A Whirlwind of Interfaith Involvement

by Arliene Botnick, March 31, 2023

Rabbi Pollack and I had a very fascinating 24-hour schedule that included services in three different places of worship, one, of course, being Solel. In this brief period of 24 hours, we were guests at an Iftar, the evening service and meal that breaks the fast daily (during the 30-day celebration or Ramadan) for our Muslim neighbours. During the daylight hours of Ramadan, the Muslim community has an extended fast from just before dawn until just after sunset, and then they get together as a whole community to break the fast (or they can break the fast at home) On the evening that we attended, there were at least 300 people in attendance. The Rabbi and I were there to share the breaking of the fast at the invitation of our Muslim neighbours. The meal was preceded by a ’dvar’ led by the Iman, and an explanation of the significance of the fast. The presentation was somewhat like a dvar our Rabbi would give but, of course, based on their narrative. The following morning, on a much less joyous note, we joined in a Roman Catholic Church service to honour the memory of the beloved wife of a long-standing member of Solel, and we participated in a very moving service, but somewhat different from our service where our focus is in memorializing the deceased and this service seemed more focused on the death and resurrection (in the Christian theology) of Jesus as the focus of comfort And that same evening, we participated in a Solel memorial service for that same wonderful woman and, as a Solel community, we honoured her memory and comforted her husband (a long standing pillar at Solel)

What really fascinated me, as I thought about this 24-hour experience, were the similarities amongst the three Abrahamic religions, and, of course, the very important differences. And obviously, we are all more at home with the traditions with which we have an intimate connection. The first thing that I noticed among all of these three visits was the cordiality and the warm welcoming of us as strangers to that particular community. At Solel, we were not guests, but Solelniks welcomed warmly and openly attendees who were not members of our community. Something to note, however, in particular at the mosque, was that they have a cadre of trained greeters that are given the responsibility of greeting guests, explaining where to put coats, that shoes have to be removed, and the women who greeted the Rabbi and me could not have been more cordial or more caring. They were always there to answer our questions, to ask us if we preferred chairs rather than sitting on the ground as is their custom, and giving us beautiful head coverings but very politely saying that it was not necessary, if we so chose, to cover our hair. We continued to wear our kippot. We could help guests at Solel know that they can choose to wear or not wear a kippah. And maybe explain that the wearing of kippah is a minchag (custom), but the tallit is a mitzvah (commandment) and not expected to be worn by all. Our visit to the church, since we were there for a particular event, did not seem to include greeters from the church, at least on this particular occasion. At Solel, the greeting responsibilities most often fall on the shoulders of the ushers, but perhaps each one of us could think of ourselves as perpetual greeters. It really makes one feel welcome when one is warmly welcomed by many. Hospitality is a feature of all our religions!

The next very noticeable feature was the apparel worn by the clergy, which was strictly male except for Solel (Yay Solel!). The Priest was wearing a very decorative robe, as he stood and occasionally knelt on the pulpit, and he both sang and spoke parts of the service. The congregation knew when to reply by rote and when to use certain body language for certain prayers as we do. Men and women sat together. At the mosque, women both entered and sat separately from men and ate separately from them (not our custom) The Imam who led the service was live steamed into the woman’s area. He chanted and spoke and there was transliteration (just as we have) on a screen. He also wore a long gray prayer robe and a skullcap, and he appeared to be sitting across cross legged on a chair. He quoted passages from the Koran, including the story of Job, but their narrative is significantly different from ours. At the church, there is a great deal of referencing to the Christian scriptures, in particular the concept the Trinity, the divinity of Jesus and the resurrection, – key features of Roman Catholicism. Unlike our eulogies and funeral services where the emphasis is on the person who has passed away, here the focus was comforting the mourners through the belief that the Messiah has come already. We all comfort in different ways.

As I thought about some of these similarities and differences, it really resonated with the question that some of our teens asked: “what does it mean to be Jewish?” At some level, all three of these faiths deal with the concept of one God, How the concept is understood is a little different of course, but all 3 “Abrahamic faiths”) are monotheistic- one Creator. And I want to believe that all of these religions have the potential to bring’ Goodness’ into the world as we in Judaism do. And we all know, in reality, in every faith, there are people who may be pious but not necessarily good or moral. So, what do we tell our kids about why be Jewish. That’s a really tough question. Maybe the best way to answer is with our actions not just words. Do as I do! Live Jewishly! What we can do is make them feel comfortable and cozy in living a Jewish life, make them feel fulfilled when they celebrate our holidays and life cycle events. Teach them to be knowledgeable Jews so that they understand our narrative. Help them realize that during Pesach, we are not only telling and, in a sense, “reliving the Exodus” and also, we are learning from our experience – we were slaves- that no people should be enslaved. It was God with an outstretched arm who led us to freedom and a free people can obey the mitzvot. Help them understand and feel comfortable with our rituals, our ceremonies, our prayers. Expose them to as much Jewish life as possible in your home, with your family and the Solel community and the wider Jewish community.

There are some real challenges for our kids today. In our last discussion with the teens, we were made aware of some discomfort about their identifying publicly in their schools as Jews, and because of what’s happening in Israel, some of us are having some real challenges as well, not as identifying as Jews, but understanding our relationship and our support of an Israel that may not be the Israel we know it should be. It was very special to be at the three places of worship, but Judaism is my faith, my community, my centre of identity. Being a Jew is my ‘comfort and cozy zone’… We are a kehillah – a community; a mishpachah -, a family. We support one another in times of joy and in times of sorrow. We do not and should not judge anyone based on gender, skin colour, wealth or poverty. We are in God’s image, and we have chosen to be Jews (not just because of birth) – we today perhaps are all Jews by choice. Be proud of being a Jew, be fulfilled as Jews, and let’s help our children learn to be proud and fulfilled Jews

I wish you all Chag Sameach, have great seders, and enjoy the Matazh!

Filed under: Educator's Message

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