Richmond’s Jews, Muslims set to become fasting friends

“We have a great relationship, absolutely wonderful, but it shouldn’t just be in response to tragedies.”

There were not enough superlatives in Rabbi Adam Rubin’s vocabulary to express the warmth flowing back and forth between his conservative Jewish synagogue in Richmond and the city’s Shia Islamic centre on No. 5 Road.

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Despite the often bloody conflict being played out for decades in the homeland of their respective faiths, the bond between the two religious communities in Richmond has never been stronger.

It's no coincidence that the two focus on learning about faith and supporting their local communities, with programming and conversations avoiding discussions or references to international politics or international issues.

And a first-of-its-kind event - which mirrors that sentiment - next weekend at Rubin’s Beth Tikvah synagogue on Geal Road looks set to strengthen that connection across a globally torrid divide.

The two faiths have as many similarities as they have differences, with fasting, according to Rubin, being one of the former.

“There’s going to be panel discussion about fasting, there’s going to be an Islamic scholar to talk about Islam and fasting and I will be on the panel to talk about Judaism and fasting, along with others,” enthused Rubin.

“It will be open to questions and discussion afterwards; there could be 200 to 300 people there.

“It should be lovely. I think it will be the biggest cross-faith event we have held here. I’m really, truly looking forward to this event.”

Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, starts in May, while Judaism’s primary fast is Yom Kippur in the fall.

And it’s important, added Rubin, for the two faiths to recognize their commonalities and celebrate them.

“We know about what happens around the world, looking at New Zealand, for example. We seem to be living in a time of increased religious and political hate and it’s incumbent upon everybody, especially religious organizations, to do all we can to try and overcome that and bring people together,” said Rubin.

“We need to humanize situations and find similarities, while acknowledging differences and reinforcing what already exists here.

“We very much felt the outpouring of support after Pittsburgh. We have extraordinary good relations between the two communities in Richmond. I’ve been here almost two years and it’s incredible.

“After the terrible attack in Pittsburgh, the Islamic Centre’s response was nothing short of astounding in terms of reaching out to us.”

Mahmood Jaffer, director of public relations for Az-Zahraa Islamic Centre on No. 5 Road, also referenced how the two communities reached out to each other in the aftermath of the massacres in Pittsburgh, Quebec and New Zealand.

“We’ve been doing some work in building relationships with the Jewish community,” he told the Richmond News.

“Our religious leaders have been talking about getting together more formally and we landed on (the fasting event).

“We were looking for things in our faith with similarities and fasting is one of them. And it’s an opportune time for us with our fasting (Ramadan) just coming up.”

Mahmood Jaffer, director of public relations for Az-Zahraa Islamic Centre on No. 5 Road, said it's imperative the two faiths find common ground. Photo submitted

Jaffer said he’s been to Beth Tikvah a couple of times, including post-Pittsburgh, when a large congregation attended from his centre.

“That went a long way in terms of showing our support.”

He said it’s important to reach out beyond their own community and “share our faith outside.”

“This is an opportunity to do that and, at the same time, learn more about each other’s faiths. There is lots to be learned.

“People can consume their interpretation of faith from the media, or they can go find out for themselves. Much more can be achieved with face-to-face interactions.”

On April 28, “The Spiritual Foundations of Fasting” will be moderated by Rabbi Jonathan Infeld, of the Vancouver-based co-hosts, Congregation Beth Israel.

Panelists include Dr. Syed Nasir Zaidi, a local Islam scholar, Rubin, Sukaina Jaffer, vice-principal of the Az-Zahraa Academy and Ben Lubinizki, Prince of Wales secondary school teacher and member of the Congregation Beth Israel.

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