Breaking Bread — Or, in This Case, Matzah — and Building Bridges

Written by Suzanne Pollak on . Posted in Community News

Leaders learn about different traditions and emphasize shared experiences 
and goals at two recent interfaith events.

In the shadow of terror attacks against Jews, Christians, and Muslims in the U.S. and abroad, two interfaith events aimed to build bridges between local faith communities.

On April 24, Montgomery County Councilmember Sidney Katz, who is Jewish, led a Passover seder for religious leaders in Maryland from an assortment of faiths, giving them an opportunity to break matzah together. On April 28, the Jewish-Islamic Dialogue Society of Washington and the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom held a four-member panel on empowering women at Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, D.C.

Attendees at the interfaith seder included several councilmembers and the county’s interfaith community liaison, as well as Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School (CESJDS) Middle School Principal Rabbi Janet Ozur Bass, Iman Faizal Khan of the Islamic Society of the Washington Area, and representatives from Congregation Har Shalom in Potomac , Maryland, and Congregation Beth El in Bethesda, Maryland; Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church in Bethesda and the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints in Montgomery Village , Maryland; the Islamic Educational Center in Potomac and the Islamic Center of Maryland in Gaithersburg; the Zoroastrian Association of Metropolitan Washington in Boyds, Maryland; and the Chinmaya Mission in Silver Spring, Maryland.

“I hope that this special Passover seder serves as a role model for other jurisdictions and counties. It is a way to promote understanding and compassion for other religions’ ancient traditions,” said Councilmember Katz.

Co-sponsor Rev. Mansfield “Kasey” Kaseman, Montgomery County’s interfaith community liaison, said interfaith events are important in light of the increase in “faith-based hate and violence.”

“Rather than have individual congregations become frightened and isolated, it is better to join together,” he said. “We are so proud here in Montgomery County to have faith communities who have been working together for some time. Our overarching goal is to create a more beloved community.”

Referencing the seder liturgy, Kaseman listed what he called today’s plagues, including racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and sexism.

He hoped the participants — who sang songs, read from the Haggadah, and ate matzah ball soup, hard boiled eggs, charoset, and macaroons — left with the recognition that “we are far more alike than we are different,” he said.

Common Challenges and Common Goals

At the April 28 dialogue in DC, four female leaders — two Jewish, two Muslim — discussed challenges they have faced as women in leadership roles, their desire to help other women succeed, and the need for people to stand united against attacks on people in houses of worship.

Rabbi Avis Miller, a former rabbi at Adas Israel and current president of the Open Door Foundation, recalled her struggles as one of the first female rabbis in a large congregation.

Her first office was a closet, she said. She received less than half the salary of her predecessor, and she had to pay for her own office furniture. Even her own father was embarrassed; he told his friends and family that his daughter was studying for an advanced degree in Jewish studies.

Still, she told the small, mostly-female audience, she loved her job very much.

Allison Silberberg, a former mayor of the City of Alexandria, Virginia, talked about challenges she faced during her term to make her voice heard and stand as an equal with her male peers.

Lobna Ismael, president of Connecting Cultures in Silver Spring, recalled being told, “That is not in your job description,” whenever she tried to step up.

The panelists shared their stories in hopes of finding ways to empower other women, and to show that both Jewish and Muslim women suffer the same societal put-downs.

“I don’t want our girls to be cheerleaders. I want them to be the leaders,” said Dr. Sahar Khamis, associate professor of communication at the University of Maryland, College Park.

The panelists agreed they were stronger when they worked together and broke barriers. “All of us need to remember we stand on the shoulders of so many who have broken the barriers,” Silberberg said. “Change is possible. We’ve come a long way, but we’ve got a long way to go.”

“The commonalities and the similarities” between women and their experiences should help them to work together for a more equitable and peaceful world, said Khamis.

Just one day prior, on the final day of Passover, a terror attack on a synagogue in Poway, California, left one person dead and three injured. Referring to what she called “a dangerous pattern” of attacking innocent people in their houses of worship, Khamis said: “We need to stand together. We need to say no. Enough is enough.”

“We are all the same, and when we have pain, the pain does not differentiate.”

 By Suzanne Pollak