It's interesting to think about the axes on which we differ. Scanning the Jewish participants in our retreat, I have some sense for where we're coming from. I know the names of our seminaries, the difference between HUC (Reform) and RRC (Reconstructionist) and YCT (Orthodox.) It's interesting to see who comes to prayer and what siddur (prayerbook) they use, who wears a kippah (all of the Jewish men, though none of the other Jewish women), what subjects rise up at mealtimes among and between us: one rabbinic program versus another, experiences in Israel and the West Bank, internships and high holiday pulpits.
But meeting the Muslim participants on this retreat, I realize just how much I don't know. What are the differences between their forms of Islam? What are the implications of how they dress, or of which scholars or sources they cite? I don't know enough to know what I don't know. I'm working with three other students (two of us Jewish, two Muslim) to plan the session on "Difficult Conversations" for our final morning together, and as we began today to brainstorm a list of what we imagine the difficult conversations between our communities might be, I was chagrined to discover how many of the same negative stereotypes each of us has heard about the other.
But I can tell you that tonight, at our storytelling session, almost every one of us had a story about love and family and grandparents to share while we noshed on warm cookies and cold milk. That I've seen Jewish students diagramming Hebrew grammar on the blackboard for Arabic-speakers. That I sat last night on a park bench overlooking a lake with a Muslim woman, and I shared a favorite Biblical text (psalm 27, which we'll soon be reading daily during Elul) and she shared a favorite Qur'anic text (an excerpt from surat An-Nur), and then we saw the lawn fill up with fireflies, little blessings of light.
The days are long and dense. We've heard two amazing scholars present on the Joseph/Yusuf story in the Torah and Qur'an (and later realms of commentary), and we have two more to go. I'm looking really forward to the other presentations, and to digesting some of what we've learned and sharing it here in time. But almost more than that, I'm looking forward to mealtimes tomorrow -- to seeing who I wind up sitting with, and what we wind up talking about, and what I'm able to learn from my fellow participants about who we all are. הנה מה טוב ומה נעים / Hineh mah tov u-mah nayim: how good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters can sit and learn together.