Jews and Muslims will begin celebrating their most introspective holidays tonight – the Islamic month of Ramadan and the Jewish High Holy Days.
Members of both faiths said Tuesday they're busy preparing for a time of increased prayer, family gatherings and rigorous examination of their behavior.
"Combined with the joy, there's a sense of introspection and reflection of how I can improve upon the last year," said Rabbi Ephraim Simon, of the Marcus Chabad House in Teaneck. "I look back and do an accounting on the personal level, but also on the rabbinic and organizational levels -- how can we reach out to more people?"
A Muslim woman, meanwhile, said Ramadan is a time for raising standards of personal behavior to new levels.
"Every day, there's a personal struggle to be a good human being, and at Ramadan you try to perfect that," said Afsheen Shamsi, community relations director for the New Jersey office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. "You try to do as much good in the world as possible."
The two holy periods don't typically coincide. Muslims use a lunar calendar in which the time of Ramadan changes every year. Jews also use a lunar calendar, but modified so the holidays always fall within the same seasons.
During Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunup to sundown -- a practice that they say increases their inner discipline, makes them sensitive to the poor and raises their awareness of God's presence.
The holiday, which commemorates God's revelation of the Muslim holy book, the Quran, to the prophet Muhammad, also is a time when Muslims join together and give to charity.
Some North Jersey Muslims, for example, are planning to go to Newark on the third weekend of Ramadan, Sept. 29 and 30, to distribute clothes, school supplies and hygiene kits to homeless and needy families.
"Ramadan is the month of giving," said Yousef Abdallah of Lyndhurst, northeastern operations manager for Islamic Relief, the group organizing the Newark drive.
The 10-day Jewish holy day period, with its themes of repentance and reconciliation, begins tonight with Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, and culminates with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, when Jews fast and seek atonement for sins. (MORE)