Salam Shalom Peace
On Saturday night I exited the metro station at Plaza Catalunya and was a bit taken aback as I immediately noticed the greatest police presence I’ve seen in my six years in Barcelona. With all of the recent attacks in European cities, the police are out in full force in Barcelona’s most touristic areas.
I quickly made my way down and away from the swarming crowds on Las Ramblas, before cutting off to the right towards the Raval area. I met my friend outside of the Macba (Museum of Contemporary Art), where the hipsters continuously circle around and zip back and forth on their skateboards so close to the people making their way through the plaza you can feel your hair stand on end.
The iftar was to start at 9 pm and my friend (not a Muslim or a Jew and not that it matters) and I sat to the side, watching some people set up very long tables with plastic white lawn chairs. A stage was set up with microphones waiting for their singers. Iftar, often done as a community, is the evening meal when Muslims end their daily Ramadan fast at sunset. Incredibly they fast every single day for a month from sunrise to sunset. Not even a sip of water during those hours.
And the skateboarders kept at it, but at a distance from the tables that were surrounded by the recognizable Barcelona neighborhood festival metal barricades. And not a single police officer in site – which oddly seemed comforting.
We sat there while the tables started to fill up and met another friend (also not a Muslim or a Jew and again, not that it matters) who had told me about the event. We moved closer to the barricades and to the people already seated and starting to break their fast.
Right away people started waving us over, encouraging and inviting us in to sit and join them. I hadn’t eaten in maybe an hour and was already hungry again – the Muslims seated at the tables had been fasting since sunrise, it was still about 90º outside, and yet they had the energy to jump up and look for three seats for us.
The three of us sat on one side of the table across from two middle-aged women, both from Morocco. This iftar was hosted by an organization of Moroccan Immigrants to Catalonia. They described the food that was placed before us: the harira (hot soup with lentils, tomatoes and full of spices), the hard boiled egg and the sweets – halwa chebakia (a sesame cookie folded into a flower shape, fried and coated with honey) and dates.
The woman on the right was pale white, with short wavy hair. She’s lived in Barcelona for 26 years, alone, she has family in Belgium. She was dressed in modern clothes and pants, wearing a hat with a small NY logo pin. Next to her sat her friend, with much dark skin, a constant smile, wearing a gorgeous silver tunic and a matching silver headscarf.
Once the music began, it took time for me to find it alluring, but in the end it was looking around at the smiling, beaming faces and clapping hands of a shared experience out in the open that felt so right. Days later I still smile thinking about it, just in time to attend my next iftar this evening.
When the three of us got up to leave, I noticed that all of the hipsters and everyone else who would normally be zipping around on skateboards, bikes and scooters were just sitting on the side, listening to the four men singing on stage. They were quiet, respectful, observant.
While envoys are sent to the Middle East to try to broker peace between Muslims and Jews – maybe this is way too naive, but maybe a little hopeful, that this is how peace begins: sit down and share a meal with your neighbor. You don’t have to talk about your own story at all. Just listen. Ask questions and listen. And then, when it’s your turn to host, invite your neighbors and hope that they will be interested to hear your story too. Little by little, step-by-step, maybe you can come to realize how much you have in common and find a mutual respect and maybe more.