Jews and Muslims from across the region joined together Wednesday for prayer and reflection on the conflict between Israel and Gaza in a Vigil for Peace at the shared building of Beth Chaverim Reform Congregation and All Dulles Area Muslim Society in Sterling.
The vigil, hosted by ADAMS, Beth Chaverim and Congregation Sha’are Shalom, was held in direct response to Israeli and Palestinian violence in the Middle East. For years, airstrikes and gunfire have devastated the Gaza Strip and southern Israel regions.
Ray Daffner, Beth Chaverim member and Committee Chair of Tikva, the synagogue’s interfaith outreach, was one of the event’s organizers. He approached Rizwan Jaka, ADAMS Board Member and Interfaith Chairperson, with the idea.
“We’re just very upset about the situation, the war there, the loss of life,” said Daffner. “(What’s going on in Gaza) gets worse every day...We as friends, as a Jewish community and a Muslim community... we’re compelled to do something to work for peace here. Those are our people. We have some responsibility to that, I believe.”
The vigil focused on the need for words rather than war to solve the problem in the region. It opened with a reminder from Daffner and Syed Alam, an ADAMS chair member in Ashburn, that the evening’s purpose was spiritual rather than political.
“This was a natural fellowship in this time of conflict between Israel and Gaza to come together to pray for peace, to pray for the end to the violence and to pray for the protection of life,” said Jaka.
In the “Why I’m Here” portion of the vigil, four speakers offered their views on the part they play in peace. Speakers included Beth Chaverim’s Rabbi Linda Joseph, Jaka, Rabbi Michael Ragozin of Sha’are Shalom, and Sr. Farhanahz Ellis, ADAMS Chaplain.
Speakers agreed that in order for peace to reign in Israel, Muslims and Jews need to use words, not war, to solve the problem.
Joseph was first to speak. From her experience of the war-torn region and the people affected by it, Joseph said she is here to offer her prayer and her presence, an idea she summed up in the word “hineni.”
“(It means) I am present” she said in her speech. “I am present in the face of difficult times, searching for the words to say...’Hineni.’ I am here because our world is far from peaceful, far from whole. ‘Hineni’ because I need, we need, to pray for peace.”
Ellis spoke last and said hope brought her there. History has shown violent situations, tyrannies and acts of injustice pass away when the world never thought they would end. She said they must hold to this hope with the conflict between Gaza and Israel.
“A lot of people say ‘you are so naive, this conflict has been going for so long,’” she said. “Then I proceed to list things that we never thought we’d see. And we have...Things that we didn’t think could happen, happened...It is our duty to have hope. For our brothers and sisters in humanity. Not just our brothers and sisters in faith, but also in humanity.”
After the speakers, Muslim and Jewish congregates walked with lit candles from the synagogue to the mosque next door. There the two groups sang and prayed together.
“We ask that you (God) would bestow your mercies on those united to us by the ties of humanity,” said Ellis in a prayer. “We ask that you would bestow your mercies on those united by the ties of life...Silence the weapons, as they do not speak the language of peace.”
After praying both together and within their own congregations, the groups shared in a meal of hummus, pita bread, and olive oil, further symbolizing the unity between them.
Visitors from surrounding communities attended the event as well, including members of the Christian and Bahá’í faiths.
The vigil testified to the relationship between the mosque and synagogue, who have been in a close interfaith relationship since 2008, when the mosque first began subleasing its space from the synagogue.
Ragozin said the relationship between the two congregations serves as a comfort in a period of tragedy.
“We would not be able to join together tonight in this difficult, painful time without the foundation of trust, mutual understand and brotherhood between these two communities.”
Jaka’s hope is that the next time the two faith communities come together will be for a time of thanksgiving to God for bringing peace to the situation.
“We will continue our fellowships, our dialogues, and maybe other activities,” he said. “We hope and pray that this conflict will end very soon. We hope we’ll come together to thank God that the conflict is over.”