Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A nice Jewish boy at the Ground Zero Mosque

I went out last night to have dinner at a friend's place for a potluck.  The address I had was for Park Place. While googling the directions, I was offered with two addresses- a Park Place in Manhattan and a Park Place in Brooklyn.  I debated asking, but since he was a lifelong New Yorker, I assumed he lived in Manhattan.

I hopped the 3 train up to Park Place and got off in Lower Manhattan as the sun was setting.  The purple darkness was beginning to envelope the city.

As I was walking down Park Place looking for the apartment building, I passed a glass storefront with a Moroccan lamp inside.  The rest of the space looked essentially empty, save for a few people sitting on the carpet.  I glanced at a handwritten sign that mentioned an eid.

I kept walking to the end of the block, and saw the World Trade Center tower under construction. I then realized that was the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque."

Remember all the hubbub over the decision to allow a mosque built two blocks from the World Trade Center?  All the racist, xenophobic anti-Muslims came out of the woodwork over the temerity to build a Muslim house of prayer so close to site of the World Trade Center.

And that was it.  An innocuous, practically-empty room-turned-prayer-space was what caused the bigots to hit the roof.  The mosque-rade as Jon Stewart had called the commotion.

I stopped, turned around and decided to show my support.

I walked into the mosque, passed the security desk.  I doffed my shoes, and took a seat on the floor.  The room was sparse and spartan.  Just a simple carpet and white walls with a kufic line across the wall.  Not exactly the Grand SuperMosque that the opponents railed against.

The room had about a dozen men of different races and ethnicities ranging from African to South Asian to Arab.  There was one fellow in a police uniform.  And me, a nice Jewish boy in the mosque.  Not the first time, and probably not the last time.

I guess we reached a critical mass for a minyan and all the congregants got in a prayer line, myself included.

I know enough of Muslim customs to follow along the prayers, so I bowed and prostrated.  I alternated Arabic prayers (B'smillah al-rahman al-rahim), Hebrew kadish (Yitgadal, v'yitkadash) and my own ecumenical prayers (Oh God and Father) as touched my forehead softly to the floor.  We went through the prayers to welcome Eid al-Adha, the Feast of the Sacrifice in which Ibrahim offered his son Ishmael on the ka'aba to a demanding God (or Isaac in Jerusalem, depending who you ask).

I first celebrated this Eid years ago in Morocco, with my host family in Rabat. We had a sheep living in our apartment for days.  When the sheep arrived, I wondered how I could eat this creature living outside my door.  But two days of early morning bleating, I was ready to kill the thing myself.  Sacrifice it, we did.  This was the first time I saw a life pass out of a creature, as I watched its eyes glass over.  I still have its cured hide as a rug- I can still see the look on the customs officials' faces when they asked where I got the sheep skin, and I replied that I had ate him.  But I digress.

The prayers finished, and I made my way out of the mosque.  I soon learned that I was indeed lost, that I needed to be in Brooklyn, and that I had no business in Manhattan.  But nothing is by chance, and I don't think I have ever had a more meaningful lost experience.  

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