People of many faiths gather in Newport Beach to break bread and bridge differences


Muslims went to a Newport Beach synagogue Thursday night to sit shoulder to shoulder with Jews, Christians, Sikhs, Zoroastrians, Bahais, Hindus, Buddhists and people who follow no particular religion at all.

Rabbis, imams and priests spoke to the gathering of about 200 people before they dug into fragrant Indian food at Temple Bat Yahm.

Jewish educator Lee Weissman, a founder of the Institute for Jewish Muslim Action, read Surah al-Fatiha — the first chapter of the Koran, the Islamic holy book — in Hebrew.

Rabbi Peter Levi, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Orange County/Long Beach office, said one Hebrew word for “heaven” blends “fire” and “water.”

The message, he said, is that if God can make fire and water cooperate in heaven, it should be no problem to achieve that coexistence among people on Earth.

“Yet, it is a problem,” he said. “We’re mindful of what’s going on in our world right now.”

He was alluding to recent mass attacks that claimed lives at the Chabad of Poway synagogue in April and the Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Centre in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March, along with Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka that targeted luxury hotels and Christian churches.

Thursday’s feast, organized by the American Muslim & Multifaith Women’s Empowerment Council of Irvine, was a dinner, known as an iftar, to end that day’s fasting as part of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month. During that period, which this year runs through June 4, the faithful abstain from food, drink and indulgences from sunup to sundown each day. It’s one of the five pillars of Islam and recognizes when the archangel Gabriel revealed the Koran to the prophet Muhammad. Observant Muslims commit to the fasts to purify and reflect.

At the Newport Beach dinner, people of different cultures found ways to connect over the food, with one woman explaining to a girl she had just met that samosas are like empanadas.

Before leading the sunset prayer, Imam Mahdi al-Qazwini of the Islamic Educational Center of Orange County gave a sermon on taqwah, or being conscious of God.

“Brothers and sisters, we need consciousness more than ever,” he said.

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