QUINCY -- St. Dominic students on Tuesday crowded around the Torah scroll in Temple B'nai Sholom and listened carefully to the words spoken in Hebrew.
Despite the unfamiliar sounds, the students could recognize pieces of the familiar cadence of a worship service that has brought the Jewish congregation together in the temple at 427 N. Ninth for nearly 150 years.
"I think it's really cool," fifth-grader Ari Waters said.
Ari and fellow fifth-grader Tori Smith found some similarities between their faith and what was shared by Carla Gordon, a long-time member of the temple's congregation.
"I had a lot of questions," Tori said.
Some students already had met Gordon, who shared her family's experiences during the Holocaust as the students studied World War II and "The Diary of Anne Frank," and this time learned more about her faith.
"It's fun to hear what other people believe," Ari said.
"I hope all of our students are able to learn more about the Jewish religion, which also helps them understand Jesus' life better, as well as an understanding and appreciation for the history of Quincy's temple and relationship to our state's history," seventh-grade teacher Katie O'Neal said.
Gordon welcomed the tour as an opportunity for Quincy students to step inside a temple -- and help them feel comfortable inside another house of worship.
"There won't be any symbols related to Jesus, but there are symbols that pertain to the Jewish religion. One of the most recognizable, of course, is the Star of David," Gordon said.
She lit the candles used on Shabbat, or the Sabbath, and passed around a yad, the Hebrew word for hand, which is used to touch the vellum of the Torah which contains the books of Moses, the first five books of the Bible. Gordon modeled a prayer shawl worn by men of the congregation and explained the design on the Torah cover featuring two lions and the 10 Commandments.
The temple, built in the Moorish Revival style and one of the last remaining designs of the early Quincy architect John Bunce, was completed in 1870 and is the oldest in Illinois still in use today.
"The interior is not typical of what they're used to seeing, but there are many similarities," Gordon said. "Part of the front of the worship space we call the bimah. The bimah is similar to the altar, and as in many churches, we walk up stairs to reach the bimah."
Common to all Jewish houses of worship is a light, called the Ner tamid, which is always kept lit. Temple B'nai Sholom has two lights, one by the ark that holds the Torah and a second one in the back of the sanctuary by the wall of remembrance.
Rectangular and circle stained glass windows caught the eyes of the students.
The windows "are based on Moorish art, as is the rest of the interior of the temple," Gordon said. "Many children see a cross in each of the windows, but it's merely a decorative style when the windows were made."
The congregation is part of the reform movement, which is why the building is known as a temple. Synagogue refers to a house of worship for a conservative or orthodox Jewish congregation.
"Because we're in the reform movement and a reform temple, the women can wear pants, can travel outside at night by car, can go grocery shopping on Friday or Saturday. These types of things would not be done by those practicing orthodox Judaism," Gordon said. "Another big difference is we go to temple on Friday evening, and the conservative and orthodox movements attend their services on Saturday mornings."
Learning about another religion benefits the students' world view -- and their understanding "of how history impacts and shapes life today all around the world as well as in their own backyard," O'Neal said.