Congregants of Shir Tikvah synagogue in Lynnhurst filled their sanctuary June 7 for a post-sunset dinner.
They weren’t celebrating a Jewish holiday, however.
The congregants hosted about 60 members of the Cedar-Riverside-based Islamic Civic Society of America/Dar Al-Hijrah mosque, on what was the 12th day of Ramadan. Muslims mark the holy month with daily fasting from dawn to sunset, and Shir Tikvah congregants prepared a late-night meal of beef kebobs, chicken shawarma and other Middle Eastern dishes to share with their guests.
“To welcome is so foundational to who we are,” longtime Shir Tikvah congregant Amy Lange said. “This is a wonderful container to meet people and hopefully build relationships.”
The event came about because of the relationship between Shir Tikvah Senior Rabbi Michael Adam Latz and Imam Sharif Mohamed. The two met while serving on Mayor Betsy Hodges’ transition team and stayed in touch over the years, with Shir Tikvah providing support to the mosque when a fire damaged it in 2014.
Mohamed said in remarks before dinner that the event represented “what America is all about,” adding, “America is not a place to divide us, a place to hate one another and a place to have suspicion.”
“Yes, we have different belief systems,” he said, “but ultimately we are human beings. We are brothers and sisters in humanity. … We are brothers and sisters in our country.”
30 days of fasting
Ramadan falls during the ninth month of the lunar Islamic calendar and lasts 29 or 30 days, depending on the year. Its purpose is to remember God and bring about consciousness, patience, empathy, sacrifice and humility, Mohamed and Wali Dirie, executive director of the Islamic Civic Society of America, explained to Shir Tikvah members during an April visit.
Fasting is one of the five pillars, or basic rules, of Islam. The elderly, the ill, children and women who are pregnant or lactating are exempt from fasting but are encouraged to provide charity and feed a poor person if they are able.
Judaism also has several holidays that require fasting, notably Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. None last for weeks like Ramadan.
Members of each congregation explained those details to one another during conversation before and during dinner. Shir Tikvah congregant Matt Belsky asked Amiin Harun if Muslims are allowed to drink water during the fast. Harun, meanwhile, wanted to know how many books were in the Torah, the Jewish holy book.
Belsky, his wife, Ariel Eason, and Harun talked about the similarities between the two religions and Harun’s work as an immigration attorney. Harun said that people are worried about President Trump’s executive order on immigration, even those who are citizens of the U.S.
Eason asked Harun if he was looking for more clients, adding that she works with many Somali immigrants in her career as a physician’s assistant. The three later figured out they are about the same age.
“It’s easy to forget how much you have in common with other people until you have a conversation,” Harun said.
‘Reflection of who we are’
That was a theme the clergy repeated in their remarks to the group. Latz said people made derogatory remarks about Jews in the early 20th century, similar to what some Muslims have experienced today. He said the idea of loving your neighbor as yourself isn’t optional one.
Mohamed said Islam is a religion of tolerance, coexistence and love for one another. He said the event would show the community that “we are brothers and sisters, no matter what we see in the news.”
About 50 Shir Tikvah congregants dined with members of the mosque. Also in attendance was State Rep. Erin Murphy (DFL–St. Paul) who is running for governor in 2018. Murphy, a friend of Latz’s and a Catholic, said the event brings attention to the common ground people share.
“There’s no better way to bridge the divides that separate us than by breaking bread together,” she said.
Lange, the longtime Shir Tivkah congregant, appeared to agree with that message. There was a sense in the aftermath of the 2016 election, she said, that “we didn’t know our neighbor,” adding that people were enthusiastic about the event as soon as Latz proposed it.
The congregation has seen an influx of new members since the election, she said, and has even become a sanctuary congregation. It plans to continue its relationship with the mosque by attending an event there this winter to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.
“It’s a way to show hospitality and to help a community that doesn’t feel very welcomed here right now feel welcome,” Lange said of the event. “… This is a reflection of who we are.”