Author Archive

April 2019

Written by WISDOM on . Posted in Newsletters

WISDOM WINDOW
April 2019

Calendar for WISDOM and Other Interfaith Events 
Sunday, April 7th, 12:30 PM to 1:30 PM
WISDOM Women Tell Their Stories at the Hadassah Retreat
Stay Tuned for More information
Thursday, May 2nd 8:00 AM – 19:00 AM
National Day of Prayer at The Congregational Church of Birmingham
1000 Cranbrook Rd., Bloomfield Hills MI
See Flyer Below
Sunday, May 5th, 12:30 – 2:30 PM Detroit Unity Temple
WISDOM authors tell their stories
See Flyer Below
Women in the Bible series – See Flyer below for dates, topics, and venues

WOMEN AUTHORS TELL THEIR INTERFAITH STORIES
From WISDOM’s NEWEST BOOK
“Friendship and Faith, 2nd Edition”
     May 5, 2019
                                Detroit Unity Temple
     17505 2nd Avenue
      Detroit, MI 48203
12:30 pm – 1:30 pm Luncheon and Dessert for $6
1:30 pm – 2:30 pm Storytelling and Meet the Authors

Followed by Book Sales and Signing

Registration is mandatory – Deadline is April 23
Please register by calling Gerri at the Temple:(specify if vegetarian)  (313) 345-4848 Monday – Thursdays,Noon-5PM
Event Sponsored by Detroit Unity Temple, WISDOM and DION

Interfaith Celebration of International Women’s Day Raises Spirits and Funds
By Erin O’Connor
WISDOM partnered with four local non-profits on March 24th to host Women Who Inspire: An Interfaith Celebration of International Women’s Day. Joined by the National Council of Jewish Women, Michigan; the National Council of Negro Women, Detroit Section; the Race Relations & Diversity Task Force; and Zaman International, the women of WISDOM and local community members gathered on a spring afternoon at the Troy Community Center. Nearly 100 guests attended the event, which took place during Women’s History Month to honor the strength and resilience of women of all colors, cultures, faith traditions, and countries of origin.
Five diverse and talented women used varying modalities of expression, including storytelling, video, and poetry, to describe women who had inspired them – from their homes and schoolhouses to their faith traditions and sacred histories. Among the featured storytellers were Hazel Gomez, a Latina Muslim who works as a faith-based community organizer; Zieva Konvisser, a Jewish criminal justice professor whose research centers on survivors of war-related trauma; Carolyn Campbell, a historian and professor of African American Studies and member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church; Aishah Gulam, a South Asian Muslim poet who works in supply chain management; and WISDOM’s own Paula Drewek, a retired professor of world religions and member of the Baha’i Faith.
Through generous donations, the event raised a total of $955 for Alternatives For Girls, a Detroit-based organization that empowers homeless and high-risk girls and young women. The passion and diversity of the storytellers and audience highlighted the significance of intercultural and interfaith dialogue and celebration, as well as our ability to change the world for the better, one story – and relationship – at a time.

Sisters on a mission to stock library shelves with books featuring Muslim women characters
What do you do when you’re looking for a certain type of book in the library and you come up empty-handed? Sisters Zena and Mena Nasiri first experienced that dilemma in fourth grade. A research project required them to read about someone they looked up to, but when they went to their local library to find biographies about Muslim women they admired, they couldn’t find any.  It was the first time they realized that the libraries in their community had a serious lack of diversity, particularly when it came to the narratives of Muslim women.
The two came up with a solution to that problem years later after reading The Lines We Cross by Randa Abdel-Fattah. It was the first book Zena and Mena had ever come across that featured a Muslim woman as a main character.
“It brought us memories back from fourth grade, and that inspired us to start a nonprofit ‘Girls of the Crescent,’ where we collect books with female Muslim main characters and then donate them to schools and libraries,” Zena said.
Supported by fundraising, ranging from bottle drives to website donations, the girls purchase a wide variety of biography, fiction, and nonfiction books to donate. The sisters have raised more than $4,000, and have donated around 500 books to public libraries and individual classrooms. As avid readers themselves, the sisters understand the importance of seeing yourself represented in the books you read.
“It kind of gives us a sense of being included in society because if children grow up and they don’t see themselves in the media, or they don’t see themselves in books, it shows they’re not really included or they’re not shown in society,” said Mena.
Mena and Zena say they want to get books featuring Muslim women and girls into every classroom in their district, and eventually all over the world.
This post was written by Stateside production assistant Katie Raymond.

Learning to Open Our Hearts and Minds Reimagining Interfaith: Taking Our Lead from Kids
by Vicki Garlock
The interfaith movement is all about bringing people together. Most of the time we focus on adults and social justice issues. Don’t get me wrong. I fully support any and all interfaith efforts. But we need to do more, and we need to do it better. That’s why, when I re-imagine interfaith, I see the world’s children. I see open minds, friendly hearts, and playful attitudes. I see eyes full of hope and love. I see a future generation of adults that recognizes the value of all faith traditions – a generation that has moved beyond mere tolerance toward deep appreciation. I see a path forward. There is certainly a role for adults in this scenario. Grown-ups have the means to bring kids of different faiths together. Adults can also facilitate meaningful dialogue and help hold the space for differing worldviews. But adults need to avoid handing down their fears and insecurities to the next generation. The Earth gets smaller by the day, our interconnectedness increasingly apparent. To thrive in this emerging world, kids need to know something about the basic faith practices and beliefs of others, for the health of our planet and the well-being of our species.
Sharing various religious practices with kids tends to expose a common fear – that kids will end up lukewarm to their “home” faith tradition. It shows up in statements like, “One needs to be firm in one’s own faith before engaging in dialogue with ‘the other.'” The problem with this approach is that it excludes kids from interfaith experiences before they’ve even started. And that means we’re setting ourselves up for yet another generation of wary and potentially intolerant adults.
Interestingly, when adults engage in multifaith dialogue, a near-universal refrain emerges: “I realized we are more alike than different.” In my experience, this sentiment is even more common in kids. Why? Because kids around the world like to do the same things! They like to play, listen to stories, create things, eat special food, celebrate special occasions, be part of a community, and have fun. All of these can and do happen in multi-faith settings, especially when kids are involved. Kids don’t have to do the hard work of breaking down barriers because they don’t have barriers in the first place. And this can actually make them better participants in the interfaith movement than adults.
To be sure, clear differences emerge across religious traditions. Everyone involved in the interfaith movement can attest to that. With enough scrutiny, everything seems different. Religions have different ways of articulating the Great Mystery, different holy days, different sacred texts, and different ritual practices. The list goes on.
But, if we take a step back, we can begin to see fundamental similarities: we’re all attempting to articulate the ineffable, we all celebrate important dates in our history, we all have revered writings or oral narratives that guide us, and we all have special ceremonies that help us to embody our beliefs. There are even commonalities across major themes and teachings: being kind to one another, helping those in need, welcoming the stranger, appreciating the wonders of the world around us, and recognizing the miraculous essence of connecting with the Sacred.
When viewed in this way, the list of similarities soon becomes at least as long as the list of differences. Focusing on the bigger picture opens the door to children’s involvement in the multi-faith movement. In fact, it opens the door to their leading the way.
Most of the world’s major faith traditions are incredibly complex, which underlies many intrafaith differences.Here is a time and place for scholarly debate, both within and between religions, but many interfaith initiatives have failed because they started with doctrine. In my experience, kids don’t care much for tenets and precepts. (Truth told, many adults don’t care either!) So, instead of delving into the intricacies of the Buddhist eight-fold path, you can simply share a Buddhist story. Instead of a deep dive into the differing perspectives on Jesus in the Abrahamic traditions, you can make an easy craft depicting one of the Jesus healing stories.
The same holds for sacred texts. More than one adult has said to me, “I’ve never seen a Qur’an before.” There is no reason for this. It’s a book – an important book for many people – but a book nonetheless. You can buy used copies on the internet, and you can download it as an app on your phone. In fact, nearly all the sacred texts can be bought/downloaded, and older translations can be read for free on the internet. So, there is nothing to prevent basic knowledge about incredible books that have, quite literally, changed the world.
Ritual objects are also fascinating. Why not teach kids about chakpurs, the tool used by Tibetan Buddhist monks to make sand mandalas? Why not teach them about shofars, the ram’s horn blown during the Jewish high holidays? It’s hard to imagine how this level of knowledge and sharing could result in a subsequent lack of faith in one’s own tradition. Instead, such exposure seems to produce a level of familiarity that breeds appreciation rather than contempt.
When I “reimagine interfaith,” I see a room full of children from various faith traditions sitting in a circle. They are playing, laughing, and sharing. Each one holds a meaningful item from their faith tradition – a copy of their sacred text, a ritual object, a food item customarily eaten on a particular holy day, and so on. One by one, the kids share how and why their chosen item is important. The adults, also from various faith traditions, sit behind them as they learn from the kids about maintaining a sense of love and light-heartedness.
Anyone who works with kids, regardless of faith tradition, will also tell you that kids like to move around! When I reimagine interfaith, kids are simply enjoying one another’s friendship. There are so many ways to accomplish this. If you want to teach kids about living in harmony with one another, give them a chance to cooperate on tasks or to play group games. Such an approach will be more effective and have a more lasting effect than any lecture. The internet is full of easy-to-manage team-building games for kids of all ages. Kids, like adults, can also be involved in social justice issues. They can pick up trash, decorate postcards for policy-makers, serve meals to the homeless, and make cards for veterans, regardless of faith tradition. So, instead of confining these activities to your own faith community, invite other groups to join in!
Field trips require a bit more planning and preparation, but kids love to see other sacred spaces. Most adults I know have never stepped foot in a synagogue, mosque, gurdwara, or temple. Again, there is no reason for this. Most religious groups love to share their worship space with others, and it costs little or no money! It’s a great way to discover which religions require removing one’s shoes, see where and how people sit, and learn about the art and iconography of various traditions.
When I reimagine interfaith, I see kids being an integral part of the action. I see kids who take delight in working side-by-side with their peers. I see kids who are equally comfortable attending an iftar, a bat mitzvah, a langar, a Samhain ritual, or a ceremony for Ganesha Chaturthi. And I see kids who view members of other faith groups as true community partners.
One of the best ways to engage adults is to provide opportunities for them to tag along with their kids. We adults are busy, and it’s easy for us to get lost in all our daily tasks. One thing leads to another and another, providing little time to reflect on what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. I am as guilty as anyone, driving around, somewhat maniacally from one errand or activity to another. But when it comes to interfaith and kids, even a small amount of effort can result in big rewards.
With a little encouragement and a bit of forethought, we can all begin to imagine what a true multifaith world looks like – both for ourselves and for the next generation. And wouldn’t it be divine if they never needed to “reimagine” interfaith because they were simply living it?

Just a little humor for the WISDOM Window!  Read this article!
 
 Alexa responds to minister’s sermon, orders toilet paper
(Religion News Service)
 

OKLAHOMA CITY (The Christian Chronicle) – When Phil Brookman preaches, even Alexa listens – and dutifully obeys.
Brookman, a minister for Memorial Road Church of Christ in Oklahoma City, was delivering a Sunday message from 1 Corinthians 12 when his sermon illustration nearly resulted in the purchase of $28 worth of toilet paper.
The sermon, titled “Greet One Another,” was based on the Apostle Paul’s admonition that the church function as one body with many parts.
In addition to the audience of more than 1,000 worshippers gathered for the congregation’s early service, numerous believers watched the sermon online through the church’s video streaming service.
One of them, Bethany Becknell, was at home with a sick child, Eli.
Her husband, Wes, attended Memorial Road’s first service with their other son, Cam.
Brookman preached about how easy it is in the 21st century for Christians to live separate lives – and to fail to see the need for the kind of unity Paul advocates. Even shopping has become depersonalized, Brookman said. Instead of going to Walmart and interacting with other humans, one need only say, “Alexa, order toilet paper.”
From the master bathroom in her house, Bethany Becknell heard a polite female voice respond, “OK. I’ve added it to your cart.”
The voice was that of her Amazon Echo speaker, which can play music and set alarms in response to voice commands. Oh, and order things from Amazon.com. Bethany Becknell grabbed her phone. Sure enough, there in her Amazon cart was a package of 60 double rolls of Angel Soft Toilet Paper. Cost: $27.45.
“My first thought was, ‘Cancel! Cancel! Cancel!'” she told The Christian Chronicle. They simply didn’t need that much toilet paper.
She soon figured out how to remove the item from her virtual shopping cart – but not before texting a screenshot to her husband. After thesermon, Wes Becknell approached Brookman and said, “You owe me 28 bucks.”
Brookman, enamored with his newfound power, quickly incorporated the screenshot into his sermon and shared it with Memorial Road’s second service. (Two other church members later told him they also wound up with toilet paper in their Amazon carts after the sermon.)
Bethany Becknell said she was happy to add some humor to the sermon, though “I’m a little embarrassed that everybody knows how much toilet paper we buy.” For the second service, Brookman opted for a new sermon illustration: “Alexa, donate $500 to the Memorial Road Church of Christ.” No word yet on if it worked.

The Age Gap in Religion Around the World
By several measures, young adults tend to be less religious than their elders; the opposite is rarely true
(Pew Research Center)
In the United States, religious congregations have been graying for decades, and young adults are now much less religious than their elders. Recent surveys have found that younger adults are far less likely than older generations to identify with a religion, believe in God or engage in a variety of religious practices.
But this is not solely an American phenomenon: Lower religious observance among younger adults is common around the world, according to a new analysis of Pew Research Center surveys conducted in more than 100 countries and territories over the last decade.
Although the age gap in religious commitment is larger in some nations than in others, it occurs in many different economic and social contexts – in developing countries as well as advanced industrial economies, in Muslim-majority nations as well as predominantly Christian states, and in societies that are, overall, highly religious as well as those that are comparatively secular.
For example, adults younger than 40 are less likely than older adults to say religion is “very important” in their lives not only in wealthy and relatively secular countries such as Canada, Japan and Switzerland, but also in countries that are less affluent and more religious, such as Iran, Poland and Nigeria. While this pattern is widespread, it is not universal. In many countries, there is no statistically significant difference in levels of religious observance between younger and older adults. In the places where there is a difference, however, it is almost always in the direction of younger adults being less religious than their elders.
Overall, adults ages 18 to 39 are less likely than those ages 40 and older to say religion is very important to them in 46 out of 106 countries surveyed by Pew Research Center over the last decade. In 58 countries, there are no significant differences between younger and older adults on this question. And just two countries – the former Soviet republic of Georgia and the West African country of Ghana – have younger adults who are, on average, more religious than their elders.
To read the rest of this interesting article please go to the following website: http://www.pewforum.org/2018/06/13/the-age-gap-in-religion-around-the-world/

In the latest Baha’i World News Service podcast episode, two representatives of Australia’s Baha’i community discuss what they are learning about consultation’s power to build greater unity of thought and action in society. Ida Walker and Venus Khalessi, from Australia’s Baha’i external affairs office, have been representing the Baha’i
Like many other countries, Australia is grappling with the question of how to foster harmony and cohesion among a population that is increasingly diverse in its ethnic, religious, and cultural makeup. As the government, civil society organizations, and the media have sought to understand this issue better, the Office of External Affairs has been present in the social spaces where social cohesion is being discussed on the national stage.
“We’re really trying in these conversations with others to find language that can help the conversation tip in a direction, which fosters unity and frees us from false dichotomies or assumptions about one another,” Ms. Walker explains.
“We drew on the principles of consultation so that we could have a collective inquiry into certain realities, where everyone’s input is owned by the whole, to really examine how to build social cohesion more closely. Then we were able to contribute to a growing body of knowledge.

