When a New York mosque discovered that a fire had rendered their worship space unusable for Friday prayers, a neighboring Reform Jewish congregation jumped into action ― inviting the Muslims to pray inside their synagogue.
The spontaneous, last-minute invitation resulted in a profound moment of interfaith solidarity at New York City’s historic Central Synagogue, senior cantor Daniel Mutlu told HuffPost.
“We talk a lot about the unity of people and the unity of love and that was so apparent on that day,” Mutlu said.
Mutlu said he and other clergy and members of Central Synagogue gathered outside the Islamic Society of Mid-Manhattan last Friday afternoon to show support for local Muslims in light of New Zealand’s mosque massacres.
The March 15 shootings at two Christchurch mosques killed 50 people and injured dozens of others. The attacks, which occurred during weekly congregational prayer services, left many American Muslims anxious about security at their own mosques and Islamic institutions.
Congregants arrived at the Islamic Society of Mid-Manhattan on Friday afternoon to participate in the weekly prayer service and grieve together on the one-week anniversary of the attacks. But a fire in a restaurant located underneath the mosque on Wednesday damaged the worship space, NBC 4 New York reported.
The congregation’s imam was hoping inspectors would determine it was safe enough for people to enter on Friday, Mutlu said. It soon became clear that they would not be able to worship in their usual building.
After realizing the swelling crowd of worshippers could be turned away, a rabbi from Central Synagogue told the imam that the Muslims were welcome to worship inside its building, about a block away, Mutlu said. The imam accepted the offer and the rabbis led the Muslim congregation down the street to doors of the synagogue.
Ultimately, Mutlu estimates close to 600 Muslims packed into the synagogue’s Pavilion event space to worship on Friday. The worshippers took their shoes off and sat in rows on the floor, facing Mecca, he said.
In a sermon, which was posted online by the Forward, the Islamic Society of Mid-Manhattan’s imam called it the “most blessed moment” in his life in New York. He thanked God that he and his congregants were able “to witness the love and the care of our neighbors.”
The imam later led his congregation in a call and response, in which members enthusiastically prayed for blessings on the synagogue and its rabbis.
Mutlu said it was an “incredible sight” that illustrated to him that even though there are differences in the ways that Jews and Muslims pray, there are many more things that unite these two religious groups.
“What it meant to us is that we need to lean into love and focus on what we share, focus on really taking care of each other,” he said about the service.
The cantor said that the mosque had asked to use the synagogue’s space again this coming Friday ― and that Central Synagogue is ready to “welcome them with open arms.”
“One person can cause a lot of damage and cause a lot of pain,” Mutlu said, referring to the New Zealand shooter. “But we can come together and we can heal.”
“These are the stories we should uplift, these are the moments where we truly find out who our neighbors are,” he said.