By Judy Wasserman
An overflow crowd of more than 100 people of all ages, Jewish and Muslim together, gathered at Temple Shalom Emeth in Burlington in November for the community’s first-ever “Evening of Fellowship.” The evening was conceived by Rabbi Susan Abramson of Bedford, with support from members of the Islamic community.
After praying, dining, and talking together, participants left the nearly four-hour event feeling positive about their new partnership.
“It was one of the nights that I will never forget. It melted my heart. I don’t remember feeling that good and that special. It gives me hope,” wrote one participant in an anonymous feedback survey at the end of the evening. Another survey response: “It means so much in these days that we need to understand one another much more.” And another participant wrote that the temple “was most gracious, hospitable, generous, and kind. For the visiting Muslims, we felt warmly received and welcomed.”
In opening remarks before the Jewish prayer service, Abramson said, “With so much turmoil and hatred on the rise, we must unite as one. It’s a privilege to be here with all of you tonight.” Following the Muslim prayer service she added, “It’s a blessing for all to be here,” and referred to the many commonalities in the two religions, evident during the two prayer services.
Ahmed Ayad, representing the Muslim community, said before leading the two congregations in prayer, “Thank you for inviting us. We would like to do this more often.”
Steve DiOrio of Billerica, representing Temple Shalom Emeth, and Kashif Ahmed of Burlington, representing the Islamic community, co-chaired the event. Ahmed told the crowded community room during the pot luck dinner, “I am moved to see all of you here. Where but in America is this possible?” He added, “We can sit in our own little corner, or we can get together and talk. We discovered tonight we have more in common than we have differences,” and that is good. Later in the evening, DiOrio noted that “we planted a seed tonight,” and “we are all going away better and richer. It has opened our minds.” Ahmed said he expected the night’s “robust discussion” would continue, and that the evening had “lit a spark which will hopefully be replicated elsewhere.”
During the evening, several Muslims requested an opportunity to see the Torah, and Abramson gave an impromptu tutorial about the sacred document, which can be described as the five books of Moses or the Old Testament. Throughout the evening, Jews and Muslims talked, asked questions, and learned about each other’s religions and cultures.
Lorena Jafarov of Sudbury, who attends the Islamic Center of Wayland, said she appreciated learning about Jewish traditions and rituals, and enjoyed the Jewish prayers and songs. The meeting of the two communities, she said, re-enforced “that we believe in one God.” Dan Flagg of Billerica, a Temple Shalom Emeth member, praised the Evening of Fellowship for “fostering a sense of community. We have so much in common. It helps to dispel the myths by learning about each other.” Dima Basha of Newton, who came to America from Syria four years ago, and attends the Islamic Center of Wayland, wrote on Facebook, “thank you for such a wonderful event. We learned a lot, and met many wonderful people. Shalom.” Mindy Pollack Fusi of Bedford also wrote on Facebook, “A very special evening! Participating helps me feel I am doing something important, not just sitting back, hoping things improve.”
Ken Lifton of Wilmington, president of Temple Shalom Emeth, said the temple will work “to continue the tradition of dialogue between our communities,” and described the event as “a special moment” when Jews and Muslims shared prayer and discussion.