I wear some unusual garments as a rabbi: the leather straps of tefillin during weekday prayer services; a fringed shawl-like tallit, often tied as a cape, as I run up and down flights of stairs on Shabbat; a white kittel and Keds on Yom Kippur; dreidel leggings on Hanukkah; a fruit dress on Tu Bishvat; a Moses beard and biblical-style robe on Passover; even a Torah costume, to dance with my community on Simchat Torah.
Never, though, have I felt as self-conscious about my dress as last Friday, when I went to a mosque to pray “Jumma” with a scarf wrapped around my head, in my novice attempt to fashion a hijab.
Two weekends prior, as tens of thousands of people showed up on Saturday night to protest the refugee ban at airports across the United States, I was stuck at home with two little kids under 5. I felt like there was little I could do at that moment, and yet, I wanted to do something.
I was inspired the next day by a trip to the Jewish Museum in New York with friends from my daughter’s secular preschool, whose parents are first generation immigrants from China and Poland. As we spent the morning together, it was crystal clear that we have many of the same struggles: How do we get our 6-month-old babies to sleep through the night? How do we navigate the New York City kindergarten search process? And how can we fight against a system that is trying to keep immigrants—people like us—out?
In my quest to “do something,” I started with a simple Facebook post, asking my friends: “In how many languages can you say: ‘My house is your house, My city is your city, My country is your country?’” From that post, I gathered over a dozen languages from friends all over the world and then turned this collection into a banner co-created by the amazing students of the Hebrew School I lead. Our kids, ages 4 through 14—our beacons of hope and empathy—helped cut and paste the sayings, decorated the banner, signed their names, and added creative elements, such as, “We stick together stronger than hot glue!” Brothers and sisters signed their names next to each other, and some even asked to sign for their younger siblings, who are not yet old enough to join the effort.
When I unraveled the banner from two directions, the students commented: “It looks like the Torah!” How profound. Indeed, a work of art created by a diverse community of students, and at its center the idea that “You Shall Love Your Neighbor Like Yourself,” is a Torah that I am proud to live by and share with our neighbors.
That’s when the head rabbi of my congregation reached out to a local imam with whom he has a relationship, and asked if members of our community could visit his mosque in order to pray with our Muslim neighbors and show them love and support. The imam welcomed the idea warmly.
And so, on a Friday afternoon just days after many Muslims were barred entry from our country, I found myself wearing a long skirt, seated on the floor of a mosque, with my hair and part of my face covered by a hijab. I was anonymous in a room full of Muslim women worshippers. There was no way for the dozens of sisters to know that I was a rabbi—which was fine by me! I was perfectly happy to hide my face in a Koran and watch the Sheikh’s fiery sermon televised from the second floor up to the women’s section on the fourth floor.
My cover was only blown when the imam thanked not only Rabbi Jeremy, but also Rabbi Yael, and my cheeks turned crimson.
Seated on the floor of the mosque—bending and bowing amongst a crowd of women from all corners of the world, each wrapped in a colorful hijab—I was reminded that sometimes you must do things that make you very uncomfortable—physically, emotionally, and spiritually—in order to extend yourself to others and grow as a human being.
As the head rabbi and I presented my students’ work of art, our Torah-like banner, to our Muslim brothers and sisters, it was so clear that when you extend your love to others, they want to love you back. We were applauded and photographed. We were hugged and kissed. It was clear that when we share our Torah, we bring it to life, for ourselves and others.