Galilee Diary: Interfaith II
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the Israelite people saying: When any of you or of your posterity who are defiled by a corpse or are on a long journey [on the date of Passover, the 14th of the first month] would offer a Passover sacrifice to the Lord, they shall offer it in the second month, on the fourteenth day of the month, at twilight. -Numbers 9:9-11
When we met with the parents of the Galilee Circus kids to discuss our planned trip to the US, I expressed concern as to how the Muslim performers (half of the troupe) would cope with the daily fast of Ramadan given the physical demands of performances and practices, in the midst of a heat wave. Not to worry, the Muslim parents assured me, we have a rule that if you are in a situation which makes fasting impossible, you can make it up later on. In other words, just as the Torah provides for “Second Passover,” a make-up date if you couldn’t offer the sacrifice on time, so Islam allows for making up missed fast days – in their case, any time during the year before the next Ramadan. In our area, “orthodox” Muslims are a minority, judging by the fraction of women who wear the hijab (head covering). Yet fasting on Ramadan is observed by the vast majority. In the circus group that travelled, one of the girls wears the hijab (though her mother does not), even when performing as an aerialist and contortionist in her body-hugging circus costume. I think that all six of the Muslim kids are planning to make up the fast days that they missed.
In Philadelphia, our visit was organized by a broad coalition of organizations, led by the Jewish Community Relations Council, Main Line Reform Temple, and the Episcopal Diocese. We only encountered one Muslim – a young girl visiting from Saudi Arabia who was fascinated by our performance, and expressed disappointment that, as a girl, she had no such options back home.
In St. Louis we formed a joint performance troupe with our partners at Circus Harmony. Joining our six Muslims and six Jews were five white and five black kids, from the inner city and from the suburbs, some Jewish, most Christian. Race, class, religion, and ethnicity were all mixed up together, and forgotten in the demands – and the joy – of working and performing together; the relaxed and confident trust and cooperation among the clearly diverse troupe members were a source of inspiration to audiences. Here, as in Philadelphia, our sponsors too were diverse, with performances at Central Reform Congregation, a Conservative synagogue, a YMCA camp, and various non-religious venues (even Universoul Circus, a professional circus with a hip-hop style). And I was invited to speak about the circus at an Orthodox synagogue on Shabbat.
Performing at a suburban mall, we encountered a group of vivacious and enthusiastic teenage girls in the audience, several in hijab – from the West Bank, visiting local relatives. They stayed after the show to play Palestinian geography with the Arabs in our troupe. Later, we were invited one day for the Iftar (break-fast) meal at a large, impressive, suburban mosque, where we were graciously welcomed, and given a tour and explanation before the evening service. One of our Muslim performers (and his dad, a chaperone) joined in the service. Interestingly, the service is primarily taken from the Koran, chanted in Arabic. However, our Arab performers were disappointed that they couldn’t find people to talk to in Arabic, as the mosque community is mainly Indian, Pakistani, and other non-Arab ethnic groups, for whom the Arabic worship service is parallel to the Hebrew liturgy which so many Jews recite uncomprehendingly. I keep kosher, so I spent the entire three weeks eating salad and pizza and pasta and tuna; however, the mosque leaders knew our group included Jews, and they ordered in several kosher-catered meals just in case. So the only kosher meat I ate on the circus tour was in a mosque. As it happened, the day was the Ninth of Av – so I broke my fast together with our Muslim hosts.
Yes we can… sometimes.