Refugees and Americans find community –
over a cup of coffee
(CNN)
Would you like a cup of coffee?
You can feel the warmth in the question.
It’s a hospitable gesture with a universal meaning: You are welcome here.
At a small coffee shop in Clarkston, Georgia, you hear that question asked in imperfect English and thick accents. The employees at Refuge Coffee know what it feels like to long for a welcoming word. So do many of their customers, who fled wars and violence around the world.
“We don’t treat them like a customer coming to buy a cup of coffee,” said Ahmad Alzoukani, himself a refugee from Syria.
“We just think ‘oh this is my brother, this is my sister, this is my friend.’… So we became like a family.”
That connection has always been a key goal for Refuge Coffee founder Kitti Murray. She wanted to create a safe space for people to get to know their refugee neighbors.
“We want to connect people. We want refugees to get to know Americans who live all around them. We want Americans who don’t know a thing about refugees to get to know them,” Murray said.
“And we see it over and over again that real friendships are made over one cup of coffee.”
Kitti and her husband, Bill, moved to Clarkston in 2013 and found themselves in a small Georgia town unlike any other. Clarkston has served as a refugee resettlement location for a generation, and is now called “the most diverse square mile in America.”
To help create job opportunities for refugees, the Murrays refurbished a 1986 Chevy delivery truck and turned it into a mobile coffee van.
They parked at an old gas station in the heart of the refugee population. Their initial plan was a coffee place operated by refugees for refugees.
And then the rest of the town showed up.
Refuge Coffee is based in Clarkston, Georgia, which is known as the “most diverse square mile in America.”
Clarkston rallied around Refuge Coffee and it has become a hot spot for both locals and refugees. The gas station was converted into a coffee house, a safe space decorated with artwork from around the world.  As word spread, the Murrays outfitted a second mobile coffee truck for catering and service around the greater Atlanta area.
Refuge Coffee hopes to push its trucks out as far as it can. Every party, event and community the business can serve makes an impression.
“What we get to do is tell the rest of the world a more beautiful and more accurate refugee story,” Murray said.
“You get to show people that refugees are benefits to the community, that they are not scary, dangerous people, that they offer a lot to our world.”
Refuge Coffee runs a one-year full-time training program for refugees. These living-wage jobs also come with English classes, a business mentorship program and entrepreneur training.
“So it’s not just like a job, it’s like home,” Alzoukani said. “It’s like a mother who provides you help and care for a year to get you on your feet.”
Syrian refugee Ahmad Alzoukani started with Refuge Coffee two weeks after arriving in Clarkston, Georgia.
 Alzoukani returned a year after his training to become the catering manager. Now he works with the new employees to help them also achieve their American dreams.
“Honestly, when I came to here I realized that I’m going to heaven,” Alsoukani said.
“I’m so grateful to this country and I’m still willing to work hard and try to create and make everything for me and for the others. The dreams are coming and they are become true, and it is going to be happening, I promise.”

March 2019

Written by WISDOM on . Posted in Newsletters

Calendar for WISDOM and Other Interfaith Events 
 

Sunday, March 3rd 4:00 PM – 6:00 PM
The 20th Annual World Sabbath
Islamic House of WISDOM, Dearborn Heights
See Flyer Below
Thursday, March 7th, 7:00 PM Glazer Institute at Temple Beth El, See Flyer Below.
 
Tuesday, March 12th, between noon and 1:30 PM
Five Women Five Journeys at Oakland University – Oakland Center, Founders Ballroom D
Contact Paula Drewek for more information. drewekpau@aol.com 
Thursday, March 14th 7:00 – 9:00 PM at Temple Israel, 5725 Walnut Lake Road, West Bloomfield 48323
Interfaith panel on attracting our young adult population
to their faith traditions!
See Flyer Below
Sunday, March 24th, 2019 (afternoon)
Celebration of International Women’s Day
See information below
Wednesday, April 3rd Beth Shalom Passover Seder
See Flyer below
Sunday, April 7th, 12:30 PM to 1:30 PM
WISDOM Women Tell Their Stories at the Hadassah Retreat
Stay Tuned for More information

News from Congregation Beth Shalom
14601 W. Lincoln Drive
Oak Park, MI 48237
(248) 547-7970   cbs@congbethshalom.org
                              
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
For information: Bobbie Lewis, (248) 842-5535, blewis14140@gmail.com
Beth Shalom Schedules Annual Women’s Seder
Congregation Beth Shalom in Oak Park will hold its annual Women’s Seder on Wednesday, April 3 at 6 p.m.
Women of all faiths are invited to the event at the synagogue, 14601 Lincoln in Oak Park. The program includes a kosher, Passover-style dinner. Vegetarian meals are available upon request.
Aviva Phillips, a Beth Shalom member, will lead the program, and Pamela Schiffer, cantor emerita of Congregation Shaarey Zedek in East Lansing, will lead the singing. The program will celebrate women’s contributions to the Exodus from Egypt and throughout Jewish history. Participants will follow The Journey Continues: The Ma’yan Passover Haggadah by Tamara R. Cohen.
Linda Bell chairs the Women’s Seder committee. Working with her are Nathalie Conrad, Mandy Garver, Sherri Gelb, Fran Hildebrandt, Shelia Levine, Aviva Phillips, Marie Slotnick and Gretchen Weiner.
Reservations are $30 for adults and $10 for girls 5 to 12. “Angel” sponsorships are welcome at $54 and “Benefactor” sponsorships are $72. Anonymous sponsorships for guests at $30 are also welcome.
Paid reservations must be made by March 29. Mail checks to Congregation Beth Shalom, 14601 Lincoln, Oak Park. For more information or reservations, call the synagogue office at (248) 547-7970 or email cbs@congbethshalom.org .

                                  

The American Dream is alive and well in this memoir of a Muslim immigrant from India who arrived planning to start a business, working so hard toward his personal goals that he even pumped gas and sold vacuum cleaners door to door. Victor Begg successfully built a thriving, regional chain of furniture stores. Along the way, he discovered that America’s greatest promise lies in building healthy communities with our neighbors.
“In one book, I have come to understand much more about Islam, its followers and its teachings,” Rabbi Bruce Benson writes in the book’s Foreword. “I’ve come to realize that the challenges Muslim immigrants have faced are similar to what Jews and many other immigrant groups have experienced as they tried to settle in America. By the end of this book, I hurt with Victor and I laugh with him, because–as Americans–we share so much. We are him. His journey is our journey. This is our story.”
As Victor reached out to others, he used his entrepreneurial skills to co-found a new kind of ethnically diverse mosque as well as influential nonprofits designed to help others. Agreeing to serve as a regional spokesperson for Muslims, he got more than he bargained for–responding to tragedies that included 9/11 and a massacre in a Florida nightclub.
“Person by person, friend by friend, good-hearted people change the world,” Victor writes in this memoir. His greatest talents turned out to be his ongoing ability to invite all of us to open our hearts, roll up our sleeves and reach out to help each other.
“We need stories of our Muslim neighbors like Victor Begg to break down the walls that separate us and to educate us about those who might seem so strange, at first, but might become heart friends if given the chance,” writes the Rev. Daniel L. Buttry in the book’s Preface. “Along the way, we might discover some true American heroes. Victor is just such a hero: selfless, ordinary, but willing to risk to make our nation and our world a better place.”
In this era when media outlets echo with extremist claims demonizing immigrants and Muslims, in particular, readers will discover how much American families share in our diversity of faiths and ethnicities.
“A lot of foggy information clouds the American brain concerning Muslims. Victor’s representative story, his steady, 40-year love affair with America, blows much of it away,” writes Michael Wolfe, a filmmaker and author of One Thousand Roads to Mecca.
“This book’s importance really is global, considering how often migrants, refugees and Muslims in particular are demonized by extremists around the world,” writes Larbi Mageri, a Muslim journalist based in Algeria who is a co-founder of the International Association of Religion Journalists. “One of the biggest challenges for Muslims who have never visited the U.S. is getting a clear sense of how Muslims live there in these turbulent times. There are so many conflicting claims and stories about life in the U.S. Through reading Victor’s true stories, I was able to experience American life for Muslims–without ever leaving my home. The lasting impression I am left with, after reading Victor’s memoir, is that anyone would be lucky to have a Muslim neighbor like this living next door.”
Ultimately, Victor invites readers to pray with him: “God bless America.” As you follow him along this remarkable journey, as you catch his vision of a vibrant America–you are likely to find your own family and your own values mirrored in his story. You’re likely to want to share this book with friends and join in building a better world.

An interfaith group finds willing partners to restore a shared watershed
                            by Yonat ShimronReligion News Service
 
On a chilly fall day several weeks ago, volunteers from five Maryland congregations came together in the Cherry Hill neighborhood of Baltimore to plant 90 trees.  

The planting was unique for two reasons: It drew a team of Catholics, Baptists, Presbyterians and Conservative Jews. And in the space of three hours, they managed to get all the saplings into the ground and hold an interfaith service, too.
 “It was a very effective and powerful experience,” said McKay Jenkins, a member of Baltimore’s Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church and one of the volunteers at the planting. “This is not something a couple of do-gooders at one church can do.”
That multiplier effect is the idea behind Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake, a 5-year-old nonprofit organization that brought together the five congregations to plant Cherry Hill’s trees. Elsewhere in the vast Chesapeake Bay watershed, which extends from western New York State into central Virginia, the group has gathered volunteers, often across the religious spectrum, to work on restoration projects, ripping up pavement, installing water gardens and, yes, planting trees.
Its work recently landed Interfaith Partners a $1 million grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The money is intended to educate an additional 100 congregations about stormwater management and help 36 of those worship communities install green infrastructure on their properties to lessen the flow of pollutants into the bay.
Interfaith Partners already works with Protestant and Catholic churches, Jewish synagogues and Buddhist temples, mostly in Maryland, but the group hopes to expand into Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, about 50 miles above the point where the Susquehanna River, freighted with runoff from farms and paved surfaces, spills into the Chesapeake Bay.
At a time when many congregations are divided between urban and rural, liberal and conservative, rich and poor, black and white, the nonprofit, based in Annapolis, Maryland, is finding it can bring people of faith together around a common core: a shared watershed.
“We want to ignore man-made boundaries and see the God-made boundaries that unite us, like a watershed,” said Jodi Rose, executive director of Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake. “We have a responsibility to take care of these shared resources.”
The new grant will not actually award churches money for green projects. It will instead allow Interfaith Partners to reach more congregations and offer them more significant ways to clean up waterways. In some cases, it will also pay for technical assistance and design of those remediation projects from partner groups such as Blue Water Baltimore and Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.
“We see our role as helping congregations graduate beyond changing lightbulbs and hosting recycling days and move into high-impact work that serves as a demonstration for the whole community,” said Rose.
Memorial Episcopal Church in Baltimore, for example, expanded a tree-lined area on its property so that rainwater is now captured and filtered in tree pits rather than going into the municipal stormwater sewer system. With a $3,000 grant from Baltimore Gas and Electric, the church was able to rip up 1,200 square feet of sidewalk and enlarge the area around the trees by 36 percent.
Thirty children from area schools then completed the project by amending the soil around the trees with leaf compost, earthworms and mulch. In the process, they learned about trees and their role in a healthy ecosystem. The church has since worked on numerous other projects, including building a pollinator microhabitat and outdoor classroom at a local public school. “We consider ourselves a green church and we’re proud of that,” said Dick Williams, a church member and a consultant on sustainable building certification, who led the project. “We wish to do more.”
Williams said Interfaith Partners helped educate church members on the dangers impervious surfaces pose for the health of waterways. It also identified potential grantors to fund the proposed work.
That kind of assistance is key, said Rosemary Flickinger, volunteer garden manager for the Kadampa Meditation Center of Maryland.
When the Kadampa Center moved into its new building in northern Baltimore, it had recurring flooding in its parking lot after heavy rainstorms. The temple’s leadership asked Flickinger to look into possible grants to do some remediation work.
“I discovered the Chesapeake Bay Trust had a grant that was available,” said Flickinger. “But I’d never written a grant before. Interfaith Partners said: ‘Don’t worry about it. We’ll help you.’ “
The temple was able to secure a $30,000 grant (with a matching $30,000 in labor) to install three rain gardens. It has since added a rooftop cistern.
Interfaith Partners is now expanding its work in rural areas, such as Wicomico County on the eastern shore of Maryland. The region, which is heavily agricultural and vulnerable to sea rise, recently formed a core group of a dozen religious congregations, including a mosque and a Baha’i temple, to work together on environmental projects. The Wicomico Interfaith Partners for Creation Stewardship has not only planted trees and cleaned up streams, its members have built community and camaraderie. “Folks here see the importance of taking care of the land,” said Matthew Heim, a volunteer organizer for the group. “That brings a lot of people to the table.”
RNS-Interfaith-Water3-121818.jpg

A Baltimore Gas and Electric crewman works with elementary and middle school students from the Bolton Hill area on a community greening project around Memorial Episcopal Church on Oct. 6, 2017, in Baltimore. The project expanded tree pits and improved stormwater mitigation practices. (Photo courtesy of Dick Williams)
The challenge now is to get megachurches with huge facilities and massive parking lots on board. “We’re going to continue trying,” said Heim. Interfaith Partners has also forged a good working relationship with the city of Baltimore. “We’re limited in what we can do on private property,” said Mark Cameron, who works on watershed planning and partnerships in Baltimore’s Department of Public Works. “That’s where IPC comes in. They’re helpful in expanding the reach of what we’re able to do and helping people understand it’s not just the city’s role to have cleaner neighborhoods, cleaner waterways and a cleaner bay.”
Jenkins, the church volunteer who helped plant the trees last month, is also a professor of environmental humanities at the University of Delaware. But he said he’s especially proud of the way his Presbyterian church has stepped up its game on the environment, in part because of Interfaith Partners, where he now serves on the board.
“Environmental activity is part of our MO,” said Jenkins. “It’s not quirky or eccentric or on the periphery. It’s central to what we do.”

