Jews, Muslims come together to pray for peace

With violence raging in the Middle East, local Jewish and Muslim leaders joined together in a show of solidarity in Evanston’s Fountain Square earlier this week, lamenting the loss of life and expressing hope and prayers for peace.

Beth Emet Synagogue in Evanston was one of the sponsoring organizations of the ceremony at Fountain Square Tuesday, July 15, a day that fell on a day of fasting for both traditions .

The Jewish Fast of the 17th of Tammuz, which marks the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem before the Temple was destroyed, occurred on that day in the Hebrew calendar, and in Muslim faith, the date fell in the middle of Ramadan, a month marked by sunrise to sunset prayer and fasting.

“Today, we come here to be a repairer of the breaches of our people,’’ said Rabbi Andrea London, spiritual leader of Beth Emet Synagogue.

Traditionally, the day is one “of taking an accounting of the soul,’’ a day of identifying suffering and violence, and “creating a vision of hope,’’ she said.

“There are some who criticize our gathering today,’’ she noted, “that somehow it creates a moral equivalent that Jews and Muslims are both suffering the same. But we do know as we gather today, that we come together because we know war is not the way, that we have to find a different path. If we don’t find that path together, we’ll never get out of the situation we’re in in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Representing the Muslim faith, Tahera Ahmad, chaplain at Northwestern University, who had just returned from the Middle East, chanted from a section of the Koran.

The verses, she said, ‘’ask believing people to stand up for what is just, what is true.’’

She said there are members of her faith too who would criticize her participating in the ceremony.

Even so, “as an individual Muslim or as one in leadership, Ahmad said she believes, “we have to end this cycle. It has to come from us. It has to come from people who believe in justice. It will not come from somewhere else.”

Other speakers at the ceremony were Rabbi Allan Kensky, Rabbi Emeritus of Beth Hillel-Bnai Emunah Congregation in Wilmette; Rabbi Sam Feinsmith, with the Center for Jewish Mindfulness; Shiva Arami, representing the local Bahai Community, and University of Illinois-Chicago Professor Sam Fleischacker.

Fleischacker spoke of the “circles of empathy” groups share. “The question is how we get from those circles of empathy” that ties us together to “empathy for all humanity,’’ he said.

“At this moment, praying for the people in Israel we are spiritually Israeli; in praying for the people of Gaza, we are spiritually Palestinian,’’ Feinsmith said, prefacing a prayer.

“We don’t really know the way forward. But I think we all came here today together because we intuit that it can’t be through violence, that it has to be by turning inward toward the core of our own being, to reach in for the power of compassion.’’

The idea for the event came from Eliaz Cohen, an Israeli poet, noting that for both traditions, Tuesday was a day dedicated “to taking an accounting of the soul, to taking responsibility for correcting and purifying.”

Similar observances were planned in New York, Washington, California, London, Philadelphia, around Israel and the Palestinian territories, and Kuwait, organizers said.

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