Let me start out by stating that I am not a Muslim. I was born and circumcised after eight days on the planet; I read the Haftarah at my Bar Mitzvah; I was married under a chuppah in Israel - my home and homeland; and I completed the circle by seeing my own son become a Jewish man.
That said, I have always shown an openness to other religions. I have eagerly explored the Catholic cathedrals of Spain; I have visited the Vatican; and here in Israel, I am fascinated, but do not understand the Bahá'ís. Last December, my wife and I spent a weekend in the Druze town Daliat al-Carmel, where the best part of the visit was eating the local hummus, the tasty tehina.
So you see - a lot of my appreciation of other religions is my thirst and hunger to taste their special foods, and to learn about their history, culture, and even their traditions! Do Muslim men circumcise their sons while saying some sort of blessing? Is the hunt for Easter eggs a religious, traditional or cultural happening for kids? Who exactly are the Bahá’ís?
My wife and I once attended a get-together of Jerusalem Jews and Palestinian Muslims from the neighboring villages. The gathering was organized by the Interfaith Encounter Association (IEA), an Israeli-based non-profit organization whose primary purpose is to foster dialogue between different religious groups within the Holy Land (specifically Jews, Muslims, Christians, Druze and Bahá'ís).
The gatherings are organized on a grass roots level, throughout Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Most of the meet-ups are in the Galilee, where Jewish communities share the same hills as their Arab neighbors.
My wife and I live in Moshav Neve Ilan - a growing, once-communal community that is now basically a very nice place to live just outside Jerusalem. Three kilometers away is Abu Gosh – a town, really – home to thousands of Israeli Arabs who participate in Knesset elections; have the best Lebanese restaurants this side of the Lebanese border; and who just happen to have the best fruits and vegetables shops in the Judean Hills. Residents of Mevesseret Zion, the kibbutzim and even from the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Telz Stone make weekly purchases there before Shabbat.
A new mosque was recently consecrated in Abu Gosh, funded by the government of Chechnya, but that's a totally different story.
I was in an Abu Gosh bakery buying a challah for Shabbat. You heard me correctly. The best challot in the area are baked in the bakeries of Abu Gosh. And yes, they are kosher!
So, I was buying this challah when I noticed pancakes on the counter. I asked the baker what they were, and he said they were for Ramadan.
Here is what I know about Ramadan. Ramadan is a month-long period of fasting during the day and eating in the dark, marked by Muslims all over the world, even if they are not Orthodox Muslims. This holiday is sort of like Yom Kippur, if Yom Kippur lasted for a month.
Another man – a resident of the village according to his own words – spoke to me about the customs. Seeing that he couldn't explain the tradition of eating pancakes in words (despite his perfect knowledge of Hebrew, probably better than mine), he dragged me into the shop next door.
"Here, buy this," he said. "And this. You sprinkle on top and then eat like this."
I asked him if the pan-baked cake was eaten with honey, or syrup, or jam. He said, "No." And based on the small packages he suggested I buy, I fully understood.
That evening at home, after the sun went down and dinner was finished; as the Shabbat candles were burning low and my head still reeled from too much Golan Heights 'Kiddush' wine; I celebrated the Muslim tradition of breaking the Ramadan fast with something good, something tasty, something that would give new energy into their bodies and souls, and it came to me, like them - very fast.
(The name of this baked treat is katayef, and it is usually eaten immediately after being fried, with syrup and honey).
I am honored that I shared the customs of Abu Gosh and learned about their religion. But, I am a bit upset that I did this on my own.
Previously published on The Huffington Post.
The Sidewalk of Coexistence
A Taste of Coexistence at the Majda Restaurant
Dining with the Druze