This week, on the occasion of the start of the Ramadan month, Rabbi Shaked addressed an open letter to the Muslim community, sent to the national Islamic newspaper Al Qalam, as part of Beit Emanuel’s inter-faith outreach programme. Here is the text:
Dear Muslim friends,
Ramadan Karim. On the blessed occasion of the beginning of Ramadan 1435, please accept blessings and greetings from our Jewish community.
The month of Ramadan enables the faithful to reflect on their lives and to take responsibility for their actions in front of the Holy One, blessed be He. In the Jewish tradition, this is the role of the High Holy Days, for which observance begins in the early morning during the month Elul.
There was once a tradition of reciprocity among North African communities that Muslims visited their Jewish neighbours during Ramadan for the feast of Iftar. The situation has changed distressingly since those days. It seems that the relationship between Jews and Muslims has been severely damaged by the conflict in the Middle East. Muslims and Jews tend to regard one another principally in the light of that conflict. At the very least, it is always in the background as a source of potential dispute.
I believe that the Almighty is great and wise. He calls us to witness the suffering in His world, to pray, to purify our hearts, and to bring peace and justice on earth. Each person is expected to perform in accordance with his or her capacity. Jews and Muslims share the confidence that the Almighty, HaShem, is merciful in all His deeds.
It seems that another round of violence is about to start in our beloved land, the cradle of the Abrahamic faiths. There is no doubt in my heart that many people are deeply saddened when they follow the news from that region of conflict. We are influenced by those events. That is only natural.
There is an aspect of the situation that hardly ever attracts the attention of the media. This is the dedicated effort of the many peace activists in both Israel and Palestine. I can testify to their commitment from direct personal experience.
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Even in the most taxing moments, this encounter continues. Earlier this week, Jews, Muslims and Christians gathered to embrace the walls of the city of Jerusalem, built by Suleiman the Magnificent in the 16th century. Our hearts and prayers are with those who strive for the relief of suffering and for reconciliation. May their endeavours be successful and abundant.
In this rainbow nation, in which Jews and Muslims share citizenship, a way of life and memories, we can try once again to invoke the African tradition of Ubuntu. Many bridges already exist, in schools and in neighbourhoods, in shopping centres and in museums. When people interact, they should judge each individual as a whole human being, without resorting to labels that carry emotional connotations.
In my congregation there are quite a few members with Muslim relatives, some of them very close. Because we are Progressive Jews, we affirm that we are proud of our inclusivity.
In this coming holy Ramadan, may we cherish one another with pure hearts. May we pray for peace, embrace peace and embody it.
Amen, so be it.
Rabbi Sa’ar Shaked,
Beit Emanuel Progressive Synagogue, Parktown.