Jews, Muslims join for winter celebration
Hanukkah-Hajj event brings together members of both faiths
Published on December 16, 2006
By Geoffrey D. Brown
FREDERICK -- A dialogue between Muslims and Jews reached its first major milestone as members of Frederick County's two Jewish congregations and the Islamic Society of Frederick broke bread together and shared their cultures at a joint holiday celebration last week.
"It was wonderful," said Andy Carpel, president of Beth Sholom Congregation. "All my members said they had a great time."
About 100 people attended the joint Hanukkah-Hajj celebration Thursday at the Lynfield Event Complex on Hansonville Road. Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, began Friday. The Hajj -- an annual pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the site of Islam's holiest mosque -- begins Dec. 29.
"I thought it's a dream coming true," said the Islamic Society of Frederick's imam, Yahya Hendi, who has publicly called for dialogue among Muslims and Jews locally, nationally, and internationally.
Student rabbi Dan Sikowitz of Congregation Kol Ami said he was delighted with the turnout, and he looks forward to joint outreach programs among the three congregations.
"You have to start somewhere. You have to start small. You can't start big."
"I was surprised at how laid-back it was," said Jamie Hendi, president of Congregation Kol Ami. "Everybody was very friendly and very warm. There was a good vibe in the room." Ms. Hendi is no relation to Imam Hendi.
Especially touching was the way children of members of the congregations immediately warmed to each other and made friends, participants said. Children of all ages played together, sat and drew pictures together, and, in a few cases, ran cheerfully amok.
"The kids looked like they were enjoying each other," Mr. Carpel said. "The parents, too, they were just as kind as they could be."
The get-together was the result of months of talks among members of the three congregations and others. Imam Hendi and members of the Islamic Society of Frederick have been eager to engage Christian and Jewish congregations, and have held a number of joint celebrations, dinners, and holiday observances, both at their masjid, or mosque, on Key Parkway and at churches and meeting halls.
Imam Hendi has been on a public mission to educate Americans about Islam, and he repeatedly stresses the ties of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, the world's major monotheistic religions that each trace their roots to Abraham.
Thursday's celebration was especially poignant because it not only brought together Jews and Muslims in celebration, but also established stronger ties between Frederick's two Jewish congregations, Mr. Sikowitz said. Beth Sholom is Frederick's oldest congregation, led for nearly a half-century by Rabbi Morris Kosman, a scholar and teacher of enormous influence in Frederick's Jewish community. Beth Sholom is nonaffiliated and has a diverse congregation.
Congregation Kol Ami is a much newer, Reform Jewish congregation, led by Mr. Sikowitz, who looks forward to his ordination in New York next May.
Members of both congregations have had contact with members of the Islamic Society of Frederick, and participants from all congregations stressed that the beginning of a dialogue at the Frederick County level is different from the political dialogue in the Middle East.
Still, participants said they hoped the development of bonds here can touch the world beyond Frederick. Members of all three congregations have close personal ties to people in the Middle East and around the world.
"The Arab-Israeli conflict should not jeopardize the relationship of Jews and Muslims in the United States," Imam Hendi said. "Hopefully this will provide a model for the Middle East."
Pictures from the event: