The Israeli ambassador to the United States is hosting a dinner celebrating the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on Thursday, marking the first time an ambassador from the Jewish state has hosted such a dinner in the United States, the embassy said.This is a great idea, and it should have happened long ago.
Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren is hosting the dinner at his residence, with about 60 guests expected, including imams, rabbis and officials from the White House, Congress and the State Department, according to Israeli Embassy spokesman Lior Weintraub.
Oren told CNN that the unusual dinner is fitting at a time when the future of the Middle East is uncertain, as the Arab Spring has unseated regimes in Tunisia and Egypt and as Libya appears poised on the brink of a revolution.
“We’re in the middle of a huge transition in the Middle East and we see risks, but we also see opportunities there,” he said. “We want to be able to tell people in the Middle East what those opportunities are.”
“There’s a lot of misinformation about Israel and we want to show we’re open to dialogue and reconciliation,” he said. “We can begin to build bridges on an interpersonal level.”
Thursday’s Ramadan dinner, called an Iftar, will feature a call to prayer, during which the dining room at the ambassador’s residence will be turned into a Muslim prayer space, the embassy said.
All food served at the meal will be halal, meaning it has been prepared according to certain Muslim customs. The meal was prepared under the direction of a Muslim chef, the embassy said.
Oren said he hopes the meal at the Israeli ambassador’s residence becomes an annual tradition.
“Israel has a very large and vibrant Muslim population, with Muslim members of the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) and in science and academics and I’m their ambassador as well,” Oren said. “This is very much a state function for us, not just about reaching out.”
(I hope that the food is kosher as well!)
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The evening's 65 guests include prominent Muslims and Jews, such as Akbar Ahmed, chair of Islamic Studies at American University; Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and the founding rabbi of the Hampton Synagogue in Westhampton Beach, N.Y., and the New York Synagogue in Manhattan; and Abdullah Antepli, the Muslim chaplain at Duke University. A representative from the ambassador's office said it would release a full list of attendees after the dinner.
"My job is to reach out to different communities, including communities that have been connected with Israel and those who have not," Oren said in an interview Thursday. "Israel is a country with a large and respected Muslim minority. I just got back from Jerusalem two days ago and it's all decorated for Ramadan. They're an important part of our society."
The ambassdor, who has a Ph.D. in near eastern studies from Princeton University, also said he has a "personal interest" in Islam and the religion's traditions.
"I have a large background in Islamic philosophy and theology. I spent an entire year reading the Quran in Arabic," he said, adding that there is "a lot of disinformation" about the religion in the United States and Europe today, such as "when people talk about Shariah," or Islamic law, or about women who wear veils.
"Israel doesn't have mineret bans, doesn't have veil bans, doesn't have burka bans. We have Muslim members of the Knesset. They are an integral part of our society," Oren said.