Lest Haaretz readers be concerned by headlines such as “Israel, Palestinian Authority summit still a long way off,” the Israeli daily recently ran an AP article entitled “Virginia synagogue doubles as mosque for Ramadan,” which begins:
On Friday afternoons, the people coming to pray at this building take off their shoes, unfurl rugs to kneel on and pray in Arabic. The ones that come Friday evenings put on yarmulkes, light candles and pray in Hebrew.
The building is a synagogue on a tree-lined street in suburban Virginia, but for the past few weeks – during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan – it has also been doubling daily as a mosque. Synagogue members suggested their building after hearing the Muslim congregation was looking to rent a place for overflow crowds.”
When we learn that synagogue members additionally sometimes park in the lot of the church next door and vice-versa, it appears that Virginia is currently playing host to the arrangement of peaceful coexistence that might have persevered in the Holy Land had Palestinian Muslims and Christians expressed sufficient enthusiasm for Jewish statehood. The existence of Muslim “overflow crowds” meanwhile underlines the ever-present demographic threat, which is nonetheless temporarily beneficial to the synagogue given the $300 daily fee incurred by Muslim use of Jewish property during Ramadan.
According to All Dulles Area Muslim Society Imam Mohamed Magid and Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation Rabbi Robert Nosanchuk, who are considering a joint trip to the Middle East, the sharing of religious spaces has provided each community with a new perspective on the other. Evidence of this is that “[n]ow, mosque members sometimes greet the rabbi with the Hebrew greeting ‘Shalom’; he’ll answer back with the Arabic equivalent, ‘Salaam.’”
The demographic threat resurfaces, however, when a Muslim congregant explains to Imam Magid his reasons for preferring prayer at the synagogue to prayer at the mosque: “It’s cozy, it’s nice. Your parking lot is overcrowded … and I like to be there.”
The imam concludes that “that shows you how comfortable they have become” but does not explain whether Muslim overflow crowds will eventually have to be funneled into the church parking lot next door. The idea that comfort is a function of the availability of parking spaces meanwhile suggests that Israeli construction practices in occupied Palestinian territories constitute opportunities for conflict resolution in the Middle East.