Communal Fast in a Time of Calamity:  A Multireligious Call

Communal Fast in a Time of Calamity:  A Multireligious Call

Rabbi Arthur Waskow


Call for a nationwide fast day on October 8 to help Americans move away from the policies and practices of violence, at home and overseas.

How do we announce a major religious event, such as the October 8 Fast to move America from conquest to community, from violence to reverence?

When the steering committee of the Fast began discussing this, our first response was the conventional one in American society –-  a press conference.

But then we recalled that there are ancient traditions for making the announcement of such a religious act itself a religious act. In the Talmud, for example, there is described a way of Calling a Communal Fast in Time of Calamity. (The calamity might be a drought, a famine, a war.) 

For a multireligious event like the October 8 fast, we of course should draw on the symbols of several traditions. And in our society, we should see “the media” as themselves a kind of trumpet, a conch shell, a ringing of bells —to reach the wider public.

This work crystallized in two approaches – one focused on ending the war in Iraq, the other on challenging the entire culture of violence that is honeycombing our society. The laser-beam focus on the war was preferred and adopted by a number of major leaders and institutions of American religious life, and is going out to many others as well. It follows.

Below, after the text of the statement itself, you will find a list of the initiating signers, both individuals and organizations.

WE SEEK YOUR SUPPORT AS WELL. We ask you to invite your own congregation, community, or organization to join in this Call and this process. We invite you to begin with your own community the learning and planning described below, leading up to and beyond the fast of October 8.

If you want to sign on to the statement below, please write to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) and explain what religious congregation, organization, or community you are working with. (This is a temporary measure. We are moving to set up a Website that will register actions around the country.)

The other approach to this fast –—addressing the broad culture and practice of violence to which America seems more and more addicted, and adding to the call for a one-day fast from food a call for a fast from media celebrations of grotesque violence, was adopted by The Tent of Abraham, Hagar, and Sarah, a grass-roots gathering of Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Its Call is also on the Website.


We call on all Americans to join in fasting from dawn to dusk on Monday, October 8, to call for an end to the Iraq War. On this day, people of faith in local communities across our nation will act as catalysts to transform the meaning of the day from one of conquest to community and from violence to reverence.


This war must end!

We must end the shattering of Iraqi and American lives by offering American generosity and support – but not control – for international and nongovernmental efforts to assist Iraqis in making peace and rebuilding their country, while swiftly and safely bringing home all American troops.

Just as Isaiah called the People Israel to hear the Yom Kippur fast as God’s call to feed the hungry, just as Jesus fasted in the wilderness, just as Christians through Lenten fasting and Muslims through Ramadan fasting have focused on spiritual transformation, just as Mahatma Gandhi, Cesar Chavez and others drew on fasting to change the course of history, so we call on all our communities of faith to draw now on fasting as a path toward inner spiritual transformation and outward social transformation.

American culture, society, and policy are addicted to violence at home and overseas. In our time, the hope of a decent future is endangered by an unnecessary, morally abhorrent, and disastrous war.

Ending this war can become the first step toward a policy that embodies a deeper, broader sense of generosity and community at home and in the world.


Millions of faithful Americans in local communities across the nation who believe in changing the course of our nation’s priorities from conquest to community and from violence to reverence.

This fall, in an unusual convergence, many of our faith traditions share a season of sacred self-assessment and self-transformation. This holy season includes the month of Ramadan and the Night of Power (Islam); the High Holy Days and Sukkot (Judaism); the Feast Day of Francis of Assisi and Worldwide Communion Sunday (Christianity), Pavarana / Sangha Day (Buddhism) and Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday. Some communities of the First Nations have already begun to observe Columbus Day as Indigenous Nations Day, with practices that transform its meaning.

Since each of our traditions recognizes the power of fasting as a spiritual discipline, we call on all people of faith to join in a fast from dawn to dusk on Monday, October 8.



• During the months of August and September, we will prepare and publicize educational material that religious leaders can use to prepare their congregations to
1. appropriately relate with religious communities other than their own, and
2. learn the spiritual discipline of fasting as a transformational exercise, making clear the distinction between transformational fasting and the abusive use of fasting for the sake of a false sense of beauty and body-image

• We invite individuals or small groups to begin the discipline by fasting one day a week, in the months prior to October 8.

• Sundown, Sunday, October 7: Gather in intentionally interfaith events across the United States to pray and to break bread together.

