The Interfaith Service

The Interfaith Service

A Story by Evyn Rubin

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In October of 1984, I went to an interfaith service, organized by the woman I was lovers with at the time, Janet Cerullo. She did this as the director of a Middle East peace education program.  A rabbi, an Imam, and a minister had all agreed to co-lead the service, which took place in a big church downtown, during the lunch hour and was publicized as a brown bag interfaith prayer service in memory of all who had died in the conflicts in the Middle East. The story takes place in a southeastern city. 


I had been lovers with Cerullo for five or six months. I had been enjoying our relationship over the summer. Then, in September, my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer, in Arizona, so I went there and stayed a month, as did my sister. When I left for Arizona I was worried about my mother, but confidant and excited about my relationship. I talked with her every few day while I was there. Everything seemed O.K. But when I got back to town, I was in for a disappointing surprise. Could our relationship recover?


It was nice of me to go to the interfaith service, especially when I learned at the last minute that Rabbi Allen Zuckner had an emergency and had to cancel. I was already overly sensitive and hyper vigilant regarding interfaith activities during this period, and not drawn to it. Now Cerullo had slept with her ex- and was also trying to keep me in our relationship. I felt wounded and ambivalent toward her, but in neon, emotionally.


For her part, she outspokenly wanted me to stay in the relationship, but I started to not like a lot of the details in how she was acting.


Still, I went to the interfaith service, and I was rewarded by some memorable moments, thanks especially to American Muslims. This includes Cerullo herself, who is an Italian-American who had adopted Islam.


During the opening prayer, I noticed next to me that Cerullo had her hands seated widely in her lap, palms up, fingers up and open. When the prayer was concluded, I asked her about it, quietly, and she said, "It’s to catch the barakas."


I could hear without thinking that this Arabic word was related to the Hebrew word brochah, meaning blessing, These are ancient words. And now, two decades later, the President of the United States has a first name from the same root, Barack.

I can also picture a logic of catching blessings with open fingers, so the blessings will benefit you, but also flow on. (Let blessings be abundant.)


The Christian minister came next. He lead us in singing all the verses of "Battle Hymn of the Republic," and Cerullo and I both did not sing the one verse about how Christ’s glory transfigures you and me, but just sat respectfully. No, I did not look all around to see who else wasn’t singing.


While he was leaving the podium however, I said to Cerullo, "Remind me to tell you about the Glory," the word we had just sung repeatedly. I wanted to tell her my theory about cosmic lesbian content in the ancient concept Glory.


Meanwhile it was the Imam’s turn. He was an African-American man, about thirty years old. He talked about Middle East peace and what it meant to him spiritually.

He said, "God will make peace, and we don’t know what God’s peace will look like."

He said, "Some factions might not like the peace that God would make, because it will look different from their politics."


I was listening carefully to him. I wished he’d said more. I knew what faction I was in: the win-win faction, which was a strong part of the Middle East peace movement, at that time. I believed in non-violent conflict resolution between Israel and Palestine and other alternatives to militarism. I wanted peace through peaceful means, with Israel and Palestine co-operating with each other, for both their sakes.


I considered myself a progressive Jews and was also part of a lesbian network.


My relationship with Cerullo, by the way, did survive and lasted two and a half years.

© 2010 Evyn Rubin

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Added on September 7, 2010
Last Updated on September 11, 2010
Tags: Muslims, Jews, peace, interfaith service