Breaking Bread and Barriers
In many cultures, breaking bread is a sign of unity and a powerful way to break down barriers and promote fellowship between people of different faiths. This year, OTS’s Blickle Institute for Interfaith Dialogue co-sponsored a number of Iftar feasts with the Gush Etzion-based “Roots” organization, bringing Jews and Muslims together for food, discussion and camaraderie.
“Religion can give people tremendous strength. Nothing else explains the commitment to fast every day for a month,” shared Rabbi Dr. Yakov Nagen, Executive Director of Ohr Torah Stone’s Blickle Institute for Interfaith Dialogue, referring to the Ramadan – the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting, prayer, reflection and community. “What we need to do is harness this strength for positive acts that bring people together,” he affirmed.
With this in mind, the Blickle Institute partnered with the Roots (in Hebrew, “Shorashim”) organization of Gush Etzion to host three of the month’s Iftars, the sunset meal that marks the end of the day’s fast.
Over festive (entirely kosher) dinners, Blickle fellows ate, drank, sang and spoke together with other Jews and local Muslims. Several of the Jewish participants expressed the power of sitting down as peers together with people they recognized from local businesses, but had never had the chance to properly meet – the man who worked at the gas station, or the woman from the local medical office.
“My 10-year old asked if we might get stabbed,” revealed Blickle fellow Rabbi Avraham Stav, a concern that was certainly understandable in light of the recent spate of terror attacks. “But when I heard him say that, I understood that we had to go,” recounted Stav, who brought all of his children. “It cannot be that the only associations we have of Islam and Muslims are from the bloody violence we see on the news. So we went, and we ate, and we learned a few words of Arabic and a little about the meaning of Ramadan.”
There was palpable excitement among the Muslim participants that local Jews had joined them for the meal. In his welcoming remarks, Sheikh Jamal Al-Ubra emphasized the spiritual element of Ramadan and its message of peace.
Rabbanit Dr. Hannah Hashkes noted that it can be hard to reconcile Ramadan’s focus on peace with the violence that traditionally spikes in Israel during the Ramadan period, and acknowledged that she and other Blickle fellows had debated amongst them whether or not it would be appropriate to attend.
“I decided to participate because I believe in the sincerity of the messages of peace we have heard from the Muslim leaders we have met at Blickle programs,” she said. “It is hard to deny the hatred bubbling around us, but as people who believe that all human beings are created in the image of God, we must acknowledge the other voice, as well – the voice of peace. It is incumbent upon us to help make this voice heard.”
The third of the Iftars sponsored by the Blickle Institute coincided with the Jewish Mimouna, the traditional post-Pesach celebration by Jews of Northwest African descent. Traditionally, the Jews of Morocco and Algeria opened their homes and invited their Arab neighbors to join them as they tasted their first sweet bites of chametz; in Israel today, the Mimouna is still characterized by hosting with abundance, bestowing blessings and celebrating friendship.
This theme of friendship was stressed by Rabbi Nagen in his remarks. “Mimouna is a wonderful representation of the connections between Arabs and Jews, and also shares Iftar’s message of peace. As we finish Pesach and soon the Ramadan, we must build on what we have begun, strengthening our shared values and our friendship.” To which all the attendees, Jewish and Muslim, answered “Amen.”