West Bloomfield Synagogue’s Bible Garden Welcomes Visitors and Tour Groups

The Louis and Fay Woll Memorial Bible Garden, located at 5075 West Maple Road, West Bloomfield, on the campus of Congregation Beth Ahm, will soon be in full spring bloom, and people of all faiths are welcome to visit for learning and reflection. The Garden is available for group tours as well as for informal individual visitation. Group tours can be arranged to take place any day of the week with the exception of Shabbat (Saturday). The Garden is open in the summer, fall and spring, from sunrise to sunset.

Bible gardens usually contain plants mentioned in the Bible or use plants to recreate themes from the Bible. The Louis and Fay Woll Memorial Bible Garden does both and serves many purposes. It is meant to serve as a place of inner reflection, as a place of education, as a place for social and community gatherings, as a place to celebrate special things in our lives, and as a place to understand and appreciate the beauty and continuity of nature and its connection to the Jewish people and to the Divine.

There are a number of Bible gardens in various locations around the United States, but the Louis and Fay Memorial Bible Garden is believed to be the only one in Michigan and is one of very few in the world that are sponsored by a synagogue. Almost all other Bible gardens to date have been created by Christian houses of worship.

The Louis and Fay Woll Memorial Bible Garden was created by Drs. Douglas and Margo Woll in 2010 to honor the memory of Doug’s parents, who believed in and exemplified the principles of goodness, caring and generosity. The Bible Garden was designed by Gary Roberts of Great Oaks Landscaping and features ceramic artwork by Carol Roberts of Tucson, AZ.
If your group would like to tour the garden with a synagogue docent and also have the opportunity to visit the Beth Ahm sanctuary and learn more about Judaism, please contact Rabbi Steven Rubenstein by phone (248) 851-6880 ext. 17 or by e-mail ravsteven@cbahm.org to schedule your visit.
There is no charge to visit the Woll Memorial Bible Garden, either on an individual basis or for group tours. Donations are welcome to help support the ongoing maintenance and enhancement of the Bible Garden.
All are welcome to find enjoyment, beauty and peaceful reflection in the experience of exploring the Louis and Fay Memorial Bible Garden in person or online. For more information, including photos of the Garden, visit http://www.wollbiblegarden.org/ or http://www.cbahm.org/woll-bible-garden
Congregation Beth Ahm
5075 West Maple Road, West Bloomfield MI 48322

For more info contact: Rabbi Steven Rubenstein (248) 851-6880 ext. 17
 or e-mail ravsteven@cbahm.org

Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar embody
a new era for Muslim women
By Rafia Zakaria

                                    Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib
As a Muslim-American woman living in what feels like, based on growing hate crimes and bigoted political rhetoric, an increasingly Islamophobic America, I get few chances to feel victorious and hopeful. But this Thursday promises just that. On January 3, 2019, not one but two Muslim American women were sworn into Congress. Taking the oath on a Quran that belonged to Thomas Jefferson, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib became the first Muslim-American women to serve in the House of Representatives.
Their swearing in will be a historic milestone for the country, but it will be so much more than that for me. A black Somali-American woman who wears a headscarf and pokes fun at Islamophobes on Twitter, Omar crushes stereotypes of what a Muslim woman in a headscarf represents. As an unveiled Muslim American woman, Rashida Tlaib — who will wear a Palestinian gown to her swearing in — also dismantles the myth that all “real” Muslim women wear the headscarf.
In the faces and politics of the two women, I see a welcome challenge to Muslim orthodoxy and American stereotypes, and a huge win for Muslim feminism.
At different times in my life, I have worn and not worn a headscarf, thus straddling one of the most polemical debates within Islam. Literal and decontextualized translations of the Quran, most of them produced by men, have long held that the “hijab,” or headscarf, is a requirement for all Muslim women. Many Muslim feminists, such as Fatima MernissI, have unraveled this premise by contextualizing the verses used to insist on the prescription, and exposing the varied meanings of the word “hijab.”
In real life, this complicated issue often prompts heated debates among Muslim women who fall on either side of the debate. In high school, when I wore the headscarf, I hotly insisted on its necessity as an article of faith. A decade later, I argued, as Mernissi does, that the women who wore it were inadequately feminist, living out a patriarchal prescription that had been read into the Quran. I won many arguments, but I lost even more friends. Today, after writing a book on the subject, I realize how wrong I was in both cases, in insisting that everyone or no one should choose the veil.
This realization is precisely why I feel so triumphant about Omar and Tlaib’s elections. With both a veiled and unveiled woman representing the face of American Islam in the US Congress, the garment can finally emerge as a facet of individual choice available to Muslim women, rather than a divine or even a political mandate. In this way, the emergence of Omar and Tlaib, two outspoken Muslim American women (Tlaib literally disrupted a Trump rally in 2016) who respect each other’s choices and stand together, bridges a schism that has divided Muslim women all over the world.
In a riven America, however, the task of bridging rifts will be harder. Even before the Trump era ushered in increased marginalization and targeting of Muslims, many Americans viewed Islam with suspicion. Since 9/11, the equation of “Muslim” with “terrorist” has become routine, rarely even remarked upon.
In this milieu, Muslim women who wear the headscarf have become hyper-visible, too often walking targets for ignorance and hate. A teachers’ pulling a student’s headscarf in Virginia, policemen forcing its removal in New York, a man pulling off a woman’s headscarf during a flight, a woman threatened on a public bus and many similarly alarming incidents have occurred and will likely recur. The election of Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib will not magically eliminate the prejudice and fear behind these attacks, but it will provide more Americans with Muslim American public figures who challenge their stereotypes and misplaced hatreds. The twin rookie congresswomen, with their very existence, poke holes at the idea that only unveiled Muslim American women are suitably assimilated (read: safe) or that all veiled ladies are pathetically submissive or latent terrorists.
Stereotypes die when those whose stories contradict them become the focus of public attention. This January 3 will be the beginning of this journey for both Americans and for veiled and unveiled Muslim women all around the world. In Ilhan Omar, they will see a black woman who wears a headscarf and who is a committed progressive. In Rashida Tlaib, they will see a brown woman who, like most Muslim-American women, chooses not wear a headscarf but remains committed to her faith and to advancing the cause of the working-class families like her own. In both Omar and Tlaib lives a vision of a new American heroine, of American exceptionalism realized in the trajectory of two women, brown and black, veiled and unveiled, Muslim and American. Ultimately, it is this very “only in America” quality of these two congresswomen — one who has risen from her refugee camp origins and the other who has overcome a childhood of hardship and penury — that will likely endear them to Americans.
After what seems too long, Muslim Americans and all Americans can be proud of a country that has made these two women possible.

A Sikh warrior blows fire, a traditional skill of martial art, during a procession celebrating the birthday of Guru Gobind Singh in Jammu, India, on Jan. 3, 2019. The birth anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh guru, is marked on Jan. 5. (AP Photo/Channi Anand)

Women take a pledge to fight gender discrimination as they form part of a hundreds of miles long “women’s wall” in Thiruvananthapuram, in the southern Indian state of Kerala, on Jan. 1, 2019. An estimated 5 million women participated in making the wall, which is believed to be the largest ever demonstration for gender equality. The women were demanding an end to violence against women trying to enter Kerala’s Sabarimala temple. A recent ruling from India’s top court allowed the entrance of women of menstruating age at the Sabarimala temple, one of the world’s largest Hindu pilgrimage sites, causing mass demonstrations against the ruling. (AP Photo/R.S. Iyer)

Finding Faith: Interfaith Café offers
safe place to discuss beliefs
By Janis Fontaine
Most people, at one time or another, ponder the big questions: Why am I here? What’s my purpose? Is there one God, many gods or no god at all? What happens when I die? Is there a heaven? Are there dogs there?
Even people who are deeply committed to their faith have questions and, sometimes, doubts. Faith almost demands you have doubts in its very definition: belief in the absence of proof.  For many, these ruminations take place in our heads.  But a group of deep thinkers has a safe place to discuss hard questions. It’s called the Interfaith Café and it’s a free program offered by the Interfaith Coalition. All are welcome.  The Interfaith Café meets monthly at the South County Civic Center on Jog Road -neutral ground.
“We used to meet at a different church every week, but the Civic Center seemed to work better,” Jane Faysash said. She is one of the original members and she represents the Buddhist faith.  Linda Prior, who finds speakers and organizes the programs each month, is a Christian. Other members represent the Mormon, Jewish, Catholic, Muslim and Baha’i faiths. Some call themselves spiritual, some agnostic and others label themselves as atheist.  But in the café, those labels melt away to reveal our common humanity: love, pain, forgiveness, shame, gratitude. Topics are more philosophical than theological, and meetings are civil and respectful.
Most meetings attract between 30 and 50 people with open minds, which keeps discussions from dissolving into arguments.  People with literalist views or rigid thoughts will not enjoy the café. “We connect on a deep personal level,” Faysash said. “We can be open here.”  Prior, whose home church is First Presbyterian in Delray Beach, cares deeply about people who have no attachment to a church or a religion or even a belief system. She has seen the discussions at the café change people.
She knows that the universal desire to congregate comes from our longing for community, connectedness, to be a part of something greater, to belong somewhere. Feeling isolated and alone and excluded is a touchstone for disaster.
Musician Cecilia St. King will speak and perform at the Jan. 17 meeting. She knows a little bit about disasters.  She was in New York City during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Instead of leaving town, she stayed and performed for the firefighters, construction workers and search and rescue personnel. She wanted to lift them up, and she would do it again.
But it came with a steep price: throat cancer, possibly from breathing the poisonous air around the site.  St. King will perform on guitar her signature blend of American roots music, rock, blues, folk and spirituals (and a grain of jazz) to express the Tao’s ageless wisdom teachings in song.  She has traveled the world as a performer, but she settled down in Delray Beach recently.  She has been quick to lend her support where needed. She performed and counseled children after the Parkland mass shootings and raised $15,000 for students to go to the March on Washington. She sang at a vigil for gun control in Delray Beach and performed at the “Together We Remember” vigil for Holocaust remembrance in Boca Raton.
For more info, visit meetup.com/Interfaith-Cafe.

‘Vacationing’ to reconnect with
India’s Zoroastrian culture
A Parsi man offers prayers at a bas-relief of ancient priests at a fire temple on Navroze, the Parsi New Year, in Mumbai, India, on Aug. 17, 2018. Parsis, also known as Zoroastrians, worship fire and are followers of the Bronze Age Persian prophet Zarathustra. (AP Photo/Rajanish Kakade)
MUMBAI, India (RNS) – Farzad Irani, a physical therapist born and raised in New York, tucked into a plate of mutton dhansak and egg chutney pattice, happily reacquainting himself with Parsi cuisine as part of a 15-day trip through western India intended to stir up his connections to his ethnic and religious identity as a Zoroastrian. Irani had last visited Mumbai as a 12-year-old, when he’d undergone his navjote, the traditional Zoroastrian initiation ceremony. This time he’d returned with Return to Roots, an organization that hopes to connect young Parsi and Irani Zoroastrians to their heritage, partly in hopes of reviving a community that once thrived in and around India’s largest city.
“I thought it could be cool,” said Irani over lunch after a visit to the Dadar Athornan Institute, where Parsi priests are trained. “It would be different from my normal vacations. I wanted something more spiritual, more educational, to learn where we came from.”
According to legend, Zoroastrians arrived by boat on India’s west coast between the 8th and 10th centuries, fleeing religious persecution in Persia. They found refuge, quickly integrating with the local population by adopting the Gujarati language and local customs, while steadfastly hanging onto their religious beliefs. That first wave became known as Parsis; a second wave, arriving in the 19th century, became another subset called Iranis. Since then, they have flourished as a successful, well-educated minority, producing some of India’s most prominent merchants, lawyers and doctors.
But with later and fewer marriages and lower fertility rates, Parsi and Irani numbers have fallen in the past three decennial Indian censuses – just 57,264 in 2011, compared to 100,772 in 1961 – prompting fears that the proud minority may soon disappear. It’s estimated that there are as many as 40,000 Zoroastrians living outside India. Inspired by Birthright Israel, a 20-year-old organization that brings diaspora Jewish youngsters to the Holy Land, Return to Roots is designed to help young Zoroastrians fortify connections and engage more deeply with the endangered culture.
“We thought, ‘Why don’t we have something for Zoroastrians?'” asked Arzan Sam Wadia, Return to Roots’ program director. “How do we create a whole package of experiences that touches everything from history and culture to food and entrepreneurship and meeting their peers?”
Return to Roots’ two-week tours include meeting priests, homes and restaurants, worshipping at local fire temples, checking out heritage and culture, and exploring contemporary debates within the community.
Irani, 29, who was raised Zoroastrian, met fellow believers during the Zoroastrian Youth Congress, held every four years in locations around the globe, or the biennial Zoroastrian Games. “Winning gold medals is one thing,” he said, chuckling. “Learning this stuff is another.”
Karl Raghina, sitting across the table, was also familiar with the basic contours of his faith, but growing up in California largely severed him from the community. “It’s nice to see things we have heard about,” said Raghina, 35, an engineer from San Diego.
Return to Roots fellows must be between 22 and 35 years old and are selected based on an application. Unlike Birthright Israel, which is partly government-funded and completely free, Return to Roots depends entirely on private donations. The cost of the trip for the fellows is about $1,000 plus airfare. So far five trips have brought 81 young people from at least eight different countries, including the U.S., U.K. and United Arab Emirates.
“It brings a renewed sense of being Zoroastrian and what that means,” said Wadia, who lives in New York. “The aim is to provide the tools for what it means to be Zoroastrian. If people don’t live in India and soak those things up by osmosis, sometimes they don’t know them.”
Kayras Irani, a 32-year-old Canadian who now lives in New Zealand, was on his fourth tour, his third as one of five volunteers organizing the trip. He grew up going to a Zoroastrian fire temple and taking religion classes but, he said, “I connect at a deeper level each time.”
The Return to Roots tours generally begin in Mumbai, where the largest numbers of Zoroastrians still live, and visit Udvada, where the Parsi refugees first settled, and Navsari, home to rural Parsi communities.
The organizers hope the itinerary eventually will extend to Iran, where Zoroastrianism, considered the oldest monotheistic religion, originated 4,000 years ago. For now, the antagonism between the United States and Iran puts the country off limits for most American participants.
“It gave me greater self-confidence and enlarged my outlook on my religion and culture,” said Cyrus Karanjia, 23, a freelance graphic designer from Karachi, Pakistan, home to some 1,400 Zoroastrians. “It changed my understanding toward my identity.” If Parsis are a minuscule minority even in India, that sense of being set apart is amplified abroad, where there may not be other Parsi families, let alone fire temples.
“I felt disconnected,” said Ava Damri, 32, who lived in Auckland before moving to Dallas. As a teenager, Damri stopped wearing the sacred thread and vest that believers receive on their initiation. By the third day of the trips, she was already reconsidering as she got a better understanding of the rituals.
“I used to be very proud to say I am a Zoroastrian,” said Damri, “but I could not give more than surface-level answers about it.” The firsthand knowledge also helps others understand their faith. “We are always a minority, but we need to have a knowledge of our own culture before we can educate others,” said Karanjia. “I improved my understanding of my own background, so I can answer questions about it better.”
Return to Roots also stresses an urgency about sustaining the Parsi and Irani populations. One evening, the group attended a talk where the tour leaders talked about an 18 percent drop in the Indian Zoroastrian population between 2001 and 2011. A government program launched in 2013 offers financial assistance for less well-off couples who want a child, under which 172 babies have been born so far. This month new incentives, such as a senior citizen honorarium for child care and creche and child support, were launched.
Some more liberal Zoroastrians are skeptical of such measures, calling the government’s help a myopic scheme that reduces women to baby-makers. They advocate for reforms that would allow the children of Parsi women who marry outsiders to be accepted, as the children of Parsi men married to non-Parsis already are. Though its advertisements exhort people to marry young and within the community, Return to Roots doesn’t play matchmaker among its participants and Wadia says the discussions are intended to be informative, not evangelical. “No topic is taboo,” he said. “They may or may not agree with [some things] but at least they understand [what is happening].”
Still, if romance blooms during the fortnight, no one would complain. Past trips have yielded a few couples. “When you get young people to meet in an organic setting … ,” said Damri, laughing as she trailed off.

