Iftar in the Synagogue

As a child of parents who left a lot of the religious choosing up to me, I suppose you could say I am an interfaith-leaning new-age agnostic, with a side of Christmas carols. Our annual visits to Istanbul as a blue-eyed, blonde-haired and (arguably) red-blooded American child left me completely transfixed by the 5 calls to prayer, ezan, blaring out from simultaneous megaphones across the land. It became a song that I held in my spiritual heart. My gentile mother, an adopted shiksa or non-Jew, by her professional family of psychologists, meant enormous spreads of bagels and schmear on Yom Kippur, and the fluffiest of matzo balls on Passover.

Suffice it to say, I relish in observing the rituals of Islam and Judaism and leapt at the opportunity to attend the Brotherhood Synagogue's fifth annual "Iftar in the Synagogue"; Iftar is the practice of breaking fast at sundown for observing Muslisms during the holy month of Ramadan, celebrated at homes and at the mosque, but rarely at a synagogue.

In my view, no religious celebration would be complete without a story like the loaves and the fishes, the oil for the Hannukah candles, an iteration that proclaims: "there was not enough - but God provides”. And this experience was no different.

After receiving an invitation to the event I was overcome with a debutante's dilemma: I can't show up as an empty-handed guest! As if receiving a call from my guilt-wielding ancestors, my boss turned to me that very afternoon with a simple question: do you like dates? Ever the opportunist I replied jokingly with: I prefer eating them to going on them. He laughed and lugged a 5 pounder of the Saudi King's finest crop onto my desk. Problem solved!

I relayed to the organizers that I was coming baring gifts! A inappropriate as my three wisemen reference was, they assured me that they had order a helping from Fresh Direct. I protested; but these are from the deserts of the Saudi King! A nice gesture was all those dates were meant to be.

I arrive to a temple full of grateful participants; there had been a mix up on the dates. Only 10 dates were laid out to break the fast of 70. It was an emergency date situation and I was there to the rescue! My micvah, or good deed, in the true universal culture of gossip, did not go unnoticed. "You were the one who brought the dates? Did you go all the way to Saudi Arabia to get them?" remarked an impressed Jewish participant. Another Muslim guest explained it perfectly: the bringer of the dates gets, like, "100,000 brownie points in heaven."

Well that about calls me karmically even, I guess.

While I reveled in becoming the patron saint of dates (sorry, confused Episcopalian here), what those sweet morsels of the desert created was something far more beautiful. The community of participants organized by the Jewish Muslim Volunteer Alliance, was a welcome exchange to observe similarities and  in prayer and practice between the two faiths. A cantor led us in Hebrew song, a Muslim volunteer led our hodgepodge of Abrahamic wanderers in absolutions, and through the story of Moses in Arabic. The main event was a muezzin calling us to prayer and the breaking of the fast at precisely 8:31 PM, left hungry observers cleansed, as we prayed, in hijabs and yarmulkes. All of a sudden a major flashback occurred: that tinny Arabic song lifting my spirits. The power of community - of song - moving me to mist.

Our dinner, which entailed of sopping up babaghanoush with pita and downing plates of baklava, was met with similarly beautiful greetings from long time activist, Rabbi Bob Kaplan. We had a moment to reflect on what it meant to be here together - me feeling the camaraderie of the event - and the larger call to continue the dialogue. A gesture and a community held together by the lingering sweetness of dates.
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