Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
The multipurpose room behind the prayer space — social hall behind the sanctuary — is transformed into an art gallery. Over the course of two days, approximately 600 visitors enter the building to view the impressive collection of art and artifacts, family heirlooms shared by members of the community of the Roswell Community Masjid (RCM).
The exhibit is called “Inflections.” The goal is to increase public knowledge and to promote understanding of the Muslim community through art. The vision is to reveal the beauty, diversity and rich heritage of a people. The dream is to inspire Muslim communities everywhere to engage with their neighbors, to connect through the common language of artistic expression.
The journey begins with a musical performance by young students in the library, and then we move to a classroom where teenagers offer a presentation on Quranic recitation. We learn about the process of memorization of the Quran (Islam’s central sacred text) — most students will complete their studies in six to nine months — and about the importance of proper articulation. Their teacher leads them in a demonstration of various melodies used in the oral transmission of the text.
I close my eyes to concentrate on his chanting, and I am transported to the 1970s to another crowded classroom in a New Jersey synagogue, where Cantor Ben-Isvy unlocks the mystery of the trope, the mode of cantillation for public reading of the Torah that I learned as a girl and later mastered well enough to teach to my children.
We stay in this room for a second presentation by two women, Fairyal and Rania, who share an appreciation of the art and architecture that has developed over centuries in Islam. They begin with calligraphy, a highly revered art form focused on God’s word, and how stylized scripts are engraved in sacred spaces above eye-level and inscribed on objects to create a sense of awe and uplift the soul. They explain the mathematics — shapes and patterns — as well as the colors employed by artists to enhance reverence for God’s creation.
Then we enter the gallery. While I’ve been assured by my friend and RCM’s Director of Public Relations Shaheen that photography is permitted, I quickly decide digital reproductions cannot adequately capture this experience. I remove my glasses to examine the fine needlework inscription of a verse of Quran on a piece of black Ka’aba cloth, woven in 24 karat gold thread; lean close to inspect a brass dish with intricate engravings; step back to take in the full effect of a ink on mother of pearl. I spend a long time standing still, until the images are etched in my memory.
It’s nearly dark when I exit the building. I see my friend and teacher Hounada, who has returned to greet the last group to enter the exhibit. She promises to send me a copy of her remarks from Saturday’s opening; I congratulate her on the success of this endeavor. Inshallah (God willing), RCM’s event will become a model for deepening understanding among neighbors and promoting peace.
Pronunced: TORE-uh, Origin: Hebrew, the Five Books of Moses.