Hindu holy men participate in rituals that are believed to rid them of all ties to this life and dedicate themselves to serving God as a ‘Naga’ or naked holy man, at Sangam, the confluence of the Ganges and Yamuna River during the Kumbh festival in Prayagraj, India, on Feb. 1, 2019. The significance of nakedness is that they will not have any worldly ties to material belongings, not even something as simple as clothing. This ritual that transforms selected holy men to Naga can only be done at the Kumbh festival. (AP Photo/ Rajesh Kumar Singh)

Young Balinese paint themselves in preparation for the Hindu ritual called “Grebeg” at the Tegalalang village in Bali, Indonesia, on Jan. 30, 2019. In the biannual ritual, young participants paint their bodies and parade around their village to ward off evil spirits. (AP Photo/Firdia Lisnawati)

The Phoenix Sikh community donated $11,000 in gas and grocery-store gift cards to TSA workers on Wednesday following the government shutdown. TSA workers had been working for days without a paycheck until this past week. The community wanted to thank the agents for working throughout the shutdown tirelessly and volunteering their efforts to protect our country. Thanks and congratulations to the Phoenix Sikh community for displaying leadership, helping those in need and embodying the Sikh spirit of seva (selfless service)!

The evolving Baha’i perspective on interfaith dialogue

OSLO, Norway, 17 January 2019, (BWNS) – Recent international interfaith gatherings highlight a growing awareness in the world. Many social actors are seeing in interreligious dialogue a new potential to channel the constructive powers of faith for the betterment of society.
“If we all have humility instead of insisting on the exclusivity of our own perspectives, then we begin to learn from each other,” says Britt Strandlie Thoresen, who heads Norway’s national interfaith organization. As a Baha’i, her commitment to interreligious dialogue springs from a belief in the power of fellowship to foster unity. “We are striving to find a common path together-a path to building a better world with each other.”
Today, the interfaith movement can reflect on more than a century of experience cultivating dialogue between people of different faiths. At the end of the 19th century, the burgeoning movement seemed to hold great promise for ushering in a recognition of the oneness of religion. The 20th century painted a very different picture. Two world wars, a seemingly intractable rise of sectarian violence, religious fundamentalism, and radicalization have left many disenchanted with religion and wary of the value of the movement.
The interfaith movement, however, has made impressive contributions toward promoting unity among the world’s religious communities. Increasingly, people are conscious of how the movement can go even further in helping humanity to attain higher degrees of unity in addressing its most weighty challenges.
For Baha’is, a century of participation in interfaith activities worldwide has sparked a deep reflection in recent years. What is the potential of the spaces opened up in the name of interfaith dialogue? What are its aims and hopes today? How can we participate in a discourse that draws on the insights of religion but goes further to explore their relevance to a world in disarray?
“One way of looking at religion is as a phenomenon that transcends any one faith or sect,” explains Venus Khalessi, who represented the Baha’i community at the G20 Interfaith Forum in Buenos Aires, Argentina, last September. One of the aims of participation in interfaith dialogue, she explains, is to draw out universal principles and learn from each other’s experiences applying them. The point is to work toward a more peaceful and just world. “In this sense, religion can be seen as a system of knowledge and practice that is evolving and offers insights and values that can help society advance.”
The view that religion has a vital and constructive role to play in the life of humanity was shared by representatives of many religious groups at the G20 Forum. The conference’s concept paper describes religion’s prominent role in many societal issues.
“Acknowledged or unacknowledged, around the world religion addresses the challenging problems societies and nations face as well as broader societal well-being,” the paper states. “Without the investment of time and resources that religiously-motivated organizations and individuals provide, the United Nations’ SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) are unattainable.”
In November, more than 8,000 people from around the world gathered in Toronto, Canada, for the Parliament of the World’s Religions, another major forum for the global interfaith movement. Baha’is organized sessions on relevant themes such as the empowerment of youth, the relationship between religion and citizenship, the principle of oneness, the equality of women and men, race unity, and more. In all, more than 60 presentations were offered by Baha’is, often in collaboration with people of different faiths.
Mrs. Thoresen sees great value in continuing to invest time in interfaith activities. “We are learning step by step. We are learning to listen, reflect, and communicate with one another in a way that builds common understanding.”
“In this setting, it is important not to dwell on differences but to try to build on what we all have in common, and that is a lot actually,” she continues. The Council for Religious and Life Stance Communities in Norway, which Mrs. Thoresen chairs, not only holds regular interfaith gatherings in Oslo but also promotes interreligious dialogue in local communities throughout the country.
Interfaith activities vary widely. Some groups primarily seek fellowship; others are oriented toward social change. Since Tunisia’s 2011 revolution, for example, the country has been increasingly conscious of its religious diversity and has been seeking to cultivate a pluralistic society. Interfaith dialogue has played a critical role in building a common vision for the future. And more broadly in the Arab region, the United Nations Development Programme organized a conference in December, bringing together religious representatives, including Baha’is, for a review of how faith communities are enhancing social cohesion and tolerance.

Pope: Respect, dialogue key for peace between Christians, Muslims
from the National Catholic Reporter
Vatican City – Pope Francis said his recent visit to the United Arab Emirates, while brief, was a new page in relations between Christians and Muslims at a time when conflict and violence threaten the goal of lasting peace. Recalling his Feb. 3-5 visit to Abu Dhabi, the pope said during his weekly general audience Feb. 6 that the joint document signed by him and Egyptian Sheik Ahmad el-Tayeb, the grand imam of al-Azhar and chair of the Muslim Council of Elders, was a step forward in promoting dialogue and brotherhood.
“In an age like ours, in which there is a strong temptation to see a clash between Christian and Islamic civilizations taking place, and also to consider religions as sources of conflict, we wanted to give another clear and decisive sign that, on the contrary, it is possible to meet, respect and dialogue with each other, and that, despite the diversity of cultures and traditions, the Christian and Islamic worlds appreciate and protect common values: life, the family, religious belief, honor for the elderly, the education of young people and much more,” the pope said.
Arriving at the Paul VI audience hall, the pope was in good spirits despite recently returning from the quick two-day visit. A group of pilgrims from Paraguay was the first to greet him, offering him “chipa,” a cheese-flavored breakfast snack from their country.
The pope snacked on the treat while greeting them. He later washed it down with some mate tea offered to him by an Argentine pilgrim attending the audience. In his talk, the pope reflected on the historic nature of his visit, which was the first time a pope visited the Arabian Peninsula. He also noted that 800 years after St. Francis of Assisi’s visit to Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil, providence wanted “a pope named Francis” to fulfill this visit.
“I often thought of St. Francis during this visit,” the pope said. “He helped me to keep in my heart the Gospel, the love of Jesus Christ, while I lived the various moments of the visit.”
Among the prayers he kept in his heart, he added, were the “victims of injustices, wars, and misery” as well as “the prayer that the dialogue between Christianity and Islam be a decisive factor for peace in the world today.” After expressing his gratitude to Abu Dhabi’s crown prince, Sheik Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and the country’s authorities for their welcome, the pope thanked the Catholic community “who animate the Christian presence in that land.” Departing from his prepared remarks, the pope recalled meeting the first priest to arrive in Abu Dhabi and who “founded so many communities there.”
At 90 years old, he said, the priest “is in a wheelchair, blind, but his smile never falls from his lips, a smile of having served the Lord, of having done good.” This visit, Francis said, “belongs to God’s ‘surprises.’ Let us praise him and his providence, and let us pray that the seeds sown may bear fruit according to his holy will.”

We extend our condolences and sadness over the sudden death of Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, the Founder and President of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. Rabbi Eckstein was a passionate supporter of building bridges of understanding between the Christian and Jewish communities, and was particularly focused on addressing issues of social injustice in Israel, which included assisting Holocaust survivors, orphans, soldiers and families in need. He was also integral in creating programs that transported Jews in the Diaspora, particularly from Africa, to Israel. His organization sponsored multiple trips to Israel for the African-American community, in which numerous people from the Detroit community participated.

Rabbi Eckstein, 67, was a good friend to a number of clergy in Detroit, including Executive Committee members Rev. Deedee M. Coleman, Rev. Kenneth J. Flowers and Dr. Glenn R. Plummer. Several years ago, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Detroit, Rabbi Eckstein participated in a program at Rev. Coleman’s church, Russell Street Missionary Baptist Church.

His voice, his leadership and his commitment to Israel and the solidarity between Christians and Jews will be forever cherished. He was truly a giant of a man and those that knew him will miss his warm smile and beautiful heart.

February 2019

Written by WISDOM on . Posted in Newsletters

Calendar for WISDOM and Other Interfaith Events 
 

Sunday, February 10th 3:00 PM – 6:00 PM, Adat Shalom Synagogue
29901 Middlebelt Rd., Farmington HIlls, 48334
“And Then They Came For Us” Documentary
Followed by Panel Discussion about immigration
See Flyer below
Sunday, March 3rd 4:00 PM – 6:00 PM
The 20th Annual World Sabbath
Islamic House of WISDOM, Dearborn Heights
See Flyer Below
Monday, March 4, 6:30-8:00 PM,  

Western Wayne/Oakland Counties
 Faith Communities Coalition on Foster Care
See Flyer below
Five Women Five Journeys at Oakland University -Oakland Center,  Founders Ballroom D
Tuesday, March 12th between 12:00 PM and 1:30 PM
Contact Paula Drewek for more information, drewekpau@aol.com
Thursday, March 14th 7:00 – 9:00 PM at Temple Israel, 5725 Walnut Lake Road, West Bloomfield 48323
Interfaith panel on attracting our young adult population
to their faith traditions!
See article below
Sunday, March 24th, 2019 (afternoon)
Celebration of International Women’s Day
Save the Date – More information below!
Sunday, April 7th  12:30 – 1:30 PM
WISDOM Women Tell Their Stories at the Hadassah Retreat
Stay tuned for more information

Women Who Inspire: An Interfaith Celebration of International Women’s Day
Sunday, March 24, 2019 – Afternoon
Metro Detroit Venue TBD
Stay tuned for venue, exact time
and sign up ability on the WISDOM website
Sponsors
* National Council of Jewish Women – Michigan
* National Council of Negro Women, Inc.
* Zaman International
* Birmingham Race Relations and Diversity Task Force
.  WISDOM
Program Elements & Goals
Educational – Celebrating diversity while honoring the beauty, strength, and resilience of women in all forms; women from diverse backgrounds and walks of life will share about a woman who has inspired them (family member or friend, activist, artist, female figure from one’s culture or faith tradition/sacred text)
Social – Light refreshments served and opportunities to socialize and build relationships among diverse groups of women
Service – Online registration for guests prior to event. A suggested donation of $10 at the event. All proceeds will benefit Alternatives for Girls – a local organization in Detroit that serves girls & women through prevention, shelter, and outreach programming.
Speaker/Storyteller Guidelines
Time limit per speaker: 7 minutes
Theme: Select a woman who has inspired you and share this woman’s positive impact with the audience. This could be someone you know personally, such as a family member or friend, or it could be an inspirational figure you admire and who has touched you in some way, whether an artist, activist, or female figure from your culture or faith tradition. You may speak, tell a story, recite poetry, incorporate music, and/or share an image or special item… any mode that will allow you to authentically express the way she has inspired you. We are celebrating women of all colors, faiths, and countries of origin in honor of International Women’s Day while bringing together diverse audience members, fostering intercultural and interfaith relationships, and raising funds for an organization that directly serves women in our local communities.

  
Hear the Honorable Frank Szymanski
of the Juvenile Court of the Third Circuit Court, Wayne County
present the Community Alliance for Wrap Around Services
This is a new model on ways that congregations
of all faiths can partner together
to support children, youth and families
that come before the courts.
All are welcome to meet him on Monday, March 4, 6:30- 8:00 PM,
Western Wayne/Oakland Counties
 Faith Communities Coalition on Foster Care
First Presbyterian Church, 701 Church St, Plymouth, MI 48170
Contact: Peggy Fisher-Kmieciak, pfk75@hotmail.com;
Sheila Henderson, rjsah@sbcglobal.net

December Religious Diversity Journey takes Seventh Graders to learn about Christianity at St. Mary’s Orthodox Antiochian Church in Livonia!  
Fantastic experience for clergy, teachers and students!!

The Coalition for Black and Jewish Unity held its first annual holiday party in December at Otus Supply in Ferndale. The event was fun, festive and musical – just as we knew it would be!
Hazzan Dan Gross lead a Hanukkah sing-a-long including tunes from a variety of genres including Yiddish, the classics and fun parodies (“Hanukkah in Santa Monica” and “Shavuas in East St. Louis”!). With song sheets in hand, the crowd was happy to join in, although the Yiddish words were hysterically botched up by most everyone but Hazzan Gross.

Next, Dr. Pauline Plummer, an acclaimed gospel singer, pastor and wife of Executive Committee Member Dr. Glenn Plummer, led attendees in a set of beautiful, upbeat and interactive Christmas and holiday songs. Dr. Plummer is truly a poised, polished professional with an angelic voice.

It’s always a fun, special night when you see pastors singing and clapping to “Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel” and rabbi’s jamming to “Jingle Bells!” But that was the feel of the whole evening – just a nice, fun, Black and Jewish solidarity love-fest where people could meet new friends and strengthen existing relationships…and that is kind of the whole point of our Coalition – we create bonds of friendship and, together, take on the struggle against hatred and injustice facing the Black and Jewish communities.

