Young people donned headscarves and slipped off their shoes Sunday to enter a Sikh house of worship — most of them for the first time.
They crowded into a sukkah built on the grounds of a Jewish temple and listened to a musician sing a praise and worship song at the altar of a Christian church.
About 190 youths and their adult advisers experienced the sights, sounds and flavors of religions other than their own at the 2013 Interfaith Youth Tour sponsored by the Oklahoma Conference of Churches. The youths toured Temple B'nai Israel, 4901 N Pennsylvania; the Sikh Gurdwara of Oklahoma, 4525 NW 16; and Frontline Church, 1104 N Robinson.
The Rev. William Tabbernee, the conference's executive director, said the 2013 tour drew the largest crowd since the event was first held several years ago.
He told the crowd that the tour's popularity was not without its challenges: organizers realized just a few days before the event that numerous headscarves would be needed for the visit to the Sikh gurdwara where both men and women are required to wear head coverings.
“I think we've got it all covered, no pun intended,” Tabbernee said to the youths.
The tour started at Temple B'nai, where Vered Harris is rabbi. Both Harris and Abby Jacobson, rabbi of Emanuel Synagogue, answered the visitors' questions, after several Jewish youths shared information about Judaism with their non-Jewish counterparts.
Harris showed the youths the temple's sacred Torah scrolls. The visiting group also learned about Sukkot, the Feast of Booths. The Jewish festival began at sundown Sept. 18 and ends at sundown Wednesday. The tour group gathered for a short time in the temple's sukkah, a hut-like structure used in ancient times during the harvest season. Harris said many Jews build sukkahs in their backyards and sleep in them during Sukkot while others build them at their house of worship.
When John Wheeler, youth and young adult minister of Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Enid, asked about Harris' views on homosexuality, she said that gays and lesbians are people who are created in the image of God.
The rabbi thanked the visitors for asking questions, even those about touchy issues.
“Don't be shy about asking tough questions. It's how you are going to grow and learn,” she said.
Rachel Rose, 14, a member of Emanuel Synagogue, said she was surprised at the many questions about Judaism.
“I think it's amazing that so many people are interested in learning about it,” she said.
Rachel Meyer, 17 and Ivey Dyson, 17, both members of Wheeler's Enid church said they were enlightened by several aspects of the temple presentation. Meyer said she was surprised that the temple congregation read out of an actual Torah scroll. Dyson said she thought people of the Jewish faith would be against homosexuality because many Christians with Judeo-Christian beliefs, are opposed to it.
At the Sikh gurdwara, the young people learned about the Sikh holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib and the religion's founder, Guru Nanak. The visitors were especially interested in the reasons Sikh men wear turbans and do not cut their hair. They wear the turbans to cover their uncut hair, which is a symbol of their commitment to their faith.
At the end of the presentation, several Sikhs distributed small portions of prasad, a religious food offering typically given to Sikh worshippers.
Nour Salus, 15, a sophomore at Mercy School, a private Islamic school in Oklahoma City, said she had no idea that a Sikh gurdwara was in Oklahoma City.
“I thought it was really different from everything else,” she said. “I liked how they bow down and place money at the altar.”
At Frontline Church in downtown Oklahoma City, the church's youth pastor, the Rev. Will Gaines, shared several biblical stories including the story of the prodigal son. He told them about his own faith in Christ and the church's reasons for believing in “the cross, the cradle and the crown.”
Abdur-Rahman Taleb, youth director for the Islamic Society of Oklahoma City, said he felt the interfaith tour was important..
“We need to get beyond everyone in their own little corners in our own places of worship, by ourselves,” Taleb said. “We need to work together.”