Meeting of the Minds

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What a wonderful Shabat!

Shalom Hartman Institute

My shul, the National Synagogue, participated with two organizations, the Shalom Hartman Institute and the Muslim Leadership Initiative, to begin a dialogue.  And, a few weeks ago, on Friday evening, a few of us shared the evening together.

Shalom Hartman Institute promotes Jewish pluralism and a discourse among the world’s peoples and religions, in an attempt to develop understanding and cooperation among us all. The Muslim Leadership Initiative is a newer venture, started some 4 years ago. Imam Abdullah Antepli and Yossi Halevi endeavor to develop a deeper understanding of the complex set of issues that Jews and Muslims encounter in the Middle East.  (It seems that many other Muslims decry this initiative; that’s their loss.)

And, on that Friday night, I was blessed with three guests for my Shabat dinner, Safiye, Azhar, and Ifran from MLI. And, they and my normal contingent of guests had a wonderful series of discussions about the world and how we all fit in together.

One of the most pressing issues my visitors wanted to discuss was how to be a ‘hyphenated’ individual. How did we Jews become Jewish-Americans?  They were looking for insight so they could become Moslem-Americans or Moslem-Canadians. To integrate the culture of their new homes with the tenets of their beliefs to better serve both.

The three folks told us it would not be atypical that an Imam would address the congregants at the mosque in Urdu, Pashtu, or Arabic. These three individuals (claiming it was a uniform desire) wanted to attend a sermon where the Imam spoke English, where the localized culture would be integrated into the religious principles being presented. This seems to be what many Moslem folks in Europe want as well- a “European Islam”, one that develops pluralistic values within the traditional Islamic framework..

I mentioned at the table that this had been our issue in America, as well. When I was little, it wasn’t atypical for the rabbi to provide his drash (sermon regarding the interpretation of the text) in Yiddish or Ladino. Obviously for me, anything in Yiddish would leave me totally lost. Nor was I presented with any instruction in Ladino, so it too would be time for me to space out.

But, over the subsequent decade or so, there was a major shift in many (but not all) American shuls.  While our prayers remained spoken in Hebrew,  in concert with nusach (the style of prayer service, the “rite”), the services were extended with rabbinical sermons presented in the lingua franca, in English. Exactly what my guests wanted for their experiences, as they prayed in their mosques.

After our three hour experience, replete with fine food, grape juice,  coffee (and wine for some of us), the rest of us were amazed to find out that our MLI guests had requested their taxi to remain waiting for them outside.

We hastily exchanged contact information- and, I, for one, hope to continue this dialogue with them.

It’s way past time for us all to learn more about one another.

Roy A. Ackerman, Ph.D., E.A.

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