Iftar in the Synagogue – Know Thy Neighbor

By Elizabeth McCreless

As we approach the Jewish High Holidays and the Muslim holiday of Eid-ul-Fitr, the Jewish and Islamic months of Elul and Ramadan are coming to a close. Elul and Ramadan are both times of self-reflection and penitence for Jewish and Muslim communities, during which Muslims fast every day during Ramadan as a means of purification, while Jews hear the shofar every morning calling them to prepare themselves for the new year. On Thursday, August 19th, over 200 Muslims, Jews, and interfaith allies from all backgrounds gathered to break the Ramadan fast, pray, and share a meal together. The Community Conversation, called “Iftar in the Synagogue,” took place at the Anshe Sholom B’nai Israel Congregation in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood. It was hosted by the Jewish-Muslim Community Building Initiative (JMCBI), together with three Community Ambassadors, Tawfiq Farraj, Maham Khan, and Aqeela Jogee. Gloria Needlman, Lora East, Bridget Flynn, Alpha Diallo, and many other Community Ambassadors also attended and it was a great chance for all involved to connect, learn, build relationships, and dialogue with each other.

Participants started off the evening with an interfaith service project for the Night Ministry, collecting and packaging an impressive volume of donations. In their subsequent remarks, emcee Community Ambassador Aqeela , Rabbi Asher Lopatin, and CIOGC Executive Director Mohammad Nasir commented on the religious and cultural similarities between Jews and Muslims and, even more importantly, their shared values of service to our neighbors. As the sun set, it was time for the traditional breaking of the fast and Jewish and Muslim evening prayers. While sharing a delicious Middle Eastern Kosher meal outside in the parking lot—the group would not fit in the space inside the synagogue—attendees watched Community Ambassador Maham Khan’s film “Devon Avenue: Road to Unity.” Maham reflected on her experiences making the film, and her realization of how far the neighborhood still had to go to utilize its abundant religious diversity and move toward religious pluralism. Her call to action was for participants to get involved in an initiative gathering funds for flood victims in Pakistan.

The “Iftar in the Synagogue” event has been an annual event hosted by JMCBI and thanks in part to the work of the Community Ambassadors, this year’s was the largest and most successful by far. Not only did the turn-out increase more than five-fold from last year, but the participants this year also represented much greater religious diversity, exemplifying the possibilities of understanding and cooperation in a diverse community. Asaf Bar-Tura of JCUA said that whereas last year, the vast majority of participants were Jewish, this year, the representation was close to 50% Jewish/50% Muslim, with numerous representatives of other religious and non-religious backgrounds present as well.

All of this made it an inspiring event to attend. The Community Ambassadors present and the committee that organized the event radiated their enthusiasm for interfaith cooperation. From walking the perimeter of the lot, it was clear that participants were making good use of this opportunity to connect with others from drastically different backgrounds, learning about each others’ traditions and making personal connections. I’m sure all 200 plus people walked away from that event inspired toward further interfaith action—I know I did.

Community Ambassador Aqeela Jogee, photograph by Bridget Flynn

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