I got a phone call asking me if I could arrange to open the Ohel Menashe building for a school group. As a member of this Masorti (Conservative) community and as I am typically in the area, I happily said yes. I had no idea what would unfold at the gathering.
A group of 70 elementary school students, some from Yokneam and some from Haifa came to visit our community, our Beit Knesset. The Masorti rabbi, Elisha Wolfin, from the community in Zichron Yaacov, V’Ahavta, came to talk with the kids. It turns out that the local kids were Jewish and the Haifa kids, from an Arab school, were Christian and Muslim. The gathering was simultaneously translated into Arabic. This group of boisterous and attentive children had already been to a church and a mosque together to learn about the different religions.
Over the course of an hour, Rabbi Elisha explained the concept of a synagogue, what the Torah is, and showed our very heavy Torah to the students. The students were given an opportunity to ask questions and they rose to the opportunity! The level of curiosity was infectious and enticing.
Enticing because it reminded me of the potential that exists for us to find common ground. Not just here in Israel, but globally, as we seek to find common ground and cooperation with other cultures and religions. These children could have sat passively, bored, anxious to leave. But no, they were bursting with questions, wanting to understand why in a synagogue one covers one’s head, and what’s the explanation of peyot, sidelocks. And then after Elisa’s explanation, a Jewish boy inquired then why was it okay that the side of his head was shaved, clearly concerned, and quickly put at ease by Elisha’s further explanation and calm demeanor.
The takeaway message for these children, for their teachers, and for me, was that we all sit under the same sky on the same planet and have a responsibility to one another. We may call “our” g-d by different names, but the moment when we understand that we are all striving toward a shared goal of peace a harmony. And that we need to know each other, to learn about and from each other, and ask questions so that we can build respect between communities.
The kids were anxious to get up and move after sitting for almost an hour. They were patient for one more moment when I took the opportunity to let them know that they were all welcome to return to our community – for events and for tefila – if they wanted to learn more or to engage. Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike.
I had come just to open and close the door. After watching and listening from the back, I knew that sometimes, it’s not enough just to open the door, rather, we also have to welcome our guests to come across the threshold.
I left the event uplifted and buoyed. It was refreshing to catch a glimpse of something much more optimistic, productive, and positive on the horizon that what is currently dominating the Israeli election cycle. I hope that the kids who were so fortunate to participate in this year of exploration will one day come to realize the remarkable gift their amazing staffs created for them. I hope we hear more and more of these kinds of stories and experience these kinds of interactions as we try to build the future that we want for ourselves and for our children.