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Jewish, Muslim Communities Break Bread Together in Brooklyn

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Published in the Brooklyn Eagle – August 5, 2014

Dinner Brings Together Communities for Ramadan And ‘The Three Weeks’ of Bein HaMeitzarim

Members of Brooklyn’s Jewish and Muslim communities broke bread together at a unique multi-cultural dinner on Thursday, July 24 at Congregation Mount Sinai.

The Ramadan Iftar dinner coincided with the Jewish period of Bein HaMeitzarim (The Three Weeks) and gave participants the chance to get to know each other and explore a religious tradition that may have been unfamiliar to them. The event featured music and dancing by Jewish and Turkish performers.

The importance of brotherhood and learning about each other’s traditions was the evening’s theme.

Rabbi Seth Wax gave the interfaith gathering some background on the tragic significance of both the 17th of Tammuz and the ninth day of Av in the Hebrew calendar. Jews believe that, on the 17th of Av, Moses broke the tablets containing the Ten Commandments in anger over the Israelites building and worshiping the golden calf. (The first two commandments forbade such worship of idols.) Rabbi Wax then led the gathering in a group study — a tradition common to Islam and Judaism. They also watched a video on fasting, a physical and spiritual disciplines shared by both the Jewish and Islamic Abrahamic faiths, as well as by Christianity.

Rabbi Wax said, “Like Ramadan, this three-week period is a time for a serious reflection —reflection on actions, how we treat each other. Because the ancient rabbis taught that Jerusalem and the Temple were not destroyed because of mere military power; it wasn’t just because the Romans had a more powerful army. But, rather, it’s because of Sinat chinam, senseless hatred. That was the real cause of the destruction of the Temple. And during this time, we’re called on to reflect on our actions and to think about how we can be better neighbors with those around us —not only Jews, but Muslims and Christians and those of other religious traditions.

Because, as we know far too well, we’re in an especially difficult time in the world — in both politics and even in the borough of Brooklyn. But I’m convinced that gatherings like ours tonight are what enable us to create a different world, in which sinat chinam — blind hatred — gives way to tolerance, curiosity and genuine affection.”

Daniel Zeltser, assistant executive director of the Kings Bay Y, likewise spoke, greeting Rabbi Wax and Suleyman of the Turkish Cultural Center as “my brother.”

Telling a story of how he and Suleyman got together over Turkish coffee, Zeltser quipped, “If you drink coffee together, you have to be friends for the next 40 years.”

He added, “Enjoying a lifetime of friendship with each other, opening ourselves up — that is the goal of the evening.”

The Iftar included kosher and halal stews, chicken, salads and dessert.

Co-sponsors were the Kings Bay Y, Turkish Cultural Center of Brooklyn, Universal Foundation and Congregation Mount Sinai

The Kings Bay Y has taken a leading role in forging a bond between Brooklyn’s Jewish and Muslim communities. The Young Peace Builders, an innovative program the Y started about four years ago in partnership with the Turkish Cultural Center of Brooklyn, brings together American Jewish and Turkish Muslim high school students for social action projects and events that foster dialogue and understanding between the two communities.