Celebration of Abraham brings faiths together

Jews, Christians and Muslims put differences aside for a good meal

Rabbi Julie Hilton Danan was among the founders of the Celebration of Abraham in Chico seven years ago.

Rabbi Julie Hilton Danan was among the founders of the Celebration of Abraham in Chico seven years ago.

Photo By meredith j. Graham

Join the party:
The Celebration of Abraham potluck dinner will be held this Sunday (March 27), 5:30-8 p.m., at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2430 Mariposa Ave. Call Kim Felix at 891-1389 for more information or to reserve a booth space.

More often than not, when religion hits the news, it’s a story about a hate crime or a holy war of sorts. This is not one of those stories. Instead, it features members of three of the world’s largest religious faiths getting together to talk about their similarities—and put them into action.

“We hear all the time about distrust or disharmony among [religious] groups, but behind the scenes there’s a lot of good work being done,” said Rabbi Julie Hilton Danan of Chico’s Congregation Beth Israel.

Danan helped start the Celebration of Abraham shortly after arriving in Chico from Texas 7 1/2 years ago. She was already active with the Chico Area Interfaith Council, a group that brings all the community’s religions together, but she saw a unique opportunity to forge a bond among the three “Abrahamic” faiths—Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

“We can all trace back to father Abraham,” Danan said, explaining that Abraham is a prophet in both the Old Testament—which Jews and Christians share—and the Qu’ran.

The celebration grew out of a similar event in Lodi, and now it’s a fixture in cities around the world. Each month, just before the regular meeting of the Interfaith Council, Danan and others, including representatives of all three faiths, meet to discuss the Celebration of Abraham. They put together several events each year, but the annual potluck dinner is the largest by far. Last year, about 250 people attended. This year, they’re hoping for more.

“I’m so excited to have this dinner this year,” said Kim Felix, public-affairs director for Chico’s Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, where the event will be held this Sunday (March 27). “It’s nice to be able to work together.”

Felix, a Mormon, got involved with the event last year, when it was held at her church for the first time. She enjoyed learning about the other religions—various speakers take the mic during dinner to discuss that year’s theme. The theme for 2011 is “Serving God by serving humanity”—in other words, giving back.

Congregations, individuals and nonprofits will host booths during the event to promote their causes and show off the good work they’ve done. Danan said she hopes people will not only be able to learn about community-service projects but also get involved in projects like an interfaith cooking program to help the area’s homeless.

And, after dinner all the guests will work together to create hygiene kits that will be donated to Church World Service, an international group that sends the bags wherever they’re needed most. The children in attendance will get to help too, filling bags—many of them handmade by members of the LDS church—with school supplies.

“I don’t think any of the churches have ever gotten together to do a service project of this magnitude,” Felix said excitedly.

More than the speakers, the project or the booths, though, people seem to enjoy simply sharing a meal with people of other faiths—and talking about those faiths, Danan said. The food is always vegetarian, so as not to disrupt anyone’s religious diet, and there is no alcohol. Aside from bringing a dish, there’s no admission charge—and there’s even child care for those who need it.

“Sometimes we tend to stay in our own circles and don’t meet other people,” Danan said, adding that people of all faiths are invited to the dinner, not just the Abrahamic faiths. “The Celebration of Abraham can help us to understand more about the commonalities in our faiths.”