Synagogue visit

From left, Sumaya, Samina Habib, Hira and Ambareen Haider listen to lay-rabbi Evan Orloff explain the Torah, the large scroll of Hebrew scriptures, during last Sunday’s visit to the Okanagan Jewish Community centre in Kelowna by members of the Kelowna Islamic Centre.

Centuries of misunderstanding evaporated as members of Kelowna’s Muslim community visited the Okanagan’s only synagogue last Sunday to learn about the Jewish faith.

About 60 people, more than half of them members of the Kelowna Islamic Centre, got a close-up look at the Torah — a large scroll containing part of the Hebrew scriptures. They listened to a Hebrew psalm and sat in the sanctuary of the Okanagan Jewish Community centre on Snowsell Road.

In exchange, Hassan Iqbal and his son Musab Hassan stood near the Torah to recite from the Qur’an and sing prayers in Arabic.

The gathering followed a similar event in February, when Muslim members hosted a contingent of Jewish visitors at a get-to-know-you function in the new mosque on Highway 33. Both communities share the will to look past the history that divides them and forge a longstanding friendship.

“The last thing I want our children to learn (about our relations) is from the news,” Rehan Sadiq told both congregations. “This kind of meeting is extremely important. We should talk about building bridges.”

Organizers circulated the visitors through three stations to inform them about the basics of Judaism. OJC members showed people the Torah, explained the prayer books, interpreted symbols of the synagogue and demonstrated artifacts.

Once everyone sat down, lay-rabbi Evan Orloff sang a psalm to the tune of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. OJC president Steven Finkleman discussed the importance of loving your neighbour as yourself. Grant Waldman and Annik Moyal-Waldman sang Shalom Aleichem, the Hebrew phrase for “peace be upon you.”

Once Islamic Centre president Mostafa Shoranick made a few remarks, Finkleman announced “let’s eat” and everyone lined up for a lavish buffet of Middle Eastern dishes. People mingled as they ate, and at least one group of Muslim and Jewish women agreed to meet again. Over dessert, Sadiq and Finkleman led a discussion of which charities both faith groups could jointly support.

The Muslim and Jewish communities got together last winter after representatives had met several times. They’d spent decades living in the same city without rubbing shoulders, and agreed to learn about each other’s history and culture.

When both groups sat down together, they discovered they shared many monotheistic beliefs, such as regarding Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob and Moses as prophets. Neither religion proselytizes or compels anyone to adopt their beliefs, and both agree it’s wrong to judge people.

“It’s not our differences that get in the way; it’s how we perceive our differences,” Orloff said.

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