These are difficult times for liberal Jews (and Muslims, I imagine). The bombings of Israel and Gaza, the Iron Dome, the images of terrible suffering in Gaza, and now the anti-semitic attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions in Europe that are taking place under the cover of fighting for Palestine. And so I was happy to find an event combining both Ramadan and the fast of 17 Tammuz, part of the campaign בוחרים בחיים צום יז בתמוז- רמדאן 2014 نختار الحياة، مشروع رمضان وصيام 2014 Choose Life Ramadan-17 Tamuz fast. A rather impressive list of events they held can be found here.
I went to an evening at the Masjid (mosque) Malcolm Shabbaz on 116th Street and Lenox, in honor of an Iftar (breaking of the fast during Ramadan) and in honor of the fast of 17 Tammuz. We were maybe 60 people, more or less evenly divided between Muslims, mostly members of the mosque, and Jews. It was a loosely organized evening, and opened with brief remarks made by two of the organizers, Mia (also an organizer of the Harlem Minyan) and Brother Tariq, followed by individual conversations among the participants. I was excited to be in this mosque that I had read so much about: founded originally in 1945 as Temple Number Seven (there is another Temple Number Seven on 127th Street that serves the Nation of Islam), and Malcolm X’ mosque, this was the site of much radical struggle in the 60s and 70s, and I was thrilled to find one of its chroniclers sitting across the table from me and happily chatted away.
After some fifteen minutes or so, we were offered the traditional fig and water opening the Iftar (breaking of the fast), and all of us joined the community in the main mosque for Maghrib, followed by Ma’ariv downstairs, and, of course, more food.
All in all a good evening, an important evening, more for me personally than for any Muslim-Jewish rapprochement. It was an evening that reminded me how much I love living in New York (I could have walked to the mosque, if it hadn’t rained so heavily), and also a time that reminded me of just how much work remains to be done. Yes, we were together, shared food and drink, and talked, no, I at least didn’t even mention politics apart from making some general noises. But that is probably ok: for some of the Jews who came, it was the first time they entered a mosque (!), let alone spoke to a Muslim outside of work or a restaurant, and many were probably unaware of the place’s storied history.
Steter Tropfen höhlt den Stein, as we say (loosely translatable as “small acts effect change”).