Open Arms At An Unexpected Haven

December 5, 2008

Author: Katherine Bindley

Source: The New York Times

Back home in the Indonesian city of Semarang, Dinar Puspita, a slight and cheerful 17-year-old, says her afternoon prayers with friends at the mosque in her school. In Riverdale in the Bronx, Dinar is now a high school exchange student in an increasingly Orthodox neighborhood where synagogues are prevalent.

Among them is the Riverdale Jewish Center, which sits conveniently across the street from Dinar’s public school on Independence Avenue at West 237th Street. Because Dinar cannot pray in the school, the Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy, her host Naomi Erickson e-mailed the synagogue’s rabbi to see if the girl could pray there instead.

“I was very pleasantly surprised at how gracious the rabbi was,” said Ms. Erickson, a retired accountant.

Dinar echoed Ms. Erickson’s feelings.

“I didn’t think that they will let me pray in here,” she said the other day, seated on a green cushioned bench in the synagogue after finishing her prayers. “I mean, it’s not my religion.”

As it turned out, the rabbi, Jonathan Rosenblatt, was happy to offer Dinar a few places within the large building in which to pray on days when after-school activities preclude her from going home to pray.