Interfaith sukkah gathering very good and very sweet

In what may have been a first in the Bay Area, local Jews invited Muslims and Christians to celebrate an interfaith gathering in the sukkah at Berkeley’s Tilden Park.

“The Muslims, Christians and Jews had a really good time together,” said Lynn Feinerman of Aquarian Minyan, about the gathering of nearly 40 people Sunday, Oct. 23 at Wildcat View Campsite.

The late-afternoon event was co-hosted by Aquarian Minyan and Congregation Netivot Shalom, both of Berkeley.

“For me, the highlight was to see how close Islam and Judaism are,” said Berkeley resident Joy Totah Hilden, a Christian Palestinian who’d previously been to a small, private Sukkot celebration years ago. This was her first time taking part in an interfaith gathering, and she enjoyed hearing “people from both faiths comparing notes about the similarities.”

Hilden had asked her Muslim friend Amal Ahmad in Vallejo — the two are part of the East Bay Jewish Palestinian Dialogue Group — to drive up to the campsite together. It was Ahmad’s first time celebrating an interfaith Sukkot.

“It wasn’t about being Jewish, Christian or Muslim,” Ahmad said. “It was about bonding. We all became friends without really knowing each other.”

What made the seventh night of Sukkot especially significant was the fact that the Jewish “night of healing and rescue” happened to fall on the Muslim “night of rescue,” explained Feinerman.

Staying warm at sunset under the sukkah, Feinerman spoke at length with Ibrahim Ansary, sheikh of Mvlevi Order, about the fact that Sunday night “was also the night in Ramadan of Laylat al Qadir,” when the Muslim prophet received the first revelation of the Koran.

“Interestingly enough, we managed to get ourselves together on the confluence of those two nights,” Feinerman added. “It was very good and very sweet.”

Sitting together, the group talked about the customs of Sukkot and Ramadan, and the fact that both Muslims and Jews follow lunar calendars. This year, for example, both the Muslim lunar month of Ramadan and the Jewish lunar month of Tishrei (which includes the High Holy Days) began Oct. 3 to 4. Moreover, Oct. 4 was the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi; Oct. 2 was Christians’ Communion Sunday.

“It was a very mystical night,” said Feinerman.

After the sun set, the group broke the fast by eating dates and drinking water. Participants brought kosher vegetarian dishes for a potluck meal, built a fire, sang songs and laughed.

Ellen Peskin of Netivot Shalom has organized a Sukkot celebration in Tilden every year for the past seven years, but this was her first interfaith one.

Peskin was at the campsite all week, celebrating Sukkot. The rustic spot is located about a quarter-mile walk beyond and above Tilden’s Little Farm. There are no flush toilets.

“It’s pretty rustic,” said Peskin, “but perfect because it recreates the feeling of wandering through the desert.

“It’s a very magical, beautiful space up there.”

She added, “If you build it, they will come,” and certainly that was the case this time.

The interfaith theme was not just local.

Jews all over the country hosted interfaith events with the theme, “My house shall be a house of prayer for all people.”

A national interfaith group, Tent of Abraham, spearheaded a national “multireligious call for peacemaking.” Its Web site,, states: “Just as Abraham, Hagar, and Sarah welcomed into their tent thirsty travelers from all four directions, we welcome to this fast not only those of the three Abrahamic traditions but all who thirst for a world made whole.”

Tent of Abraham urged people of all traditions “in our own cities and neighborhoods as well as nationally and internationally … to eat together, walk together, learn together, pray alongside each other, listen to each other, and work together for peace, justice, human rights.”