“Ethical Connection & The Light of the Holidays” – SRQ Text Study

Sarasota Interfaith Scriptural Reasoning Session at Temple Beth-Sholom, Dec 1st, 2016

With over 35 people turning out for our December Sarasota Abrahamic Reunion meeting, including Rabbi Michael Werbow (Temple Beth-Sholom, our host), Fr. Joe Clifford and Mary Homola (St. Thomas More Catholic Church), David and Anna Less (Rising Tide International) , Sheikh Abedelsalam Manasra (Sufi Muslim Sheikh from Nazareth) and Ted Brownstein (Baha’i, Lake Worth Interfaith Coalition), conversation was bubbling and exuberant. Ted gave out free copies of his booklet “Interfaith Prayer Book” and David offered copies of his book Universal Meditations as a gift to all participants, and the themes of connection and light brought out the inner light of all who participated.


Sheikh Ghassan Manasra (far L), and his father Sheikh Abed Manasra (far R), as Ghassan begins the gathering.

Sheikh Ghassan Manasra led the meeting, and was joined by his father Sheikh Abed Elsalam Manasra Sr. and his two daughters Zainab and Zuhaira at the meeting. Zainab and Ghassan’s father are visiting Sarasota for the next 6 months.

After Rabbi Michael Werbow of Temple Beth-Sholom started off the session, we heard presentations from the Clergy on topic.


Rabbi Michael Werbow giving us a historical evolution of the Hannukah ritual as an extension of Sukkot, and the rabbinical discussions around when to light the candles.

Rabbi Werbow shared how the Jewish tradition holds up examples of becoming a “Lamplighter” – and that to become a lamplighter and bring divine light into the world is one of the highest aspirations. The Torah lays out a path for becoming a lamplighter:

“The Hasid asked: “How does one become a lamplighter?”

The Rebbe replied: “One must begin with oneself, cleansing oneself, becoming more refined, then one sees the other as a source of light, waiting to be ignited. When, Heaven forbid, one is crude, then one sees but crudeness; but when one is noble, one sees nobility.”

“The soul of the human is a lamp of God,” and it is also written, “A mitzvah is a lamp and the Torah is a light.” A Jew is one who puts personal affairs aside and goes around lighting up the souls of others with the light of Torah and mitzvoth. That is the true calling of a Jew – to be a lamplighter, an igniter of souls.”

 (by Menachem Mendle Schneersohn)

Rabbi Werbow explained that in Hannukah can lighting another candle for each day mirrors the idea that “One of our jobs in life is to Increase our light and increase our holiness as we go on in life.”

He also showed the group a video of a Jewish stand-up comedian Yisrael Campbell who talked about how much consideration goes into the feelings of a Hannukah candle – “The second candle gets lit first. Why? It might be nervous. Because the first candle was already lit. So the second candle gets lit first. Out of consideration for the feelings of a candle!” Rabbi Werbow pointed out that this is a form of ethical teaching woven in by anthropomorphizing the candles, which is also done with the bread and wine blessed on Shabbat.


Fr. Joe Clifford of St. Thomas More, sharing his insight into Catholic and Celtic Christian traditions of Advent and Christmas

Father Joe of St. Thomas More Catholic Church continued on the candle theme by teaching our group about Advent Candles – which are lit in succession on the four weeks leading up to Christmas so that 4 weeks before Christmas (the 1st week of Advent) there is one candle lit. The next week there are 2 candles lit. And so on until on Christmas you have all four advent candles lit, plus one candle lit especially for Christmas.

“Our tradition is based on the Jewish tradition so we’re connected so so beautifully,” he said. “In the Celtic Faith Tradition Advent…is a waiting period…it’s about sitting in the barrenness of the desert and whatever comes comes. And the Candle is a reminder of that, to almost empty ourselves to be filled with the light. The candle is symbolic of the light of Christ” which is renewed in the faith community every Christmas…”re-birthing the Christ-child within us.”


Rev. Chris Miller of Rising Tide brought several quotes from the Sufi tradition in regard to ethical human connection, including Rumi and Inayat Khan:

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing,

there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,

The world is too full to talk about.

Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other” doesn’t make any sense.”

 Jelaluddin Rumi, 13th Sufi Poet


“The secret is that our benefit in life depends upon the benefit of others. We are dependent upon each other…If you wish to be happy, think of the happiness of your fellow people.” 

– Inayat Khan

Chris also shared that in the Sufism of Rising Tide, there is an emphasis put on rising above the ethic of reciprocity – ‘an eye for an eye’ – and into the ethic of beneficence – wishing well even giving boon for curse – and even to go beyond this one step further in the ethic of unity – seeing the interdependence and interconnection in each interaction so keenly as to realize that every action towards another is the exact same action towards oneself.


Ted Brownstein (middle), AR Advisory Board Member, Baha’i, member of Lake Worth Interfaith Association, joined us from the Palm Beach area.

And Sheikh Ghassan Manasra shared a few suras of the Qu’ran, including the Prayer Of Light, to go along with the theme of the light of the holidays:

O God! Grant me Light in my heart,
Light in my grave,
Light in front of me, Light behind me,
Light to my right, Light to my left,
Light above me, Light below me,
Light in my ears, Light in my eyes,
Light on my skin, Light in my hair,
Light within my flesh, Light in my blood,
Light in my bones.

