Jewish Community Relations Councilof San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin, Sonoma, Alameda and Contra Costa Counties

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Iftar Under the Stars

May 11, 2021
Posted by: Jessica Sterling, Jewish Community and Education Outreach Manager

I attended several iftars this year, the meal with which Muslims break their fast each evening of Ramadan. Due to the pandemic, most of the iftars I attended were by Zoom – and it felt great to be united with so many familiar faces on panels and in breakout rooms. There was one iftar that I attended in person. That event, where I knew almost no one, was at an RV encampment in Oakland.

Held on Saturday, May 1, “Iftar Under the Stars” was the first event of this year’s Affordable Housing Month, a full agenda of events that highlight various programs supported by EBHO (East Bay Housing Organizations). The event was held in partnership with Qalbu Maryam Women’s Mosque, #TeamMakeOaklandBetter, and a sanctioned RV encampment near the Oakland Coliseum, and it was only possible because of careful adherence to state and local COVID protocols and widespread access to the vaccine.

On the evening of the iftar I stopped in downtown Oakland and picked up my friend Rabi’a, founder of Qalbu Maryam. My car was already loaded with 100 pounds of produce from Alameda County Community Food Bank and Rabi’a added hygiene products she’d collected over the past month. We drove to the RV encampment, where EBHO staff, the Faith & Justice committee, and residents of the encampment helped unload the car and set up tables of food and toiletries and other items that were collected for distribution. Dave, a member of the committee, had picked up about 100 halal burritos, chips, salsa and guacamole, which were also placed on the tables. We also set up a table with items that represented all faiths.

As the sun headed for the horizon, 30 people gathered to partake in the meal and hear our program, which began with an introduction by Rabi’a of the holy month of Ramadan. She described Ramadan and how Muslims reflect, act with compassion, and take the opportunity to support their neighbors who need it most. Next Ronnie, the Faith and Justice Committee organizer, spoke about EBHO and the focus of the committee. Then I was called to the mic to describe how the Jewish faith views compassion.

After the meal, we gathered once more as the sun set and the shadows disappeared. Rabbi David Cooper lit a braided havdalah candle, poured grape juice into a cup and I held the spice box as we began the evening havdalah service. We sang the blessings and a few songs and wished everyone a good week, a week of peace.

My involvement with the Faith and Justice Committee of EBHO has allowed me to work for years on programs that focus on the unhoused in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. Two years ago, the Interfaith Communities United Committee – now known as Faith and Justice Committee – held its first interfaith “Iftar Under the Stars” at an encampment at Union Point Park in Oakland.

JCRC’s work is based on core Jewish values, among them Tikkun Olam, making the world a better place by helping all who need assistance. Rabbi Akiva taught: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ (Leviticus 19:18). This is the most important rule in the Torah (Jerusalem Talmud Nedarim 30b). As we approach the close of Ramadan, I reflect on what I've learned this year about compassion as practiced by all faiths and by the new neighbors I met.