Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday; a day when people of all faiths and ethnic backgrounds give thanks for their blessings and enjoy hearty Thanksgiving dinners with their loved ones. Yet unfortunately, because of the economic crisis of recent years, record numbers of Americans are now hungry and homeless and in need of succor if they too are to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal.
Over the past week, Muslims and Jews in cities across North America have been serving nourishing meals to hungry and homeless people as the centerpiece of the Weekend of Twinning, an annual event sponsored every November by the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding (FFEU), a New York-based not-for-profit working to strengthen ties of communication and cooperation between Muslims and Jews. During this year’s fifth Annual Weekend of Twinning, 150 synagogues and mosques and 150 Muslim and Jewish organizations representing thousands of Muslims and Jews in more than 20 countries around the world are linking up and holding joint programs dedicated to strengthening ties between our communities and serving the larger societies in which we live side by side.
In cooperation with organizations like Muslims Against Hunger and Masbiah, FFEU is sponsoring Jewish-Muslim feeding the hungry events in November in the following cities: Washington, D.C.; York City; Island; Buffalo; Binghamton, N.Y.; New Brunswick and Morristown, N.J.; Boston; Atlanta; Fort Lauderdale; Chicago; Minneapolis; Denver; Los Angeles; Toronto; and Manchester, England. After visiting soup kitchens and homeless shelters to feed hungry people, Jewish and Muslim volunteers in these cities gather for learning/networking events at which they celebrate together the common moral imperative in our two faiths to feed the hungry and help those most in need.
That shared commitment is enshrined in numerous citations in our respective Scriptures, the Torah and Koran. In Isaiah 58:7 it is written:
“It is to share your bread with the hungry and to take the wretched poor into your home; When you see the naked, to clothe him.”
The Koran 76:8-9 reads:
“The righteous are those who feed the poor, the orphaned, and the captive for the love of God, saying: “We feed you for the sake of God Alone: we seek from thee neither reward nor thanks.”
These and numerous other passages from the scriptures and oral traditions of our faiths make clear that an essential part of being a good Jew or a good Muslim is devoting oneself to helping those in society who are most in need. By visiting soup kitchens, homeless shelters or other venues to feed hungry people, modern-day Muslims and Jews can share with each other the moral imperative in both faiths to do good in the world while working together to improve conditions for people of all backgrounds.
Standing side by side behind a long table, wearing aprons and rubber gloves as they serve food to hungry and homeless people, individual Jews and Muslims also have a chance to encounter and connect with each other on a personal level and begin the process of building friendships.
It cannot be overlooked that this year the Weekend of Twinning is taking place against the grim backdrop of the explosion of armed conflict in Israel and Gaza. Many of the Muslim and Jewish participants in Weekend of Twinning events around the world have expressed sorrow over the death and destruction being endured by our brothers and sisters in the conflict zone, and have offered heartfelt prayers for peace.
Sami Elmansoury, a N.J. Muslim activist who took part in Greater New York Muslim-Jewish Feeding the Hungry Day , said, “What drives me to do this work is to show that our two faiths can inspire us to come together to serve humanity, rather than serve as a reason to kill each other. At a time of violence in the Middle East, it is critically important for us to demonstrate that Muslim-Jewish co-existence is possible.”
According to Neil Berro, a New Haven Jewish activist who organized a caravan of Connecticut Jews, Muslims, and other supporters, who traveled to Sea Gate, a Brooklyn neighborhood devastated by Hurricane Sandy, to do relief work during the Weekend of Twinning; “We feel a sense of accomplishment that not only were we able to make a small contribution to helping residents of Sea Gate rebuild their shattered community, but in doing this work together we showed that the differences between Jews and Muslims pale in comparison with our shared membership in the human family.”
Indeed, the image of Jews and Muslims joining together to help their fellow citizens in need is an immensely hopeful counterpoint to the pictures of wars and natural disasters that have inundated our collective consciousness in recent weeks, and is something for which people of all faiths can give thanks this holiday season.
Rabbi Marc Schneier is spiritual leader of the Hampton Synagogue and president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding. Follow Rabbi Marc Schneier on Twitter @MarcSchneier. Imam Shamsi Ali is imam of the Jamaica Muslim Center. To follow Imam Shamsi Ali on Twitter: @ShamsiAli2