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A message from Hazzan Harold:
Shalom, Beth Am Israel!
I recently had the chance to participate in a workshop run by the Interfaith Center of Philadelphia entitled “Encountering Other Faiths, an interfaith dialogue facilitator training.”
In our opening “share your name and where you are from”, the gentleman next to me related how his organization brought Muslim youth to a Synagogue to make Christmas cards for foster kids. For him and the kids he brought along, it was as natural and normal as any activity he could imagine. It set a great tone for the day, and I was able to meet and network with some amazing organizations and faith-based groups in our area.
The highlight for me was when our group of 14 men and women visited the Al Aqsa Mosque in North Philly just a few short blocks from the Interfaith Center. On the dedication plaque, I noticed the name of BAI congregant Cathy Cohen, who along with many others helped to create the beautiful artwork that lines the outer walls of the Mosque.
We arrived in time for the afternoon prayers (one of five prayer times in the Muslim faith). The men and women broke into two groups and we men entered a large carpeted hall, took off our shoes and sat in the back as men hustled in and made their way all the way to the front, standing and the kneeling shoulder to shoulder for the brief 10-minute service.
It was my first time at Muslim prayer and it was deeply moving, strangely and unexpectedly familiar and also foreign and hard for me to connect to. The separation of the women (they were in a different room, listen to the Imam via loudspeaker), the lack of any instruction or prayer book, and the way all the man squished together in one spot. (I was trying to picture this taking place at Beth Am. I couldn’t).
Afterwards, we had a chance to talk to our host from the Mosque, a mother of two who helps run community outreach. Every one of us had a question (and not easy ones) about her faith, about the relationship between the Mosque and their community, anti-Muslim hate speech, about Islam, about living as a Muslim in a Post 9/11 world. She managed to answer every question and was not only upbeat but optimistic even hopeful upon seeing the outpouring of support for their house or worship as a giant step forward for their community.
After the service I walked into a little kiosk on the grounds of the Mosque to get a snack. On the TV video of riots in Jerusalem over Trump’s recent proclamation were broadcast while the woman behind the counter and I chatted. We smiled, spoke about wanting peace, I bought something and left.
It was as normal and surreal as a moment gets. I am grateful to the Interfaith Center for this day or training, whose director, Abby Stamelman-Hocky is a long time Beth Am Israel member, and whose work and the work of the Interfaith Center continues to inspire and provide light in the darkness.