Ear­li­er this week, Ste­fanie Per­vos Breg­man, the edi­tor of Liv­ing Jew­ish­ly, wrote about engag­ing 20- and 30- some­things in the Jew­ish world. Today, we hear from one of Liv­ing Jew­ish­lys con­trib­u­tors, Rab­bi Jason Miller. Check back all week for more Liv­ing Jew­ish­ly posts for the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

We tend to see the dif­fer­ences that sep­a­rate us from oth­er reli­gious groups rather than the com­mon­al­i­ties. That sounds so cliché, but it’s true.

When some Jews hear of an Islam­ic reli­gious school, called a madras­sa, they make assump­tions about what might be taught there. They don’t take the time to even con­sid­er that the Ara­bic word madras­sa is very close­ly relat­ed to the Hebrew word midrasha, a Jew­ish reli­gious school.

And when some Jews see a Mus­lim man wear­ing a skull­cap called a kufi, they make assump­tions about his reli­gious views, polit­i­cal sen­ti­ments, and opin­ions on a range of social issues. They tend to for­get how sim­i­lar the kufi is to our kip­pah, or yarmulke.

One day recent­ly both of these sim­i­lar­i­ties struck me. My plane land­ed at Chicago’s Mid­way Air­port. It was an ear­ly morn­ing flight and I felt like I had trav­eled back in time since I actu­al­ly arrived at an ear­li­er time in Chica­go than when I had tak­en off in Detroit thanks to the one-hour time zone dif­fer­ence. Dur­ing the flight, I fell into a deep sleep.

It wasn’t until I got into my rental car that I real­ized I wasn’t wear­ing my yarmulke, as I nor­mal­ly do. At some point dur­ing my nap,” my yarmulke must have fall­en off and was lost on the plane. I pulled over to the side of the rode and checked every­where – pock­ets, car­ry-on suit­case, and brief­case. My yarmulke was nowhere to be found.

I was on my way to a small Illi­nois town south of Peo­ria to check out a large spice fac­to­ry that was inter­est­ed in kosher cer­ti­fi­ca­tion from my agency. I knew I couldn’t walk in there with­out a yarmulke on my head. I was on a tight sched­ule though and at a loss for what to do.

I called my wife back in Michi­gan who began research­ing if there were any syn­a­gogues between my cur­rent loca­tion and my des­ti­na­tion in Pekin, Illi­nois. While she did that, I con­tin­ued to dri­ve and search the sides of the high­way for any ran­dom Judaica store where I could pur­chase a replace­ment yarmulke. And that’s when it caught my eye.

Off the high­way on what seemed to be a ser­vice road was a small mosque. Would that work, I won­dered. After all, there’s real­ly not much of a dif­fer­ence between the Mus­lim kufi and some of the larg­er yarmulkes that my sons wear to their Jew­ish school every day. Would a kufi be a bet­ter option for me than stop­ping at a gas sta­tion and buy­ing a base­ball cap? It was worth a shot.

I exit­ed the high­way and did a quick turn­around to try and find the mosque I had passed a few miles ear­li­er. It would be my first time enter­ing a mosque despite the fact that I live in Metro Detroit with its dense Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion and abun­dance of mosques. Alas, the doors of the mosque were locked and it was dark inside. I quick­ly Googled the address and called the phone num­ber that was list­ed, but it just rang and rang. For no good rea­son, I knocked on the doors again and then left.

As I drove away from the mosque I spot­ted what looked like anoth­er mosque in the dis­tance. Per­haps that was the admin­is­tra­tive office I thought. Maybe they could sell me one of those Mus­lim skull­caps (I hadn’t yet learned the word kufi). It was worth a try. I turned down the next street and head­ed for the build­ing with the star and cres­cent on the roof. I couldn’t find the street that led to a park­ing lot so I parked at an auto repair shop and walked across a field to the building.

