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we are so much alike

05/06/2021 03:57:30 PM


Rabbi Jeffrey Myers

I had the privilege of attending an iftar this past Sunday evening hosted by the Turkish Cultural Center. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset each day, with the meal that ends that day’s fast called an iftar. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims pray, performs acts of kindness and give to worthwhile causes. About fifteen of us sat in a tent outdoors. We saw a beautiful short film that explained the actions a Muslim performs during Ramadan, and then I was asked to speak, as were a Minister and an Imam. After the evening prayer, we enjoyed a delicious meal together.

I noted in my remarks how eating in the tent reminded me of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, when Jews enjoy meals in a Sukkah. I shared the common threads that run through the month-long observances of Ramadan and the 25-hour observances of Yom Kippur. It was especially interesting that the three areas that Muslims focus on – prayer, acts of kindness and charity – sound so similar to the text found in the midst of the Un’taneh Tokef, when we are reminded that repentance, prayer and charity can lessen the severity of the decree.

As the faithful enter the concluding ten days of Ramadan, the intensity increases, and many isolate themselves during the daylight fast period for even more intensive prayer. Tradition teaches that the Quran was revealed during this ten-day period. I could not help but think of Sefirat Ha’omer, the seven-week counting period from the second Passover Seder until we arrive at Shavuot, for Shavuot commemorates the Revelation at Mt. Sinai and God’s giving of the Torah. While the Muslims also follow the lunar calendar like the Jews, they do not add a leap month to re-align the seasons of the year with the Festivals. Since the lunar year is 354 solar days, and absent any leap years, Ramadan next year commences 11 days earlier than this year, and that continues each year. So while it is merely a coincidence in the calendar that as Ramadan concludes we are nearly on the cusp of beginning Shavuot, the commonality was indeed striking.

The concluding meal of the month of Ramadan is called Eid al-Fitr, which literally means “Festival of Breaking Fast”. You will note the word Eid has the Hebrew cognate Moed, which means “festival”, as both languages are part of a larger family of regional languages called Northern Canaanite. Many might be familiar with the Arabic greeting Salaam Alaikum, of which we say in Hebrew Shalom Aleichem. Eid al-Fitr is indeed quite festive, as the Muslim has safely made it through the month of Ramadan, and hopefully feels renewed and a better person. When we conclude Yom Kippur, don’t we feel the say way -  an uplift, a rush of adrenaline - that we have made it through Yom Kippur, and then gather in our homes for a festive meal?

For two hours, it was indeed spiritually rewarding to sit with friends, enjoy a meal, learn more about Muslim practices, and, for that brief period of time, escape the troubles of the world and just marvel at how alike we are. Those commonalities serve as a bridge to bring us together, to unite us to achieve the same goals, all under a tent of peace. I do hope to be able to offer the same hospitality during Sukkot, to gather under my Sukkat Shalom, my tent of peace, and continue to grow our relationships.

As I prepared to depart, my hosts gave me a gift, as they did to all of their guests, in gratitude for the privilege of having us grace their table for their iftar. What a lovely tradition. What a lovely evening. Three related faiths gathered in peace. The reality should give you goose bumps about the possibilities. I know I had them.

Wed, June 23 2021 13 Tammuz 5781