From World Sabbath to a Lifetime of Connections


THIS WEEK’S TRUE STORY about interfaith friendship comes from Gail Katz, a co-founder and currently president of WISDOM. You can learn more about WISDOM through the links, at right, in the box labeled: “ABOUT WISDOM AND THEIR BOOK.” Here is Gail’s story …

I want to tell you a story about two young people who moved me through their curiosity—and their remarkably respectful approach to learning more about my faith. I’m a veteran educator and Jewish interfaith activist, so it wasn’t surprising to me initially when two Muslim students from the University of Michigan asked if I would help them complete a class project. They wanted to come videotape an interview about my work.

I knew the young man because he had participated in the World Sabbath, one of the community-wide projects I coordinate. The World Sabbath is a model for an annual interfaith service focused on global peacemaking, held on the last Sunday in January in various religious institutions. The Michigan World Sabbath has been hosted at various houses of worship. A few other cities around the world also have tried this idea over the years. The young man from UofM remembered his experience at our World Sabbath, chanting the Muslim call to prayer in Arabic before a gathering of 600 people.

I did not know the young woman from UofM, but I was so happy to receive their request. It meant that this young man’s earlier involvement in interfaith activities still was shaping his educational choices.

The Muslim students wanted to meet me at a synagogue, where we could discuss my interfaith journey as a Jew. I suggested Congregation Beth Shalom where I was affiliated at the time. This was conveniently located in Oak Park, not that far from Dearborn where the students were based. I got permission from the executive director of the synagogue, and agreed to meet the students there in the morning. I assumed we would be directed to one of the classrooms in the religious school, where such an activity commonly would take place.

When I arrived at Beth Shalom, I was surprised to discover that the executive director had given these two Muslim students permission to do their interview in the holiest place in the sanctuary! So there we were, two young Muslim students and a veteran Jewish interfaith activist on the bimah—the Jewish altar—next to the holy Aron HaKodesh, the holy cupboard that houses the synagogue’s treasured Torah Scrolls!

The young man, out of respect the Jewish faith, was wearing a kippah (the traditional Jewish head covering) and the young woman was dressed in her customary hijab. Behind me on the bimah was the rabbi’s esteemed menorah and in the background the camera could take in several of the twelve stained glass window, which represent the twelve tribes of Israel, along with some of the Ten Commandments written on the sanctuary wall in Hebrew.

Our time together as Muslims and a Jew cooperating in the midst of such holiness was an incredibly moving and spiritual time for me!

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