On Monday, October 8th

• Have a simple meal before dawn, committing to fast throughout the day as a sign of your commitment to move our core values from conquest to community and from violence to reverence.

• While fasting, many of us in cities as New York, Chicago, San Francisco and in local communities across the United States will take part in public vigils, inviting community leaders and elected officials and candidates for the presidency to join us as we commit to take immediate action to end the war. In Washington DC, religious leaders will gather to fast together and engage in a public action to draw attention to the nation-wide events that will take place that day.

• At sunset: We will eat together once again to break bread in public places as a sign of our commitment to work together for peace and an end to violence. This shared meal will be a sign of our covenant with one another – as individuals and as communities - to stand against the war in Iraq, and to work with one another to stand against violence in our communities and around the world. (Communities should be aware that for Muslims, later in the evening there will be large-scale gatherings for the Night of Power, commemorating the first revelation of the Quran. Shared break-fast meals should be scheduled so as to take account of these gatherings.)

Post Events—A Season of Commitment:

• As a practice of our covenant, we encourage local communities to continue in regular fasting, praying and holding vigils for peace and to take specific actions through the election cycle to stand together against the war in Iraq and against all of the ways in which violence is destroying our communities.

• We encourage participants to continue to reach out to elected officials and candidates for congress and the presidency, inviting them to fast with us, break bread with us, pray with us, vigil with us, and publicly express their commitment to end this war.

• We encourage those who live in states in which primary elections are held to use that opportunity to engage with the presidential candidates in their public appearances about their commitment to end the war

The Invitation:

We, religious leaders from several traditions, invite you to join with millions of other Americans by organizing joint interfaith events in your local community on October 7 and 8th, for the breaking of bread, fasting, and breaking our fast together as we covenant together to live out the deepest calling in each of our traditions – the desire for justice and for peace for all people.

We offer these suggestions to communities that desire to deepen their witness:
• Following the gathering on Oct 7th evening, plan events such as Teach-Ins that may extend to all night events to pray, study nonviolence in our different faith traditions, study sacred texts together, and witness to our opposition to war and violence.
• Extend the fast to twenty-four hours – beginning with our interfaith meal together on Sunday evening, or for Christians, beginning on Sunday morning with the celebration of World Communion.

• Gather on Monday morning, October 8th, for an inspirational public event that will both highlight the issues and provide motivation as we begin the fast.

• Broaden our witness to insist that we stand against all use of torture, as well as to highlight our grave concerns about the growing violence on the streets of our cities and in mass shootings across the country, and about the way in which the media’s obsession with grotesque acts of violence undercuts the most fundamental values of our faith.

Current List of Organizational Co-sponsors

As of August 7, 2007

ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal
American Friends Service Committee
Brattleboro Area Interfaith Initiative
Buddhist Peace Fellowship
Call to Action – Philadelphia
Cape Town Interfaith Initiative
Council on American Islamic Relations
Ecumenical Peace Institute/Clergy and Laity Concerned
Episcopal Peace Fellowship
The Fellowship of Reconciliation
Fons Vitae Publishing and Distribution
Humanity Check Interfaith Peace and Reconciliation Project
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
Medical Mission Sisters’ Alliance for Justice
Moderator’s Global Justice Team, Metropolitan Community Churches
National Coalition-Building Institute
National Council of Churches USA – Office of Interfaith Relations
National Council of Churches USA – Office of International Affairs and Peace
Network of Spiritual Progressives
New Hampshire Council of Churches
Pax Christi USA: National Catholic Peace Movement
Presbyterian Peace Fellowship
The Shalom Center
Sisters of Mercy of the Americas
Sojourners Magazine
The Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations
The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
Wilmette Muslim Community