There will, of course, be much to do in 2019 and we will do it together, as friends and partners.

The MAYA School held their annual Religious Diversity Journey at the Islamic Center of America.
The MAYA School held their annual Religious Diversity Journey  at the Islamic Center of America. Over 200 students, teachers, and parents from school districts such as Plymouth, Walled Lake, Bloomfield Hills, Farmington, and Birmingham attended the beautiful event. The MAYA staff, students, and distinguished speakers, taught about Islam to students of all kinds of faiths. Their goal was to dispel any misconceptions about Islam. Guests ended the day with a very positive impression of Muslims and were very happy to have had this opportunity to gain so much knowledge about Islam. In commemoration of the Abbas Family, the students created donation boxes to raise money for MADD, and they also signed condolence cards for the family, ICA, and the Muslim community.

‘You belong’: Threatened Muslim child receives 500 interfaith letters of support
BOSTON (RNS) – When a 10-year-old Muslim girl looked in her classroom cubby one Friday morning last month, she found a note there with the words, “You’re a terrorist,” scribbled in childish, all-capital letters. The next week, a message appeared, saying, “I will kill you.”
“She was visibly upset – she was crying,” her uncle Jamaal Siddiqui told CBS Boston. “Just the thought of that makes me feel sick to my stomach.
The letters stopped after Hemenway Elementary School officials and police in Framingham, Mass., began investigating the possible hate crime.  After the threatening notes were discovered, civil rights advocates from the Massachusetts chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations had asked the public – particularly interfaith allies – to rally in support of the young student by sending encouraging messages.
Now, two weeks after receiving the threat, the fifth-grade student at Hemenway Elementary in Framingham, Mass., has stacks upon stacks of letters of support from all over the country, waiting to be read.
“Dear young sister, assalam ‘alaikum!” one letter with a colorful heart began. “May you have peace in your heart, a smile on your face, and every good thing in this life and the next.”
“Hi friend!” another read. “A Jewish family from Maryland is sending you love and support. You are wonderful.” “People of all religions should be freinds [sic],” a 6-year-old child named Sophie wrote above a colorful illustration of a young girl in a red hijab holding hands with a blond-haired girl.
In all there are more than 500 letters from more than 20 states.
“No child deserves to feel afraid at school because of their faith,” said Sumaiya Zama, director of community advocacy and education for CAIR’s Massachusetts branch. “We’re incredibly heartened by the wider community’s support for this young Muslim student, particularly by the powerful messages from the interfaith community.”
Last month, the FBI reported that hate crimes rose 17 percent nationwide last year from 2016 and 9 percent in Massachusetts. A reportthis fall from the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding noted that 42 percent of Muslim parents reported that at least one of their children had been bullied in the past year because of their religion. “Despite the climate of animosity and fear that so many Muslims face today, it’s clear that we have allies,” Zama noted.bMany emphasized solidarity and support, and “a significant number” came from Jewish allies who wrote that they had faced hate and discrimination, too.
More than half of the letters came from fellow students, while others came from as far away as Hawaii, CAIR officials said. They plan to bring the letters, which they collected at their own address to protect the girl’s security, to the girl’s home early next week.
Hemenway principal Liz Simon also asked students to send notes showing they “stand against” such hatred, explaining that such acts could constitute hate crimes. An art teacher at Hemenway said her students responded by creating artwork filled with messages of love and acceptance.


            Can being nice to cows save the world?
 A Hindu man in the Poconos would like to believe so.
STROUDSBURG, Pa. – Every day, a joyful man in dung-covered boots tries to balance the world’s karma by dishing out love, compassion, and the occasional fried Indian delight to his ragtag herd of cows. Sankar Sastri loves Sri, the shaggy Scottish highlander with eyes like jewels, and adores Lakshmi, a little black Brahman with horns pointing north and south. The mighty Krishna, a tall and hefty Angus, appears to be a favorite, but Sastri said each of his 23 cows is equally beloved at his Poconos sanctuary.
“Ah, Krishna, look at how big you are. You are the boss, Krishna,” Sastri said to the cow on a recent cold November morning. Sastri, 78, is wiry, bespectacled, and constantly smiling, and wears a blazer over his farm clothes while he walks around his 90-acre Lakshmi Cow Sanctuary in Monroe County. Sastri still resembles a college professor, albeit one who fell in mud. He grew up in Chidambaram, by the Bay of Bengal in Southern India, moved to the United States in 1964 for grad school, and spent 28 years teaching engineering  at New York City College of Technology in Brooklyn.
“I loved that job very much,” he said. As the millennium approached, however, Sastri, a devout Hindu, began to ponder his next life and wonder if he’d done enough good deeds. He wasn’t just thinking about a life after retirement.
“The Hindu philosophy says whatever karma you have done in the past, in this life, follows you,” he explained. “You and I, this is not the first time we are meeting. We have met many times in trillions of years in this universe.”
Sastri decided in 2000 that saving cows was his way forward and traded a  Brooklyn brownstone and academic life for pickup trucks on life support and a farm in Northampton County, and eventually a 90-acre spread in Jackson Township, Monroe County, with a ramshackle farmhouse. The goal of the Lakshmi Cow Sanctuary, a nonprofit, is to save cows destined for the slaughterhouse, but Sastri has also taken in animals other kindhearted people had kept as pets. Sri, the Scottish cow, came from an elderly widow who’d been diagnosed with cancer.
“If you look at all the living beings in this world, the most loving and compassionate animal is the cow,” Sastri said. “They give and give and give.”
Sastri sells his herd’s dung patties for $6.50 a pound, as a fuel source for religious ceremonies. He said he manages to operate on about $1,000 a week but would like to bring in more so he can hire more help. He lets people who are down on their luck live in his farmhouse in exchange for labor.
“Right now. we’re really at the limit of how many cows we can take in,” he said.
Sastri gets visitors, mostly “Hindus, vegans, and animal lovers,” but also the occasional Poconos tourist from a ski resort on the other side of the mountain behind his farm. One Hindu woman was coming from Albany, N.Y., to “feed the cows,” a common prescription for all of life’s ailments, Sastri said. He tells them to bring pakora, a fried dough, as a treat.
Cows are sacred in the Hindu religion, not a food source. In 2016, two Tannersville residents left a severed cow’s head on his property. Police initially investigated the incident as a hate crime, but Sastri said some people, including the two suspects, were mostly just mad he had blocked off access to old ATV trails on his property. The duo apologized to Sastri, and he claims he hasn’t had issues since then. “I went to court and I didn’t say anything, and they got probation,” he said.
All the cows follow Sastri’s every move while he walks beyond the fence, and not just because he tosses them apples. They know they are safe here, he said, and loved. One black and white cow, named Maruti, runs to him like a horse.
“I gave him that name after a monkey god in India, and he runs like him,” Sastri says, laughing at the connection. “He’s a real runner. Maruti!” Sastri speaks to his cows daily, calling out their names and praising their beauty. “Look at her eyes, they are beautiful,” he said to Sri.  But he also talks about real estate, the weather, really whatever’s on his mind. They’ve taught him much more than he imagined, out in the mud and mountains and in his old, red book-filled barn.
“They accept the way of life,” he said in the barn as cows downstairs mooed. “We are called human beings, you know, but we just don’t be. We are always becoming. ‘I want to become a doctor. I want to become rich.’ We just don’t be. Cows, they just be, no matter what it is.”

As one historically black Episcopal church closes, others face strong headwinds
By Yonat Shimron

Acolytes and a crucifer from St. Ambrose Episcopal Church stand outside All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Warrenton, N.C., during a closing service on Dec. 8, 2018. RNS photo by Yonat Shimron
WARRENTON, N.C. (RNS) – On a chilly December morning, 100 years and one week after its sanctuary opened, All Saints’ Episcopal Church, an African-American congregation with a proud history, was formally closed. Bishop Samuel Rodman presided over the Eucharistic service in an elementary school a block away from the church, where weekly services ended more than three years ago. Several longtime members returned to read Scriptures and sing hymns. Afterward, the group of 100, including history buffs and well-wishers from North Carolina and Virginia, shared a meal of fried chicken and baked beans.

All Saints is hardly alone among mainline Protestant and Catholic congregations. Faced with dwindling members, crumbling infrastructure and costly maintenance, some 6,000 to 10,000 churches shutter each year, according to one estimate. More closures may be in the offing as surveys point to a decline in church attendance across the country.
But All Saints is an example of an even sharper decline. Historically African-American churches across the South are fast disappearing. Some were created after the Civil War when slavery was abolished; others in the crucible of Jim Crow, when whites who had long relegated blacks to the church balcony no longer tolerated them at all.
The Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina once boasted 60 such churches. Today, a mere dozen are left and, of those, only three have full-time clergy. Epiphany Episcopal Church in Rocky Mount, N.C., closed two years ago; at least one other is in danger of shuttering next year.
Of course, African-Americans have been welcome in all Episcopal churches for years – and the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, who served as bishop of the North Carolina diocese before leading the 1.7 million-member denomination, is black.
At Saturday’s (Dec. 8) closing service, there was a recognition that it was in part progress in race relations that has doomed African-American congregations. But there was as much tribute paid to the sacrificial work of so many pioneering black Episcopalians.
“Jesus provided those saints with the fortitude … to say, ‘We belong to the house of God,'” said the Rev. Nita Byrd, chaplain at St. Augustine’s University in Raleigh, who delivered the closing service sermon. “We are not aliens in the Christian family. We are not second-class citizens in the Episcopal Church.”
As North Carolina wrestles with the aftermath of Jim Crow – the University of North Carolina’s trustees have recommended that a racially motivated Confederate statue torn down by protesters in August be housed in a $5.3 million museum to be built on campus – there is a sense that these churches slowly fading from view also have a story to tell about the racial history of the region.
To read the rest of this article please go to:

Why we should stop using the term religious ‘nones’.
Author – Tara Isabella Burton
Women participate in an outdoor SoulCycle class. SoulCycle and other “cult” fitness programs are considered by some to serve as a form of church for regular participants. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons
(RNS) – On the first Sunday of Advent, I went to a holiday market in Greenpoint, one of Brooklyn’s trendiest neighborhoods, that catered to a clientele mostly in their 20s and 30s. Several dozen stalls were devoted to a wide range of “oddities”: a cornucopia of antique jewelry and risqué fetish-wear; Victorian hair jewelry; animal skulls; even a white taxidermied fox.
But nearly every stall had one – if not several – wares on offer that nodded to the occult. Some were subtle references – pentagrams or alchemically inspired graphite drawings – while others were obvious, like the T-shirt with the slogan “Dykes for Satan.” For customers looking for an easy one-pot spell, there were “Make Your Own Magic” candles for mixing symbolically significant herbs and oils into a candle base.
Not all of the market’s attendees – indeed not all “Make Your Own Magic’s” buyers – might identify themselves as practitioners of magic, or members of some neopagan faith, such as Wicca. Some may have been politically motivated; in the age of Trump, occult imagery, like the aesthetic of “witch feminism,” has become increasingly associated with those who #Resist. Some may have just plain liked the stalls’ vaguely punk ethos of transgression.
But the Oddities Market, as it is called, reflects a point about today’s wider religious marketplace, particularly among young city dwellers: The demarcation between what is and is not religious is becoming increasingly blurred.
A “Dykes For Satan” shirt or a “Make Your Own Magic” candle and the values, ideas and affiliations it expresses aren’t explicitly religious- not in the way that, say, a rosary is. But for an increasing number of Americans, religious identity doesn’t look the way it used to.
About 35 percent of millennials in the United States poll as religiously unaffiliated, as opposed to 24 percent of the American population overall. Whiter, richer, more liberal and more educated than the average population, these “nones” outnumber every other single religious voting bloc in the United States. By contrast, white evangelicals – the most reliable right-leaning voting bloc – comprise less than 15 percent of the voting population. Yet just because the nones don’t profess a faith doesn’t mean that they’re not interested in spirituality or participating in symbolically resonant rituals.
Seventy-two percent of nones profess belief in some sort of higher power – even if that higher power isn’t necessarily a traditional, major faith deity. A more recent Pew poll found that 62 percent believe in one or more “New Age” principles, including the efficacy of psychics or astrology. The millennial nones, too, have pioneered other forms of spirituality. Harvard Divinity School researchers Casper ter Kuile and Angie Thomas have identified “cult” fitness programs like CrossFit and SoulCycle as serving as a form of church for regular participants. Likewise, intense internet fandom communities, say a group of scholars from the University of Leicester in the U.K., foster community through valued texts – from Harry Potter to Buffy the Vampire Slayer – and shared meaning, like any religious group.
As ter Kuile and Thomas have written, this doesn’t necessarily mean people are simply replacing religion with secular equivalents. Rather, they argue that through a kind of religious “unbundling” elements of existing spiritual and religious traditions are increasingly divorced from their original contexts.
More and more practitioners are “mixing and matching,” finding community in CrossFit while developing a spiritual practice in home yoga or meditation. A Jewish person may engage in divination through Tarot cards. Religious life isn’t ending; it’s becoming increasingly diffuse.
Perhaps that’s only natural. After all, even when we talk about a single religion, we’re talking about not one concept but many – identity, shared goals and values that hold us in community, rituals to affirm faith and an overarching narrative of meaning. Even theorists of religion have a hard time agreeing what single element, if any, makes a religion a religion. French sociologist Émile Durkheim insisted on a “single moral community,” in which people affirmed their own identities in concord with one another. American anthropologist Clifford Geertz saw religion as a “system of symbols” that evoked powerful “moods” in its adherents.

The truth is that religion contains multitudes. As religious identity becomes ever more “unbundled” – and the religiously unaffiliated continue to grow in number – we’ll need to develop a vocabulary for talking about the wealth of practices, beliefs, communities and rituals that shape future faith identities, few of which may be easily reducible to a single label.
In other words, most of America’s young religiously unaffiliated are not so much religious nones as they are religious “manys.” They are like shoppers at a holiday market, finding meanings in an object here (T-shirts to candles), a practice there and picking and choosing among elements of religious life that resonate with them. These elements may not look like traditional organized religion – and they may be less cohesive overall – but, nevertheless, they function in much the same way.
From rationalist solstices to SoulCycle classes, from atheist meditation apps to wellness spa getaways, the “manys” explore the different ways that the religiously unaffiliated are approaching, and redefining, the religious.

