Thursday: An Epic Journey
by Kim and Kate
Thursday started off with a jolly and exhausted (we mean really exhausted) van ride to Al Aqsa, an Islamic school and mosque. The building was beautiful, and an interfaith art project decorated the outside walls. Members of the Jewish and Muslim communities came together to decorate tiles that had all the 99 Islamic names of Allah. Zeina from the Arab-American Development Corp and the school principal gave us a tour of the school and showed us their worship space. After the tour, they both talked to us about Islam and answered some of our questions. We really appreciated the time they took to speak with us despite their busy days, particularly Zeina, who stayed afterwards to tie up some loose ends and last questions from what the principal had discussed. It was nice to have two perspectives and hear two different interpretations of Islam - a great reminder that even within the same faith, people approach it differently.
After our time at Al Aqsa, we went to Philabundance, a Philadelphia food pantry (the largest in the city!!), for service. The Arab-American Development Corp receives food from Philabundance and distributes it to some members of the Al Aqsa community, so we were really happy to help out. Some members of our group made GREAT friends with our fellow volunteers from Wells Fargo. They were a very enthusiastic team, and even had their own cheer. It went a little like this:
GIVE ME A W! (W!)
GIVE ME AN E! (E)
GIVE ME AN L! (L)
and then it dissolved. Despite the fact that one woman offered to help out with the spelling of "Fargo," the second part of the cheer often got left off. However, we found this even more hilarious and "SECOND L" has since provided us with absurd amounts of laughter. It has become our rallying cry for any situation, no matter now unapplicable it is. Example, you ask?
Kate: "Hey Kim, what time to we have to wake up tomorrow?"
Kim: "Around 8:30."
Kate: "That's early.... but we can do it. GIVE ME A SECOND L!"
Kim and anyone else in earshot: "SECOND L!"
Aside from this hilarity, we were happy to help out by packing supplemental food boxes. This food goes to the elderly who do not have enough food for the month. With the help of Philabundance's snazzy new assembly line technology, we packed boxes, built boxes, and stacked boxes. (Except for Kate and Emily, who had sandals on and were relegated to the back Receiving Office instead of working the warehouse. we loved doing the paperwork though. did you know that 25,000 lbs of whole beef heads were recently recalled because they hadn't had their tonsils removed!? Apparently, that can cause diseases! who knew.)
That afternoon at Mishkan Shalom, Rabbi Linda spoke to us in the sanctuary. We got a great explanation of the different movements of Judaism - Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist. Rabbi Linda focused on Reconstructionist, and talked a lot about her journey and story as a lesbian rabbi. It was, for lack of a better word, inspirational. (Kate's opinion: I thought Reconstructionism was amazing. I loved the focus on an individual approach to faith and really liked the progressive mindset all the while maintaining the beautiful traditions and history of Judaism. Kim's opinion: It seemed radical socially but still a logical application of the Torah to the modern world.) In short: we loved Rabbi Linda. She was so informative, so welcoming, and also a very funny woman with a great perspective on life. :)
That night we met with the YES Coalition! This is an organization in Philadelphia that lists/organizes communities of all different religions and faiths that self-identify as LGBT friendly. The wonderful people who spoke to us were:
-Matt, a recent college graduate and member of the Orthodox Jewish community
-Celeste, a Christian pastor who started her own congregation
-Pat, who runs a Zen Buddhist temple
-Shelly, who is an LGBT ally in the Jewish community
-Sister Lyngine, an Independent Catholic nun
All of these five people shared their incredible stories with us. Throughout the week, we've been talking about LGBT issues with all of the religious communities we've encountered. It was great to meet people who tackled this issue head on while maintaining their faiths. They worked through so much and still felt a connection with a higher power. It's hard to really describe this night because it was so deeply moving and powerful to listen these five journeys. We are so, so grateful that they came to share their stories with us. Another theme from this week has been talking to people and letting them share their stories. These stories are really important and we think they represent what will be a major issue/question/topic of consideration in religion in the years to come.
Sister Lyngine, Celeste, Matt, Pat, Shelly, and Rabbi Linda were all great demonstrations of how you can make your faith work for you when faced with challenges: if you come up against a challenge or some part of your faith's teachings that causes you struggle, you don't need to give up. And we think we can speak for the whole group when we say that message is SO inspirational, and these people in particular were especially uplifting.
good night and a shout-out to the lbgt community - give me a w!
Kate and Kim