Invite a Muslim for Shabbat
It will be a very long time before I forget the news I heard this week of a 5-year-old Muslim child handcuffed at Dulles Airport on Saturday because he was deemed a security threat. News outlets later reported that this boy is a U.S. citizen who lives in Maryland.
While that news continues to disturb me, I can only imagine what it does to Muslim children living in our country.
This past Monday night my wife came home and told me that a Muslim acquaintance of hers who she knows through work told her that his child is very scared and is crying non-stop since Saturday.
We started talking about what we could do to help this child.
Every Friday night we host lively Shabbat dinners in which we usually entertain members of our congregation. But after hearing that story, my wife and I decided that we should invite this Muslim family for Shabbat dinner.
A Shabbat dinner is a powerful opportunity to connect while breaking bread together.
Recently the Washington Post wrote a story about a former white supremacist who changed his racist views and entire world view after celebrating Shabbat dinners with his classmates.
In our case we would have a different goal. Our goal in inviting Muslims would not be to convert each other or to engage in interfaith dialogue or to give each other political litmus tests. Indeed, the best Shabbat meals we have are the ones that accept an informal policy of not talking politics.
Rather, we must simply demonstrate that we are embracing and giving respect to our Muslim neighbors. In this specific case, our goal would be to tell this Muslim child that there are people in this country who are not Muslims but who care very deeply about him and his well-being. Not only do we not want him to leave our country, we want him to grow up and be one of our future leaders. Nothing says I care about you and I believe in you like freshly baked challah bread and homemade bread.
From the perspective of Jewish law the Talmud specifically authorizes inviting a non-Jew to a Shabbat meal (Beitzah, 21b).
Indeed the Midrash (Bereishit 11:4) tells of the time that the Roman ruler, Antoninus went to visit the great sage of the Mishnah, Rebbe for a Shabbat meal. He was so impressed with the lukewarm Shabbat food that was served that he returned during the week for another meal. But this time the food was served piping hot and it wasn’t good. He asked Rebbe what was missing. Rebbe said, “We are missing one spice. The spice of Shabbat!”
We should all follow Rebbe’s lead and share the spice of Shabbat.
Now that I think about it I am embarrassed to admit that through no specific intent or plan it so happens that we have never had a Muslim join us for Shabbat dinner. We just don’t run in the same circles.
It feels like now is the time to change that. Now is the time for people of all faiths to reach out and give some extra love to our Muslim neighbors.
The President campaigned on the promise of putting a ban on Muslims coming into this country. This past week through his Executive Order many law abiding Muslim citizens including green card holders, students, and people who have served the US Army, were handcuffed at airports and detained like criminals. Even though many were released, I don’t remember hearing an apology.
In light of what happened this week, Muslims in this country have every right to feel scared and marginalized.
It is our job as citizens, whether we are Republicans or Democrats, to reach out and embrace our Muslim neighbors. We must tell them that having a 5-year-old boy in handcuffs is not what we want our country to be. We must say to our Muslim neighbors that we want you in this county.
For this reason, I am asking my fellow Jews this week to reach out and invite a Muslim family to their own Shabbat meal this week.
Now is the time to show our love to those who are scared and marginalized.
Shmuel Herzfeld is the Rabbi of Ohev Sholom – The National Synagogue, the oldest Orthodox synagogue in Washington, D.C.