Unknowingly, we arrived as the Sunday school program was ending and the families were gathering for their prayer service. Without hesitation, they welcomed us in with open arms and asked permission to introduce us to their members. We presented our flowers to an elderly woman, as they explained to us the importance of showing respect to older generations. We stayed and watched them pray. Their leaders went out of their way to ensure our comfort, all while explaining what was happening. I learned rather quickly that my core values as a Jew are quite similar to theirs. I saw first-hand how family, tradition and respect for one another play a significant role in their lives. After, many families came up to us and thanked us for coming. They shook our hands, gave us hugs and expressed sincere gratitude that their children had the opportunity to observe this type of support from people outside their religious community. In a world of uncertainty, our visit had provided reassurance that kindness and love will prevail. While reflecting upon our visit, I came to the realization that as much as the families at the mosque appreciated our gesture, I too was longing for this kind of support.
Throughout history, Muslims and Jews have had a lengthy, complex and often tense relationship, which admittedly, I struggle to understand. In today’s political climate, we have the unfortunate commonality of being increasingly targeted in various hate crimes. We both have also been subject to false accusations based on our religious identities. We are two separate communities, often living as neighbors but leading separate lives. Following the visit, I began to talk with friends and the Rabbis at Adath Jeshurun Congregation. I reconnected with leaders at the NWICC and began a conversation about what we could do to bring our communities together. Thus, Love Your Neighbor was born. Our intent? Embrace our similarities, respect our differences, and organically cultivate new bonds in order to model for our children a world filled with unity and acceptance.
Planning for the first Love Your Neighbor event was truly a team effort and not something I could have done on my own. The process was natural and unforced because so many people were willing to donate their time and expertise. We planned to hold a short Havdalah service in the social hall at Adath. We’d have activities for kids, a human BINGO game to foster conversations, and what better way to entice people to show up than with a potluck dessert bar. Even with that, my biggest concern was whether or not people would understand the purpose of what we were doing and see the value in sacrificing a Saturday evening to attend with their family.
It was evident shortly after our start time that I had nothing to worry about. Our final estimates indicated around 200 people were in attendance, the majority from Adath and NWICC. It didn’t take long for people to start intermingling. Looking around the room, strangers were becoming neighbors, and neighbors were becoming friends. I heard people making dates to attend singles events. Business cards were passed around. And a simple game of Twister had youngsters hysterically laughing with their newfound companions. Many people ventured into the sanctuary, where the Torah was brought out and a spontaneous learning session took place.
I struggle with finding the right words to describe the warmth of the room inside Adath that evening, while outside it was cold and dreary. The feeling of being surrounded by unity, love, and acceptance was beyond what I could have imagined. For me, the evening was not about politics or protesting, but about healing through human interaction. After the event I heard people from NWICC felt welcome. Many had always been interested in entering a synagogue but never had the chance. I heard from fellow Adath congregants that for the first time since the election they felt hopeful about the future and many felt inspired to get more involved and make a positive impact on their community.
Many are now talking about how to evolve this event and keep up the momentum, including connecting our youth groups and Sunday schools. We look forward to our next Love Your Neighbor event, which will be held at NWICC on Sunday, March 5 at 2 p.m.
In the meantime, when I read something upsetting in the news or feel anxiety about the direction of our country, all I need to do is think about that Saturday evening at Adath. The memory of that night gives me faith that we will overcome adversity, and we will do it with the support and the helping hands of our neighbors.