Yesterday I had the great privilege to accompany our 8th, 9th, and 10th graders on a visit to the local mosque. Along with a couple of other teachers, these teenagers from Temple were able to engage with Muslim peers and adults from the Islamic Society of Michiana (ISM). Building on the outreach we had begun at Rosh HaShanah/Ramadan (see earlier post), we wanted to provide an opportunity for the young people of our congregations to continue fostering bridges of understanding between our two communities.
Beginning with our "prep" conversation, and evident through our discussions at the mosque, it quickly became clear to members of both groups that we need to explore and celebrate the many common values, ideals, customs and practices that we share. The students discovered their connections from elements of language (such as "Islam" coming from the same root as "Shalom", "mosque" being related to "mishkan", and "Hajj" (the Islamic pilgrimage) being identical with "Chag" (Hebrew for holiday/festival) to our mutual focus on foods as part of religious observance. There was a collective "aha" in the room each time someone mentioned an idea that resonated with everyone else.
As we fisrt went around the room, we all introduced ourselves by name, and for the students, also by their current school and grade level. The responses were similar. Just as when our adults visited previously, there was already a comfort among the youth, as several (of course) attend the same schools, and live in the same neighborhoods. The children went on to express very similar feelings about what it means to be part of a minority, and how it can be challenging and even demoralizing when one's religious culture is misunderstood (or viewed negatively). A beautiful and positive outcome, shared by Jewish and Muslim alike, was the comment that "real friends are sensitive and accepting of your differences." One young lady even noted "now my friends really know me as a person, they think Islam is cool."
This would have been a phenomenal visit at any time; I do feel that because of the world situation, the press, and yes how things have "changed" since 9/11, this was a truly monumental occasion for our small community, and more so for the 50 of us who were present. May this experience also be a gift that keeps on giving.