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Bennett Hong for Spectator

Matisyahu—everyone's favorite one-named Hasidic reggae star—played a sold-out show at Columbia's Miller Theater Thursday night. But while many audience members came to see him beat box and sing about Zion, they left with a new commitment to social justice. The evening was centered on the film Call + Response, which features musical performances by Matisyahu and other musicians in addition to interviews with celebrities, journalists, and politicians. Created by musician Justin Dillon, the documentary exposes the horrors of the human trafficking industry worldwide, inter-cutting the disturbing documentary footage with musical performances, music-video style. Co-sponsored by many campus groups including Ferris Reel, Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, and Hillel, the event was organized primarily by VERITAS Forum—a discussion group that aims to ask philosophical questions through a Christian lens. To those familiar with Matisyahu and his conspicuous religious views, this pairing may seem incongruous. Nonetheless, the issues raised by Call + Response are not explicitly religious—no mention of religion is made in the film. VERITAS hoped this event would go beyond religious boundaries: "It will be an issue that can really transcend any beliefs, whether you're an atheist or Christian or Jewish," Intervarsity member Phillip Dupree, SEAS '11, said. "When we see where our society is in terms of how civilized we are, this is something that really should not and cannot continue to exist, no matter what your beliefs," he said. Several members of both VERITAS and Intervarsity saw Call + Response in Tribeca in December and, taking the documentary's title to heart, responded to the "modern day slavery" that the film exposes. Rebecca Fuller, CC '11, is a member of Intervarsity and was one of the initial organizers of the event. "When I saw Call + Response, I saw God's heart break for those people. God loves those people and those people don't have any voice," she said. The group decided that the most effective way to call awareness to the atrocities they saw in the film was to screen it at Columbia. However, getting the rights to the documentary proved a long and complicated process. The group did not expect to hold a screening until April. But a series of fortuitous coincidences in the proceeding months enabled VERITAS and Intervarsity not only to hold a screening, but also to do so with one of the film's stars present. When the group's faculty advisor met a woman at a conference who had a connection to the rights to Call + Response, the event began to seem like a possibility. More coincidence led the group to Jeff Reid, who works for a missionary organization and who helped VERITAS members meet with Matisyahu and organize the Call + Response Thursday's event. "I had already been thinking of doing an event like this and I had already gotten in touch with the Call + Response guys, and Columbia offered me this venue. But we had no band. But we took it anyway. ... I was asking God, who should we get?" he said. "I said basically I think God's saying Matisyahu, but I don't have any way to get in touch with him," Reid explained. After traveling to Colorado for a conference, Reid heard about a Matisyahu concert near where he was staying. "After the show I just kind asked God where was I supposed to go. ... I followed him into these different the and I ended up a room with Matis and three other people." Matisyahu agreed to perform for free at Reid's event, and the plan was finalized. For VERITAS, the point of showing the film was not only to raise awareness, but also to do something far more difficult: promote action. Tables for World Vision and Sex and Money—a group promoting the end of modern day slavery—were outside the concert for interested students. Still, on a campus full of students wanting to save the world, the real challenge comes less in stirring interest and more in practically executing change. "A lot of the idealistic energy at Columbia goes to waste," said Dupree. "We'd like to start channeling this energy into some positive action." Dillon, the film's director, said that screening the film at Columbia made him particularly hopeful. "These are future leaders. Columbia is an excellent school. ... What kind of dividends is that going to pay out? Will lives be different, will leaders be chosen, will papers be written?" he said. For those who did know about Call + Response, a concert by a world-famous reggae star proved an incentive to attend the event. Matisyahu's performance was interrupted briefly by a technical problem, but fans weren't deterred by glitch. Akornefa Akeya, CC '12, said she did not know the event involved a movie and came only for the performance. Nonetheless, she said, "it was really moving." Dupree and VERITAS Forum Chair Sybren Hoekstra, CC '10 confirmed that VERITAS and Intervarsity hope to organize future discussion groups based on the evening's screening and continue to explore ways to respond to the film's call to action.

Veritas Forum Matisyahu Intervarsity Christian Coalition Hillel