Synagogues open their doors to host iftar meals

Alyth and Birmingham Progressive were two of the synagogues to hold break-fast meals during Ramadan


Birmingham Progressive Synagogue hosted an interfaith iftar meal

Members of Jewish and Muslim faith communities are coming together this month to share fast-breaking meals for Ramadan, hosted by a handful of synagogues whose leaders are hoping to alleviate tensions through bridge-building.

Rabbi Elliot Karstadt of Alyth Synagogue in northwest London welcomed a group of 100 Jews, Muslims, rabbis and imams to partake in a traditional iftar dinner, the meal that ends the Ramadan fast at sunset.

“Never before has the relationship between religious communities been under such strain across the country, particularly following the attacks of October 7th and the subsequent war in Gaza,” Rabbi Karstadt said during his welcome speech.

“Thank you for being here – by doing so you are in a big way showing your support for the idea that we can continue to build friendships across lines of difference.”

Such was the theme of Alyth Synagogue’s 2024 iftar dinner: friendship. Alyth has hosted iftars for 10 years, but Rabbi Karstadt began this year’s interfaith event by encouraging participants to acknowledge the “elephant in the room” rather than ignore it.

He is among a number of courageous faith leaders reaching across the divide between Jewish and Muslim communities to repair the bonds that have been tested by the far-reaching conflict in Israel and Gaza.

Rabbi Natan Levy, head of operations for Strengthening Faith Institutions (SFI), said several synagogues that have hosted iftars in the past “didn’t feel this is the right time to do it because of security issues or because the communities weren’t ready for it”.

But the ones that stepped up, he said, bravely acknowledged that this is the most important time to host interfaith events like these. “People have come to me and said: ‘I've lost friends during this conflict, and I don’t want it to go any further. I've lost connections, and I don’t want that to happen anymore.’ They're looking to reestablish some of those broken or frayed elements and this is a nice way of starting it, with a little bit of food and conversation.”

Birmingham Progressive Synagogue hosted an iftar for over 80 interfaith community members, where about 40 Muslims, 20 Jews, 20 Christians, the Sikh Lord Mayor of Birmingham Councillor Chaman Lal and members of the Baha’i faith were in attendance.

In terms of addressing the obvious point of conflict, Rabbi Levy said: “What we are finding is that the people speaking, the rabbis and the imams and the other leaders, are doing it in really nuanced ways. They’re speaking about the conflict but in a way that’s promoting understanding from both sides.”

He noted the Muslim Dua prayer shared by the Birmingham imam at the iftar on Friday. The prayer, traditionally recited in Arabic, was translated for the interfaith participants, and the imam implored Allah to return the hostages and end all suffering in the Middle East.

“A number of people from the Birmingham community responded to it and said that was the highlight for them, that imam sharing a Dua where both the humanitarian crisis and the hostages were mentioned,” said Rabbi Levy. “It felt like there was potential to build bridges.”

One of the speakers at the Birmingham event, Tugba Saglam, addressed the interfaith congregation with gratitude, noting the unhappy circumstances surrounding the Israel-Gaza conflict but adding: “For the first time since Ramadan started, I felt happy when we break our fast together, when we all raised our hands and prayed for peace and reconciliation. I will continue praying deeply for peace to come and sincerely thank the synagogue for thinking of us, inviting us, allowing us to pray there together with you and preparing such an amazing, most delicious dinner table. It will be in my children’s memory forever.”

Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers said the clergy at her temple, Edgeware and Hendon Reform Synagogue, has been engaged in interfaith work for many years, but this year will be its first for hosting an interfaith iftar. “When we were approached by Faiths Forum for London to see if we would like to host an Iftar in partnership with them, we jumped at the opportunity to build bridges locally at such a difficult time,” she said. “We were worried not enough guests would feel confident to come but we have had an amazing response and are looking forward to creating a very special evening for all.”

Edgware and Hendon Reform Synagogue will host its iftar on Friday 28 March with Faith Forums for London and the Manningham Mills Community Centre in Bradford will host an interfaith iftar next month.

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