“Avram Went… and His Children Followed”

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May 1, 2005
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Stephen Julius Stein

This year, 44 Los Angeles Jews, Christians, and Muslims traveled to Israel and Jordan on a ten-day pilgrimage. Upon arrival, we realized that the Jews and Christians would “cruise” through border control, but what about the Muslims? Security had received a communiqu

Twenty-four hours later the evening stars sparkled above Nazareth. The Christians were eager to pray in the Synagogue Church where Jesus began his public ministry. But it was also time for the Islamic evening prayer and for havdalah. As we chanted the evening prayers and havdalah, a symphony of God’s Word murmured forth. When the luminous light of the havdalah candle was passed from pilgrim to pilgrim, we felt a Presence beyond us all. One day down and nine to go.

We all yearned to share our holy sites, but since the current Intifada, only Muslims are allowed in the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Heated conversations between our Muslim women and the guards brokered a deal; Jews and Christians could stand 30 feet behind the entrance of the mosque and look through one door. We politely formed a line and each of us took a peek. But one of the Muslim men told the guard, “This is a shame upon Islam!” and refused to leave until we were let it in. In the ensuing commotion he was swiftly escorted out of sight. Forty-five anxious minutes later, he returned with the Sheikh (and his retinue) in tow and we were, suddenly, royalty, treated to a VIP tour of both the Dome and the Mosque. Their beauty and holiness aside, nothing could match the feeling of being a Jew in Jerusalem with a Muslim fighting for my rights.

For Jews, the “Way of the Cross” is an historical walk through the Old City, highlighting various stops in the last hours of Jesus’ life. But it took on new significance when our Christian clergy turned each stop into a moment of prayer and reflection. Now, back in Los Angeles, life has changed. The pilgrims are regularly visiting schools and religious institutions, teaching the extraordinary lessons we learned. We visit each other in the hospital when illness strikes; we’re lunching together because we won’t let go of the deep friendship God’s grace brought to us. The Christians and Muslims are having an arts festival; the Jews and Muslims will make a seder together, and additional pilgrimages are being planned.

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Rabbi Stephen Julius Stein joined Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles following his ordination in 2003 from HUC-JIR. He currently is Vice-President of the Wilshire Center Interfaith Council and Co-Chair of QESHET: The LGBT Network of Reform Rabbis. From 1978 - 1998, Mr. Stein was a conductor of symphony orchestras, opera, and ballet in North America, Canada, Mexico and Israel.

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