A day after a shooting at a Southern California synagogue, people of many faiths prayed and feasted at a Westbury mosque to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Passover and break down barriers.
The Islamic Center of Long Island hosted the interfaith Passover seder on Sunday that reminded nearly 100 attendees of the story of Jews being freed from slavery in Egypt and the similarities between their religions.
Saturday’s shooting in the San Diego suburb of Poway and the Easter church attacks in Sri Lanka imbued some of the prayers at the mosque — including for peace and an end to oppression — with renewed meaning.
“What unites us today as people of faith in our own particular communities — Christians, Muslims and Jews — is we are all in mourning now, that what we share is grief,” said Rabbi Michael White of Temple Sinai in Roslyn, who presided over the seder. “All of our communities have been victims of terror recently, and we are all in mourning periods for their victims and for what it says about the world today and the cloud that hangs over us.”
The seder was planned by the Interfaith Institute of the Islamic Center of Long Island months before Saturday's shooting at the Chabad of Poway, where a gunman shouting anti-Semitic slurs killed one and injured three, officials said.
Dr. Faroque A. Khan, chairman of the institute’s board of trustees, said the shooting made him “anxious” about Sunday's event and question whether to host it. Khan said he felt comfortable moving forward after contacting Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder. Two police officers with rifles and bulletproof vests were stationed outside the event.
The seder began with a moment of silence for the victims of recent attacks, which religious leaders condemned.
“Those who assemble in the houses of God, seeking peace and tranquility, should not have to experience terror and violence,” Khan said.
Rep. Tom Suozzi, who is on the interfaith institute’s board, commended attendees for working to bridge divisions, which he said are emphasized by all the “hate-filled tragedies” that counter what America stands for.
The violence has become so commonplace because "we don't know about each other's religions," said Rafat Sada, an Islamic Center congregant from Melville who also belongs to an interfaith Jewish-Muslim group.
"There’s too much anger in the world and it’s the time to come together and learn about each other," said Sada, a SUNY Old Westbury admissions counselor.
Religious leaders highlighted the significance of Passover in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Mufti Mohammad Farhan, the Islamic Center's executive director, noted that the Quran mentions the story of Passover and Moses — the prophet who led the Jews out of Egypt — more times than any other story or prophet. Retired Rev. Tom Goodhue, formerly a minister with the United Methodist Church, said that Christians celebrated Passover for the first three centuries of the religion.
Hema Virani, who is Hindu, said she loved seeing the diversity among those who turned out.
"My heart was singing because it was amazing to see imams, rabbis, pastors, the swamis, everybody under one roof — along with politicians — just talking about how we can make things better,” Virani, of Bayside, Queens, said. "There needs to be more of that" to prevent violence in the future.