On a recent Friday I walked into a synagogue in the middle of Madrid with 140 of North America’s most dedicated young Jewish philanthropists. Though we were traveling to Spain and Morocco as part of the Jewish Federation of North America’s 2018 National Young Leadership Cabinet Study Mission, none of us knew another soul there.
None of us knew any of their customs. Most of us couldn’t even converse with the congregants. We were truly strangers in a strange land.
And then the rabbi started speaking: “Yitgadal, v’yitkadash shmay rabah.” May His great Name grow exalted and sanctified.
An instant later we no longer felt like strangers, or even guests. With the simple recitation of one of our people’s oldest prayers, we became members of a kehillah — a community — stitched together by a common goal to prepare for that week’s Sabbath as we all said together, “Amen.”
While we may have entered a shul to curious stares from congregants wondering who (or what) just took over their special place, we walked out of shul just 60 minutes later with congregants of all ages wishing us, “Shabbat shalom.”
This moment perfectly encapsulates the JFNA National Young Leadership Cabinet.
In both Spain and Morocco we witnessed many more moments that proved the Jewish community knows no borders.
When 18 elderly Jews in the remote north of Morocco needed kosher meat, we were there for them with a truck. When residents at a Casablanca old age home needed some company, we were there with bright smiles and big hugs. When families told us they could not afford to send their kids to Madrid’s only Jewish day school, we showed up with a check.
Thus is the power of my experience with the National Young Leadership Cabinet. This was an experience none of us, the 140 participants, will ever forget. I think I can speak for all of us when I say that we return home energized and inspired about the future of not just the Jewish people, but the future of successful co-existence of Jews, Muslims and Christians.
Brian Ashin is a member of the board of directors of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.