There are many things that make our neighborhood great: the canopied tree lined-streets and Palisades Avenue, our bustling commercial corridor, to name a few. But it’s our inhabitants who really bring this greatness over the top, and when a group of residents from different faiths and backgrounds came together to break bread, our neighborhood became truly divine. That’s what happened at the Englewood Multifaith Prayer and Iftar Dinner.
Ramadan, the Holy Month of Fasting, began just after midnight on May 4. This holy time correlates with the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. Worshippers prepare themselves by fasting and through introspection, words of supplication and celebration.
Englewood, New Jersey, the city that I have the privilege of serving as its mayor, for my third term, is located just a few miles over the George Washington Bridge. It boasts the best of both worlds—a charming and inclusive urban municipality with unparalleled diversity and a robust downtown filled with excellent restaurants, shops, a regional performing arts center, a nature preserve and nearly 40 houses of worship representing more than a dozen different denominations.
I was privileged to partake in Englewood’s Multifaith Prayer and Iftar Dinner on Monday, May 20. The Mehfil-e-Shahe Khorasa center has been serving Englewood’s residents as well as the tri-state Muslim community for years. As mayor, I make it a point to ensure that Englewood welcomes all people and that it is open for worship and business. Together with my colleague, Teaneck Mayor Mohammed Hameeduddin and Englewood clergy members Rabbi Lindsey Pollack of Kol HaNeshamah and Reverend Richard Hong from First Presbyterian Church, we all echoed the words of the evening’s keynote speaker, Sheikh Azhar Nasser, that despite our different faiths and cultures, it is of paramount importance to recognize that we must stand together in love, peace and tolerance.
Another common theme of the evening was that of gratitude. We should be thankful that we live in a country that allows us to pray freely. We should recognize that we are all part of the same world and we must do what we can to honor our land and respect our brothers and sisters. We must not allow the culture of hate to seep into our community. As mayor, I am working hard to ensure that Englewood remains an environment where everyone can celebrate their differences. With that in mind, I established a cultural affairs committee that is dedicated to ensuring an inclusive and stigma-free Englewood. By bringing together people from all walks of life, we can learn from one another and in doing so, recognize that we have so much more in common than not.
The interfaith program concluded with the Iftar dinner, also known as Fatoor. This meal represents the end of the daily Ramadan fast and it coincides with the call to prayer for the evening service. More than 100 people gathered in friendship and harmony for a delectable array of dishes that awakened the body, mind and spirit after a day without food or water. Kosher meals were provided for those with dietary restrictions, a small, yet beautiful gesture of respect and acceptance.
I am proud to call Englewood my home. Named from the English “wood ingle,” a woody nook or corner, I invite people of all faiths to continue to root themselves here.
By Michael Wildes
Michael Wildes is the mayor of Englewood, New Jersey, and the author of “Safe Haven in America: Battles to Open the Golden Door.” He is a former federal prosecutor and an adjunct professor of immigration law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.