Ottawa Imam builds bridges with shul
OTTAWA — A group of Muslim students and congregants accompanied Imam Mohamed Jebara for a friendly and educational visit with his friend Cantor Daniel Benlolo at Congregation Beth Shalom earlier this month.
Jebara, the headmaster at Cordova Academy and Andalusia College, and his group were warmly welcomed to the synagogue March 10 by Benlolo for an afternoon of sharing, of both information and more tangible gifts.
Benlolo presented Jebara with a shofar, a menorah, a kiddush cup and a book about the history of Beth Shalom.
Jebara gave Benlolo a carved wooden Qur’an holder and several copies of the Qur’an, as well as a prayer rug and a string of prayer beads.
“We are collecting Jewish artifacts and books, which will be used to educate our students at Andalusia College and Cordova Academy. We still need tfillin, a tallit and a yad for our display,” said Jebara in an email to The CJN. (He had been suffering from a throat infection and was unable to speak at the event).
Benlolo and Jebara both emphasized the similarities between their two religions.
“The visit to the synagogue was a fascinating experience for all my students and members of my congregation who were present,” Jebara said.
“It was so heartwarming to sow the seeds of friendship with members of our elder-sister religion, a religion with which we share so many beliefs and practices. In fact, there is not a religion on earth more similar to Islam than Judaism.”
Both clergymen have been involved in interfaith dialogue with various other local religious groups, and they’re united in their goal to further learn from one another.
“We would like our collaboration to lead to understanding, respect, friendship and ultimately love. Furthermore, we would like to organize classes for each other to learn about each other’s beliefs, practices, ceremonies and rituals. Picnics, community service and joint charitable work are also in the forecast,” Jebara said.
Benlolo said other ideas include mixed sports teams for university students, such as hockey or basketball.
“Each team would consist of students from both groups, so they would learn to interact in a friendly manner,” he said.
“[Beth Shalom’s] Rabbi [Scott] Rosenberg and I have been working together to promote interfaith experiences in our synagogue. We greet and encourage many school and religious groups to come through our doors at Beth Shalom, to teach and learn from each other, thus building bridges in the community,” Benlolo added.