By Spencer Lavin, NFTY Chicago
As I walked into the prayer space at the Muslim Cultural Center in Morton Grove, I gazed up to a magnificent chandelier that resided in a bronze dome. It had hundreds of lights, each representing a name for G-d. Underneath my shoeless feet was a lush carpet with green and gold patterns. Members of the faith rushed towards the front of the room as not to miss the 4pm prayer. The Iman began to the service.
Flashback to a couple weeks prior to NFTY Convention when Logan, NFTY Chicago Senior Regional Director, asked if I was able to help plan an offsite that focuses on interfaith relations. I jumped on the opportunity. I traveled down to a church on Addison street in Chicago where I met with members of the Muslim and Christian faith. We worked together to plan an impactful day for all teens participating. After a few weeks of email correspondence, the offsite was complete and NFTY Convention was just around the corner.
Following a short bus ride from the hotel, I arrived at the Muslim Cultural Center ready to lead, but more importantly, ready to listen. This was the first Muslim prayer session that I had ever witnessed in my life, and I was fortunate enough to watch it with my NFTY friends.
The afternoon started with a fable presented by the facilitators of the offsite. Once divided into smaller groups, each with representatives of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, I began my day. I engaged in powerful discussions about Islamophobia, harassment, and stereotypes about religions. By listening to the stories of Muslim teens who live in my community, and sharing some stories of my own as a reform Jew, we were able to create a meaningful space of learning and understanding. I was fortunate to be involved in the planning of this offsite, and seeing everything come together was gratifying. Teens across all faiths were engaged and learned from those in the other faiths.
I believe that this interaction was incredibly important and impactful because in today’s political climate it is more important than ever to stand with our Muslim brothers and sisters. As Jews, we know what happens when populations target a religion; we cannot stand idly by. Education, through interfaith relations, is paramount to ending Islamophobia in our country. This commitment to justice as commanded by the Torah, צדק צדק תרדף, – Tzedek, tzedek tirdof – justice, justice shall you pursue, was embodied in my experience at the Muslim cultural center.
From my experience, I learned how similar my faith is to Islam and the reality of bullying and harassment in schools towards Muslim teens. I was shocked and flattered by how welcoming the members of the mosque were, and I was blown away when, after prayer, many people approached me to shake my hand and thank me for observing their faith. Yet, it is I who should be thanking them for allowing me to learn from and observe their faith, which gave me such an interfaith experience I won’t soon forget.