By Mark Hallum
Jewish and Muslim attendees gathered to break bread for Ramadan’s Iftar dinner at the Central Queens Y last week. At the third annual interfaith meal hosted by the Y and funded by United Jewish Appeal, attendees sat side by side to enjoy food and music in a night of cultural exchange.
The Central Queens Y and religious leaders kicked off the June 9 event by saying a few words about why interfaith events are important for mutual respect between Jews and Muslims.
“We’s so proud to be able to do this, to bring the community together. Because we believe that by listening to one another and hearing each other’s stories, we can work together to build a better world,” Jeri Mendolsohn, executive vice president and CEO of Samuel Field in Little Neck and Central Queens Y in Forest Hills, said. “I truly believe that the world is in need of people sitting together, breaking bread and learning from one another.”
“If we can do more of what’s happening here, if we can do more of opening our hearts and our minds and our soul to the others that we build a common society with, then all that bad stuff that’s happening in the world gets diminished,” Rabbi Bob Kaplan said.
Mustafa Demirci, a LaGuardia student and musician from Istanbul, performed a song on the kanoun, a Turkish string instrument. He was followed by Yusuf Gyurtas, who played the ney, a flute-like instrument.
Luly Kaufmann is a Holocaust survivor of Romanian birth who has experienced hate first hand. Having lived in Forest Hills for over 50 years, Kaufann found it easy to talk to the people seated at her table. She said it was as if she knew them well.
“This is my first time coming to this event. It is very easy to communicate with the people,” Kaufann said. “Hate makes us miserable. It excludes us.”
Yael Rosenstock, director of programming for the Center for Ethnic, Racial and Religious Understanding, was invited to speak at the event, which she said corresponded with their mission to break down barriers of hate through dialogue.
“CERRU has been deliberating for a while now [about] what it is we want to make our new mission statement and the best way to express that is ‘changing the world one dialogue at a time.’ It seems clear to me this is what this event is about,” Rosenstock said.
“People on both sides have known quite a great deal of hardship in the world as well as good things,” Mendolsohn said as she spoke about how far the interfaith dinner has come in the past three years. “We’re starting to see relationships forming. They’re sitting together, there’s more children at the event. They’re coming together with very interesting questions related to how people live.”
The food served up was of varying Middle Eastern origins, such as Turkish and Israeli, while baklava was for desert.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall