09/23/2015 08:16 EDT | Updated 09/23/2016 05:12 EDT

Federal Election 2015: Jewish, Muslim Leaders Ponder Raising Topic During Holiday Sermons

Both faiths mark significant religious holidays this week.

OTTAWA — While pundits point to the Thanksgiving weekend as the time many families will sit down to talk about the federal election, for millions of Canadian Jews and Muslims, that time is also right now.

Both faiths mark significant religious holidays this week and people are gathering both around their dining room tables and at synagogues and mosques, leaving rabbis and imams to consider whether they should use the occasion to talk politics from their pulpits.

For Jews, sundown Wednesday marks the end of the Days of Repentance, a 10-day period that begins with the Jewish New Year and ends with Yom Kippur, the day it is believed God decides a person's fate.

Synagogues are packed and many rabbis have discussed whether the federal election should have a place in a sermon delivered to many people who only come to synagogue a few times a year.

Rabbi Lisa Gruschow of Montreal said she's not sure people come to hear her talk politics, but that doesn't mean the election should be ignored.

"We can acknowledge what is on people’s minds and speak to what is in their hearts – political, existential, and everything in between," she wrote in a column for The Canadian Jewish News. "Where we find wisdom in our tradition that relates to present problems, we can share it.

"We can try to draw out the values and attitudes that Judaism can teach. And we can encourage people to be engaged and to vote, whatever their political views may be."

For Jewish candidates, the holidays provide some down time from the rigours of the campaign trail as no work is supposed to be done on those days.

The NDP's Mira Oreck, running in Vancouver Granville, says she views her commitment to running for office as her Jewish New Year's resolution.

"Having the New Year fall so close to the election on Oct. 19 is a gift because it allows me to pause, reflect and renew, in myself and in this experience," she wrote in a short essay for a Jewish leadership foundation that had asked several people to talk about their high holy day commitments.

It also changes the pace for candidates in heavily Jewish ridings, such as Thornhill in Toronto.

There, about 37 per cent of the riding identified as Jewish during the 2011 National Household Survey. At Conservative candidate Peter Kent's campaign office, many of the staff take time off to observe the holy days.

Kent said he finds that the Jewish New Year period, as well as holidays for other faiths that happen during the fall, often end with people seemingly more engaged in the ongoing elections. He noted that the 2008 campaign was also marked with religious observances for many faith groups.

"Any family gathering in Thornhill tends to have a political dimension to the discussion," he said.

For Muslims, Thursday is Eid Al-Adha, a holiday that commemorates the prophet Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son at God's request, though he is later spared from doing so. It also marks the end of the annual religious pilgrimage to Mecca.

There's no prohibition against work on the holiday and many Muslim candidates are likely to attend mosque as part of their campaign day, using the opportunity to meet potential voters, as Eid attracts a more diverse crowd than regular Friday prayers.

Community festivals and dinners are also held. Expect to see candidates there, as well, as the events often attract politicians even outside elections. Some mosques are also using the holiday's focus on charity to support the Syrian refugee crisis; in London, Ont., home of one of the oldest mosques in the province, the Eid dinner is a fundraiser for refugees.

Since the spring, many imams have worked to encourage Muslims to engage in the federal election, part of a broader campaign to capitalize on the potential political clout of Muslim communities. At least half a million Muslims are eligible to cast a ballot in October.

Last week, the group Canadian Muslim Vote held an all-candidates debate in Toronto and are also actively canvassing in ridings with large Muslim populations in the Toronto area.

Ottawa Imam Mohammed Badat says he has raised the need for his community to vote and will keep doing so, but not on Eid.

"It's not the right occasion," he said.

"It's a celebration sermon which emphasizes the importance of the day, so we have to look at the right opportunity to deliver the right message. It's like someone talking about Easter on Christmas."

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