Recently I've had the unique experience of going to a Mosque during Ramadan and an Orthodox temple for Yom Kippur. It was my first time in a Mosque ever and then a week later it was my first time going to temple since highschool.
Both were interesting, to say the least. At the African American Mosque in Brooklyn I stuck out like a sore thumb. Still, everyone was pleasant. I received a second glance or two, but they were really looks of surprise, not a "get the hell out of here you white devil" kind of look.
Afterwords I went with my two Muslim friends to eat Halal food (their version of Kosher food) and talked about the relationship between Jews, Muslims and African Americans. Being somewhat liberal minded, we essentially agreed that ignorance breeds misunderstanding and leads to fear, hate and suffering. Yoda truly was wise in the ways of man.
I did find it interesting that the first question he asked me was why "Jews are so rich." Instead of being offended, I took his question to heart and gave him my best answer.
1. We look white.
Jews and blacks used to live in ghettos together. Somehow Jews pulled themselves out, but that was through a lot of assimilation -- which was possible because we could blend in a lot easier.
2. We did "dirty work."
The entertainment industry, for example, when it first began was considered un-christian. Lucky for us, it wasn't un-jewish. Thus, Hollywood becamse controlled by the Jews. The same goes for Vegas and banking (way back in the day).
We value education. Although, the more I think of it, this is a cop-out. All cultures, in their ideal at least, value education.
Afterwords my new Muslim friend drove me home and we exchanged numbers. Perhaps there was some tension during parts of our conversation, but for the most part it was a meeting of minds. In the end, the big bomb -- Israel -- was avoided, because I hold no personal ties to that country.
About a week later on Yom Kippur I went to an Orthodox temple with a friend who just moved to New York and really wanted someone to come with him to pray.
My first reaction was how similar the two were.
The women were kept in a separate room. The men were gyrating and bowing their bodies back and forth, mumbling foreign words while wearing funny hats and a robe.
While I blended in a little easier at the temple, it was still painfully obvious that I did not know Hebrew and wasn't familiar with how Orthodox Jews pray. (The only prayer I recognized I think came from the musical Fiddler on the Roof).
This became an issue when they asked if there was a Cohn in the temple.
Cohn's are part of a special tribe in Judaism. Back in the day we were the high priests and were relegated certain privileges and had to do special prayers that only we were allowed to do.
My friend ratted me out and soon enough I had a temple full of orthodox Jews looking to me to perform my family's special prayer.
I confessed my rustiness in Hebrew, but they didn't seem to mind. They walked me through it step by step and word by word. While I felt a little silly giving a special prayer for these people, who were obviously more religious than myself, they were into the idea that a Cohn was going to give them a blessing -- so who am I to deny them that. Still, you can imagine the awkward feeling I had when I stepped down from the alter and everyone was finally explaining to me the words I just said and the history behind the prayer that only I could do.
Going to the Mosque and the Synagogue back to back gave me an interesting perspective on New York and religion in general. I'll file those under the interesting experience section of my mind.