The WORD – 8/9/12. A few weeks ago, I got an email inviting me to participate in a Ramadan Dinner by an organization called the Peace Islands Institute. Now, I am familiar with this organization through my interfaith work. It was established by a group of Muslims originally from Turkey and they have been very active in reaching out to people of other faiths in Newark and surrounding communities.
I had two challenges concerning the invitation: (1) it wasn’t a particularly good time for me and (2) despite my years of interfaith experience, I had no idea what a Ramadan Dinner was.
With just a little bit of searching, I was able to figure out that a Ramadan Dinner is a big deal because Muslims do not eat during the day during the Ramadan period. As Jews, we make a pretty big deal of breaking the fast after one day (i.e., Yom Kippur). Imagine breaking the fast every day for a full lunar month. So, a Ramadan Dinner is one of 29 or 30 consecutive break-the-fast meals. For this particular evening, the Peace Islands Institute invited religious leaders from other faiths to teach Muslims about fasting in other faith traditions.
Once I realized how important this period of time is to Muslims, it was hard to say no. It was hard to pass up this opportunity to build a relationship with the Muslim community just because it wasn’t a convenient time for me personally. So, I said yes.
The dinner will actually take place tonight at sundown, and the timing is uncanny. The interfaith world is still buzzing about the murders of six Sikhs in their Temple in Wisconsin. Anyone with any knowledge of Sikhism knows that it is a peaceful tradition. But, sadly, most of us know very little about Sikhism or any other faith tradition besides our own.
Now, I am not suggesting that if Wade Page knew a little something about Sikhism that he would have abandoned his White Supremacist ways and sung songs with people of other faiths instead. However, I do believe that the more we learn about others and the more we dialogue with others, the more we come to realize how similar we all are. That is why I have put so much effort into interfaith dialogue throughout my years as a rabbi.
But, it’s not enough for religious leaders to sit around talking about our faiths. We all need to find ways to reach out to our neighbors who are different than we are. Here at the JCC, we have set up several forums for doing so – our ongoing dialogue with Faith Lutheran Church, our Interfaith Thanksgiving Service, etc. But, we can also do this important work on our – talking to people in our neighborhood or at work who are different than we are.
Little by little, we bring a little more understanding and a little more peace into our world.