A Window On Religion And Tolerance

December 15, 2006

Author: Tara Bahrampour

Source: The Washington Post


Where Yalda Jafari comes from, there are no churches or synagogues. In fact, girls in her northern Afghanistan town had no schools for five years under the Taliban.

As if to make up for lost time, the 16-year-old sophomore from Thomas S. Wootton High School in Rockville kept raising her hand yesterday as she and her classmates gathered around the handwritten Torah scrolls at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, which was preparing to celebrate the first night of Hanukkah today.

"Why are there three pieces?" asked Yalda, who came to the United States five months ago through a year-long exchange program. "Why is it not a small book, like the Bible or the Koran?" As the synagogue's executive director answered her queries, the student held up her digital camera to capture everything.

Yalda and about 50 other Wootton students were on an unusual field trip that took them to Washington National Cathedral, the Islamic Mosque and Cultural Center and the synagogue. They marveled at stained glass and gothic arches, watched Muslim men perform noon prayers and heard about the history of the Jewish community in Washington, all in an effort become familiar with religious traditions many had never seen up close.