L.A. Jews, Muslims show solidarity at Shabbat Services

March 15, 2017
To express solidarity with the Jewish community, a small group of Muslims joined the Friday night service at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills on March 10. Photo courtesy of Marium Mohiuddin.

In her Shabbat sermon at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills on March 10, Rabbi Sarah Bassin spoke about “showing up.”

“We have all had the experience of someone showing up for us in a real way,” she said. “And, I would venture to guess, that we have all had the experience of someone failing to show up.  We remember what people do in our time of need.”

She directed her remarks to all her congregants, but especially to her Muslim friend Marium Mohiuddin, who sat with a small group of other Muslims as part of Mohiuddin’s eight-week initiative with help from the Islamic Center of Southern California (ICSC) to bring Muslims to Friday night services at various synagogues.

Launched on March 3 at IKAR with 15 Muslims participating, the program continued a week later at Temple Emanuel, with four Muslim guests. In the coming weeks, Muslims have been invited to Friday night services at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Temple Beth Shir Shalom, Temple Beth Am, Beth Chayim Chadashim and Leo Baeck Temple, and, after Passover has concluded, on April 21 at B’nai David-Judea.

“I’ve been at marches my whole life since the 1990s,” Mohiuddin said, but until the recent protest at Los Angeles International Airport against the Trump administration’s travel ban, “I hadn’t experienced people showing up for me. This was so incredible, it moved me and reminded me how important this is.”

The travel ban signed by President Donald Trump is aimed at people from select Muslim-majority countries. Meanwhile, anti-Semitic activity has been rising in the United States, inspiring Muslims and Jews to show up to support one another. In one prominent example, a Muslim activist started a crowd-funding campaign that has raised more than $160,000 from Muslims and Jews for desecrated Jewish cemeteries. Also, some Muslim military veterans have offered to stand guard at Jewish holy places and places of worship. Online, people of all faiths have promised that if there were to be a registry of U.S. Muslims, they would sign up in solidarity.

And L.A.-area Jews are reciprocating. In the face of threats or attacks against the Muslim community, Jews have gone to the ICSC to support them during prayers.

The presence of Muslims attending Shabbat services in Los Angeles is an expression of support that echoes efforts in other cities to promote community unity after anti-Semitic activities that include bomb threats to Jewish community centers and defacings of synagogues.

“I really want the Jewish community across the country to know about this, especially where people don’t have these dialogues, [to] show them that this is what L.A. is doing,” said Mohiuddin, a consultant who formerly was the communications coordinator at the Muslim Public Affairs Council.

As an alumna of a fellowship at NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change, Mohiuddin has many Jewish friends and participates at Jewish events so regularly that it’s not unusual for people to ask her if she is considering converting to Judaism. (She isn’t.)

Through the fellowship, she met many rabbis who became her friends, and she reached out to them to join her solidarity initiative. Bassin was the first rabbi on her list, but the idea grew from there: Eight rabbis signed on to host Muslims at services. The Islamic Center, NewGround and the Pacifica Institute helped promote the program to the Muslim community.

For Mohiuddin, a Friday night service at Temple Emanuel was a perfect opportunity to show solidarity, she said, because it’s an important part of what it means to be Jewish.

“If you get to be 40 and you don’t know what Shabbat is, you’re missing a lot of fundamental information about Jews,” she said. “You’re missing this weekly tradition, and that’s not acceptable. Shabbat is such a beautiful service, and why can’t we reap the benefit of that time of reflection?”

Mohiuddin also expressed envy for the experience of Shabbat in a small community.

“I’ve always loved the idea that at the end of the week, you put everything to rest, that for 24 hours some people even put technology aside,” she said. “There’s so much beauty in it. I love seeing people walking in Pico-Robertson. … What if all my friends lived in the same neighborhood and we all went to the same shul?”

Participants receive an email explaining where to be and when. In some cases, a rabbi will meet the group a few minutes early to describe the upcoming service, what it means and how it is observed. Muslims who commit to all eight — or even four — of the Shabbat services emerge with a better idea of the styles of Jewish worship in Los Angeles and how they may differ from one synagogue to another.

“We see that the songs are the same but sung differently,” she said. “I didn’t realize you could put your own melody to the songs — that’s so creative. [Before the Temple Emanuel service] I hadn’t met a female cantor. I’m also understanding the power of women rabbis,” she said.

Mohiuddin said the program is not a typical interfaith dialogue. It’s about being there in a space with people. It’s about interfaith relations, but it’s also about showing up for people.” 

“For marginalized groups and groups that are targets of our current administration, there are few things that feel more important right now than recognizing our shared humanity and showing up for one another,” said Rabbi Nate DeGroot, rabbinic fellow at IKAR. 

“Having our Muslim brothers and sisters show up at Shabbat services felt incredibly meaningful,” said IKAR member Neil Spears. “The room felt so much more full, so much more safe and alive. This is such a scary time for Muslims, Jews, immigrants and so many others. Literally showing up for each other is a powerful way to resist, to say that we are in this fight together. If there is anything positive that’s coming out of these divisive times, it’s a new sense of partnership between Jews and Muslims.”

Not only is it a scary time for Jews, it’s a scary time for Muslims, too, Bassin said in her sermon, adding that this was a moment “when two peoples know what it is to feel uncertain and vulnerable, this moment when two peoples under threat feel a little bit stronger — knowing that someone else is there to show up.”

“My Jewish friends have shown up for me so many times,” Mohiuddin said. “But we need to show up, too. We all do.”

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