Adas Israel is a very large synagogue and as we walked towards what looked like the main doors, namely five giant doors that faced out towards the street, we found that we would have to walk around to the side entrance according to the sign. As we did, we found a lady walking in front of us and she kindly asked if we were coming in. When we said yes, she warmly welcomed us and asked us to follow her. To be honest, her friendliness was a great comfort as strangers walking in to a house of worship that wasn’t our own, and she made us feel completely welcome.
After going through security (which was quite surprising), who promptly checked our bags, she lead us into one of the prayer rooms which seemed to double as a kind of library and display room. Books lined the shelves, tables and chairs were set out, and artifacts shone in the glass display windows that housed them. Towards the front was a beautiful wooden display with a flowered tree and a bird; it was also where the podium was set, with a couple rows of chairs intended for a small congregation.
While I could dwell on the similarities between Judaism and Islam, and the parallels between our prayer services, of which there are very many, what I really want to focus on is how the overwhelming kindness of the congregation colored our experience. Most of the congregants were older, and three of them came over as the lady who had brought us in talked to us, shook our hands, and welcomed us warmly. Meanwhile, the lady excitedly told us about the prayer, showed us the book that we would read from, and explained what we would be doing. In fact, as we sat in the front row, she repeatedly explained each and every prayer throughout the entire 20 minute service of Hebrew recitations, making sure we were keeping up and helping to instruct us.
After the prayer, the rabbi who had led us and had actually introduced himself earlier came to us and asked us if we had any questions. I asked a couple of questions, for example: about the difference between Orthodox and Conservative synagogues and about facing Jerusalem during prayers, as well as about the beautiful wooden wall, which happened to be the ark that held all the Torah scrolls. He even allowed us to open it up and look at the decorated scrolls that sat inside.
When he left, the lady kept talking to us and actually proceeded to give us a 30 minute tour of much of the synagogue, explaining what prayers took place in different rooms, among other things. She also walked us towards the metro on the way out, and when she heard that we were on our way to a vigil for the three Chapel Hill victims, she also voiced her solidarity with us and how terrible the tragedy was.
Looking back, I really enjoyed my visit to the synagogue. Having had some difficulty getting permission to visit another one in the area, the welcoming of Adas Israel was really special. As someone who is clearly from a different faith, especially as a visible Muslim, I was a little scared to go to an off-campus religious service, fearing that I would not be in the same safe, welcoming, interfaith environment we are so privileged to have at Georgetown. Also, while I do not feel like the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a religious one, I still feared that someone who does view it as so would feel some animosity towards me. While this may be true of some places, I was grateful for experiencing the exact opposite at Adas Israel. In fact, my friend joked that she felt like she was a long time member of the congregation by the time we left, illuminating the kindness and familiarity we were treated with, and serving as a model for any interfaith experience.