A mosque that was recently opened amid protests in a heavily-Jewish part of London announced plans to host an exhibition celebrating Muslims who saved Jews during the Holocaust.
Golders Green Mosque is set to host the exhibition, prepared by the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Israel, at the beginning of the new year, the Jewish News of London reported Thursday.
The exhibition is about Muslim Albanians who hid and protected Jews during the Holocaust, when Albania was under fascist control.
Rabbi Natan Levy, head of operations at the interfaith group Faith Forums for London, which is helping the mosque organize the event, told The Jewish News: “The exhibition is a powerful reminder that during the Jewish community’s darkest hour, the Muslim community in Albania were one of the few who did not stand idly by when the Nazis attempted to eradicate their Jewish neighbors.”
Some Jewish opponents to the mosque’s opening in 2017 cited traffic concerns, whereas others said they fear it would introduce security problems, drawing accusations of xenophobia by other Jews.
Albanians rescued about 2,000 Jews during the Holocaust.
In parallel, Albanians also served in the 1st Albanian Waffen SS Division, manned by hundreds of ethnic Albanians – many of them from Bosnia and also Kosovo, which during the German and Italian occupations had been lumped together with Albania. They are known to have rounded up Jews who belonged to the group of at least 249 Kosovar Jews who ended up at a concentration camp in Germany.

A rabbi and a sister suggest a
Judeo-Christian New Year’s resolution
Been there, done that” hasn’t killed the annual New Year’s resolution ritual, despite a failure rate of close to 90 percent. In fact, more people are making them today than a century ago. All sorts of resolutions remain perennial favorites, including those that relate to health, personal advancement and doing more good for others.
The two of us pondered a question as an interesting thought exercise. American Christians and Jews have recently celebrated popular and meaningful holiday observances. Both of us are closer to the more theologically demanding ends of the belief continuum of our respective faiths. We are acutely aware of the theological incompatibility of some of our positions, even if they have not prevented us from enjoying a deep friendship.
Could we come up with a resolution for the New Year that would appeal to our mutual faiths – and that might please atheists and agnostics as well? Could it be something more immediately attainable than “bring peace to all mankind” or “cure a diseased planet”? We think we can.
Even without our suggestion, using words more carefully would be a good first resolution. Can there be an American who is not conscious of how much hostility and incivility have taken over our public discourse, and even the everyday interaction between people? Not to mention a mushrooming of online hate speech, a pandemic of bullying that drives young people to suicide, and the iffy stuff that we debate – venomously, of course – whether to call out as “dog whistles.”
Even without our suggestion, the positive power of words should inspire and motivate us. Now that our attention span has shrunk to less than that of goldfish, words themselves are endangered. We have less patience for reading; we want our information visually and in short spurts. We sense that what emojis and YouTube offer is important in life.
Yet it is with words that we most often express the depth of love; that we soothe a child who has scraped her knee; that we build self-confidence in a young person; that we communicate sympathy in times of loss; that we create friendships that are meaningful.
But we wanted to find a resolution that would have special appeal to people who are deeply invested in faith. Using words more nobly may seem to have little to do with our respective faiths, other than fit into the general rubric of “Love your fellow as yourself.” (That isn’t working so well lately. It has become too easy for folks to exclude people they don’t like from coverage by that commandment.)
Consider where all this speech-talk began. The Hebrew Bible takes a pretty dramatic position about the power of words. “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host” (Psalm 33:6). John 1:1 may be one up on that. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
Both verses see explosive power in “the word,” even as Christians and Jews are just not going to be getting together on what (or What) that word was and did. Christians will find the Jewish take on Psalms to be insufficient; Jews will find the Logos intent of John to be untenable. So that ends that.
You would think. But take a closer look. Both verses use “word” as a synonym for something very different – indeed, for something emanating from within G-d. Why does this work? Think of all the nouns that couldn’t work. Why does “word” get it right? Because the so-called Judeo-Christian legacy thing is real. For all their differences, Jews and Christians not only believe in a divinely sourced soul within humans, but root that belief in the opening chapters of the Bible. What made us human was the divine spirit that was breathed into us, as if from “within” G-d himself. It is that divine breath that makes us human and special, and not just a more advanced (or degraded, depending on who you ask) primate.
If that soul, that “portion of G-d from above” according to the Zohar, the central work of Jewish mysticism, is what defines our ultimate selves, then words are nothing less than windows to our essence. They are the way that we invite others in, to give them some understanding of who we are as unique individuals. And if our souls are holy, then so too are words.
This, then, is the resolution for 2019 that we propose. Let all those within our common tradition reflect on the sanctity of words. Let them have more meaning and depth than another tweet. We don’t casually or carelessly throw around holy objects. If we can appreciate that words not only have power, but are possessed of holiness, we just might be more likely to use them for holier purposes.
[Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein is director of interfaith affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the global human rights organization. He is an Orthodox rabbi. Daughter of St. Paul Sr. Rose Pacatte is founding director of the Pauline Center for Media Studies in Culver City, California. She is an award-winning film critic whose work appears in NCR.]

January 2019

Written by WISDOM on . Posted in Newsletters

Calendar for WISDOM and Other Interfaith Events 
 

Sunday, February 10th 3:00 PM – 6:00 PM, Adat Shalom Synagogue
29901 Middlebelt Rd., Farmington HIlls, 48334
“And Then They Came For Us” Documentary
Followed by Panel Discussion about immigration
See Flyer Below!
Thursday, March 14th 7:00 – 9:00 PM at Temple Israel, 5725 Walnut Lake Road, West Bloomfield 48323
Interfaith panel on attracting our young adult population
to their faith traditions!
Stay tuned for more information!!
Sunday, March 3rd 4:00 PM – 6:00 PM
The 20th Annual World Sabbath
Islamic House of WISDOM, Dearborn Heights
See Flyer Below
Sunday, March 24th, 2019 (afternoon)
Celebration of International Women’s Day
Save the Date

In November, Ethiopian Jews – the majority of the community now living in Israel – celebrated Sigd, a Jewish holiday unique to the traditions of a Jewish community that for centuries was cut off and isolated from the rest of global Jewry.
Today, Around 80,000 Ethiopian Jews live in Israel, many of whom were brought over to Israel in daring airlifts in 1984 and 1991.
Sigd is an Amharic word meaning “prostration” or “worship” Traditionally on Sigd, members of the Ethiopian Jewish community would fast for a day during which they would meet in the morning and walk together to the highest point on a mountain. The “Kessim,” spritual leaders of the community, would carry the “Orit,” the Ethiopian Torah, which is written in the ancient Geez language and comprised of the Five Books of Moses, the Prophetic writings, and other writings such as Song of Songs and Psalms. The Kessim recited parts of the Orit, including the Book of Nehemiah. On that day, members of the community recited Psalms and remembered the Torah, its traditions, and their desire to return to Jerusalem. In the afternoon they would descend back to the village and break their fast, dance and rejoice in a sort of seder reminiscent of Passover.
To see a video of Ethiopian Jews celebrating Sgid, go to

Helping children process hate: A Jewish perspective
Having children tends to increase our agony during moments of violence. I don’t know a parent who, after hearing about innocent people being hurt or killed, doesn’t instinctively reach for their kids and long to never let go. This feeling is especially strong when the violence was directed toward a group with whom your family identifies. What if it was us?
My family consists of conservative Jews who regularly attend a conservative synagogue, just like the Jews who were recently killed in Pittsburgh. Hate-filled trolls have repeatedly threatened violence against me, and my Jewish children, on social media. It’s getting harder and harder to not think about the unthinkable.
But after the initial agony passes and we release our children from our immobilizing grips, their presence can actually help us work through these dark moments. Children have lots of questions and tend to be dogged pursuers of moral clarity. It’s rarely enough for them to learn that something happened. They want to understand why it happened and will keep why-why-why-ing their way through each and every piece of information provided to them. Should children be activists?
At the end of this road sits the biggest question of them all, the question not about the act of violence but about what would make someone do something like that in the first place. How does one help them make sense of hate?
This is not an easy task. Intense hate is, for most of us, a foreign emotion, one we have never felt. We must talk to our children about it anyway, explaining to them why someone hates them, where this hate comes from and how it has been dealt with in the past. While this conversation should absolutely include an acknowledgment of all the other groups who are the target of it, the processing of hate best happens through particulars — of a people, of a history, of a moment. In my family, this means viewing hate through a Jewish lens.
Begin with the past
The Jewish holiday cycle rests largely upon a series of ancient stories in which Jews were persecuted for being Jewish and then, ultimately, prevail. During Passover, we remember when we were slaves in Egypt. During Purim, we remember when our lives were threatened in ancient Persia. And so on. “They tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat,” goes the old joke, a pithy summary of many Jewish holidays.
When children receive a Jewish education, it’s these stories, the Jewish communal memory, that take prominence. Is it strange to hear preschool children discuss the various ways in which one group of people can express their hatred of another? “Sometimes the Jews want to stay but aren’t allowed to, and sometimes the Jews want to leave and aren’t allowed to,” my son reflected at age 5. Yes, it’s strange. But there’s no Judaism without it. So how does one take our history, in which hatred of the Jews is a leitmotif, and use it to help our children make sense of the present?
Shai Held, rabbi, Jewish theologia, and author of “The Heart of the Torah,” said stories of past persecution can help us understand how hate is, sadly, an inescapable part of the human experience.
“Any religious perspective on the world is going to emphasize that human nature is messy and complex and human beings are prone to hate,” he said. “There is oddly something helpful in knowing there is nothing new here. … It allows you some degree of sobriety.”
An incident of hate becomes a chance to discuss not just hate but the ways all of us contain within us the capacity for bad and good. No, we aren’t ever likely to find a way to stop that bad from occasionally growing into violent hate in some people. But, if we pay attention, we will notice that expressions of hate are often met by expressions of love and compassion.
In nearly every ancient story of hate, there are non-Jewish people who fight on Jews’ behalf. Last month, Jews saw non-Jews of all backgrounds join us in mourning and protest. “I think it is always powerful to remind kids that if someone hates you, it doesn’t mean everyone hates you,” Held said.
A reckoning with hate, when rooted in Jewish history, is also a reckoning with resilience. Yes, lots and lots of people have hated us, incensed by the mere fact that we are not exactly like them. But they didn’t win. Held said parents could emphasize this against-the-odds survival of the Jews as a point of relief, if not pride, for children. “Thousands of years of antisemitism has instilled in us a deep persistence,” he said.
Connect it to childhood feelings We all, old and young, have an instinct to trace hate back to its source.
Read the rest of this article and view the videos by going to the following website:

Hindu monks perform rituals at Sangam, the confluence of the Rivers Ganges and Yamuna, at Allahabad, India, on Dec. 16, 2018. Millions of Hindu pilgrims are expected to take part in a large religious congregation called “Kumbh Mela” here in January 2019. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)

Michigan Rabbi Leads Caravan of Faith
to Help Immigrant Kids in Texas
By Niraj Warikoo, Detroit Free Press

When Rabbi Josh Whinston of Michigan heard about the growing tent city packed with immigrant teenagers in a Texas desert town, he felt he had to act. As someone rooted in Jewish tradition, Whinston of Temple Beth Emeth in Ann Arbor said his faith and the faith of other religions compels them to help the stranger.  So the 37-year-old rabbi launched an effort to lead a multi-faith caravan from Michigan and other states to drive to Tornillo, Texas, to help immigrants and refugees in shelters and the growing tent camp. On Thursday, he and other faith leaders from Michigan protested near the tent camp, singing religious songs promoting peace and justice. They also helped distribute clothes, fed immigrants, and witnessed the struggles of asylum seekers at the border. Rabbi Whinston and dozens of others from Michigan left Monday, stopping in Indiana and Missouri to meet up with other houses of worship, gathering more than 100 people for their caravan.
“We can’t ignore these children,” Whinston told the Free Press from Texas. “It’s causing trauma to these kids. And it’s caused by us, the American people because it’s our government doing it. Not on my behalf, please don’t cause trauma to these children. They’ve been traumatized enough.”
More than 1,000 unaccompanied children are currently at the tent camp in Tornillo, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. The camp was created by the U.S. government to deal with an overflow of children that couldn’t be housed in other shelters.
While the Trump administration has said the camp is needed to house unaccompanied immigrant children, the ACLU has called the tent city a “moral disgrace.”
“The Tornillo camp was built from the ground up in the middle of the desert over the summer,” said Victoria López, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU, who has visited the site. “It is a sprawling site that backs up to a border fence marking the boundary between the U.S. and Mexico. There are khaki-colored tents lined up in rows with plastic orange cones and temporary fencing, creating makeshift streets and sidewalks.”
Many of the minors, who are mostly teenagers, are trying to be reunited with family who are already in the U.S. But the Trump administration is requiring the parents to go through stringent background checks that, in some cases, discover the parents may be undocumented and therefore ineligible to get the kids.
As the camp grew this summer, the congregation at Temple Beth Emeth grew concerned and they thought about ways to help. At first, Rabbi Whinston felt the best way would be to donate to the ACLU, which works on immigration issues.  But he thought going to the border would have a greater impact. He then worked with religious leaders in the Ann Arbor area and Rabbi Miriam Terlinchamp of Temple Sholom in Cincinnati to coordinate the trip.
The Pittsburgh synagogue shooting – which was carried out by a man who targeted Jews because he said they supported immigrants and refugees – added to the urgency of their mission.
“That man murdered 11 of my brothers and sisters not only because they were Jews but because of the values we hold,” said Whinston. “He was trying to kill our values.”
Joining Whinston on the trip to Texas were leaders of Lutheran, Baptist, and Unitarian Universalist congregations in Ann Arbor.
“It’s very important to show up, to increase the visibility, to use my voice to demand an end to this tent city separating families,” said Xan Morgan of First Baptist Church in Ann Arbor, part of the caravan. “Part of my Christian faith tradition is to … love your neighbor as yourself. … It’s an expression of love of God and love for my neighbors. We must welcome the stranger.”
On Thursday, Morgan and others walked across the border to

Juarez, Mexico, to witness asylum seekers and later participated in a rally outside the Tornillo camp.  She said they sang religious songs, including “Peace will Come” in English and Hebrew. Banners on a fence read “Let Our Children Go” and “Families Belong Together and Free,” according to photos of the event.  Some of the group were fasting during the journey and were to have dinner with migrants on Thursday night.
The caravan also brought supplies for immigrants housed in local shelters near the border such as children’s clothing, soap, towels and other items.
Some in the caravan, such as Rabbi Bruce Elder of Congregation Hakafa in a Chicago suburb, were descendants of Holocaust survivors and felt compelled to act.
“Our congregation feels very strongly about” what is happening to immigrant children, Rabbi Elder said to the Free Press from Texas. “My father survived the Holocaust as a 14-year-old kid. … What is happening at the border struck a real nerve and it has to stop before it gets out of hand. It’s just morally wrong and our country is better than that.”
On Friday, the caravan will head back to Michigan and other states, where they hope to educate their congregations and elected officials about what they saw and heard in Texas.
“Claiming asylum is not a crime,” said Rabbi Whinston. “It frightens me as an American, frightens me as Jew that this administration will hold people indefinitely who have committed no crime. It is legal to claim asylum at the border or anywhere.”
What drives him is his faith.
“More than any other commandment in the Torah, we are told 36 times to be kind to the orphan, the widow, the stranger,” he said, citing Biblical passages and Jewish tradition. “Rabbinic tradition talks about welcoming the stranger. Welcoming the stranger takes precedent over honoring the presence of God.” Rabbi Terlinchamp of Cincinnati said “I’m the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors … after the Pittsburgh shooting, it felt all the more important to have as loud as a Jewish voice as possible. This is the right thing to do, to treat immigrants the right way.”
In July, Whinston helped drive an immigrant from Ann Arbor to Pittsburgh who had been separated from her children after she crossed the border. That experience moved him and pushed him to create the caravan.
“I can’t stand in front of my congregation and talk about welcoming the stranger and not be willing to be here,” Whinston said from Texas. “If we’re going to take the Bible seriously, we can’t ignore this, we can’t ignore the children being held.”
Contact Niraj Warikoo: nwarikoo@freepress.com or 313-223-4792. Follow him on Twitter @nwarikoo

