Yom Kippur and Ramadan: A Holy Coincidence

Every three decades, for a period of a few years, Judaism's holiest day — Yom Kippur — falls during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Commentator Anisa Mehdi says that some of the faithful among Muslims and Jews are trying to make this alignment into more than just a coincidence.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Today is a day of religious coincidence for Muslims and Jews. Both follow lunar calendars to determine their holidays. But the calendars are calculated differently. So, it's only every three decades or so that the Jews' holiest day, Yom Kippur, falls in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Commentator Anisa Mehdi says that some of the faithful among Muslims and Jews are trying to make this into more than just a coincidence.

ANISA MEHDI: Ramadan is the most sacred month of the year for Muslims. We fast from dawn till dusk during this month. And today, Yom Kippur, is the most holy day in the Jewish calendar. This day of atonement is also a day of fasting.

In spite of current events and international tension, some American Muslims and Jews are seizing the occasion of this coincidence of holidays to come together. We're reaching across political divides in search of spiritual links by breaking our fasts together today. And it's noteworthy that Jews and Muslims are breaking bread together, particularly now.

It's been 30 some years since the Islamic and Hebrew calendars had another period that overlapped at such as sacred time. Back then was the signing of the Camp David Accords, bringing peace between Israel and Egypt that could have brought warmth between American Muslim and Jews, but I saw no sign of that. Then in 1981, while our holy days still coincided, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was assassinated.

Times were bleak back then. Revolution in Iran. Iraq attack Iran. Israel bombed Iraq. Lebanon in civil war. Peace was less than a dream. Back then interfaith cooperation in the U.S. mostly meant Catholics, Protestants and Jews in dialogue. There were very few Muslims in the mix, and I doubt that Jews and Muslims in America were breaking fasts together in 1981.

To many of us, times may seem even bleaker now. But in post-9/11 America in spite of terror alerts and fear, in spite of our soldiers dying in Iraq, in spite of suicide bombings in Israel, there is a glimmer of hope and it will shine today. Yom Kippur, the eighth of Ramadan, as Jews and Muslims come together at sundown to enjoy tea and dates and dinner. September 11 - shall I say - forced - shall I say - encouraged us to see one another as Americans, as people of faith, as descendents of Abraham, as leaders on the evermore complex path of negotiating our differences. People talk together while we're eating and who knows what unforeseeable roots towards peace communication may inspire.

NORRIS: Anisa Mehdi is a documentary filmmaker based in Maplewood, New Jersey.

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