As congregants of Shomrei Torah in Wayne gathered in the synagogue library for the evening minyan, Muslims placed mats on the floor in a nearby classroom to conduct their evening prayers.
The experience of praying next to each other was just one positive outcome of Jews and Muslims coming together on March 28 for an evening of food, fellowship, and learning during Ramadan.
The Conservative congregation hosted the iftar, which is the fast-breaking evening meal Muslims eat during the month of Ramadan.
The iftar, which drew 50 guests, was sponsored by Peace Island Institute, a nonprofit organization of Turkish Muslims devoted to promoting interfaith and intercultural dialogue. PII New Jersey is based in Hasbrouck Heights and hosts conferences, discussions, youth events and dinners year- round.
“That’s how we establish our dialogue,” Adam Ozdemir, PII’s executive director, said. “During Ramadan, we break bread together with people from different faith groups, ethnicities, and traditions to promote friendship.”
Ramadan, which began on March 22, is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting, prayer, reflection, and community.
The iftar with Muslims and Jews “is a way of the community coming together and learning about each other and sharing,” Rabbi Randall Mark of Shomrei Torah said.
Jewish and Muslim women gathered at the synagogue at noon to cook a traditional iftar meal. The menu, prepared in the kosher kitchen, consisted of red lentil soup with vegetables, Mediterranean green beans, rice and butter, chickpeas with fried colored peppers, hummus, and a bulgur salad.
“It was a terrific experience,” said Sule Kerfanci of Totowa, a representative from Peace Island Institute who prepared food. Five people representing PII and five from Shomrei Torah worked together and created a bond that afternoon.
“Our main aim is to get to know one another,” Ms. Kerfanci continued. “We believe that if people don’t know each other, they cannot trust each other. We believe that knowledge will create peace.”
“They decided what the menu would be, and we were there to help them, washing and chopping things, whatever they asked us to do,” Beth Julie of Wayne, incoming vice president and a teacher at Shomrei Torah, said. “The women who came were incredible, charming and friendly.”
“The cooking was a wonderful example of tolerance and collaboration and interfaith dialogue,” Imam Gazi Aga said. The director of the North East Islamic Community Center New Jersey in Wayne, he spoke at the iftar.
Teens from the congregation’s Hebrew high school met with their peers from the Muslim community that evening. They discovered that they have more in common than the differences that divide them.
At 6:30, the two communities came together for the meal and words of welcome and teachings from Imam Aga, Mr. Ozdemir, and Rabbi Mark.
At 7:45, the evening prayers began. “What a cool experience it was being across the hall from each other, with Hebrew happening in one room and Arabic in the other,” Rabbi Mark said. “It just happened that way. Neither of us was planning for it.”
“Muslims were chanting and praying, and in the other room our Jewish friends were chanting and praying,” Imam Aga said. “It was beautiful, and it showed the long relationship between the traditions. That’s why we call it Abrahamic faith. We all come from Abraham, the friend of God.”
“When the imam spoke, he led everyone in prayer,” Ms. Julie said. “It was very different than how we pray in Judaism. It really showed how people who are Muslim connect to God in a very spiritual way.”
More similarities can be found between the two faiths. “Both traditions have fasting, refraining from food and drink including water,” Rabbi Mark said. “We both have the connection to sunrise, sunset, and the lunar calendar. During Ramadan and our observance of mitzvot in general, it brings a certain discipline to life. If you can do these things, it can help you to do whatever it is that you are going to do in life.”
Ms. Julie gave a tour of the sanctuary. Rabbi Mark opened a Torah on a table and answered questions about what it contains and its meaning to the Jewish people. “They had so many questions and were so interested in Judaism,” Ms. Julie said. “I thought it was a success at every level.”