“Part of being Jewish is caring about everybody,” said Stephen Sherman, whose participation in an interfaith retreat to Turkey in 2013 started the friendship that enabled Temple Beth Sholom to host an interfaith Shabbat on July 1.
On the retreat, Sherman, a Temple Beth Sholom congregant, met Ilker Yildiz, who is now Orange County branch director at the Pacifica Institute, a nonprofit organization of Turkish-Americans. Founded in 2003, the nonprofit does social welfare projects and coordinates interfaith gatherings at churches, synagogues, and mosques.
“Our mission is to reach out to different faith communities to break bread,” said Yildiz. “Stephen is one of my closest friends, and together we came up with the idea of joining our communities at Temple Beth Sholom.”
On July 1, Temple Beth Sholom hosted a Shabbat service for about 120 people, including 30 Muslim guests from the Pacifica Institute. Rabbi Heidi Cohen, who led the service, explained the various parts of the ceremony and later invited Muslim guests to the sanctuary to see a Torah up-close.
The pre-service oneg, which usually includes food and snacks, offered only lemonade and water out of respect for the Muslim community’s fast.
“The people at Temple Beth Sholom were very welcoming and respected our traditions,” said Yildiz, who attended with his wife and 18-month-old son.
Following the service, Cassandra Arslan gave a presentation on Ramadan and its significance while the Muslim guests recited their evening prayers in the sanctuary. Afterwards, everyone gathered in the social hall for a Ramadan fast-breaking dinner. During the annual monthlong holiday of Ramadan, which ended July 5 this year, Muslims traditionally fast for about 16 hours daily, from sunrise until sunset. At sunset, Muslim families and friends unite to partake in an iftar dinner to break the fast.
“With members of both communities spread around the room, it was fascinating to watch the people discussing and asking questions,” said Sherman, who serves on the board of the Orange County Interfaith Network. “There was such deep discussion and interaction. No one jumped up at the dessert announcement because everyone was so engaged.”
“[The Muslim guests] were interested in our faith, and we were equally interested in theirs,” said Sherman. “We have a good relationship with the people at the Pacifica Institute – they are wonderful people.”