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Asking the Clergy: How can religious holidays bring together different faiths?

From left, Faroque A. Khan of the Islamic

From left, Faroque A. Khan of the Islamic Center of Long Island, Rabbi Lina Zerbarini of Kehillath Shalom Synagogue and the Rev. Canon Richard Dennis Visconti of The Caroline Church. Photo Credit: Newsday /John Paraskevas; Dalia Rosenthal; Johnny Milano

Good Friday and the first day of Passover fall on the same day this year, a significant coincidence in that Jesus himself celebrated Passover. This week’s clergy discuss how religious holy days offer a bridge among faith communities.

Faroque A. Khan

Board of trustees chairman, Interfaith Institute of Islamic Center of Long Island, Westbury

As a kid growing up in Kashmir, on the Indian subcontinent, I looked forward to two Muslim holidays — Eid ul Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan fasting, and Eid al-Adha, the festival of sacrifice. The seasonal holidays celebrated by Sikhs and Hindus provided opportunities for various faith communities to exchange greetings and gifts.

After arriving in the United States, my wife and I experienced Jewish and Christian holidays. Muslims follow the lunar calendar, which is 11 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar, hence our religious holiday dates keep changing. In 2006, the month of Ramadan coincided with the Jewish calendar month of Tishri, and we took the opportunity to break the Ramadan fast in Temple Beth El in Great Neck and invited its members to the Islamic Center of Long Island, where we built a special outdoor Sukkot and learned about this important harvest holiday.

In the past 15 years, the Islamic Center of Long Island has annually hosted interfaith guests for an Iftar — breaking the fast of Ramadan. In 2015 we established the Interfaith Institute, and on April 28 we will host a Passover Seder for the first time at our mosque. Our congregation will learn about the importance and meaning of Passover while sharing a meal and bringing communities closer.

Rabbi Lina Zerbarini

Kehillath Shalom Synagogue, Cold Spring Harbor

Jewish tradition recounts the very first recorded act of civil disobedience and solidarity. “The king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives … saying, 'When you deliver the Hebrew women, look at the birthstool: if it is a boy, kill him; if it is a girl, let her live.' The midwives, fearing God, did not do as the king of Egypt had told them; they let the boys live.” (Exodus 1:15-16)

The sages debate: Are these midwives Hebrews, or are they midwives to the Hebrews? Some say it is obvious — even pharaoh could not think that Hebrew women would kill their own; these brave ones must be Egyptian women.

Passover is an opportunity to remember that liberation is something we do together; we need each other. As we recite our sacred stories, we can recall times when others reached across the boundaries of faith or nation to help others — and to help us. And perhaps, in remembering, we might reach out to neighbors and friends to include them in our celebrations. Through sharing our selves and our stories, we might develop a deeper connection, understanding and appreciation for one another. And we might once again, like the brave midwives, stand up for each other.

The Rev. Canon Richard Dennis Visconti

Rector, Caroline Church of Brookhaven, Setauket; ecumenical officer, Episcopal Diocese of Long Island

This year the Jewish feast of Passover began at sundown on the Christian day of Good Friday. Jewish and Christian faithful gathered to remember the action of God in their lives. Passover celebrates the Exodus from Egypt, as the Israelites emerged from bondage to freedom.

When one reflects on these events as recorded in the Hebrew Bible, we can see a great deal of parallel in the New Testament, which records Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. On Maundy Thursday, the day before Good Friday, Christians throughout the world come together to remember the action of Jesus at the Last Supper. A meal is shared at the altar of Christian churches with the commandment calling us to be servants to all. On Good Friday, Christians remember the historical sacrifice of Jesus, the Christ, on the cross. This day we fast from food, as we are able, to emphasize our dependence on God. This Friday is called “good” because of the ultimate offering of Jesus for us, breaking open our bondage to sin so that we can live a life of freedom of service to others and all in honor of God.

For Christians, the Easter message of the Resurrection and new life is an eternal gift, from the power of God, for us all. Although Christians and Jews gather in different sanctuaries on Passover and Maundy Thursday / Good Friday, we share an understanding that we are dependent upon a loving and caring God who cherishes each and every one of us no matter our faith tradition. 

Find more stories about Long Islanders at newsday.com/LILife.

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