O God! Increase my Light everywhere.

O God! Grant me Light in my heart,
Light on my tongue, Light in my eyes, Light in my ears,
Light to my right, Light to my left,
Light above me, Light below me,
Light in front of me, Light behind me,
and Light within my self; increase my Light.

 The Prophet’s Prayer, Hadith

Zainab Manasra recaps her group's discussion of the weeks' texts.

Zainab Manasra recaps her group’s discussion of the weeks’ texts.

A lively discussion amongst small groups ensued, leading to much ethical human connection, and the shining of light in many an eye.

The next AR Sarasota event will be a night of Music, Middle Eastern Food, and Interfaith Peace, January 7th at Rising Tide International.

Exact times TBA – Tentative Timing: Food at 7:00pm, Music starting 8:00pm, as a fundraiser for the Abrahamic Reunion. We are blessed to have Sheikh Ghassan’s son Abed (AR Israel Co-Director) and Abed’s wife Isra in town – they are professional Middle Eastern Musicians and will provide beautiful music.

The next AR Sarasota text study will be January 26th, time TBA.

We hope to see you there – wishing everyone a peaceful winter season of Advent, Hannukah, Christmas, and Gregorian Calendar New Year!

Catholic, Conservative Jewish, and Baha'i friends smile after a beautiful meeting.

Catholic, Conservative Jewish, and Baha’i friends smile after a beautiful meeting.


Ghassan Manasra on Milk and Honey Radio Show

On Sunday, July 10th, Sheikh Ghassan Manasra was on WSRQ Sarasota’s talk radio show Milk and Honey, along with Rabbi Howard Simon and Pastor Joey Mimbs. The three of them formed an interfaith panel to discuss peace between Israel and Palestine with Jessi Sheslow, the show’s host. Among other things, the Abrahamic Reunion and its peacemaking initiatives was discussed.

Milk and Honey is a weekly radio show that focuses on Israel, anti-Semitism, and Jewish culture.

Click here to listen to the show’s podcast

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Abrahamic Reunion Sarasota Interfaith Iftar Dinner

Sunday, July 3rd, 7:30pm, in Sarasota, FL

Women praying in the mosque. Non-Muslims were invited to join

Women praying in the mosque. Non-Muslims were invited to join and pray together

Around 60 Jews, Christians, Sufis, and Universalists joined nearly 200 people from the Muslim community for an interfaith iftar dinner at the Islamic Society of Sarasota and Bradenton (ISSB). This was the culmination of five months of interfaith text study in Sarasota organized by the Abrahamic Reunion, including Unity of Sarasota, St Thomas More Catholic Church, Temple Sinai, Temple Beth Sholom, Rising Tide International, and the ISSB. Before breaking the fast together, we went on a tour of the mosque, where Imam Yousuf Memon explained Ramadan and fasting.

Imam Yousuf explained that fasting is not just about abstaining from food and water. It also means abstaining from “using foul language, harming any individual, doing anything that goes against our religious belief”. Ramadan is a time of spiritual cleansing, he explained. It is a time to refresh one’s relationship with God.

Imam Yusuf Memon explains that the writings on the walls are verses from the Qur'an

Imam Yousuf Memon explains that the writings on the walls are verses from the Qur’an

He then took time to answer any questions anyone had about Islam. The questions covered a wide variety of topics, including what the writings on the walls mean (they are verses from the Qur’an), when the hours of prayer are (five times a day, with the exact times depending on the sunrise and sunset), the significance of the Qur’an (reading the Qur’an is itself considered an act of worship), and what would be happening during the course of the evening (breaking the fast, evening prayer, dinner, and then the nightly prayer).

Towards the end, Imam Yousuf was asked what he thought the bridge between Islam, Judaism, and Christianity was. He replied that “even though we may be worshiping God differently, but ultimately we all believe in God…we all believe in respecting one another, taking care of one another, helping one another” and the same Abrahamic morals are present in the three religions. He explained that there are far more similarities than differences, and that it’s not one single bridge that connects the religions. “There’s a lot of bridges that are there”.

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“…we share a lot of things as far as beliefs, as far as the way we live, the way we deal with people”

After the tour, we returned to the courtyard to break the fast with dates, water, fruit, and juice. As we ate, we talked with each other and got to know one another. As people talked and listened to each other, new similarities were uncovered.

The fast is traditionally broken with water and dates. The mosque provided fruit and juice as well.

The fast is traditionally broken with water and dates. The mosque provided fruit and juice as well.

When it was time to pray, the members of the mosque made sure that the guests felt comfortable and that there were chairs available for anyone who wanted to sit down. Prayers lasted about five minutes, and then everyone came together again in the courtyard to eat.

After breaking the fast, we all went into the mosque to pray. Men went downstairs, and women went upstairs.

After breaking the fast, we all went into the mosque to pray. Men went downstairs, and women went upstairs.

