On a grey Waltham Sunday May 15 , 2016, several gentlemen holding balloons of many colors brightened the way to the entry (just behind the India Market) where The MASJID (Mosque) of Waltham convened its carefully planned OPEN HOUSE organized as a “teach-in” proudly held within the mosque’s new spacious quarters at 313 Moody Street. The Muslim community prayed here that all the Waltham Community would join them, and not fear them and learn about and appreciate their faith.
At the Mosque door barefoot parents and their children invited me to follow their example; to remove my shoes. We all stood- barefoot–toes of all colors–equal on the floor. Little children pressed eagerly toward me, offering me one long stemmed rose. Twisted to the bottom of each stem was a white pipe cleaner attaching a paper with a spiritual message. Mine read: “A smile is Charity” Charity in Arabic is Tzedakah / The same word as our Hebrew word.
The many resonances between their faith and our often brought tears to my eyes. Here, in the mosque, I found in ME a wound that needs to be healed. Respecting people whom I do not know– striving– as we are,–to live well and beautifully in their faith.
The big prayer room had been set up with seats, but people exceeded all available seats. Men women and older children garbed in glorious unfamiliar garments leaned against the walls. at times supported by uniquely carved bookshelves, cut into the walls in shapes carved the Arabic letters to spell : READ.” One man proudly told me: “It was hard to carve book shelves in those Arabic letter shapes.”
The speakers I could hear — one by one– spoke of their belief in God, our HaShem. Most powerful to me was my sense in that place of HaShem’s presence. Devotion was palpable. No “maybe” there is a God. Their belief seemed firm as each speaker taught us about how their practices embodied in the SIX PILLARS of their faith. Prayers also were printed on table displays, On the bathroom walls too. YES even in the bathroom I read prayers to say to thank HaShem for our bodies’ abilities to function! The same prayer (almost) that our Susan Holbert posted outside our shul’s bathroom.
As a writer of American history too sadly I know our nations long history of “other -izing” new comers. making them less than human. Africans in post Civil War were given a mathematical calculus, Africans were 3/5th person. 19th century Irish also had to struggle to be counted, and then came us, the Jews. Then “Hispanics” (an invented word) that bears the brunt. So last Sunday when the Rhode Island Imam pleaded to all of us– “the community” –that we see Muslims as Americans, our businessmen, doctor, teachers, construction workers, his words struck a deep chord in me.
Then our shul’s Catherine Cantrell asked:” How does this Mosque address Muslim -associated terror?” He answered her in the sad true way…saying his truth; how hard it is for peaceful Moslem voices to be heard. The media seeks contention!!! The media popularize the opposite of what he and his community pray for every day.
On May 15 the Waltham Muslim community made great efforts to welcome us, to teach us about the way of life precious to them. I took away from the OUTREACH EVENT a challenge that this event offered TO US . Here in Waltham is one vulnerable people struggling to live and raise a new generation in their faith. Our challenge is to organize our own TEACH-IN. to create OUR OWN event for Jews and non- Jews that might invite appreciation, understanding,and saying out loud to OTHERS–what binds us together, why Judaism is so precious to us.
Of course this challenge /struggle/ is thousands of years old. Long ago in Spain Moslems and Jews appreciated one another enriched the same culture. Now we are not alone is this work to connect. Its at the center of CHABAD’s mission BUT NOW, can we gather the knowledge and courage to teach others, invite others to learn from us ?