Tuesday, September 7, 2010


From Fred and Gloria Strickert

Last Thursday evening I (Fred) had the privilege of attending an Iftaar hosted by the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem.

Iftaar is simply the Arabic word for breakfast in the literal sense--the breaking of the fast of Ramadan. Western calendars sometimes mention the Eid ul-fitr, the day of celebration after the month of Ramadan has ended. However, every day includes an Iftaar when the sun has set and another day of fasting has come to an end.

Back home, the local mosque often hosts an Iftaar to educate community members about Islam. Yet here in Jerusalem on this particular evening, it was the Christian leaders hosting their Muslim neighbors, businessmen and imams alike. It was my own Bishop Munib Younan who initiated this tradition a number of years ago, who having lived his whole life in close contact with Muslim neighbors understands that respect for another's religion is the key to successful relationships.

So there we were, a room filled with Christians and Muslims sitting side by side around four large tables spread with a mesa of Middle Eastern salads--Hummus, Tahina, Babaganoush, Turkish Salad, Kibbeh, Sfeiha, and more--with baskets of fresh baked Pita. Yet sitting down we patiently meditated on the food before us. "The sun sets at 7:10 tonight," said Ibrahim Matar, a development specialist with the Italian Consulate, sitting to my left. Then in a humorous way, like a congregation when the pastor has gone on too long, individuals around the room took secret glances at their watches until the canon sounded outside, signaling the setting of the sun.

Ibrahim first offered me a plate of dates, "The Hadith tell us that Muhammad always broke the fast with a newly picked date." And then we continued with a modest feast: soup, the salads, roasted lamb, and a pancake filled with nuts and honey.

The meal, as important as it was for those who hadn't eaten since five o'clock that morning, seemed secondary to the speeches. Theophilus, the Greek Orthodox patriarch, talked about the mutual appreciation that Caliph Omar and Patriarch Sophronius had for each other when Islam first came to Jerusalem over thirteen hundred years ago. Latin Patriarch Twal mentioned the positive contributions that Muslim-Christian relationships have for modern Jerusalem. Then Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, addressed the current problem of Christian emigration with Christians now dwindling to less than 1.7 % of the population, first encouraging the Christian leaders to work diligently with their congregations so that no more Christians move away from the Holy Land, and then speaking to fellow Muslims that they must support the ever-dwindling Christian community because Muslims and Christians need each other and depend upon each other.

We all had come for the food, but it was the impact of powerful words that continued over the following days. The future of this ancient city depends on mutual respect among its three religions, and, as all three religions teach, the strength of the largest is determined most by its care for the smallest. 

So I wonder what it is that drives a pastor in Florida to promote the burning the Qur'an, or a radio talk show host to misrepresent a peaceful Sufi Muslim as a potential terrorist, or politicians to oppose the legitimate building of a Muslim community center in New York for their own political gain.  When religious majorities lord it over minorities and when extremists misrepresent the beliefs and practices of other religions, then communities are doomed to failure whether in Jerusalem or back home in America.

* * * * * * *

On Monday, I accompanied the Bishop to extend greetings to the police officers responsible for keeping order in the old city. Such greetings are common within Judaism at the approach of Rosh Hashana, a time of repentance and mending of relationships to begin the New Year afresh.

Because Judaism and Islam both follow lunar calendars, this year marks an unusual convergence when the new moon appears this Wednesday night, September 8. Thus the Muslim Eid ul Fitr (the celebration at the end of Ramadan) and the Jewish Rosh Hashana fall on the same day. The 10 days beginning with Rosh Hashana are High Holy days leading up to Yom Kippur, a day of Jewish Fasting on Sept. 18. To bring Christians into the picture Sept. 14 is Holy Cross Day commemorating the visit of Constantine’s mother Helena to Jerusalem, discovering the cross and initiating the building of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

With these holy days beginning at sundown, matters become more complicated in this early fall season. A number of years ago the Israeli Knesset set the end of daylight savings on the Sunday before Yom Kippur as a way of making the fast lest strenuous. Since Yom Kippur is extremely early this year, we are preparing to set back our clocks this coming Sunday, Sept. 12. However, this has created something of an uproar with many secular Jews who are upset that the religious parties have influenced legislation that does not make economic sense. So there is currently a bill in the Knesset that would negate the change (scheduled in just a few days) and make Nov. 1 the end of daylight savings time each year. However, in the spirit of compromise another group of Knesset members has proposed allowing the current Sept. 12 time change to take place and then reverting back to daylight savings time on Sunday Sept. 19 and continuing until Nov. 1. If that is not enough, several city leaders in Tel Aviv are threatening to establish the Nov. 1 date of change on their own, which would mean the secular city of Tel Aviv would be operating at an hours’ difference from the religious city Jerusalem, just 30 miles apart.

And there’s more: The West Bank already changed to standard time a month ago to make the Ramadan fast a bit easier. So we in Jerusalem are still on daylight savings time while the West Bank is now on standard time. As a result Gloria arrived in Bethlehem an hour early for an appointment this morning. Since Augusta Victoria Hospital employs a large number of West Bank residents and treats many West Bank patients, they are operating now on West Bank time (Standard time), and we living across the street are operating on Jerusalem time (Daylight savings time).

So we’re wondering what time it will be when we show up for church this Sunday morning.