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Muslims and Jews gather in Cambridge to break a fast, and raise money for Pakistan flood victims

Posted by Your Town  August 26, 2010 09:42 AM

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Two hundred Muslims and Jews gathered in Cambridge Monday evening to share an iftar: the evening meal that breaks the fast during Ramadan.

The dinner was organized jointly by the American Jewish Committee Boston chapter (AJC) and the American Islamic Congress (AIC) in order to raise funds for victims of the flood in Pakistan.

Although the AJC and AIC have had a long-standing relationship, the event lwas the second in a series specifically geared to bringing young Jewish and Muslim professionals together. “One of the building blocks in our relationship has been a joint commitment to human rights” said Nasser Weddady, the Civil Rights Outreach Director for AIC, “We feel that human rights in general is something that has deep resonance with both communities and we see major potential for developing and exploring that angle of the relationship, which, for all intents and purposes has not been effectively leveraged in the past.”

The dinner was more of a social event than a sit down affair. Groups of people of both faiths spread about the room excitedly interacting. The opportunity to interact with those from a different culture is exactly what drew Daniyal Noorani, 26, to the event. “Bringing people to my culture, sharing that with them, that’s what really attracted me. Any chance to educate people about Muslim culture, have a conversation, answer any questions, sharing the importance of Ramadan is something that I think is important.”

Leaders from both organizations agree that there has been a hunger in both the young Jewish and Muslim communities for events such as these and, more generally, for opportunities to get to know one another. “They want to take things into their hands, the idea is like, ‘hey we’re here, we’re ready to tackle these problems. I mean it’s a statement of leadership,” Weddady said.

One result of these events has been the realization of how much these two groups have in common. “We found that there were many Jews who wanted to experience Ramadan in a different way…often when we hear about Ramadan it’s something negative…I think it’s rare that we’re exposed to the beautiful positive moments of Ramadan. And iftar is one of those moments.” said Josh Fialkoff, co-chair of ACCESS, the young adult division of AJC, “It’s also something that as Jews we have fasted, and we know what it’s like to sacrifice for a religious belief, and so there’s an inherent commonality in seeing Muslims sacrifice for their beliefs.”

Abdel Maleky, a member of AIC, opened his remarks to the group by describing the elements of Ramadan that were common across Judaism and Christianity: that Moses and Jesus both fasted for 40 days.

Perhaps an outcome of this realization of commonality has been the blossoming of relationships. The professional to personal development of these friendships. “When I walk into this room, there are members of AIC that are greeting me on a first name basis…we actually go to parties together, they have become part of my social circle…that’s true for many people here; the real statement that we want to make is that we can be friends and we can relate to each other as human beings, so that it’s not stereotypes about what Jews are and what Muslims are,” said Fialkoff.

According to the organizers, the goal of events such as these is to build responsible leadership.

“People from here…if they go on to be leaders of tomorrow who knows what changes they can make and what influences they can exert from their experiences here. It’s a long term effort. We’re realists that this isn’t going to change the world over night,” said Chris Henderson, the British Deputy Consul General. The British Consulate-General Boston hosted the event last night as both a show of support and to provide neutral ground to the groups.

The funds raised Monday evening will be donated to the Red Cross effort in Pakistan. According to Suzi Schuller, Associate Director of the Boston chapter of AJC, The Red Cross was chosen for its symbol as a mainstay American organization, representative of American values. “We really wanted to make the statement that a Jewish and a Muslim organization, both who have democratic values as part of their belief system, can give through the Red Cross in a humanitarian effort,” said Schuller.

For more coverage of Boston area communities, go to boston.com/yourtown.



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