This morning, Mark Halawa emailed me and called my attention to a pretty amazing essay he wrote on Aish about his journey to Judaism . Raised as a Muslim in Kuwait, Mark learned as an adult that his maternal, grandmother was Jewish. Confusing to say the least – Judaism is a passed through the mother and Islam is passed through the father. He began studying a bit of Judaism and now identifies as both a Jew and a Zionist.
My mother’s parents met in Jerusalem when my grandfather, an Arab from the West Bank, was serving in the Jordanian army fighting the Zionists. He was 18 years old and my grandmother was 16. Her father ran a school in Jerusalem — the same school where she would jump off the wall to meet my handsome, uniformed grandfather. They fell in love, got married, and lived for a number of years in Shechem (Nablus).
After my grandfather was discharged from the Jordanian army, the family moved to Kuwait, where oil profits were fueling huge business and construction projects. That’s where my mother met my father and got married.
As a young adult in Toronto, Mark went to a synagogue for the first time. I’ll say that his experience of finding such a diverse synagogue on the first try is not typical, but it is music to my ears. Diversity is at the heart of Jewish living, although many of us have closed our eyes to the many rich cultures within our religion.
As I walked in, the first person I saw looked Indian. He shook my hand, said “Shabbat Shalom,” and handed me a kippah. Then I saw a black man which really surprised me. And Dr. Block was there, too.
After the services finished, I met everyone over Kiddush. I spoke with an Egyptian couple and we shared our personal stories. Jews from all backgrounds were gathered together and I was another piece of this puzzle.
After Kiddush, I accepted Dr. Block’s invitation to join him for lunch. I told him: “I can’t believe I’m here, singing and praying in Hebrew. I could never have imagined it.”
He smiled and said, “It’s not so hard to believe. Every Jew is born with a little Torah and a little Menorah inside.” He then pressed his shoulder up against mine and said, “All it takes is for another Jew to bump into him and light it up.”