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An Iftar Dinner: A Wonderful Community Event in Livingston
Building Bridges
By Cantor Jessica F. Epstein May 25, 2019

A Jewish female cantor attending an Iftar dinner at the Knights of Columbus is pretty much what makes America great. Period.

Many of us received the invitation from Faizan Ahmed of the Jamiah Masjid Livingston http://jmlnj.org/Default.aspx a week or so ago to attend what is known as an Iftar — a dinner that breaks the daily fast of Ramadan. Iftar is held nightly, but this was an occasion for them to welcome the entire Livingston community to their holy celebration. I was able to attend after leading a shiva and even bought a scarf for the occasion, although Faizan said it was not necessary. Out of respect for the time and place I chose to cover my hair, dress modestly and it was a chance to buy a scarf — I did not own even one!

The parking lot at the Knights of Columbus on Eisenhower Parkway was almost full when I pulled in around 7:30 PM. Kids were running around the way they love to do. Faizan introduced himself and welcomed me warmly and gave me a choice parking spot. The men had chairs set up outside for a presentation and another area with a portable prayer rug. A PA system was in place. Hot trays of food as well as cold beverages were set up. The weather was perfect for the evening event.

The women and girls were in the social hall inside the building and also had many chairs, a prayer area and a table filled to capacity with food to enjoy and share. Everyone was incredibly warm and friendly. One of the first people I met was Saba Khan, and she, as well as Faizan, both know Rabbi Dantowitz very well from her engagement with the Clergy Association in town.

Saba was a warm, welcoming face and answered many of my questions regarding the celebration. I found out that the fasting, meant to purify oneself, means that they have to get up at 4:00 AM to eat during this time of year. Even her little 17-month old has to be woken up to eat, although older children learn to fast a day at a time. She said that when they are younger, they practice the daytime fast one day, then two or three days, etc. until at puberty they are able to go the entire month. No food or water from dawn to dusk, even on warm summer days.

I don’t ever want to hear complaints about a measly one day fast on Yom Kippur again! Stop breaking it early after Yizkor as well! Toughen up, Yidn!

There was a brief program with a variety of speakers bringing greetings including: church leaders, the Mayor of Livingston, Alfred Anthony, and a representative from the Livingston Police who went into some detail on threats and how to stay safe. Most moving, he promised the JML community that if there ever was an active shooter situation, he and his colleagues are coming right in — never hesitating to put their lives on the line for their community.

I was asked to say a few words as well, a bit to my surprise, and stressed our common spiritual heritage as Children of Abraham. We share many of the same prophets, including Moses, and have the same belief in one unified God who cannot be divided in any way, shape or form. I also expressed the hope that we could host the JML at our synagogue as well in the future and I look forward to working with the leadership at TBA to see if we can arrange something next year. Freeholder Pat Sebold, Livingston Township Diversity Committee member Stacy Abenstein and the indefatigable Steven Delman were also in attendance. I know how important it was to our guests for members of the TBA family to be there.

As I waited in line for some amazing tandoori chicken a young girl in a headscarf recognized me. She said, “Oh! I was at your temple this morning for my friend Max’s bar mitzvah!” We chatted a bit about his amazing voice and what a great job he did. As she went to go be with her friends I thought, we live in a country where Christians, Jews and Muslims can each practice his or her faith, but where we can also attend one another’s services, dinner and holy days without fear. This is rare in the world today, and I believe a taste of the time to come when all will worship the Lord together under one giant sukkah.

I mean, if we can eat and celebrate together in Jersey, I truly believe we will one day eat, pray, and live in peace in Jerusalem — Kein Y’hi Ratzon.

 

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