I am not much of a religious man. But some three weeks ago I had this urge to pray at a Mosque that I could not resist. Which Mosque becomes the essential question because DC’s Mosques are either controlled by the extremists Wahabbis or the extremists Mullahs of Iran. I had either the choice to attend a Church at the corner of Democracy and S. Glen or a Synagogue, equidistant the other direction, on S. Glen. I opted to pray at Bna’i Tzedek, a Synagogue that is 10 minutes walk away from my house. This is not the first time I attend a Synagogue.
Out of respect for Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt, who runs Bna’i Tzedek, and whom I met in 2004 outside the Syrian Embassy protesting one of Assad’s flagrant policies of hate against the Jews, I emailed him and requested if I could attend the Shabbat services next week. Of course, I was more than welcomed. Just imagine if I extended the same invitation to Rabbi Weinblatt to pray at a Mosque what would happen!!
Between prayers, two parents were celebrating the Bat Mitzvahs of their daughters. It struck me that celebrating this event also is a form of empowerment to 13 year-old Jewish girls. The spark in their eyes and the confidence of their smile made me think about why Arabs and Muslims do not have such celebration. Then it dawned on me that we do have Bar Mitzvah in some corners of the Arab world. The way it works is we start smacking and slapping our kids at an early age, the day they respond by smacking back is their Bar Mitzvah.
At the Synagogue and to my surprise, Rabbi Weinblatt asked me if I could get to the podium and recite a prayer of peace. I believe the fact I was Syrian took everyone by surprise but many people came to me after we adjourned to thankï¿½ me. I am grateful for their kindness and for Rabbi Weinblatt’s invitation.
At any rate, the whole event lasted some 3 hours followed by a luncheon where I met some interesting people who lived in my neighborhood. But Rabbi Weinblatt had another surprise. Apparently, in his congregation there was a Jewish woman from Aleppo, my city. She was not at the Synagogue that day but asked if I could attend next week to meet her, which I was delighted to oblige.
So, this morning at 9:25 sharp, as I was about to leave, there were no cars for me to drive the short distance. The family members commandeered the cars early today. So I decided to walk. As I walked to the Synagogue, I could not help but think that here I am a Muslim, it’s Shabbat, and I am walking to a Synagogue. Pretty funny.
I met the Aleppian lady and it was just grand for me to hear her accent and her story. So many good people from Aleppo. There was another Bar Mitzvah as well as 16-year old students graduating from a Confirmation class taught by Rabbi Weinblatt. What struck me the most, again, is how Rabbi Weinblatt addressed the students, some 15 of them, by telling them to keep questioning everything around them and challenge themselves to always find different answers to the problems they face in life. Had this been graduating Muslim students, our children would have been told to sit in the corner and listen to another sermon. In Islam, we are all forbidden to question anything. It’s the job of our most ignorant Imams appearing regularly on al-Jazeera.
Muslims and Jews pray to the same God, Moses is mentioned in the Quran, and we regard the Children of Israel as a central concept in Islam. This experience showed that when politics are not involved, we are all the same people with the same aspirations created by the One God we all believe in.
Next week, I will ask my friends if I could attend the Sunday mass at their Church. Anyone knows of a good Mosque in DC (Sufi, Baha’ii), please email me at: farid.at.ghadry.com