A Muslim, a Jew, and
a Christian Walk into a Concert Hall
by Vicki Garlock
“What people don’t see on stage is that our three lifestyles – as men with families, as artists, and as people deeply committed to our individual faith traditions – have come together to embody mutual respect and admiration.”
          – Dawud Wharnsby, Canadian writer, artisan, and musician
It all started in 2010 when Ontario, Canada-based Dawud Wharnsby was contacted by David LaMotte, who was working on peace and justice issues with the North Carolina Council of Churches. Anti-Muslim sentiment was on the rise in the Raleigh-Durham area, and David wanted to jump-start a counter-movement. “I was looking to start with university students,” David said, “which meant there had to be music.” The beauty of that first concert was palpable as Dawud Wharnsby (a Muslim), David LaMotte (a Christian), and Dan Nichols (a Jew), shared the stage with one another to promote interfaith harmony and inter-religious dialogue.
A few years later, the band Abraham Jam, now with Billy Jonas(replacing Dan Nichols), was formed. But they are no longer simply sharing the stage with one another; they are merging their individual talents to create a unique sound that highlights the distinctive beauty of interfaith bridge-building. They released their first CD a few days ago, just a week after performing at the Parliament of the World’s Religions. But the bigger message is how the members of Abraham Jam – all accomplished musicians and artists in their own right – honor the beauty of both their commonalities and their differences.
Over the years, Abraham Jam has continued to build a following that includes people of all ages and people of all faiths and no faith. That first concert at Duke University led to the Sacred Music Festival in Kalamazoo, Michigan and a handful of other gigs. Then, Abraham Jam performed at the 2015 Parliament of World Religions in Salt Lake City, which led to more concerts, including one at a Lutheran Synod gathering in Pennsylvania and a return to the 2018 Toronto Parliament.
Through it all, they’ve remained committed to their initial vision of actually creating music together – moving beyond the simpler, but much less rewarding, notion of three solo artists who rotate back-up duties. Dawud expressed this sentiment beautifully on Northern Spirit Radio, which featured Abraham Jam in last summer’s June 2nd broadcast. One of the songs the group now sings is Rhythm of Surrender, a song Dawud used to sing as a soloist. “For me to take an old song of mine, like Rhythm of Surrender, and bring it new life with David and Billy, is really exciting. It’s a new rhythm! After so many years of singing the song one way, I now find it brand new again because of the joy we’re able to share.”
Over the past 15 months, Abraham Jam finds itself increasingly busy as people from around the world feel called to lift up unity and connection over hostility and divisiveness. As Billy said, “We were starting to get calls about gigs, and we didn’t even have a complete web site or press kit yet.” “People just loved the idea of it,” added David. In August 2017, they played a concert in Asheville, North Carolina. In the spring of 2018, there was a mini-tour in the Washington DC metro area. In June, they started a Kickstarter campaign that raised over $48,000 from over 550 donors from around the world. Those Kickstarter earnings helped fund the release of their live CD based on the Asheville concert. Even that event seemed to reverberate with divine intervention. The trio hired a photographer, signed a videographer, set up two separate sound systems, and hoped for the best. As David said, “Our initial plan was to get an EP [more than single but less than a full album] out of it.” But, after spending a week in the studio before the concert, which “lit this eternal flame of togetherness,” as Billy put it, they ended up with a full set of soundtracks. That same Kickstarter campaign will also help fund their first studio CD, scheduled for release in the spring of 2019.
Another highlight for Abraham Jam was this year’s MuslimFest, held just outside Toronto. The festival, which celebrates Muslim art, culture, and entertainment, hosts over 25,000 people annually and is one of the three largest festivals in Toronto. As Dawud said, “It’s a real testament to the interfaith movement in Canada that they asked us, a multi-faith band, to play on the main stage.” Billy quickly added, “We were even the lead story on Al Jazeera TV.”
An added benefit for the Abraham Jam trio is that they, themselves, are able to grow both as multi-faith activists and as musicians. As David said, “Sometimes we activists forget that it’s not just about resisting what’s wrong; it’s also about lifting up what’s right. Besides, I just love hanging out with these guys and learning from them.”
Dawud also talked about using music, and his role in the Muslim community, to bridge faith-based divides. “After 10 years of writing traditional Muslim music for English-speaking families and children, I have been able to step away from performing solos. Music is still my primary path, but I can use that to bring the Muslim community along with me on this journey.”
Recently I was lucky enough to grab a quick lunch with the three members of Abraham Jam while they were in Asheville working in a studio. It’s a good day when you get to listen to three talented artists gush about the power of music and express their deep love for one another. When they also happen to be from three different faith traditions, you realize you’re in the midst of something truly special.

Kashmiri Muslim devotees pray as a relic of Sufi saint Syed Abdul Qadir Jilani is displayed at his shrine in Srinagar, Indian-controlled Kashmir, on Dec. 19, 2018. Thousands of devotees thronged the shrine to mark the saint’s Urs, or yearly commemoration. (AP Photo/ Dar Yasin)

Two holidays, one theme: Hindus, Jews
celebrate joint festival of lights
 Bringing together two diverse communities and highlighting strong Israel-India relations, over 400 people gather in Chicago to simultaneously honor Diwali and Hanukkah
November 21, 2018
CHICAGO – A joint Hindu-Jewish Festival of Lights drew over 400 people to a suburban Chicago synagogue on Sunday, as together they honored the similarly-themed holidays of Hanukkah and Diwali. The evening, which featured speakers, candle lighting, food from both cultures, dance lessons, and the world’s only Indian-Jewish standup comedian, was hosted by Temple Beth-El in the Chicago suburb of Northbrook, Illinois.
The Chicago event has inspired similar gatherings nationwide – from a December 8 celebration in San Francisco, to events being planned in New York, Atlanta and Florida. The Chicago organizers also look forward to organizing a collective celebration of Purim and Holi, the Hindu spring festival, in 2019.
“I think we connect over a shared sense of pain and overcoming adversities,” Sunil Krishnan told The Times of Israel as people mingled before the program. Krishnan, who is Hindu, made the nearly two-hour drive from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to attend the event. “I don’t know much about the Hindu religion, but I’m fascinated by it,” said Margaret Geber, a Jewish woman who came with two friends. “I love the feeling of hope and the energy of the room as people are getting to know each other.”
Highlights from Sunday’s program included speeches by human rights activist Dr. Richard Benkin; Indian Consul Head of Chancery D.B. Bhati; and Aviv Ezra, the Consul General of Israel to the Midwest.
Bhati drew parallels between Diwali’s festival of lights and the lights of Hanukkah, while Ezra highlighted the 26 years of diplomacy between Israel and India. That relationship has “grown in even more profound ways” since India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited each other’s respective countries last year, Ezra said.
The idea for the joint festival began five years ago when Peggy Shapiro, Midwest executive director of StandWithUs, invited leaders of the Indian community to her house for dinner to celebrate the 65th anniversaries of Indian and Israeli independence. “The problem is, what food do you serve?” joked Shapiro. “When we got together that night at my dining room table, we found such commonalities in our communities,” Shapiro said. “I learned a bit more about India and the Jewish community there – India is one of the only places in the world that has never had anti-Semitism,” she said (presumably attributing the horrific 2008 attacks on the Mumbai Chabad House to Islamic terrorism, rather than specific hatred against Jews).
Prasad Yalamanchi of the Global Hindu Heritage Foundation also spoke about India’s support for Israel and stressed the shared experiences between Hindus and Jews, including the staggering losses that both communities faced due to persecution. “We need to get together, Hindus and Jews, to protect our heritage and civilization for future of generations,” he said to roaring applause. Shapiro then introduced “someone that nobody has ever heard of, but appeals to everybody – the world’s only Indian-Jewish stand-up comedian, Samson Koletar, aka Mahatma Moses.”
Koletar poked fun at Jewish and Indian stereotypes to the delight of a mixed crowd that apparently had a common appreciation for self-deprecating humor. And like any good comedian, Koletar didn’t spare himself, laughing about people’s confused reactions to his mixed Indian-Jewish heritage.
Standup comedian Samson ‘Mahatma Moses; Koletar performs at the Hindu-Jewish Festival of Lights at Temple Beth-El in Northbrook, Illinois, Sunday, November 18, 2018. (Ronit Bezalel/ Times of Israel)
Rounding out the speeches, Dr. Souptik Mukherjee – a researcher who has long been an advocate for Hindu-Jewish relations, and who has contributed to Israeli media – spoke about the 2,500 year history of Hindu-Jewish relationships.
“[Our] two communities today unite to celebrate values dear to us all, of coexistence, tolerance, gender equality, mutual respect and respect for each other’s culture and faith,” Mukherjee said.
The festival concluded with traditional Hanukkah and Diwali desserts, followed by dance lessons from each culture.
Dr. Souptik Mukherjee speaks at the Hindu-Jewish Festival of Lights at Temple Beth-El in Northbrook, Illinois, Sunday, November 18, 2018. (Ronit Bezalel/ Times of Israel) “It’s really wonderful to have this event in our synagogue, and see new faces in here,” noted Mandy Herlich, the director of lifelong learning at Temple Beth-El.

 For most Americans, new research says,
family comes first
by Yonat Shimron
According to Pew Research, family is the No. 1 source to which Americans look for meaning, fulfillment and satisfaction in their lives. Photo by Mike Scheid/Unsplash/Creative Commons
(RNS) – As many Americans gather with their loves ones for Thanksgiving, a timely new survey from Pew Research confirms what miles of traffic jams and airport lines suggest: Family is the No. 1 source to which Americans look for meaning, fulfillment and satisfaction in their lives.
The survey, conducted in two waves in 2017, found clear and consistent answers among all demographic groups, as nearly 70 percent of Americans mention their family as a source of meaning and fulfillment.
After family, Americans said they drew meaning and satisfaction from being outdoors, spending time with friends, caring for pets and listening to music. In this wide range of pursuits, religion ranked behind those things as something that gave them “a great deal” of meaning.
But a fifth of Americans said religion is the most meaningful aspect of their lives. And among those who do find a great deal of meaning in their religious faith, more than half say it is the single most important source of meaning in their lives.
“If you then follow up and ask to which of these is the most important source of meaning, there religion is a clear second,” said Gregory A. Smith, associate director of research at Pew, and one of the primary researchers of this survey.
No surprise, one group in particular stood out: Two-thirds of evangelicals surveyed said they derive a great deal of meaning from their religious faith. And almost half of evangelicals say religion is the most important source of meaning in their lives.
“Religion second to family as ‘most important’ source of meaning in lives of American adults” Graphic courtesy of Pew Research Center
But evangelicals weren’t the only polling segment to find meaning in religion. Half of black Americans as a group said they derive “a great deal” of meaning from their religion.
Broken down according to political persuasion, conservative Americans are more prone to find meaning in religion, while liberals find it in creativity and causes, the survey found. The survey consisted of two rounds: an open-ended questionnaire conducted in September 2017, asking Americans to describe in their own words what makes their lives feel meaningful, and a closed-ended questionnaire conducted in December 2017, asking Americans to rate how much meaning and fulfillment they draw from each of 15 possible sources.
Jamie Aten, executive director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College, said the findings about family make sense, especially, he noted, since meaning-making is also a social construct, not just an individual one. “If you look at the cultural norms within the U.S. , there’s a high emphasis placed on family and you see that reflected out in the survey responses,” said Aten. “We also see it valued across most major world religions. Many of our institutions promote family as a highly valued unit. We see that cutting across the messaging we receive on a daily basis.”
The survey also found that Americans with high levels of income and education are more likely to mention friendships, good health, stability. That too made sense to Aten. He pointed out that people find meaning in those things that are obtainable. “It points out the real challenges that individuals in a lower income level face: Health may be ranked out of reach because of what people have experienced, oppression or racism or other challenges.”