Current List of Individual Co-sponsors
As of August 7, 2007

Rev. Joe Agne, Pastor, Memorial United Methodist Church, White Plains, New York
Parvez Ahmed, Council on American Islamic Relations
Nihad Awad, Executive Director, Council on American Islamic Relations
Rabbi Pamela Frydman Baugh, past president, Ohalah Rabbinic Association
Ahmed Bedier, Executive Director, CAIR Tampa
Rabbi Dennis Beck-Berm,an, past president, Ohalah Rabbinic Assocoation
Rabbi Phyllis Berman
Rev. Dr. Robert L. Brashear, Pastor, West-Park Presbyterian Church, New York City
Cherie Brown, director, National Coalition-Building Institute
Dr. Tarunjit Singh Butalia, Moderator, Religions for Peace, USA
Rev Dr Joan Brown Campbell, Chautauqua Institution
Sister Joan Chottister, OSB, director, Benetvision
Stanley E. Campbell, Executive Director, Rockford Urban Ministries
Dr. Aryeh Cohen, Associate Professor of Rabbinic Literature, Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, American Jewish University
Rabbi Howard A. Cohen, American Hebrew Academy
Sara Critchfield, Minister for Policy Advocacy, United Church of Christ
Rev. Dr. Robert Edgar General Secretary, National Council of Churches USA
Rabbi Ted Falcon, Ph.D., Bet Alef Meditative Synagogue, Seattle, WA
The Reverend Dwala J. Ferrell, Executive Director, Petersburg Urban Ministries, United Methodist Church
Tom Finger, Mennonite Church USA, Inter-Church Relations
Ven. Tom Graham, Senior Priest and National Director, Center for American Buddhist Practice
Rev. Jamie Hamilton, Exeter Academy
Evelyn Hanneman, Interim Coordination Director, Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America
Herman Harmelink III, Ecumenical Officer, International Council of Community Churches
Rev. Dr. Stan Hastey, Minister for Ecumenical Relations and Mission Partnerships, Alliance of Baptists
Virginia Gray Henry, Director, Fons Vitae Publishing and Distribution
David L. Hoffman, Coordinator, Humanity Check interfaith peace and reconciliation project
Rabbi Shirley Idelson, Dean, Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
Rabbi Shaya Isenberg, University of Florida
Rabbi Steven Jacobs, Progressive Faith Foundation, Los Angeles, California
Mark C. Johnson, Ph.D., Executive Director, The Fellowship of Reconciliation
Sister Patricia Keefe, Outreach Coordinator, Nonviolent Peaceforce
Dr. Tony Kireopoulos, National Council of Churches USA
Debra Kolodny, Executive Director, ALEPH
David Lamarre-Vincent, Executive Director, New Hampshire Council of Churches
Rev. Michael E. Livingston, President, National Council of Churches USA
Executive Director, International Council of Community Churches
Michelle Madsen-Bibeau, Interim Minister, American Baptist Churches of Connecticut
Anthony Manousos, Editor, Friends Bulletin
Anne McCarthy
Mary Ellen McNish, General Secretary, American Friends Service Committee
Marilyn P. Mecham, Executive, Interchurch Ministries of Nebraska
Rabbi Levi Meier, PhD
Shiela Musaji, Editor, The American Muslim
Rev. Sam Muyskens, Executive Director, Inter-Faith Ministries, Wichita, Kansas
Fr John Oliver, Cape Town Interfaith Initiative (CTII)
Kathy Partridge, Executive Director, Interfaith Funders
Rev. Dr. Shanta Premawardhana, National Council of Churches USA
Bikkar Singh Randhawa, Edmonton Interfaith Center for Education, Canada
Jim Rice, Editor, Sojourners magazine
Cantor Aviva Rosenbloom, Temple Israel of Hollywood, Los Angeles, CA
Ellen Rosser, President, Friendship and Peace Society
The Rev. Dr. Rick Schlosser, Executive Director, California Council of Churches, California Church IMPACT
Rabbi Gerry Serotta, Chair, Rabbis for Human Rights/ North America
Duane Shank, Senior Policy Advisor, Sojourners/Call to Renewal
Rabbi David Shneyer, president, Ohalah Rabbinic Association
Rev. Dr. William Sinkford, Executive Director, Unitarian Universalist Association
Rev. Dr. David Spence
Rev. Earl Smith, Toronto, Canada
Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed, National Director, Islamic Society of North America
Rev. Elizabeth S. Tapia, Ph.D. Director, Center for Christianities in Global Context, Drew University, New Jersey
Terence Cozad Taylor, Interfaith Paths to Peace
Elder Rick Ufford-Chase, Executive Director, Presbyterian Peace Fellowship
Roberta Wall, Buddhist Order of Interbeing
Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director, The Shalom Center
Rev. Charles R. White, D. Min, Retired Minister, Presbyterian Church (USA)
Jim Winkler, General Secretary, General Board of Church & Society, United Methodist Church