The word ‘sanctuary’ is sometimes used to describe the main prayer hall of a synagogue. Never did that word feel more appropriate than on the night of Sunday 20 July, when Finchley Reform Synagogue hosted members and friends from the Somali Bravanese Welfare Association (SBWA) for a celebratory Iftar meal to end the day’s Ramadan fast, as Jon Freedman writes.
This summer has proved to be a depressingly familiar one of violence in Israel and Palestine. But despite the rising tensions both in the Middle East and here on the streets of London, FRS continued to do what it does best. Our community opened its hearts, its hands and its doors to our Muslim brothers and sisters from the SBWA, still without a permanent home after the arson attack on their community centre in 2012. Andrew Gilbert said “it is taking too long for their new home to be built and one can call on Barnet Council to be more generous and speedy. However, at this time, to see Muslims and Jews sharing prayers and peaceful songs, needs to be celebrated.” Jonni Berger observed that “with everything going on in the world, something special was going on in North London.”
Our main hall ‘sanctuary’ was filled with Jews and Muslims, breaking bread together, hearing inspiring words of peace from our clergy, and words of hope and from the politicians present. Sadiq Khan MP, shadow minister for London, said that the event demonstrated that London could set a positive example at a time of escalating tensions. He said “I doubt there are many cities around the world where Muslims are invited to break fast in Ramadan. It is quite remarkable. What we are doing here in London is hopefully a beacon for not just the rest of the country but for the rest of the world.”
The relationship between FRS and the SBWA has continued to go from strength to strength. While all around us we hear messages and cues to put up walls, and retreat back to our ‘safe spaces’, the real revelation at this Iftar is that we were breaking bread with a group of people we knew well enough to consider familiar… to consider friends. On a day which also saw awful loss of life amongst Israelis and Palestinians, Amit Handelsman described it as “an uplifting way to finish a very sad day.” A true moment of sanctuary indeed.