Loving our Neighbors

-Post by Rabbi Jill Maderer of Congregation Rodeph Shalom

In early December, a severed pig’s head was thrown onto the door step of the Al-Aqsa Islamic Society, a mosque in Center City. In response to this desecration, the Board of Rabbis, Rodeph Shalom clergy, and many others in the Jewish community immediately sent letters of support.

The mosque, a small organization with limited resources to run their daily center much less to deal with the press and outreach from the community, were overwhelmed by letters, flowers and presence at a community cook-out from the Jewish community and the general Philadelphia community. We recently received a response from Al-Aqsa.

The letter included appreciation as they, “express gratitude to the love and support you gave us after the pig’s head incident,” and a description of impact: “The hateful crime at the Al-Aqsa Islamic Center hurt us all, it was disrespectful and cruel. However, one irresponsible person doesn’t count for us all. Thanks to you all we were able to get the motivation we needed to get back on our feet.” The letter went on: “As some of you know, according to the Quran Islam teaches love and compassion for every human being no matter their religion.”

I so appreciate the letter but realize that there are many of us who do not really know that the Quran teaches love and compassion; in fact, many of us know little about Islam. There has been some interest in a Jewish-Muslim dialogue and get to know our Muslim neighbors. When I shared this with a Muslim scholar, she suggested the first step is to engage in learning some background.

We have just completed in our Torah readings the story of Israelite liberation form slavery. Year after year at the seder table we are taught to love the stranger because we were strangers. We strive to “see ourselves as slaves” as the Haggadah says, and to see ourselves as strangers. What of ourselves can we see in the others? What of ourselves can we see in our Muslim neighbors? Let’s discover together.

At Rodeph Shalom, we are offering an “Introduction to Islam for Jews” on Sundays, Feb 21, 28, March 6, 13, 11:30am-12:30pm. Our first two sessions will focus on the history and text of Islam and on the history of the Jewish-Muslim relationship. In our third and fourth sessions, a Muslim-American woman will share from her experience.

Whether or not Rodeph Shalom’s opportunity is the one you seek, I encourage us all to stretch our of our comfort zones and learn about our neighbors. Together, may we see ourselves, and may we see God, in the other.