It was mid-afternoon, mid-Ramadan. Other than one sleeping traveller, and a handful of workers, the mosque complex in Kaifeng, Central China, was deserted. It was an eerily quiet place in an otherwise bustling, noisy city.
I had come to the mosque with an energetic, enthusiastic member of one of the Jewish families which had thrived in that city for centuries.
The Kaifeng synagogue, which had served a community tracing its roots to the first millennia CE, had been destroyed by floodwaters nearly two centuries ago.
The mosque, I was told, had the identical layout to the synagogue in every respect, and by visiting it one could gain a sense of the size and design of the central edifice for Jews in this important Silk Road city.
Walking through one place of worship, which is in current use by men and women whose lives are being transformed by a country in economic and political transition, one could also feel a connection with those who had prayed at another – members of the global Jewish family who had once been an integral part of this metropolis.
I was in Kaifeng a few days after having been in Jerusalem where, amidst a busy schedule of meetings and conferences, I spent one memorable evening at a very special event in an amazing location.
On rooftops in the Old City, above the busy souk, I participated in the Muslim Breaking of the Fast (Iftar) meal, in the company of Muslims, Jews and Christians who were active in dialogue and collaborative projects.
A group from the Ecce Homo convent joined Orthodox Jewish students, Muslims following a variety of strains of Islam, activists, human rights workers, Lutheran Church volunteers, scholars and educators, to share an introduction to Ramadan and Iftar customs and home-cooked vegetarian and kosher delights.
Visible only to families in surrounding apartments, who were generous with their signalled expressions of support for those behind the gathering – and to Jerusalem’s usual quota of cats – we went well into the evening talking, listening, singing and socialising.