The doors were locked but I could tell there were peo­ple inside. I rang a door bell and a very nice woman opened the door. I saw class­rooms up and down the hall­ways and imme­di­ate­ly deter­mined that I had just entered a madras­sa. Cute lit­tle chil­dren were in a large room singing songs and play­ing games. That was obvi­ous­ly the pre-school. Old­er chil­dren ran up the stairs to a sec­ond lev­el of class­rooms. I went up to the recep­tion desk and explained my sit­u­a­tion. Rather than giv­ing some sto­ry about being curi­ous about Islam and want­i­ng a kufi, I explained that I was a rab­bi who cus­tom­ar­i­ly wears a Jew­ish head cov­er­ing and some­how lost it on my flight into Chica­go. I asked if they could sell me a Mus­lim head covering.

She seemed con­fused by my request, but explained they had no store in the build­ing and didn’t sell kufis. But just as I was about to head back to my rental car, the woman found anoth­er woman and shared my sto­ry. She told me to wait a moment and about five min­utes lat­er she returned with a large, black knit­ted kufi for me. I asked her how much it would cost and she insist­ed that it was free. I took out a ten-dol­lar bill and hand­ed it to her as a dona­tion. The idea that I had just made my first char­i­ta­ble gift to an Islam­ic school was not lost on me. With some trep­i­da­tion I placed the kufi on my head and thanked the kind women as I left.

Just as I got back in the car and took a look at myself in the rear-view mir­ror my phone rang. It was my wife telling me that there was an Ortho­dox syn­a­gogue in Peo­ria. I told her I was wear­ing a Mus­lim kufi on my head and shared my sto­ry of the wel­com­ing women at the madras­sa.

I called the Ortho­dox syn­a­gogue which didn’t have a gift shop or any com­pli­men­ta­ry yarmulkes,but the woman on the phone referred me to the Reform con­gre­ga­tion that shared a build­ing and had a gift shop. When I called that num­ber I got the record­ing telling me to call the hus­band-wife rab­bis on their cell phone. I called and found myself talk­ing with Rab­bi Karen Bog­a­rd who told me that her hus­band Rab­bi Daniel Bog­a­rd had dozens of yarmulkes and I could dri­ve to their home to pick one out.

Rab­bi Karen told me that she and her hus­band had just grad­u­at­ed from rab­bini­cal school and begun to serve this small con­gre­ga­tion in Peo­ria. We played the game of Jew­ish geog­ra­phy and learned we knew many peo­ple in com­mon. After dri­ving for anoth­er cou­ple hours she called me back and direct­ed me to a park close to their home where she would be with the couple’s new­born baby. I drove to the park, gave Rab­bi Karen a hug, picked out a yarmulke and then began telling her the sto­ry of my vis­it to the Islam­ic school. I proud­ly showed her my new kufi.

While I wore the bor­rowed yarmulke to the vis­it at the spice fac­to­ry, I still felt appre­cia­tive to the gen­er­ous women at the madras­sa who pro­vid­ed me with the kufi. It is a sto­ry I will con­tin­ue to tell with plea­sure. Los­ing a yarmulke led me on an adven­ture to a mosque, a madras­sa and a neigh­bor­hood park where I met a new rab­binic colleague.

I keep that black kufi on the desk of my office and every once in a while I smile as I con­sid­er the sim­i­lar­i­ties between Jews and Mus­lims. Per­haps, my kufi will serve as a reminder to oth­ers to seek out the con­nec­tions with mem­bers of oth­er reli­gions and to explore what we share in com­mon rather than what divides us.

Rab­bi Jason Miller is an edu­ca­tor and entre­pre­neur. He con­tributed the open­ing chap­ter of Ste­fanie Per­vos Bregman’s Liv­ing Jew­ish­ly and blogs at http://​blog​.rab​bi​ja​son​.com. He is the founder and direc­tor of Kosher Michi­gan, a kashrut cer­ti­fi­ca­tion agency. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @RabbiJason.