For the past three years, this is how my week before Thanksgiving has played out: Schoolwork piles up like never before; deadlines begin to sound an awfully lot like suggestions; and as the weekend gets closer, sleep takes on an entirely new meaning.
Thankfully, there’s an event that adds the perfect balance to such a week.
The 14th annual Ecumenical Thanksgiving Celebration, hosted at Temple Kol Emeth in Marietta, brings together hundreds of people from different faiths – Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims and Sikhs, to name a few.
Through reflection, music, and even a little humor, this year’s theme – Are We Our Brothers’ Keepers? – inspired neighbors and community members to care for one another and leave a better world for generations to come.
As we arrived at the temple on a recent Thursday evening, the sun had set just, meaning it was time for the evening prayers. Typically, finding a place to pray in a space that isn’t your own isn’t always the most comfortable experience. I knew, though, that if there was anywhere I could comfortably ask someone for a space to pray, it would be at an event packed with people who came with the purpose of embracing diversity.
As we waited for the event to begin, I had the opportunity to greet both new and familiar faces, share information on our Roswell mosque with others, and diversify my own knowledge of local organizations in the area. Many of them had goals similar to ours, which is to positively impact the community.
After we were ushered into the inner sanctuary of the temple, we took our seats as the Atlanta Guitar Orchestra played the “Hymn to Freedom.” I later realized that the music and lyrics performed throughout the night resonated with the audience and played a key part in the warm and inclusive atmosphere of the event.
Noor Abbady of the Roswell Community Masjid and the temple’s own Rabbi Steve Lebow greeted the crowd. Then came the Islamic call to prayer. Though the prayer is something I hear on a daily basis, sharing it with an audience who had never heard it before was a captivating experience.
There were three stories of interfaith humanitarian efforts – each emphasizing the power of making a difference in the lives of others. Henry Hene of Temple Kol Emeth closed his story with a reminder: “We build to coexist. We coexist to build. This demonstrates to the community that I am my brothers’ keeper.”
A group of children, each representing a different congregation, spoke on environmental stewardship. They shared verses on caring for the natural world from each of their respective faiths and voiced their worries on how the world will be left for them and the youth to come.
Mansoor Sabree, of the Inner-city Muslim Action Network (IMAN), spoke about the importance of helping formerly incarcerated men and high-risk youth.
“In this day and time, we have to be courageous to do things that aren’t a part of the norm,” he challenged the crowd. “We see this as an opportunity to join in an interfaith community in the pursuit of changing our society … and leading in a way in which we have faith in humanity, and we see the best in our neighbor.”
Then came the words by Malek Jandali, a pianist, composer and the founder of a nonprofit organization, Pianos for Peace. He spoke of finding joy in unexpected places, which is why his group has worked to place pianos in some of Atlanta’s busiest areas, such as Piedmont Park and the airport.
“Art is about the search for beauty and truth,” Jandali reminded us. “Music unites people.”
As the event drew to a close, one woman, Hiba Ghalib, said: “This is what the real world should feel like. It’s almost like a little bit of an idea that we try to take with us, and it fuels us for the rest of the year.”
The community outreach coordinator for IMAN Atlanta, Madiha Abid, said Jandali’s words were the most notable of the event.
“His ability to make that connection with 900 people of vast backgrounds,” Abid said, “was just a beautiful way to end the night.”
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