Interfaith Ramadan Iftar, the Refugee Crisis, and the “Selfie”

The excitement was palpable at the ADAMS (All Dulles Area Muslim Society) Center in Sterling, Virginia,  one of America’s largest mosques. It was Monday, June 20 – World Refugee Day – and preparations were underway to welcome new refugee families at a community iftar, the break-fast meal Muslims eat after sunset during Ramadan.

The area’s newest residents witnessed the pride of our country’s Muslim-Americans. They watched as hundreds of young ADAMS members who make up one of Washington’s largest Boy and Girl Scout troops presented the American flag, dressed in uniforms that were draped proudly with merit badges. They were welcomed to the call to prayer by an ADAMS member dressed in fatigues – who is also an officer in the United States Army. These families from Syria and Afghanistan, some of the 65 million members of the human family displaced by war and strife, observed first-hand how their faith and a new culture can coexist.

Rabbi Lustig joined this Interfaith Ramadan Iftar, which also included remarks from U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Angelina Jolie Pitt – United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Special Envoy; other religious leaders; and representatives from refugee resettlement organizations. 

Secretary Kerry shared that the United States has pledged to increase the number of refugees we take in to 85,000 this year and 100,000 in the year after. “In times of crisis, when the summons goes out,” he said, “Americans have traditionally responded as one nation. Americans say, ‘Here we are. What can we do? … That is America at its best.” 

Rabbi Lustig told of a sweet moment that exemplified America at its best when a young refugee child took his father’s cell phone to show how “American” he was by taking a “selfie.” He couldn’t quite manage the iPhone and struggled to take the picture. Not missing a beat, Angelina Jolie Pitt got down on the floor and took the selfie with the child. Rabbi Lustig said, “To me, it meant two things. First, we need – as Jewish tradition tells us – to go to these families in need and do whatever is necessary to help them feel embraced as Americans by Americans. I saw Jolie Pitt sit on the floor and meet this child where he was.

“Second, the selfie,” Rabbi Lustig continued. “The child wanted to see himself in the context of the moment – to see who he is and who he can be. When we were embraced and taken into this country, we were seen not as Jews but as refugees who needed a home and as people who, given the opportunity, would become great contributors to this country. If we exclude any group from our compassion and America’s opportunities because of their faith, if we give in to fear and xenophobia, we diminish our country’s greatness. We must remember to embrace the values that make America the land of the free! Maybe it is time for us all to take a “selfie” and ask who we are  and what we are doing to help.”

If you would like to help several Syrian refugee families who have recently been resettled in our region, we are collecting the following items they need to establish their new lives. You donations can be brought to Temple and JBSC until Friday, June 24:

  • Clothing for men, women, and children (ages 10 months to 10 years)
  • Diapers
  • Dishwashing soap and sponges
  • Household goods, sheets, and towels
  • Kitchenware
  • Toiletries, including sanitary napkins

Additional images from the Interfaith Ramadan Iftar are in our media gallery.