ALPHARETTA, Ga. —The evening of Sunday, July 20 saw more than 120 people of many faiths gather at Alpharetta Presbyterian Church in a joint Iftar Dinner program arranged between Neshama Interfaith Center and the Atlantic Institute.
Presenters Kemal Korucu, of the Atlantic Institute and Rabbi Michael Bernstein, of Congregation Gesher L’Torah, engaged in inspiring conversation about the spiritual meaning of fasting seeing as the event took place during Ramadan – the holy month where Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset.
The purpose of the event was to share an Iftar, or fast-breaking, dinner.
This is the first meal Muslims partake in after abstaining from eating and drinking all day. However, Ramadan is about more than just fasting.
It’s a time of compassion, generosity, inner reflection of one’s spirituality and seeking oneness with God. It’s about gathering family, friends and neighbors together to strengthen friendships and enjoying the company of others.
It’s about opening the home and mind to people who have differing faiths and beliefs.
Bernstein pointed out how all but two fast days in the Jewish calendar begin at sunrise and end with the appearance of the first stars of evening, appreciating how this is similar to Ramadan.
In fact, Bernstein shared that one of the fast days, the 17th of the Hebrew month of Tammuz, fell during Ramadan this year.
He added that in Israel, even with the hostilities going on between Hamas and Israel, that Jews from Israel and Muslims in the West Bank gathered together, “to fast together and then to feast together, showing the world that Jews and Muslims can and must live together.”
The format was not a formal discussion, rather a true conversation, allowing the sharing of similarities as well as what makes fasting so vital and even welcomed in each tradition. This shared conversation allowed those in attendance to better understand the many facets of Islamic and Jewish fasting and ritual practice; spiritual growth, patience with others and with circumstances, and community.
Korucu’s engaging and enlightening stories were a highlight of the evening.
The most impactful part of the discussion between Korucu and Bernstein was not even about fasting.
At the very beginning of the program, both took turns praying for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
Given the horror going on between both combatants, it truly set the stage for the evening. This sense of connection, understanding and acceptance of “The Other” continued to manifest itself when all participants shared the Iftar meal together.
As directed by the Neshama and Atlantic leaders, no one table could be comprised of members of the same faith.
Getting to know one another, “feasting after fasting” was truly one way to create the peace we all want and for all participants to “be the change you wish to see in the world.”
For more on the work of the Atlantic Institute and Neshama Interfaith Center, their programs and outreach, please visit their websites: www.theatlanticinstitute.org and www.neshamainterfaithcenter.org.