An organization called Jews and Muslims DC (JAM DC) was invited to an Iftar dinner at the Embassy of Bahrain. JAM DC was started by a group of Jewish and Muslim young professionals who wanted to come together through social, educational, cultural, and service activities, and to build bridges between the two communities. Over the past several years, the group has volunteered together at soup kitchens, held dinners and other social events, held a Q&A panel about religious practices in both faiths, organized interfaith Passover Seders and Iftars, and attended a documentary screening about the rescue of Holocaust survivors by Albanian Muslims. Attendance is extremely popular, at times with over fifty group members present, and events often sell out within a few hours of announcement.
At the meetings, Jewish and Muslim young adults are able to learn about each other’s history, culture, and religious practices. Additionally, young professionals make new friends and network for career advancement.
I participated in several of the events held by the group over the past year, and I was very impressed with the warmth and the openness of the members. I have learned many new things about the Islamic faith, and I was also able to teach others about the practices in Judaism. Thus far, discussions about politics have appeared limited at these meetings, as they seem more geared towards fostering mutual understanding and acceptance. Learning about each other first will, undoubtedly, make these future discussions more productive. At one dinner meeting, I sat with a young Palestinian teacher who looked remarkably similar to me. Cautiously, she began to tell me about her concerns with the political situation in the Middle East. Although I disagreed with some of what she said, I could understand many of her points and I was glad that I had the opportunity to sit down and speak to her.
This week, at the Embassy of Bahrain, we were greeted with a beautiful Iftar feast in honor of breaking the Ramadan fast that included traditional Bahraini cuisine. Unfortunately, the Bahraini Ambassador, who happens to be a Jewish woman, was unable to be present as she was at the White House Iftar. Nevertheless, we were welcomed warmly by other embassy staff and taught about the unique culture of Bahrain. I learned that Bahrain was actually mentioned in the Epic of Gilgamesh, and that writing and poetry are a very important component of the Bahraini culture, a leader among book publications in the Middle East. Also, because it was the 15th day of Ramadan, we learned that it was also a special holiday for Bahrainis— Gergoan. On Gergoan, children wear traditional embroidered clothes and engage in a sort of trick-or-treat for sweets, nuts, and clothes. Imam Mohamad Bashar Arafat spoke about Ramadan as a time to connect to the divine, to be considerate of our personal spiritual needs, and to build bridges between all humanity – be they Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, or anything else. He also said that Muslims fast to remember that poverty still afflicts a great percentage of the world’s population, and that they need our help.
The evening was a beautiful and unique experience. We made new friends, learned more about each other’s culture, and we look forward to our next interfaith Iftar in two weeks at the Embassy of Qatar.