The Universality of Faith

The sign posted beside the restroom reminded parishioners about tahara.

“What does that mean?” I asked Nancy, my lovely guide at the Islamic Center of America mosque.

“Before we can pray, we must have ablution, we must be clean, pure,” she answered.

“In Hebrew, taharat ha mishpachah¬†means purity of the family,” I said. “The root word is the same.”

And Nancy told me about the group she gathered of women from various faiths, who shared food and stories and realized that, at the core, we are all the same.

I spent my early morning today at the ICA, meeting lovely women who bake bread and cookies which compose one of the cornerstone fundraisers for the mosque. They’ve been doing it for more than half a century, and their stories will be in my new book, Holy Breads, due out next year by Read the Spirit Books.

The comforting warmth of the ovens and the spices and the dough pounded by hand and with smiles and love were reassuring. But the notion that we are more similar than we are different, was moreso.

When I walked in the door of the mosque, Nancy’s sister Fay handed me a head scarf and helped me wrap it around my hair so only my face showed. For her, I didn’t mind – it was a mark of respect – and I was aware at the same time how much I hated covering my hair when I was orthodox.

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – and so many other faiths – share a value of modesty and humility. We break bread as a way of marking important moments and days in our lifecycle and in our calendar year. Even our words come from the same roots.

It’s a familiar lament – you know how many lives have been lost over arguments about whose beliefs are the right ones. But it IS remarkable that we continue this adversity when, in the end, we are saying the same things.

“We take care of our guests,” admonished one lovely older woman who was trying to give me a hard-boiled egg she had prepared at home and carted in an egg carton to the mosque to share with her community. “Please, have breakfast with us. Bread, cheese and olives, that’s a traditional Arabic breakfast.”

I looked around at the tables. The foods were so familiar. It’s what I love about Israeli breakfasts.

We are all the same. Let’s start living it.

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