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An Insightful tour

04/11/2019 02:39:34 PM


Rabbi Daniel Dorsch

A KSU student whose name I ask her to repeat several times calls about taking a tour of the synagogue for a class project. It’s a pretty routine request for us: so of course, I agree.

The student walks into my office a few days later. Trying my best to establish a frame of reference to best help her understand our customs, I always ask students if they come from a particular faith tradition. She smiles awkwardly. She is Muslim, she says. With a second awkward smile, she adds that she is Palestinian.

“Cool,” I say, trying not to let on that this is the first time I’ve ever met someone who identifies as a Palestinian. I show her tefillin and a tallit. She then asks me to explain the significance of the Star of David. The Star, I mention, was a symbol on the shield of King David, who was one of the kings of ancient Israel. I talk about the Israeli flag being a connection between the tallit and the star. She meticulously takes copious notes.

We walk into the small chapel and take out the Torah. She seems in awe of the fact that it is handwritten on parchment. In the chapel space, we also discuss some similarities between worship in a mosque and a synagogue. There’s no iconography, I point out, just like in a mosque. She nods.

We then continue to the Holocaust Garden. I explain the symbolism. She tells me she is touched by the cobblestones from the ghetto, as well as our new memorial bricks to the shooting in Pittsburgh. She then explains that she has been to see the Holocaust Museum in Washington, which in no small part is what motivated her to choose a synagogue rather than a church for her project.

I point her to our food collection baskets, and point out that mosques and synagogues use the same word: tzedakah. I show her our social hall, and explain that our synagogue is in the works of planning an Iftar BBQ for our friends at the Turkish Cultural Center and Mosque the same night as Lag B’omer. She is clearly put at ease. She had no idea this kind of interaction was happening, she said.

I tell her before she leaves that for nearly a century Jews and Muslims lived together, and there’s no reason the perceived status quo can’t change. Her father, she said, always tells her the same thing. She is so happy to have visited, she says, and wonders if she can come back soon to experience a Shabbat service. Absolutely, I tell her. She is always welcome.

Reflecting on this visit, I still can’t believe the courage it must have taken this young woman to walk into a synagogue. It inspires me to think, with more open-minded people like her, we might still build a better future for ourselves after all.

Mon, June 1 2020 9 Sivan 5780