Under the “Meet Your Neighbor, An Interfaith Adventure” program organized by the Faith Alliance of Metro Atlanta (FAMA), the Congregation Or Hadash opened their doors to a group of about thirty guests belonging to different local Christian and Muslim denominations to their Sabaath Service in Sandy Springs on July 20. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community (GA Chapter) was represented by three members including Women’s Auxiliary President Farhat Pall and outreach Secretary Mahmooda Rehman.
As part of the three day program from July 19-July 21, Faith Alliance members have been given a unique opportunity to interact with people of four different faiths to foster mutual respect and create a better understanding of the different styles of worships in each tradition.
The website of Or Hadash promotes it as “an egalitarian, Conservative congregation dedicated to providing a warm and welcoming Jewish environment in which to build spiritual and social connections through prayer, learning, music and Tikkun Olam”. The husband and wife team of Argentina natives Rabbi Mario Karpuj and Rabbi Dr. Analia Bortz founded the congregation in 2003 after moving to Atlanta in the year 2000. The diverse congregation has now grown to about four hundred families.
The theme of the Sabaath service revolved around the “The Ten Commandments” and showing gratitude to God. But, before its start at around 9:15 a.m., the hosts welcomed the guests and discussed some basic Jewish faith traditions including the special prayer plan for Sabaath. According to dictionary.com, Sabaath (a Hebrew word) is the seventh day of the week, Saturday and is meant for religious observance and rest. Usually a 15-20 minute service on a working day, this service lasted for about three hours in observance of Sabaath.
Both men and women are recommended to cover their heads before entering the prayer service area. The special head covering for men is called a “Kippah” (skull cap).
In his opening remarks, Rabbi Mario Karpuj informed the visitors that a Jewish service is not dependent on many things so it can happen anywhere. Before the service could commence, each Rabbi wore their “Tallit”, the Jewish prayer shawl. “It needs to be a rectangular piece of cloth. Having corners is important”, explained Rabbi Analia. The reason she said was that each corner can then be embellished with eight pieces of yarn along with five knots to serve as a reminder for the 613 Torah commandments.
This newly transformed synagogue used to be an old paint shop. Rabbi Marc mentioned that before turning this structure into a synagogue, his congregation called a few local churches home. Rabbi Analia was really proud of the fact this structure is holy not only because of the purpose it is used for but also because they have tried to make is as “Green” as possible. Therefore, it was a conscious decision to use eco-friendly materials during the renovation process.
The worship area was a spacious room with clean lines ample to cater needs of the congregation. In the simple yet beautiful setting, the viewer’s eyes are instantly drawn to the built-in “Ark” facing eastwards towards Jerusalem that houses four Torah scrolls. Rabbi Marc gave a little introduction to each one and how it was acquired for the temple. The Torah scrolls are given the utmost respect in the Jewish tradition since they contain the laws given to Prophet Moses (Peace be upon Him).
It was fascinating to know that even in this day and age, the Torah scrolls are still hand written, a process that could take up to a year to finish. In the Jewish tradition, parchment used for writing has to come from the skin of a kosher animal. Believe it or not, one of the scrolls in possession of this congregation is written on parchment made from skin of deer.
The visitors were offered to have a closer look at the scrolls but it was explained that nobody is allowed to touch it to protect the writing from getting smudged from impurities of the hand. In fact, whenever somebody has to read from them, they have to use a pointer called “Yad”, a Hebrew word that literally means a “hand”.
Giving the history of the three daily prayers prescribed for the followers of Judaism, Rabbi Marc informed the guests that prayers were not part of the Jewish tradition initially. They replaced the practice of sacrifice around 70 AD after the destruction of the second Jewish temple. He also mentioned that just like in the Muslim tradition, sometimes the day and night time prayers are combined.
The service that concluded around noon with lunch switched between Torah reading/commentary and Sabaath and festival readings. Instead of a single sermon, young and old, men and women of the congregation took part in the readings bringing in a sense of participation and unity.
Although, Rabbi Aalia explained the basic concept of the verses before each reading segment in English, all verses were sung in Hebrew language. Observing faithful chanting the praise of God in an ancient foreign language reminded of the common root the three major monotheistic religions Judaism, Christianity and Islam share, that is, the concept of oneness of God.
It also affirms that the creator called “Allah” in Islam is the living God. He was always there and will always remain and that “all places of worship belong to Allah; so call not on any one beside Allah”(Quran 72:19).
The opportunity to observe praises of God in a Jewish temple in the month of Ramadan is a unique blessing. In order to bring peace to the world, there is an absolute need to know your neighbor.
Take of the day; You say Shalom and I say Salam but what the heart desires is the same “Peace”.