a colorful painting of two men playing chess
A Jew and a Muslim play chess in this painting from 13th-century Spain.

I shared a holy moment with my Muslim neighbor

Sometimes when the vastness of the pain and injustice in the world feels overwhelming, a small gesture on a local level can be a soothing balm to our troubled souls.

Yesterday was one of those days when I needed something tangible to combat my sense of helplessness against the barrage of bad news on the radio and TV. So my family and I went to the store and bought delicious food to give away: cookies, dates, fresh bread, oranges. When we got home, we arranged the food in a basket and walked across the street to our neighbors’ house.

Our neighbors are Muslim, and though they have lived in their house for a long time, I have had only one conversation with them, a few years ago when the grandmother of their family brought over a plate of lemon cake and candy during the height of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

At that time, she offered us the plate with no explanation, just that she wanted to give it to us to enjoy. We all understood why she was there and we were so moved by her gesture. We closed the door praying for peace on our little street, even if it doesn’t exist worldwide.

Yesterday, her daughter-in-law opened the door in her hijab. She was eight months pregnant and very surprised to see us on her doorstep. I gave her the basket and told her that it was an offering of peace for their family. I could almost not get the words out because of the tears fighting to pour out of my eyes.

She put her hand to her heart and introduced herself. She told us about her family. I wished her the traditional Hebrew blessing for a pregnant woman, that the baby should come out b’sha’ah tovah, at the good, right, blessed time.  She is naming her baby Maya, meaning princess.

The whole interaction lasted just a few minutes, but staring into that woman’s eyes and talking with her filled me with hope, and renewed my commitment to continue working for justice and peace. I didn’t need to explain that I was moved to bring her food because so many Muslims have been blocked from taking flights to the United States, while others have been detained at U.S. airports upon arrival. We all understood.

I see you, I tried to say with my eyes. I see the holy spark of the Divine in you and I pray with all of my heart that peace will come to Jews and Muslims and all people across our country during this divided time.

My prayer this Shabbat is for us all to find small moments of holiness to help us navigate the fear and uncertainty in our world.

Jennie Chabon
Cantor Jennie Chabon

Cantor Jennie Chabon is a member of the clergy at Congregation B’nai Tikvah in Walnut Creek.