Seen in a Barcelona bathroom

Seen in a Barcelona bathroom

Before I heard about the Muhammad cartoon controversy raging in the newspapers and the streets of Europe, I became privy to a much smaller-scale religious war waged on the inside stall door of a ladies’ room in the Barcelona airport.

Maybe the God graffiti caught my attention because I was brought up to believe that although God is everywhere, the bathroom is an inappropriate place to talk about the divine being.

Maybe it was because I was on my way to Israel, which always triggers a heightened sense of spirituality.

Maybe someone else would have taken more interest in the other messages on the door, such as the heated debate over the desirability of men from Catalonia.

But here is what I read:

"God is dead," in blue ink, with the word "God" crossed out by a black pen.

And underneath that: "Trust in Allah" written in black pen with ALLAH crossed out in blue and then green and GOD added in black.

To the right of the Allah graffito, someone had written an expletive followed by this sentiment: "Better trust in a God that doesn’t reward you for your acts of violence."

And under that, the simple plea: STOP.

I returned to the gate where we were awaiting our connecting flight to Israel and mentioned the written exchange to my daughter. She grabbed the camera and scurried to the restroom to capture it on film.

I spent a bit of time mulling it over.

At first I found the graffiti fascinating merely in a geopolitical, sociological sort of way. In Spain, as everyone knows, Muslim-Christian tension is not confined to bathroom doors. The Spaniards are first-hand victims of extremist Muslim violence and are nervous about the rising tide of Islam that is sweeping over Europe in a wave of frightening proportions.

Of course, Spain has been through this before. Islam began exerting unwelcome influence in Spain way back in the eighth century, and the mighty Ottoman Empire became a force to be feared 800 years later. These days, the modern laid-back citizens of Spain hardly know what to make of the phenomenon, and perhaps it’s not surprising to see that the rank and file has boiled the debate down to how one refers to the Almighty.

On the other hand, the graffiti were exclusively in English. So I’m not sure its writers were Spaniards at all. Like me, people of many nationalities pass through Barcelona on their way elsewhere.

So here’s where my thoughts on the God graffiti ultimately led me: the prophet Isaiah.

See, we Jews don’t believe everyone has to be Jewish in order to share in God’s good graces or to earn a place in heaven. We don’t evangelize. We welcome true converts, but we don’t expect anyone who wasn’t born into the tribe to want in. And we certainly don’t keep others from practicing their faith. We don’t scorn anyone’s beliefs or rituals unless they are harmful.

(Nor do we respond to the thousands of obscenely offensive anti-Jewish cartoons in the world’s newspapers by storming embassies and public rioting — see — but I digress.)

We Jews believe it’s possible to live in brotherhood with all other monotheists regardless of whether they call the Creator by the name of Allah or God (or HaShem). We have been spat upon, literally and figuratively, for centuries because no other organized religion has been willing to extend that same sort of tolerance to us.

But Isaiah tells us that one day there will no longer be debates on bathroom doors about what to call God or whether God is dead or whether God really wants people to commit unspeakable acts in the name of the divine. Peace will come when people simply acknowledge God, accept God’s dominion, and embrace the Holy Land as God’s gift to the Jewish people — a gift to be shared with Gentiles who follow the seven Noahide laws set out in Genesis as the basis of a just society.

Isaiah refers to these righteous gentiles as bnai hanaychar, which my Living Torah edition translates as "foreigners."

"And as for the foreigners who attach themselves to God to serve Him, to love the name of the Lord and to be His servants … I will bring them to my holy mountain and let them rejoice in my house of prayer … for my Temple will be called a house of prayer for all the nations" (56:6-7).

One day Jerusalem truly will be an international city, not in the way it is envisioned by the State Department or the Vatican, but with a rebuilt Temple as a place of worship for Jew and gentile alike.

Like the anonymous female who wrote "STOP" on the stall door, I pray for the day all this pointless, hurtful bickering between Jew and Jew, between Jew and non-Jew, simply stops. There are much better things awaiting us if we agree to agree that we’re all children of God and learn to serve Him together in peaceful harmony.