It has been mooted that if we – Jews, Muslims and Christians in these here parts – were to focus more on stuffing our faces than on political pontificating, things in the Middle East would be a whole lot calmer. Anyone who participates in the forthcoming Iftar Yerushalmi festival events, which will take place May 28 to June 10, might subscribe to that line of thought and, while they’re at it, have themselves some delectable vittles.
The first part of the festival title references the Arabic name for the evening meal with which Muslims break their fast, daily, at sundown during the month of Ramadan. Ramadan began last week and is due to end around June 13.
Iftar Yerushalmi, which is supported by YMCA Jerusalem, is an installment of the annual Open Holidays interfaith venture which seeks to bring local members of the world’s three main monotheistic religions together, to celebrate each other’s holidays, including Christmas, Ramadan and Hanukka. The idea is, naturally, to offer us all a better handle on our religious customs and on what makes us tick, and get us together on an individual and face-to-face basis.
“The series offers intimate and direct encounters with traditions and religious holiday customs and the people behind them,” notes Nir Cohen, one of the organizers of Open Holidays.
Cohen and his colleagues not only want us to meet up – something the vast majority of us don’t manage in our day-to-day lives – but also get a little down and dirty together. “The program events include a workshop for preparing sweet dishes for the holiday [of Ramadan] which will take place at the Sarwa Street Kitchen on Salah a-Din Street [in east Jerusalem].
There Mo[hammad] Tahen will show us how to make sweets for breaking the fast.”
Tahen, for his part, is delighted to offer an opportunity for everyone to convene at his eatery.
“We cater for all people, not just Jews, Christians and Muslims from here, but also tourists from America, France and other countries,” he says. “Food brings people together. It doesn’t matter where you come from or what your religion is. When people eat together, they create energy, good energy.”
As far as Cohen is concerned, diversity is a good thing and something to be celebrated by all parties. “We started doing that in December 2016 with a pilot project. Then we had a whole series of events, from November 2017 through to January 2018, beginning with the Sigd Ethiopian holiday and ending with the Orthodox Christmas [celebrated on January 7],” he explains. “Each week we had gatherings and workshops, cultural events and guided tours.”
There will be more of that on offer during Iftar Yerushalmi, including visits to homes of Arabs in the Old City and also in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina.
The Kulna Jerusalem nonprofit is also very much in the thick of things of the coming program. Kulna was founded in October 2016, with a view to bringing Arabs and Jews from east and west Jerusalem together. The venture was an offshoot of the Pashut Sharim (Simply Singing) project, which ran from 2011 to 2016 and ran dozens of slots across Jerusalem at which Arabs and Jews convened to sing songs in Hebrew and Arabic.
“We want people to meet, directly, without any tension, to experience each other’s cultures, and, of course, to share food,” Cohen adds. “This is not about dialogue. It is about getting to know each other. Lots of Israelis travel abroad and encounter different cultures, but they find it hard just to cross the street to experience a different culture.”
For more information: ymca.org.il/iftar-landing-page/?lang=he