The Chicago Jamatkhana Social Hall was filled with the songs and scriptures of many faiths that came together on November 13, 2018. The annual Thanksgiving service is a longstanding tradition of the Edgewater Community Religious Association (ECRA), an alliance of about 20 Christian, Jewish, and Muslim congregations in the diverse neighborhood in northern Chicago. The celebration is hosted by a different congregation every November, and this year was the first time the local Jamat had hosted since 2012.

“There is such power when we come together to express our unity as a community, and our gratitude for the blessings for our lives. I know we have much to be grateful for,” said Imran Dhatwani, President of the Ismaili Council for the Midwest, as he welcomed the celebrants.

President Dhatwani’s sentiments set the tone for the ceremonies that followed, saying: “Often we are told diversity is not our strength, and that we should reject it as a weakness, or a threat, but our future is brightest if we are united. We protect ourselves best, by also protecting our neighbors. We know ourselves best when we know our neighbors, and we love God most when we love all of God’s creation.”

This particular Thanksgiving had perhaps even more resonance than in years past. The previous week, ECRA had coordinated a service in solidarity with the Emmanuel Congregation synagogue in response to the mass shooting in which 11 members of a Tree of Life Jewish congregation in Pittsburgh were killed.

“I will be eternally grateful for the richness of that experience, that was made possible by the diversity of the group involved, and yet the similarity of our compassion,” said Rabbi Craig Marantz.
Rabbi Marantz was the first congregational leader of the day, offering a traditional prayer of gratitude for the Earth’s bounty, saying, “we enjoy faith without fanaticism, to embrace that even though we are all created in God’s image, we come out in diverse ways.”

The attendance was reportedly the largest ECRA has ever hosted, nearly filling the hall. They included the local member of Congress Jan Schakowsky, who commented that she “has always been impressed with the volunteers in the Ismaili community and continued to be impressed at the ECRA event.”

Amber Gilani, who led the organizing effort, said that around 100 Jamati members volunteered over the course of the preceding month to make the event a success. This included the religious education students that packed hygiene kits as a Thanksgiving donation to Care For Real, a charity that serves the needy in the Edgewater community.

Other donations included winter coats and food items. Nancy Meyers, head of Care For Real, explained that the charity developed from one of ECRA’s earliest initiatives after its founding in 1971. Today it distributes food, meals, clothes and other items to over 3000 client families in the Edgewater neighborhood, including hundreds of seniors.

Monty Johnson, pastor of the Immanuel Lutheran congregation has been involved in ECRA for the past 15 years. “It’s a remarkable gift,” he noted, “that reflects the Edgewater community’s diversity, and the number of faiths that are outward looking, and that want to engage. This is a real gift,” he said. “I think it’s a very important witness to our work in the world, to be building bridges between different faiths, and to work together to do good.”