Again, the members of the mosque went above and beyond to make us feel at home. Even though they had fasted all day and most of us had not, they made sure we had food first, and plenty of it. Imam Yousuf and the mosque members were wonderful hosts, and made the evening truly special. The rest of the night was spent talking and laughing together, a group of people united by faith, not divided by it. Imam Yousuf said there were many bridges, and another one was built that night at the mosque.

Everyone enjoyed a wonderful evening at the mosque together

Everyone enjoyed a wonderful evening at the mosque together

Abrahamic Reunion West Palm Beach Interfaith Iftar Dinner

Friday, June 24th, 8:30-9:30 pm, in Lantana, FL


Non-Muslim guests were invited to join in prayer together with the Muslim hosts

Around 60 people met at Masjid Al Tawad of Florida for an interfaith Iftar dinner hosted by Imam Dr. Zaher Badaraany. Everyone came together to break the fast with dates and water and to join in the prayers. Afterwards, everyone gathered for a delicious meal as presenters spoke about fasting, Islamophobia, and the importance of interfaith work.

Presentations were made by Imam Dr. Zaher Badaraany (Masjid Al Tawad), Atiquer Rahman (member of Masjid Al Tawad), Ted Brownstein (Baha’i/Lake Worth Interfaith Association), Rev. Tony Cato (New Hope Missionary Baptist Church), Norman Hemming (US Department of Justice), SheikhGhassan Manasra (The Abrahamic Reunion), Rev Renwick Bell (Christian), Lisa Stewart (Quaker), Rabbi Barry Silver (L’Dor V’Dor), and Maya Malay (Buddhist).

A group photo of the presenters and a few of the guests

A group photo with the presenters

Atiquer Rahman welcomed everyone to the dinner on behalf of Al Tawad, inviting everyone “to meet us, to work together, to build a bridge of love and communication with each other”.

Ted Brownstein reminded everyone of the true purpose of interfaith dialogue, to eliminate prejudice and “treat each other as individuals made in the image of God and really respect one another”. He concluded with words from the Baha’i writing: “So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole world”.



Rev. Tony Cato reads Psalm 133, which begins “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together”.

Rev. Tony Cato spoke of the prejudice he has faced in his own life as a man of color. He encouraged members of the Muslim community to “Speak out… so that people will know who you are, what you stand for”.

Norman Hemming commended the Muslim community on their religion of peace and forgiveness, saying “Thank you for teaching us how to be good Americans”.

Sheikh Ghassan Manasra talked about the importance of connection between people, since that is the way to connect with God. “The connection between us and between God, it’s not through my work. No, it’s through all of you.”

Sheikh Ghassan Manasra says that without connection, he cannot be complete, even during Ramadan

Sheikh Ghassan Manasra says that without connection, he cannot be complete, even during Ramadan

Reverend Renwick Bell stressed the importance of actively striving for peace and justice, concluding that “God dreams of humanity. We cannot let God dream alone”.

Lisa Stewart talked about how labels divide us and what reconciliation between religious communities looks like, saying “We stop judging each other by our own rules of the game. We accept the fact that there are different games being played, according to different rules.”

Ted Brownstein briefly spoke again on behalf of the Jewish community, reminding everyone that the oneness of God is something all Abrahamic religions share.

Maya Malay spoke about fasting in the Buddhist tradition, and how it teaches self-control and self-discipline. She offered a prayer for peace by Bhante, a Cambodian monk, asking the Lord to “transform this world into love and compassion”. She concluded with a blessing, saying “in any challenge or situation, may love be the greater result”.

Imam Dr. Zaher Badaraany spoke next, to thank everyone for coming and to stress the importance of events like this in order to “raise our community and our families on love, not hate. On unity, not the separations”. He ended by calling on everyone to “continue in this way, for the way of love is the best way to live together”.

Imam Zaher thanks everyone for coming and encourages everyone to continue to strive for unity

Imam Zaher thanks everyone for coming and encourages everyone to continue to strive for unity

Rabbi Barry Silver told the story of Jacob and Esau from the Torah, comparing it to the today, saying that “when Jews and Muslims come together, and brothers are reconciled, the face of God appears”. His closing words were a call to everyone: “Let religion be used for its true purpose, to bring us together”.`

After everyone had spoken, Masjid Al Tawad awarded their first annual Accolade of Peace and Love to Ted Brownstein for his interfaith work in the community. They will present the award every year during the holy month of Ramadan.

Imam Zaher and Ted hold the award together

Imam Zaher and Ted hold the award together

Over the course of the evening, we learned that there are many meanings for the word “tawad”: “highest love”, “forgiveness”, and “great harmony”. All of these meanings were expressed during the evening, especially by the community of Masjid Al Tawad, who welcomed us with a banner of their logo, adapted to include all of the major world religions together. We are truly very thankful to the masjid, and Imam Dr. Zaher Badaraany, for hosting such a beautiful event full of love, hope, and a sense of community that lasted long after everyone had gone home.

Imam Zaher Badaraany, Rev. Chris Miller, and Ted Brownstein work together to name all of the religions represented on the banner

Imam Zaher Badaraany, Rev. Chris Miller, Rev. Tony Cato, and Ted Brownstein have fun naming all of the religions represented on the banner