Finding the common good on a trip to the mosque
DECEMBER 13, 2018 – On Friday night after our usual services, we had a very unusual Oneg Shabbat/The Delight of Shabbat, the celebration of family and community. Temple Sinai members and friends were warmly welcomed at the Islamic Society of the North Shore in Lynn.
Our encounter was a part of the Pulpit Exchange, a feature of our ongoing joint program, the Manna Project. The project brings together three diverse communities: Temple Sinai, Clifton Lutheran Church in Marblehead, and the Islamic Society in Lynn. Together, we work toward a mutual goal: feeding the hungry and educating and bringing awareness about food insecurity.
Pastor Jim Bixby from Clifton Lutheran and Brother Fawaz Abusharkh from the Islamic Society spoke and taught the theological and social components of our project.
In my teaching, I mentioned how often we talk about Judeo-Christian thought and traditions, but rarely mention the reality of a Jewish-Muslim tradition, one that has historically enriched both cultures and Western civilization.
I shared my background as a Sephardic, Panamanian Jew descended from Spanish and Portugese Jews. My ancestors spoke about a long-gone Golden Age in the Old World. Cities like Cordoba, Toledo, Granada, and Seville in Spain’s portion of the Iberian Peninsula were places where Muslims, Jews, and Christians created a culture of tolerance with great advances in the scientific, economic, and literary realms.
I spoke also about the great Maimonides, one of the most prolific and influential rabbis in the Middle Ages, who was also a philosopher, astronomer, and physician. Maimonides, also known as the Rambam, wrote and read in Arabic, learning from the ancient Greek philosophies and other scientific tractates that the Arabs had translated. He was the personal doctor of the caliph in Cairo.
If you were to enter that mosque that night in Lynn and hear the chanting of the Koran, you would find it very similar to the way Middle-Eastern Jews pray and chant the Torah in their synagogues.
Many of my childhood friends’ grandparents still speak among themselves in Arabic, and their foods are spiced with the same flavors.
These Golden Ages are a good model to keep in our hearts as an inspiration we can aim toward.
The Jews who arrived in the United States called this land the “Golden Medinah: the Golden Land.”
Wouldn’t it be fantastic to begin a new Golden Age in this Golden Land? To be able to construct together a society that learns how to not only tolerate, but also embrace and learn from their commonalities and their differences?
Everybody wants and talks about peace, but the reality is that peace is not only the lack of conflict. Peace is proactive: you have to go out of your way and out of your comfort zone. It is also more than dialogue. It is sharing your traditions and embracing your common humanity.
This is why we decided to focus our social action on hunger. No matter what religion or language you speak, no matter where you come from, we all have to eat. That night all of us agreed on something: Our three religions say that if you go to sleep knowing there are brothers or sisters who have nothing to eat, then you cannot be called a Muslim/Christian/Jew.
We were about to enter Hanukkah, and we could also already see all the Christmas lights and decorations shining around town. I asked my friend, Brother Fawaz, if Muslims have a holiday of light. He told me they didn’t.
I told the Muslim community: You don’t need one holiday, this is it! This welcoming gathering of brothers and sisters is a festival of light! This is a light that, although small, dispels so much of the darkness.
We have kindled our very own light, and we are hopeful we can continue expanding through our communities and to see ourselves not as “us vs. them,” but as “us vs. the problem.”
May we dream and work together, here, in Israel, in the Middle East, and throughout the world, and learn from the past and together build the future. Starting today.
Rabbi David Cohen-Henriquez is the spiritual leader of Temple Sinai in Marblehead.