Across NJ, believers in different faiths working to make Christmas merry

Leah Mishkin, Correspondent | December 24, 2019 | Social

In Trenton, fish fresh out of the oven and desserts neatly placed on trays were waiting for the patrons of a soup kitchen, thanks to members of the Muslim Center of Greater Princeton and volunteers from the Muslim Student Association at the South Brunswick High School.

And in Manalapan, volunteers prepared Temple Shaari Emeth to host a dozen men who would need a place to stay on the night of Christmas Eve.

Across New Jersey, volunteers from various religions were working Christmas Eve to help those less fortunate than themselves, and in so doing, finding the commonality among communities of faith.

Preparing a fresh meal for the needy on Christmas Eve is a tradition that stretches back more than a decade for members of the Muslim Center of Greater Princeton.

“On this day, when people are remembering the life, the legacy of Jesus Christ, the son of Mary, we’re involved in some of the work that he did,” said Imam Adeyinka Mendes of the mosque in West Windsor. “He was known to feed the poor, and not just physically, but intellectually and spiritually. And that’s what we aim to be about.”

Mendes said he believes there is much that unites communities of different faiths.

“I think if people actually read their Bibles, read their Korans and looked at the history of their religions, they would find they have one source,” he said. “And that applies to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jews. I think if we all go back, people who practice Ifa as well, if we go back far enough and if we go within, deep enough, we’ll find that the core is one.”

“When you discover that, coming together on a day like this is an expression of that unity,” he added.

A few towns away, Michael Holzer, who was setting up cots at Temple Shaari Emeth, expressed a parallel sentiment.

“Certainly helping people is something that we can do together,” he said.

The Reform synagogue takes part in a winter hospitality program from December through March where different houses of worship offer a place to spend the night to those who need one. Normally this synagogue hosts the men on Saturday night.

“But this year, since Christmas Eve is not on a Saturday, we volunteered to take it so that the churches that have things going on don’t have to host the men tonight,” Holzer said.

Some 20 volunteers were to come by later in the evening, each with a dish for dinner. The social hall at the synagogue was to be decorated into a festive space for the guests.

“We sit down,” Holzer said. “We share the meal with them we share conversation.”

Earlier, Mendes had expounded on his view of similarity among varying communities of faith.

“I think a lot of times religion is blamed for dividing people, but really that’s when people use religion to mask political and economic agendas,” he said. “We need to be people who are true to our faiths and really what is [faith? It] boils down to three things: It’s knowing and loving God, obeying God. It’s following the prophets and refining our character, and serving men and women.”