Of Iftar and Izmir

By Ellen Dannin

11667454_10153362462663116_3875672153086888849_nMost who know anything about Jews know something about the traditions and culture of Ashkenazi Jews – the Jews who lived in Europe and spoke Yiddish. Fewer people know about Jewish culture and history in the Middle East and Mediterranean areas. While Ashkenazi Jews traditionally speak Yiddish, which is a mix of Hebrew and German, Mediterranean Jews spoke other languages that were based on Hebrew, such as Ladino, and were an amalgam of Hebrew, Arabic, and Spanish.

A few weeks ago, the NY Times reported on a less well known part of Jewish culture to be found in Arab speaking countries. In those areas, Jews found centuries of safety and enlightenment in the midst of a scientific revolution. The Times story described the Danan Synagogue, which was named for a rabbinical family whose lineage goes back 50 generations to the 17th-century. Since Hebrew is traditionally written without vowels, there can be many spellings that sound alike. So it is probable that the Danans in the article were related to the Dannins, my family. Over the centuries, they lived in Izmir (Smyrna), Morocco, Spain, Turkey, and eventually made their way to Sweden in the early 19th century and on to Indiana.

The rituals of the Muslim holiday Ramadan are now being observed, through fasting and prayer, but also through Iftar – the evening meal eaten during Ramadan. While I lived in State College, PA, the Turkish community invited me and several hundred  other non-Muslims to enjoy the Iftar meal with them and to learn about their culture and values.

Now there is an opportunity to share the Iftar meal here in Ann Arbor, this Sunday, July 12. I hope others from AARC will join me in accepting the invitation of the Niagra Foundation, St. Clare’s Episcopal Church, and Temple Beth Emeth to an Ann Arbor Neighborhood and Friendship Iftar at Genesis, 2309 Packard Rd. The evening will begin with a screening of the film Love is a Verb at 8:00, at 8:45  there will be a prayer in the Sanctuary, and at 9:15, fast-breaking in the Social Hall. Please rsvp here.

As a member of the Ann Arbor Reconstructionist Congregation, I value the opportunity to participate in observing Iftar and to learn from one another about our traditions and values. When we Jews observe Pesach (Passover), we recall the memory of Jerusalem, the city whose very name – Ir-Shalom – means City of Peace. May we all be at peace, and may we all live in freedom.