Watching the news coming from Israel can make you feel helpless. I live near Boston as sirens send my friends to shelters and civilians are killed in Gaza. I wish I could participate in Tag Meir demonstrations like the one organized by NIF in Jerusalem against vengeance, racism, and hate. In order to feel productive and connected, I chose to visit the Yosuf Mosque in Boston for “Iftar Break-Fast on the 17th of Tammuz” organized by Moishe Kavod House. Similar events were held the world over to bring Muslims, breaking their daily Ramadan fast, together with Jews breaking their own 17th of Tammuz fast. This day marks the beginning of a three week Jewish mourning period commemorating the destruction of Jerusalem and the two Temples.
There was a very diverse group of about fifty Jews representing virtually every religious stream from Reform to Orthodox. I am glad to say that I saw many NIFers, at least three rabbis, and several social justice activists in our midst. We were very warmly received by the mosque leadership and community and given a tour of their beautifully restored, historic building.
After the first of several Muslim prayer services that evening which we were invited to observe, a community leader announced to his fellow worshippers that we from the Jewish community were there in friendship and in peace. He told them a little bit about our fast and then encouraged the community to meet us and make us feel welcome. At that point, we all felt warmly embraced by this incredibly diverse Muslim community. I met people from Algeria, Kenya, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. The Muslims then proceeded to break their daily fast, which they are permitted to do at sundown. We were given space to conduct our own Ma’ariv service after which we broke our fast according to Jewish law, that is, when three stars appear in the night sky. This time difference created much interest among the Muslims.
We then congregated and ate together in small ad hoc groups and talked about religious differences, coexistence, and life in Boston. The mosque made sure to provide vegetarian and even hechsured options for us. In my little group of Jews and Muslims, the Israeli-Arab conflict did not really come up. Rather, the Muslims I talked to were interested to hear that this was the first mosque that I had ever been to outside of Israel (and definitely the first Muslim religious service that I had ever experienced). They answered a barrage of questions from us about their community, Ramadan, and their own personal lives. My rabbi, Claudia Kreiman, met with a cluster of women who said they had joined this particular mosque because it values interfaith relations.
All in all, this was a very moving, pleasant, and in some ways, anti-climactic experience for me. Rather than discuss heavy topics and the world’s problems, I enjoyed a meal in pleasant company. And yet, there was something rather exciting about immersing myself into a new, multi-cultural experience just miles from my home. It was also encouraging to me that a group of settlers and Palestinians on the West Bank participated in their own shared break-fast get together – which is about as mind-bending as you can get. If more of us could step out of our regular routines in similar ways — and in baby steps — I can’t help but wonder what might eventually be accomplished.