A Reflection on Interfaith Celebrations
By Laura Ellis
This year, Passover, Easter, and Ramadan are neighbors on our interfaith calendar. As many communities of faith are not congregating in person to celebrate the holidays, we feel that this confluence of dates is significant. In the midst of our hectic lives, we find some solace in these neighboring dates, stretching across the calendar to one another like old friends. Especially in a time when the pandemic prevents us from seeing loved ones, we pause to give thanks for this meeting of our interfaith family.
Beyond their mere placement on a calendar, we recognize that each of these unique holidays brings a sense of renewal to faithful people. With the imminent hope of Spring, we also feel the spiritual hope that each of these holidays brings—a hope steeped in renewal. There’s perhaps never been a time when newness has felt so refreshing.
However, amid these similarities and connections between the religious holidays, we also celebrate their vast differences in what each holiday means to people of faith.
By Debra Klein
During the Seder, we are obligated to see ourselves as if we are personally coming out of our own Egypt (ways we feel oppression) and into our own freedom.
It would have been easy, this year, to say that I had become a slave to Covid…and now, fully vaccinated, I feel that freedom from the virus. While both personally, and collectively that is a current truth, it barely scratches the surface. Even within the Covid reality, there is deeper meaning to be found, if only I am open to it.
It begins before the holiday. As I ritually clean my home, I try to shake loose the debris in my mind as well. I ask myself: what have I become a slave to?
Generally, the answer lies in areas where I acted out of arrogance…meaning an inauthentic version of myself designed to impress others. In order to feel truly free, I have to tame my sneaky ego and allow myself to be vulnerable. I must ask for grace to accept my naked self, flaws and all. That is the hardest part, and thankfully I find guidance in another traditional ritual: the counting of the Omer.
For 49 days, I count the days, marking each with a blessing. I am reminded that every day is a blessing. I ask myself: where did I shine my light? I focus each of the 7 weeks on character traits in my effort to actualize my authentic self.
As a modern Jew in a somewhat turbulent time in history, I focus on my gratitude. Passover gives me an opportunity to dig deeper for meaning, to ask the provocative questions, and try on different lenses to look at my life in a humble and honest way.
by Corinne Sigmund
Happy Easter! These words have a different meaning this year than any other. We’re a year into the pandemic, and I’m unable to muster my usual quiet reverence for Holy Week and Easter. The cross, the tomb, and the resurrection have become more visceral, more real to me. But what do these important Christian stories mean?
Christians believe that Jesus, God incarnate, died to save humans from our sins. Though Easter is the most important holiday in the Christian calendar, there’s actually a lot of debate about how Jesus’ death on the cross achieved our salvation. Some believe Jesus’ death was God’s way of suffering for our sins. He gave his life to take the punishment of our sins for us. Others believe that Jesus’ death reconciled humanity to God, so that our sins no longer keep us from God’s love. Still others believe that Jesus’ death on the cross was God suffering with us, understanding what it was to be human by undergoing the most human experience of all— death. For me, the resurrection is more of a feeling than something that can be verbalized. It’s proof of God’s eternal love for humanity, and that’s not something I know how to put into words.
During this pandemic, we wait in the seemingly endless darkness of the cave before the stone is rolled away. The resurrection, though it happened so suddenly, must have felt slow to Jesus’ disciples— three agonizing days of waiting, of enduring searing grief. But there was holiness in that waiting, too. There was a miracle coming. I remember the slow pace of nature, of flowers just beginning to bloom after a long winter, and it reminds me of the power of the resurrection. God shows us God’s abundant love, equally present with us in our suffering and in our joy.
by Aliya Khalidi
Ramadan, the 9th month of the Islamic lunar calendar, is one of the most special times of the year for Muslims, both historically and in the faith practice. Fasting during this month is one of the five Pillars of Islam, and includes abstaining from eating and drinking (yes, even water!) from dawn till dusk, and charitable giving. Those who are traveling or sick may defer fasting and make up for it later. Ramadan is the month during which the first verses of the Qur’an were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) through the Angel Jibreel (Gabriel). The night on which this occurred, Laylatul Qadr, translates as the Night of Power, during which Muslims spend the night in prayer. Many Muslims also do nightly prayers, called Taraweeh prayers, where each night, the congregation recites one of the thirty chapters of the Qur’an.
One of the most common misconceptions is that Ramadan is a difficult time for Muslims. In fact, it is one of the most powerful and celebratory times. We not only empathize with those less fortunate, and use the time for spiritual reflection, but also join together as a community. Growing up, my family used this time to gather every weekend night with our friends in the Greater Boston area for iftars (the evening meal to break fast). In college, my Muslim peers and I would gather together each day at dawn and sunset to have Iftar. On the weekends, each Muslim Student Association in the Boston area would host Iftars for almost 200 to 300 students, and it was a time for great social activity. As an adult, it is often known as the most social time of the year among Muslims, and especially for those moving to new cities, it is a great time to make new friends.
Celebrating a holiday on the lunar calendar means that each year, the holiday runs 10 days earlier on the Gregorian calendar. In my elementary and early middle school years, Ramadan fell during the winter months, when the days were short. I first started fasting in elementary school, and completed my first 30 days of fasting when I was ten years old. Although I felt a little left out of Christmas traditions during the day, I was coming home to a feast of delicious appetizers and celebratory dinners with my family. It served as a gathering time for my family and friends not only first thing in the morning, but in the evenings as well.
At the end of Ramadan, we gather to celebrate Eid-ul-Fitr. Eid means “festival” and Eid-ul-Fitr is one of two major celebrations during the Islamic calendar. On each Eid, we feast and celebrate, while also carrying with us the lessons learned from Ramadan. Eid is celebrated with different traditions around the world. In Massachusetts, we gather to pray at the mosque in the morning, and then celebrate with family and friends throughout the rest of the day. Some of my peers and I have adopted a tradition of having an “Eid doughnut,” as they were often part of our Eid gatherings at the mosque after prayers.
Ramadan and Eid have always been a special time for me and my loved ones, and although this will be the second year in a row that we will have to celebrate virtually, we are looking forward to it.
A Final Word
Easter, Passover, and Ramadan are holy times for their respective faith traditions. Each brings observers closer to the divine and reminds them of who they truly are. These holidays mean different things in Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, but their nearness on the calendar this year reminds us of our interfaith closeness. As we celebrate our various holidays, we also celebrate the unity of the whole human family.
We invite you to share on social media how you celebrate your holidays! Tweet us @SafeHavens1 or find us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SafeHavens1.
Laura Ellis is graduating in May from Boston University School of Theology (BU STH) with a master of divinity. She is currently the BU STH Fellow at Safe Havens and is a strong believer in the importance of interfaith dialogue.
Corinne is Safe Havens' Life Together Fellow, a position affiliated with Episcopal Service Corps. She enjoys walks and hikes, all things music, and playing with her dog.
Aliya S. Khalidi is an attorney in the greater Boston area, and grew up attending the Sunday Islamic school and services at the Islamic Center of Boston in Wayland, Massachusetts. She is a former President of the National Association of Muslim Lawyers, and is very active in the Muslim legal community. She is passionate about including diverse and marginalized perspectives in all of her endeavors.
Debra Klein is a Health Coach and Food Blogger, dedicated to making healthy food taste incredible. Debra belongs to the Swampscott Chabad where she lives in Swampscott, Massachusetts with her husband and two English Creme Retrievers.