by Enid Abrahami, Missirah Tabadian, Senegal
"Hanukkah + Ramadan = Hannadan"
Bijou's voice will always stay in my mind, as she sang the songs of Hanukkah. After a day and a half of cooking, cleaning, and painting, we gathered together around a table. A homemade, hand-painted menorah—painted in the red, yellow, and green colors of the African flag—was placed smack in the middle of the table, along with two large platters of potato latkes, three small cups of mashed banana sauce, many small gifts wrapped in newspaper, and an assortment of cookies. It was an occasion to share, to learn, to sing, and to dance in celebration of Hanukkah, the Jewish holiday of illumination. The evening was topped off with a scrumptious Senegalese meal of couscous and peanut sauce, after which we danced to the tunes of Youssou Ndour and Baba Maal. The sounds. The smells. The tastes. So full of color and life. A truly magical day. And it didn't end there.
The following Sunday, I woke up at the crack of dawn to join my family in the first day of fasting for Ramadan. At 5:30 a.m., a pound at the door signaled that it was time to eat leftover dinner, to drink coffee, and to drink as much water as possible. No food or liquid could pass our lips until 7:30 that evening, when the fast would be broken first by coffee and bread and then by a large hearty meal (which would also serve as tomorrow's breakfast).
For 30 days we repeated this ritual. The first day was absolutely invigorating. The 30th day was incredibly exhausting. And yet I was in awe: Within the span of one week a religious Senegalese Muslim family joined an American Jewish woman in the Hanukkah celebration, and an American Jewish woman joined her Senegalese Muslim family for the fasting of Ramadan. If only all those engaged in war and strife in the name of religion could experience such a shared act of peace. Hanukkah and Ramadan, Muslim and Jew, white and black, African and American—together, we celebrated the past, present, and future, and the invincible human spirit.