I was invited to attend my first iftar dinner Sunday, June 3.
Iftar is the nightly break-fast celebrated by Muslims during the month of Ramadan, and I had the pleasure to attend this meal at Masjid Jafar in Johns Creek. This was not my first time attending a service at the mosque, but I was surprised by my reaction the experience.
After I was welcomed by every person I walked past, it was time for the nightly prayer. The muezzin called the community to prayer and began the liturgy.
While I did not understand a word of what was said, I found myself closing my eyes and swaying along with the beautifully haunting melody of the ritual. It was an amazing experience to feel the divine so deeply in that moment, surrounded by a Muslim community and enveloped by Muslim prayer.
I thought, “This prayer, for me, is the truest form of niggun,” the wordless prayers many of us sing in our synagogues. There were words, that is true, but my inability to understand or have any semiotic relationship with the Arabic liturgy allowed me to get lost in the melody and feel something spiritual.
While the food was delicious and the informal, impromptu symposium I participated in with my friends Tareef Saeb from the masjid and Dave Brewer from Johns Creek United Methodist Church was uplifting, that spiritual moment was the highlight of my evening.
In our services at Congregation Dor Tamid and at most other synagogues in the Atlanta area, we often sing Psalm 150, which tells us kol haneshema t’halelYah, hallelujah: “Let every breath praise G-d, hallelujah.”
I sing that psalm each week, but it took a trip to a mosque to celebrate Ramadan with members of the masjid and a group from a Methodist church to remind me of the true power of prayer. As Rebbe Nachman taught, when done with true intention, prayer can cause heaven and earth to come together and allow us to experience the divine.
Rabbi Jordan M. Ottenstein is the senior rabbi of Congregation Dor Tamid in Johns Creek.