We are a circle of Jewish and Muslim friends who will be coming together to fast and to pray on Tuesday, July 15th. We grew close to one another in college, where we found ourselves in uncannily similar positions, marked by our distinctive dress codes, our dietary restrictions, and our bleary eyes after the daily morning prayer. We became friends in tranquil times, and we dispersed after our graduation two months ago. Yet in recent weeks, as our co-religionists in Israel and Palestine began waging war, we turned to each other in fear and desperation.
While our brothers and sisters in the Middle East suffer and inflict suffering, we will come together in solidarity and in peace. We are Jews and Muslims living in the United States, and we do not presume to speak on behalf of Palestinians or Israelis, whose pain we cannot imagine. But this cannot become an excuse for inaction. Our fervent belief is that we must model peace within and between our own communities as we call upon Israel and Palestine to make peace.
This coming Tuesday marks the conjunction of the Muslim fast of Ramadan and the Jewish fast of the Seventeenth of Tammuz. In honor of this day, Eliaz Cohen, an Israeli settler and peace activist, has called upon Muslim and Jewish congregations to consecrate their fasts toward breaking the cruel grip of violence that afflicts the nations of the Holy Land. “In both traditions,” says Cohen, “this is a day dedicated to introspection, assumption of responsibility for repairing and purifying, and repentance.”
“The intention [of a shared fast] is to direct the consciousness of both nations toward this day as a turning point. Every person, household, and community is invited to take part, to fast in solidarity with the suffering, violence, and pain experienced by the self and the other, to ask how we can escape this cycle of tears, and to paint a horizon of vision and hope.”
Our Muslim friends know that this holy month of Ramadan is not the first that has witnessed inter-ethnic violence and the death of innocents in the Holy Land. In Ramadan of 1260 C.E., two foreign armies—the Mongols and the Mamelukes—clashed in the Jezreel Valley; in the same month, in 1187 C.E., Saladin defeated the Crusader forces at the Horns of Hattin. Although the Mongols and the Crusaders went down in history as the official losers, those who suffered most were undoubtedly the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian townsfolk and rural peasants who had no part in instigating either conflict.
Nor, as our Jewish friends know, is this the first July—“Tammuz” in Hebrew and Arabic—that has brought tragedy to the inhabitants of the Holy Land. Nearly two millennia ago, in 70 C.E., the city was torn between warring Jewish factions in the face of an inexorable Roman siege. On the seventeenth day of Tammuz, according to Jewish tradition, the Romans breached the wall of the city, and the sacrifices in the Temple came to a halt. Further rewinding the tape of history, this is reportedly the same date that Moses shattered the tablets of God’s law, when he descended from Mount Sinai only to behold the Israelites bowing to an idol of gold.
Like the Jewish factions that squabbled for dominance in Jerusalem instead of uniting against the Roman invaders, the Israeli and Palestinian peoples of today share a common enemy. In Ramadan and Tammuz of 2014, however, we are no longer speaking of an external villain such as a Roman, Crusader, Mameluke, or Mongol horde (notwithstanding the voices that hastily label Israel as the latest colonizer in this chain). Rather, the enemy that seeks to destroy both Israel and Palestine is the blind hatred that motivates the extremists of each nation to kidnap and murder the children of the other. Still more dangerous, it is the seductive apathy that holds our peoples hostage to the whims of politicians and extremists, the same cynicism that reassures us that our task is complete once we have judged which side bears greater culpability and loudly announced our verdicts. But our task is not complete: we must recognize this enemy, and band together against it. For peace.
Jewish and Muslim law alike teach that pious actions—such as fasting and prayer—are meaningless if they are not accompanied by holy intentions. On July 15th, let us focus our intentions to make our fast and our prayer pleasing to God. We invite not only Jews and Muslims, but our brothers and sisters of all religions, to fast in solidarity with all those who seek to spread peace in the Holy Land. We suggest that people of different faiths, who may be fasting separately, gather together to break their fasts—to mourn, to rejoice, and to break bread in peace.
In this month of Ramadan, a long time ago, Muhammad fasted in the Cave of Hira as he received the word of God. In this month of Tammuz, an even longer time ago, Moses fasted on Mount Sinai as he received the word of the same God. Yet on the Seventeenth of Tammuz, Moses’s nation spurned the revelation, and the heavenly tablets were shattered. We will make this July 15th holy by observing the twin fasts of Moses and Muhammad, and we will re-dedicate ourselves to the messages of peace in our holy scriptures.
This month is not the first Ramadan or Tammuz to witness nonsensical, unholy violence in the Holy Land; let God accept our fasts and our prayers so that it may be the last.
Signed, Alan Elbaum, Mansur Ghani, Aala Mohamed, Shuaib Raza, Wazhma Sadat, Leah Sarna and Shira Telushkin