Muslim and Jewish Jerusalemites break bread together

Holy City residents partake in joint Iftar meals following the Ramadan fast.

Ramadan in the old city of Jerusalem (photo credit: SETH J. FRANTZMAN)
Ramadan in the old city of Jerusalem
(photo credit: SETH J. FRANTZMAN)
As the call to prayer marking the end of the day-long Ramadan fast echoed from a nearby mosque, the two dozen people sat down and began eating.
There were many traditional Arab foods, and conversation flowed easily. It looked like any post-fast dinner table in the Arab world.
What was unique in this case was that most of the guests had never met the hosts, Bronka and Aref Tahboub, before this night. The Tahboubs had opened their home to a group of Israeli Jews who wanted to experience the Iftar meal.
“There are so many things here that we don’t control,” Aref detailed in fluent Hebrew. “But Arabs and Jews have to live together. I’ve worked with Jews all my life, and I want my children to get to know Jews.”
The meeting was organized by Kids4Peace, a grassroots organization that brings Muslim, Christian and Jewish children in Jerusalem together.
About 25 Jewish families signed up to be hosted by Palestinian families, along with their children.
The Tahboubs have three children: two boys, 14 and 11, and a daughter, 9, and all three children were fasting.
While it is only compulsory to fast from puberty, many children choose to start earlier.
“They see all of their neighbors fasting, and they want to do it too,” explained Bronka, an English teacher. “Ramadan is a special time for us; we believe that the gates of hell are closed, and the sky opens the doors to our prayers.”
Ramadan also marks the time that Muslims believe Allah revealed the Koran to the Prophet Muhammad, who was illiterate. As it is based on the solar calendar, rather than the lunar calendar, it rotates through the seasons; Muslims fast from dawn to dusk. Muhammad used to break his fast with a date, and Muslims today do the same.
At the Tahboubs in the upscale east Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina, the Jewish guests quickly feel at home.
“It starts with my being a citizen of Jerusalem,” asserted Duel Peli, a lawyer whose daughter attends Kids4Peace.
“Jerusalem is a mixed city with people of different ethnic origins and different nationalities. I live in this city and I want to be friendly with as many of the different populations as I can.”
He says that being part of Kids4Peace, which divides the children into groups that are one-third Jewish, one-third Christian and one-third Muslim, has been an eye-opening experience for him. The parents have parallel workshops to the children, who go to summer camp together in the US.
“I find myself in the minority, which is an important feeling for me to have,” he related. “It makes me understand what it is like to be a minority in Jerusalem, and in Israel.”
Jerusalem’s population is two-thirds Jewish and one-third Arab, divided between Muslims and Christians. The meetings have continued despite more than a year of tensions in Jerusalem, which began last June when Hamas terrorists kidnapped and killed three yeshiva students in the West Bank. Jewish extremists then kidnapped Palestinian teenager Muhammad Abu Khdeir from Shuafat, a neighborhood less than a mile from Beit Hanina. Bronka Tahboub says she knows Muhammad’s father well, and visited him after his son was killed.
His death, and the fighting between Israel and Hamas last summer in Gaza – during which several rockets were fired toward Jerusalem by the terror movement – has negatively affected her nineyear- old daughter Leen, who for the past year has refused to sleep in her own bed.
Yet Bronka says the tensions have only strengthened her resolve to reach out to her Jewish neighbors.
“When God created us, He didn’t say, ‘You’re a Muslim, you’re a Christian, you’re a Jew,’” she maintained. “We are all humans and I wanted to share the good, precious, holy moments of Ramadan with other people. Everyone has a different view and perspective, we need to share it together to remove the anger and the sadness in the area.”
After dinner, as the kids played soccer outside, Bronka took out a water pipe and began puffing on melon- and mint-scented tobacco. As the pipe made its rounds, the tensions between Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem seemed far away.