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Coming Together to Build Community: Celebrating Sahoor and Iftar at Our New Interfaith Prayer and Meditation Space

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Jeffrey Grand, PsyD, Mari Siegel, MD, and Aliya Khabir at the interfaith Iftar on April 8.

Though it’s only been open for less than two weeks, Temple's new Interfaith Prayer and Meditation Space is already encouraging collaboration across religious belief and tradition to promote peace and understanding. In fact, it was at the Grand Opening that Mari Siegel, MD, Associate Professor of Clinical Emergency Medicine and Chair of our Jewish Spiritual Advisory Committee, and Aliya Khabir, Marketing Manager for Community Health and member of our Muslim Spiritual Advisory Committee, came up with the idea to jointly host an interfaith Sahoor (pre-dawn meal, eaten before fast) and Iftar (fast-breaking evening meal) to mark the end of Ramadan.

Khabir and Dr. Grand serve employees a delicious Iftar feast.

“I really believe that empathy and understanding come out of shared experience and learning about each other’s cultures,” Dr. Siegel says. “Recently, my synagogue was defaced with swastikas in an act of hate. In the aftermath, close to 1,000 people showed up to support our Jewish community. There were imams and priests there, and the message of the day was about showing up and standing up for each other and against hate and intolerance. A priest told a Talmudic story about sharing a meal with your neighbors, and that really resonated with me.

“The next day, I went to the Grand Opening of the Interfaith Prayer and Meditation Space, still feeling uplifted by the support of our larger community from the night before, and wanting to do something similar to build bridges with our Muslim community,” Dr. Siegel continues. “Jeffrey S. Grand, PsyD, Assistant Professor of Clinical Surgery, mentioned that the end of Ramadan was approaching, and we thought this would be a great opportunity to build bridges and encourage compassion right here where we work. I was lucky enough to be introduced to Aliya at the Grand Opening, and when I proposed the idea of an event, she was enthusiastically on board.” 

Dr. Siegel and Dr. Grand serving Temple Team members.

Building Inclusive Community

With the end of Ramadan only a few days away, Khabir and Dr. Siegel had to mobilize quickly. Khabir leveraged her contacts in the community, hiring a halal caterer, and the food was generously sponsored by Temple Faculty Physicians President and CEO Claire Raab, MD and Amy J. Goldberg, MD, FACS, Dean of the Lewis Katz School of Medicine.

Dr. Edathil and Dr. Grand take a selfie with a Sahoor attendee.

The morning’s Sahoor was held on April 8th at 4:30 am outside of the Interfaith Prayer and Meditation Space. Dr. Grand and Jocelyn Edathil, MD, PhD, FACP, Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine and Co-Chief Patient Experience Officer, handed out breakfast sandwiches. The event was well-attended, with many third-shift employees stopping by.

“Our third-shift team members are the backbone of Temple Health,” Khabir explains. “It was special to have these employees join this event—especially at a really religiously significant time.”

“One of the team members who stopped by had only been working at Temple for a few months, and he was really appreciative,” Dr. Edathil recalls. “Many other staff members grabbed sandwiches for their friends on the floors upstairs, who were also celebrating Ramadan.”

Building Our Own Bridges

The Iftar celebration, which took place at 7:00 pm on the same day, was also a success. “We fed about 50 people,” Dr. Siegel estimates. “The staff was so very appreciative of the effort, and expressed gratitude to Temple for taking note of the holiday.”

The event was also a bonding experience for its organizers. “I had so much fun serving the meals, and got to talk with Aliya and Jeff, who are both such fascinating people,” Dr. Siegel says. “I learned so much from them about Islamic traditions and the local Muslim community—building our own bridges right there!”

Dr. Siegel, Dr. Grand, and another Iftar attendee.

These connections will be invaluable as the Jewish and Muslim Spiritual Advisory Committees look to make the end-of-Ramadan Sahoor and Iftar an annual event, as well as to host additional interfaith gatherings in the new space. “We made sure to tell staff that this was one of many future events co-hosted by the Muslim and Jewish Spiritual Advisory Committees!” Dr. Siegel adds. It was the beginning of what will certainly be a valuable collaboration—and one that celebrates the richness within our Temple community.