Time to Rest: A Muslim Student Reflects on Shabbat Service

By: Noreen Sajwani

December 18, 2014

Having attended a Hindu puja, Catholic Mass, and Buddhist meditation service before, I decided to attend the Jewish Shabbat service to gain a new perspective on a religious tradition I have not delved into much while at Georgetown. Coming from a long week and not necessarily excited to go on a calming spiritual, albeit unfamiliar, journey, I rushed into the Makom Jewish Prayer Space in the Leavey Center. I was ready to get this show on the road and was too hungry to even pretend to say I wasn’t completely there for the food in addition to prayer. When I walked in, Rabbi Rachel Gartner sat facing us while there were chairs in rows and students dispersed in front of her. There was a booklet on each seat that we loosely followed from back to front, with both the Hebrew scripture as well as the English phonetic for those who couldn’t read the scripture.

Although a couple of my friends are Jewish, I didn’t see any of them at the service that particular Friday, and I felt a bit lonely at first. Disheartened, I opened the prayer book to fumble through and figure out where we were. Someone brought up a chair next to me and sat down quickly. Before I even looked up, I knew this was my Catholic friend whom I had spent a lot of time getting to know the previous semester, as we studied abroad together in Madrid. His cheerful smile and willingness to help put me at ease almost immediately. Then I remembered he helped the Jewish Chaplaincy set up for services on Friday, and that’s why he was there. Despite the fact that he wasn’t Jewish, my friend knew all of the prayers and recited them aloud as Rabbi Rachel sang the hymns. I began to reminisce on how this experience to him was much like my own with the Hindu community on campus, wherein I felt at home even though I wasn’t explicitly connecting to the religious tradition I had grown up in at the moment.

One thing I loved about the service was that there were a variety of ways to be involved. For example, there was a portion where Rabbi Rachel told us to silently read a page and then say aloud the words that resonated with us the most. Another thing we did involved singing stanzas, while we recited other portions of the prayers. Towards the end, there was a small break in the service where we were told to introduce ourselves to others we didn’t know and speak to them for a bit. This practice reminded me of the part in the Catholic Mass where you shake hands and say, “May peace be with you,” allowing for another type of involvement in the service.

Finally, there was a part in the service where we called upon the Sabbath by turning and facing the door of Makom so that we could invite in peace and rest for the upcoming 24 hours. After the service was over, I asked Rabbi Rachel more about this, and I loved her explanation of the Sabbath for Georgetown students specifically. She stated the concept of Sabbath on a Friday evening fits well because classes and jobs are traditionally done for the week, and it becomes a time to look back on the week and appreciate all that has come by. Rabbi Rachel guides this reflection by asking us to take a moment to try to find the peace within ourselves and commit to bringing it out throughout the next day. Afterwards, she also mentioned that Shabbat is about promising oneself the time to take a deep breath and rest, something we often forget to do in our busy lives. She has seen students do this in the form of something simple, like not responding to emails on Saturday, and added that it doesn’t have to be something dramatic, so long as it is intentional and purposeful.

All in all, I enjoyed this service because it was nice to be a part of a service I didn’t traditionally know much about. Although one of my best friends at Georgetown is Jewish, I think I’ve been so concerned in drawing parallels between Christianity and Islam that I’ve lost sight of the idea that all faiths share some rites, rituals, and practices across traditions that make them similar. This service helped remind me of that and pushed me to learn more not only about Judaism but seek to find those parallels through interfaith dialogue and prayer.

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Time to Rest: A Muslim Student Reflects on Shabbat Service