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Muslims Pray at Israel Airport Synagogue After Mistaking It for Mosque

A group of Muslims prayed in a synagogue at the Ben Gurion airport, apparently mistaking it for a mosque. They also used Jewish shawls as prayer mats.

The five Turkish tourists immediately stopped and apologized after they were made aware of their mistake.

Video of the family praying was released by Facebook user Yossi Cohen on Monday.

The mix-up took place on the eve of Simchat Torah, a day when Orthodox Jews usually do not travel. The Muslim family had looked for a place to pray and found the empty synagogue.

They were discovered by Jews, who also wanted to pray. An unidentified man told the Israeli news site Nrg that he explained to them, where to go, “but after a few moments, they came back to me and asked me if I’d directed them to a synagogue or a mosque.”

He then went to the synagogue with them and “found a group of Arabs praying in the place, using prayer shawls as prayer rugs.”

Image by Screenshot

The witness said he was shocked, but that as soon as the Turkish tourists realized that they were not in a mosque and that the shawls were religiously important for Jews, they immediately apologized.

Nrg also quotes an unidentified airport official as saying “it was an innocent mistake.”

Ben Gurion has two synagogues, but no Muslim, Christian or multi-denominational facilities.

In 2009, Haaretz reported that ultra-Orthodox leaders pressured the airport to not include a Christian chapel or mosque in their plans for a new terminal.

Reactions to the whole incident were mixed.

A Boston-born Orthodox blogger named “Carl in Jerusalem” called it “disturbing” and “disgraceful” that no one stopped the Turkish tourists from wandering into the airport synagogue on the eve of Simchat Torah.

“To me, the question is why the airport synagogue was open at all on a day when it was clear that there were not going to be any Orthodox Jews passing through,” he wrote.

But other Israelis saw the prayer-confusion in a more positive light.

Yehuda Glick, a member of the Knesset, wrote on his Facebook that he himself had prayed in a mosque before.

“I’m happy that Muslims prayed in a synagogue. It is certainly better than having Muslims desecrate a synagogue or the Temple Mount,” he wrote according to the Arutz Sheva network.

Rabbi David Menachem of the Mishkan Yosef synagogue in Jerusalem mirrored his sentiment.

“A group of Muslims from Turkey innocently prayed in the airport synagogue,” Menachem wroteon Facebook. “Innocently and in honor of God.”

And he forgave them for disrespecting the prayer shawls by putting them on the floor.

“They don’t know what a tallit [prayer shawl] is, and they used it as a prayer mat. They didn’t have any intention to disrespect or harm,” Rabbi Menachem wrote.

Lilly Maier is a news intern at the Forward. Reach her at or on Twitter at @lillymmaier

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