Iftar in the Synagogue Revisited

by Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz

Readers of the Chicago Jewish Star may recall that last year in an article I took the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs to task regarding its initiation of and yearly sponsorship of “Iftar in the Synagogue.” This growing project brings Jews and Muslims together at a kosher/Halal dinner in celebration of Iftar as stated in their flyer “the breaking of the daily fast during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.” This year the program was held on July 25th at Anshe Emet Synagogue in Chicago.

As you may recall, the editor of the Chicago Jewish Star noted in the subsequent edition of the paper that he had received a call concerning my comments from the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs and had invited them to offer a response in the newspaper which they had agreed to do but never did.

This year I have a request relative to its goal as stated in its advertising, “This year our communities are coming together as neighbors to oppose Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry. We will celebrate our diversity and commit to a hate free and embracing society.” In truth, I understood that this was always the goal of this project from its very inception.

I cannot find fault with such a goal. Surely no one wants to see any form of bigotry or hatred in our American society. I would suggest that in combating Islamophobia and anti-Semitism however a first step must be a recognition of and a commitment to the humanity, the equality of Jews and Muslims in the Middle East and around the globe and acceptance of and respect for each community's aspirations including the Jewish community’s political aspiration known as Zionism and its fruit, the JEWISH State of Israel.

And while the Jewish community from the very inception of Zionism always respected the Arab political aspiration for its own state respect for the political aspiration of the Jewish people in the form of the State of Israel was short lived. Today, Israel recognizes the sovereignty of the many Arab states in the Middle East and accepts the need for a two state solution which would include a sovereign State of Palestine. Contrasting this, the Arab states do not recognize the sovereignty of the Jewish State and the greater portion of the population of the West Bank and Gaza are committed to the destruction of the “Zionist entity.”

Let us take a stroll down memory Lane.

On January 3, 1919, Emir Faisal son of the King of Hejaz, who was King of the kingdom of Iraq from August 1921 to 1933, and Chaim Weismann, later the President of the World Zionist organization, signed an agreement. Some of the points of that agreement included:

In a letter to the then President of the Zionist Organization, Felix Frankfurter, Emir Faisal wrote:

March 3, 1919
Dear Mr. Frankfurter:
I want to take this opportunity of my first contact with American Zionists to tell you what I have often been able to say to Dr. Weizmann in Arabia and Europe.
We feel that the Arabs and Jews are cousins in having suffered similar oppressions at the hands of powers stronger than themselves, and by a happy coincidence have been able to take the first step towards the attainment of their national ideals together.
The Arabs, especially the educated among us, look with the deepest sympathy on the Zionist movement. Our deputation here in Paris is fully acquainted with the proposals submitted yesterday by the Zionist Organisation to the Peace Conference, and we regard them as moderate and proper. We will do our best, in so far as we are concerned, to help them through: we will wish the Jews a most hearty welcome home.
With the chiefs of your movement, especially with Dr. Weizmann, we have had and continue to have the closest relations. He has been a great helper of our cause, and I hope the Arabs may soon be in a position to make the Jews some return for their kindness. We are working together for a reformed and revived Near East, and our two movements complete one another. The Jewish movement is national and not imperialist. Our movement is national and not imperialist, and there is room in Syria for us both. Indeed I think that neither can be a real success without the other.
People less informed and less responsible than our leaders and yours, ignoring the need for cooperation of the Arabs and Zionists, have been trying to exploit the local difficulties that must necessarily arise in Palestine in the early stages of our movements. Some of them have, I am afraid, misrepresented your aims to the Arab peasantry, and our aims to the Jewish peasantry, with the result that interested parties have been able to make capital out of what they call our differences.
I wish to give you my firm conviction that these differences are not on questions of principle, but on matters of detail such as must inevitably occur in every contact of neighbouring peoples, and as are easily adjusted by mutual good will. Indeed nearly all of them will disappear with fuller knowledge.
I look forward, and my people with me look forward, to a future in which we will help you and you will help us, so that the countries in which we are mutually interested may once again take their places in the community of civilised peoples of the world.
Believe me,
Yours sincerely,
(Sgd.) Feisal

Our Secretary of State recently went to the Middle East, practicing a bit of shuttle diplomacy. From what we hear in the media, both Pres. Abbas and Prime Minister Natanyahu have agreed to reopen peace negotiations. The basis upon which these negotiations will begin is still unclear.

My request to the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs is simply this. It has long been established that anti-Zionist, anti-Israel sentiment is but a smoke screen for anti-Semitism. Given their wonderful work of neighborliness and discussion with our Chicago Muslim neighbors working together to combat Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, would it not be possible to ask those folks who participated in this project for several years to begin to reach out to their coreligionists in the Middle East sharing with them the wonderful sentiments expressed nearly 100 years ago by the Emir Faisel regarding the relationship between Jew and Arab in the Middle East? We need to have voices speak out for peace and cooperation between Arabs and Israelis; a cooperation the Emir understood would bring prosperity to both communities. If this could be realized as a result of “Iftar in the Synagogue” what a wonderful blessing it would be as a significant beginning in moving the peace process in the Middle East forward to the benefit of all concerned. For without mutual respect for the needs of and aspirations of another, which is the very purpose of this project, peace can never be achieved.