by Suzanne Pollak
A rabbi, a priest and an imam walked into the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School May 10, and then began to seriously talk to the high school students about “Our Shared Bible.”
“It was very interesting and something we haven’t had,” said Jeremy Schooler, a ninth-grader. He explained that while he has had classes on other religions, they were all taught from a Jewish perspective.
The program was held at the start of Sivan, the month the Israelites received the Torah. The interfaith assembly was held to learn more about the texts of other religions, explained Miriam Stein, director of Jewish Life at the school in Rockville.
Rabbi Adam Raskin of Congregation Har Shalom in Potomac spoke first, calling the Torah “the diary of our people, the people who lived before me and were part of my family. It is my people’s story. It is the diary of my ancestors.”
Father Charles Gallagher, a parochial vicar at St. Mary’s Church in Rockville, spoke of the Book of Revelation, the final book of the New Testament. In that book, God reveals “the truth, truth that we did not know or could not know” without God revealing it, he said.
Revelation “provides the definitive answers” to Catholicism, Gallagher told the students, adding “God has fully revealed his plan through his son.”
The final speaker, Haytham Younis, an American born to parents from Syria, clearly attracted the students’ attentions most strongly. He told the students that the Hebrew Bible and the Quran were not that different.
Muslims believe that “some errors have crept in to the Torah, the psalms of David and the Gospel given to Jesus.” The Quran “has positive and critical statements” concerning both Jews and Christians, Younis said.
The biggest discrepancy, he noted, was the differing stories about Abraham’s son, Ishmael.
“Our traditions are basically the same,” he said.
Younis told the students he grew up without a strong religious background, but started to fall in love with Judaism while in college and his good friend was Jewish. Then he picked up the Quran, saw some similarities and ending up becoming deeply involved in his new religion.
He lived in Saudi Arabia for 12 years, where he studied Arabic and Islamic Law at the Islamic University in Madinah. He returned to this country in 2002.
When asked what was one thing they would like to change about their religion, Younis said he wished that Muslims weren’t so “insular” and quick to take a negative view. “They tend to take things out of context, grab one thing and focus on that,” he said.
Instead of emphasizing how Muslims should eat and dress and “criticize Jews who aren’t devout,” Younis said he wished Muslims would instead “emphasize what Muhammad’s life was and what he went through.”
Younis blamed a lot of “the frustrations” on living under dictatorships throughout the Middle East.
Rabbi Raskin said if he could change one thing, it would be to create a love of Judaism for the non-Orthodox. “I would love for them to be more passionate, more committed,” he said. “My dream really is to see liberal Judaism flourish.”
For Father Gallagher, “It’s not that the Scripture needs to change, it’s the people,” who need to have “a more passionate engagement of our faith.”
Following the assembly, a few students crowded the stage to talk with the speakers.
Hannah Halpern called the program “really interesting. It was awesome that they brought it to JDS,” said the 11th-grader, who attends an interfaith group with other high school students.