel during the Weekend of Twinning kickoff event, as local and national leaders made grand statements about the need for Jews and Muslims to work together to fight stereotypes.

"The truth is simple," said Usman Madha, community liaison for King Fahd Mosque in Culver City. "We can work together or somewhere down the line we can perish together.

"Let this be the beginning and not the end. Inshallah, (God willing) we'll move forward."

Still, tension among some of USC's Jewish and Muslim students has increased following the Gaza invasion. The university's Students for Justice in Palestine chapter organized a protest against the Gaza invasion in early February. Later in the semester, it protested the separation barrier and called for divestment from Israel. The campus' USC Students for Israel responded with counter-protests during those events and hosted a celebration of Israel's anniversary in late April, which Students for Justice in Palestine protested.

"My take away from that day and those rallies was that protests are really only good for gaining attention and publicizing an issue, but they're really bad for explaining the issues or controversies," Jewish student Nili Schneidman said about a week after a protest during the Gaza invasion.

As Muslims and Jews continue to ponder ways to engage in dialogue at USC, some participants in the Olive Tree Initiative trip believe the organization gives them hope for improved relations at UCI. The group's efforts also appear to have brought about at least one small change in Israel and Palestine. Ali Malik recalls how the group met with an Israeli settler in the summer of 2008 who was particularly moved by his conversation with the group. The settler, who lived near Bethlehem, later was introduced to a Palestinian activist who lived in the area, and he learned that the Palestinian had never been to the beach. The settler talked to his brother, an official in the Israeli Defense Forces, who got the man a permit to cross into Israel and visit the ocean.