December 2018

Written by WISDOM on . Posted in Newsletters

Calendar for WISDOM and Other Interfaith Events 
Tuesday, December 11th, 7:00 PM
Make tiles with peace quotes or heart ornaments!
Mosaic Art Workshop with Song and Spirit Institute for Peace
4300 Rochester Road, Royal Oak. Contact Ayesha for more information, ayeshakhansemail@gmail.com
Wednesday, Decembr 19th 6:00 PM
Showing of the film “The Breadwinner”
Cranbrook DeSalle Auditorium
See Flyer Below
Sunday, December 2nd at 7:00 PM
Detroit Marriot at the Renaissance Center,
Meet Amma and inspire inner peace.
See Flyer Below
Sunday, February 10th 3:00 PM – 6:00 PM, Adat Shalom Synagogue
29901 Middlebelt Rd., Farmington HIlls, 48334
“And Then They Came For Us” Documentary
Followed by Panel Discussion about immigration
Stay tuned for more information
Thursday, March 14th 7:00 – 9:00 PM at Temple Israel, 5725 Walnut Lake Road, West Bloomfield 48323
Interfaith panel on attracting our young adult population
to their faith traditions!
Stay tuned for more information!!
Sunday, March 24th, 2019 (afternoon)
Celebration of International Women’s Day
1:00 PM to 5:00 PM
Save the Date

Sikhs across the country came to synagogues to support the Jewish Community after the shootings at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Turning her Baha’i faith into precedent, lawyer helps women gain asylum
Layli Miller-Muro, right, founder and CEO of the Tahirih Justice Center, poses with actress Eva Larue, from left, and asylum recipient Aicha Abdoulaye Mahamane at a Tahirih gala fundraiser in Laguna Beach, Calif., in September 2018. Photo by Gabe Sullivan/Tahirih Justice Center
(RNS) – More than 20 years ago, when Layli Miller-Muro was still in law school, her first immigration client was a Muslim woman from Togo who sought asylum in the United States to avoid a forced marriage and female genital mutilation. Instead, the woman, Fauziya Kassindja, spent 17 months in detention before the young law student intervened.
In 1996 the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals granted Kassindja asylum and her case set a precedent establishing gender-based violence as grounds for asylum.
It also changed the course of Miller-Muro’s legal career. After receiving her J.D. from American University in 1996, the following year she created the Tahirih Justice Center, a national nonprofit organization that ever since has worked on behalf of women and girls who are fleeing gender-based violence and seeking asylum in the United States.
A member of the Baha’i religion, Miller-Muro named Tahirih after a 19th-century Persian woman and Baha’i martyr who, facing her execution in 1852 for being an outspoken proponent of women’s rights, proclaimed, “You can kill me as soon as you like, but you will never stop the emancipation of women.”
Layli Miller-Muro, founder and executive director of the the Tahirih Justice Center. Photo courtesy of Tahirih Justice Center
“Representing her (Kassindja) wasn’t an academic exercise, it was a deeply moral obligation that I felt, that certainly came from a spiritual compass,” Miller-Muro told Religion News Service.
Miller-Muro’s own roots in Baha’i begin in the buckle of the Bible Belt. Her grandmother, who left her family farm in Ohio when she was in eighth grade to pursue her education, attended Cornell University and eventually earned a doctorate in nutrition. Paying her own way through school, she took a summer job as a maid during the Masters Tournament in Augusta, Ga., and let a room in a boardinghouse that rented to both white and black women – a wildly countercultural move at the time. The brave woman who owned the boardinghouse (where crosses were burned on her front yard) was an early American convert to Baha’i, said Miller-Muro, who grew up in Georgia.
“Baha’is always believed in interracial marriage, even when it was still illegal,” she said. “They have always stood for racial equality. In fact, in the Baha’i writings, we’re told that racism is the most challenging issue in American society.”
Rising in Persia (now Iran) in the 1860s, Baha’i was introduced to the United States during the Parliament of the World’s Religions in 1893, a year after the death of its founder, Baha’u’llah, who preached the essential unity of all religions and of humankind. Baha’i’s earliest American convert is generally agreed to be Thornton Chase, who served as an officer in the U.S. Colored Troops during the Civil War.
Today, there are about 126,000 Baha’i adherents in the United States, according to a 2010 U.S. Religion Census, the most recent statistics available.
“All of the teachings of the Baha’i faith revolve around helping people who have traditionally been disunified come together, whether it’s issues of racism, equality of women and men, extremes of wealth and poverty, political division,” Miller-Muro said.
The Tahirih Justice Center works with clients of all faith traditions and none, and the vast majority of its staff, and the army of 2,500 attorneys who work pro bono for the organization, are not Baha’i. But its overarching ethos is rooted in the spiritual principles of Baha’i, particularly the belief that the achievement of full equality between women and men is necessary for society to progress, Miller-Muro explained.
The organization’s logo – the outline of a bird in flight – is inspired by a quote from Baha’i scripture: “The world of humanity has two wings – one is women and the other men. Not until both wings are equally developed can the bird fly. Should one wing remain weak, flight is impossible.”
Baha’i teaches that the best decisions should be made consultatively – not by fiat or in a top-down hierarchical manner. It also insists on strict nonpartisanship.
While Baha’is are allowed to vote and are expected to participate in their respective cultures and societies, they are not supposed to belong to any political party or accept political posts. So while Tahirih’s work is enmeshed with the U.S. immigration and legal systems, it is vehemently nonpolitical, Miller-Muro explained.
“We’re nonpartisan, we’re consultative, we’re embracing of men and women in the process of equality – all these different things that we’re trying to apply, those are spiritual solutions above and beyond normal lawyering or a normal legal aid organization and I do think it contributes to our success,” she said.
Since its inception in 1997, Tahirih, with offices near Miller-Muro’s home in Washington, D.C., as well as in Baltimore, Houston, Atlanta and the San Francisco Bay Area, has assisted more than 25,000 immigrants. Last year, the organization provided free legal services to more than 1,800 women and girls, and more than 1,700 of their family members. The organization’s success rate for winning asylum cases is a staggering 99 percent, according to its annual report.
Among those successful asylum cases is that of Aicha Abdoulaye Mahamane, who suffered a litany of horrors for the first 27 years of her life that are as unimaginable as they were relentless: rape, beatings, forced marriage, international sex trafficking, modern-day slavery.
A native of Niger, in Africa, she experienced and witnessed violence from a young age, culminating (after she refused to undergo ritual female genital mutilation) in a forced marriage at age 17 to a violent man more than thrice her age who raped and beat her for months on end.
Aicha Abdoulaye Mahamane, who received asylum in the U.S., speaks at a fundraiser for Tahirih Justice Center in Laguna Beach, Calif., in September 2018. Photo by Gabe Sullivan/Tahirih Justice Center
Fearing for her life, Mahamane fled to an aunt’s home in neighboring Togo, where she lived in constant fear of her abusive husband discovering her whereabouts until her aunt could arrange for her to immigrate to the United States.
But when Mahamane arrived in New York City in 2004, the man who had promised to help her start a new life, instead sexually abused her and kept her a prisoner in his home for five months, until word came that her sister had died, and he allowed her to return to Niger. There she stayed in hiding for almost a year, until her husband learned she was in country. She returned to the States, this time to Maryland.
Once again, the person entrusted with Mahamane’s well-being became her oppressor. “At the time, I didn’t know what human trafficking was, but I knew how I felt – being treated like a slave,” Mahamane said. “I had hoped to get a job, become independent, but this woman made me work for three years as a domestic servant – never paying me, never allowing me to have visitors, never allowing me to leave the house unless it was to go to church on Sundays.”
It was at that church in suburban Maryland, however, that Mahamane, who was reared Muslim before converting to Christianity, first learned about Tahirih.
“Not only did they help me file for my asylum, they also helped me with shelter, with food,” she said. “And the most amazing thing they could have done for me: They helped me with a therapist. She worked with me for three years and it changed everything in my life.”
In June 2014, Mahamane’s asylum petition was approved. She now is happily married and has a young son. “I finally am free from violence and abuse,” she said. “Please don’t underestimate the power you have to make a difference in girls’ lives. Every day there are girls just like me calling Tahirih looking for help.”
Mahamane and many of Tahirih’s clients are “change agents, like my grandmother,” Miller-Muro said. “By their courage and willingness to say no to multigeneration practices, they are changing the trajectory of their cultures and their communities and their families.”

Evacuees pray near tents outside a mosque damaged by the massive earthquake and tsunami in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, on Oct. 5, 2018. Hundreds of survivors in the city of Palu gathered at shattered mosques for Friday prayers, seeking strength to rebuild their lives a week after a powerful earthquake and tsunami killed more than 1,500 people. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

Clergywomen numbers increased significantly in two decades, sometimes equaling men
The Rev. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli, center, gives the benediction at Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C., on July 27, 2014. The Rev. Theresa S. Thames, associate pastor, left, and the Rev. Dawn M. Hand, executive pastor, right, joined her. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks
(RNS) – The share of women in the ranks of American clergy has doubled – and sometimes tripled – in some denominations over the last two decades, a new report shows.
“I was really surprised in a way, at how much progress there’s been in 20 years,” said the report’s author, Eileen Campbell-Reed, an associate professor at Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville, Tenn. “There’s kind of a circulating idea that, oh well, women in ministry has kind of plateaued and there really hasn’t been lot of growth. And that’s just not true.”
The two traditions with the highest percentages of women clergy were the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ, according to the “State of Clergywomen in the U.S.,” released earlier this month. Fifty-seven percent of UUA clergy were women in 2017, while half of clergy in the UCC were female in 2015. In 1994, women constituted 30 percent of UUA clergy and 25 percent of UCC clergy.
UUA President Susan Frederick-Gray credits the increase to a decision by her denomination’s General Assembly in 1970 to call for more women to serve in ministry and policymaking roles. She noted that as of this year, 60 percent of UUA clergy are women.
“All that work in the ’70s and ’80s made it possible for me, in the early 2000s, to come into ministry and be successful and lead thriving churches,” said Frederick-Gray, “and now be elected as the first female, first woman minister elected to the UUA presidency.”
Campbell-Reed and a research assistant gathered clergywomen statistics that had not been collected across 15 denominations for two decades. The Rev. Barbara Brown Zikmund, who co-authored the 1998 book “Clergy Women: An Uphill Calling,” welcomed the new report as a way to start closing the gap in the research.
“While the experiences of women and the evolution of church life and leadership have changed dramatically over the past two decades, there have been no comprehensive studies on women and church leadership,” she said.
“I was sort of looking around and seeing so many women and remembering that in my years in seminary in the ’60s how few of us there were,” said Crabtree, a trustee and alumna of the theological school. “So it’s definitely a sea change in terms of women’s ordination.”
Campbell-Reed’s research found a tripling of percentages of clergywomen in the Assemblies of God, the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America between 1994 and 2017.

But Campbell-Reed also found that clergywomen – with the exception of Unitarian Universalists – continue to lag behind clergymen in leading their churches. In the UCC, for example, female and male clergy are equal in number, but only 38 percent of UCC pastors are women.
Instead, many clergywomen – as well as clergymen – serve in ministerial roles other than that of pastor, including chaplains, nonprofit staffers and professors.
Paula Nesbitt, president of the Association for the Sociology of Religion, said other researchers have long observed “the persistent clergy gender gap in attainment and compensation.”
For women of color, especially, significant gaps remain, and for women in some conservative churches, ordination is not an option.
Campbell-Reed noted that clergywomen of color “remain a distinct minority” in most mainline denominations. Those who have risen to leadership in the top echelons of their religious groups, she said, have done so after long years of service.
“Some of them are also being recognized for their contributions and their work, like any other person who’s got longevity and wisdom, by being elected as bishops in their various communions,” she said of denominations such as the United Methodist Church and the ELCA.
Women’s Leadership by Denomination. Graphic courtesy of StateofClergywomen.org
Campbell-Reed also pointed out the role of women who serve churches despite being barred from pastoral positions in congregations of the country’s two largest denominations, the Southern Baptist Convention and the Roman Catholic Church.
Former Southern Baptist women like herself have joined the pastoral staffs of breakaway groups such as the Alliance of Baptists, which have women pastoring 40 percent of their congregations. And Catholic women constitute 80 percent of lay ecclesial ministers, who “are running the church on a day-to-day basis,” she said.
To read the rest of this interesting article, go to

Indian women smear vermilion powder on each other during Vijayadashmi celebrations in Mumbai, India, on Oct. 19, 2018. Vijayadashami, also known as Dussehra, commemorates the victory of the Hindu god Rama over demon god Ravana. The festivity is marked with the burning of effigies of Ravana, signifying the victory of good over evil. (AP Photo/Rajanish Kakade)

This Community Is Tearing Itself Apart Over Non-Christians Owning Houses
Bay View, Michigan, is an idyllic place that has been consumed by an unlikely 21st-century debate: Should non-Christians be allowed to vote and buy property?
At its peak in the late 19th and early 20th century, the Chautauqua movement, a Protestant continuing-education initiative characterized by lectures, concerts, and other entertainment, was a cultural force with hundreds of seasonal locations and tens of millions of devotees. The original Chautauqua, in western New York, remains a prominent destination, with its own opera company, golf course, and literary programming; a dozen or so remaining others are also spread around the country. Bay View was founded in 1875 as part of that movement by a group of Michigan Methodists who convinced a railroad company to provide the land. Its early 20th century Victorian-style cottages remain strikingly intact: With a central quad, post office, chapel, auditorium, and other buildings, the community resembles a charming small college campus, and serves as an important cultural center in its own right. Along with various intellectual and vocational courses-Roman cooking, Tai Chi, Chomsky-this past summer’s offerings included a lecture by the Yale constitutional law professor Akhil Amar and a Ben Folds concert.
“It’s got a nice reputation as being a special place,” Larry Massie, a Michigan historian, said, though he added it could also be somewhat insular. “Elitist-I think that’d be a better word than snotty.”
Bay View was clearly established as a Protestant retreat. Members opposed to changing the requirements point to its mission statementoutlining the centrality of Christian values, and to historical documents that suggest the founders’ religious intent. “We did not enter this wilderness to make money, nor build a city of pleasure,” one 1900 brochure reads. “We came to worship God, to establish a center of Christian influence.”
The membership battle is not about prejudice or bigotry, they insist, but about preserving the community’s Christian identity. “It has been a closed community and, more than that, it’s been a place where the spirit of God has been present because His people have been present,” one member, Marcia-Anne Dunbar, said. “That’s what makes Bay View a special place.”
Yet others see an expansion of Bay View’s demographics as a fair and necessary evolution-and believe the movement of Christianity is flexible enough to include even non-believers. “Some of us think that Jesus’s message-the Christian message-is one of openness and inclusiveness,” Duquette said. “And not dividing into smaller and smaller sects.”
Duquette and others collected hundreds of signatures, asking the board to convene a committee on the issue. It was a nonstarter: Amid staunch opposition from a board member, trustees passed a resolution to remain neutral. In 2011 a slim majority voted to keep the Christian requirement. The next spring the board did convene a special committee, which produced a stalemate. A 2013 vote found a slim majority in favor of a change, but not the required two-thirds. So did a 2016 vote. Proponents of change, increasingly dismayed at what they saw as both an immoral and likely illegal stance from their community, filed a complaint with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, then the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. The federal housing discrimination suit, filed in July 2017, was a last resort.
“We didn’t want to embarrass the community. We didn’t want the press,” Duquette said. “We love this place and we want to see it succeed. But eventually we were left with no options-there was no way we were going to get a two-thirds vote.”
The suit, unsurprisingly, thrust private Bay View into a harsh media spotlight; this May, as the case proceeded, the ACLU aligned with the plaintiffs. “Fifty years after the passage of the Fair Housing Act, Bay View’s policies seem stuck in the past, harkening back to an era where blatant and discriminatory restrictions on homeownership were commonplace,” Rebecca Guterman, a paralegal with the organization, wrote in a memo. “Moreover, under state law, Bay View has significant authority akin to a governmental body… and so must honor the Constitution as cities and towns do. It cannot put the government stamp of approval on practicing Christians over all others.”
From the beginning, the saga had consumed the community by the lake. At an early public hearing, Sheaffer recounted, residents packed into Voorhies Hall for an open mic forum that lasted hours. While most spoke respectfully, some residents worried aloud that a synagogue would be built, or that Bay View could end up resembling Dearborn, the Michigan city known for its large Arab and Muslim populations. “That’s the one that just hits you between the eyes,” Sheaffer said. “‘Oh God, here’s what we’re up against.'”
Mostly, though, the battle was intense but civil. The lead-up to each vote resembled a political campaign, with each side dropping fliers and sending email missives. Still, as the dispute wore on, decades-long friendships became strained. Some families, like Sheaffer’s-his cousin is a board member opposed to the change-were also divided.
“We have people-I’m one of ’em-with battle fatigue,” Dick Crossland, who led the group opposed to the change, said. “It’s been going on every summer here for ten years.”
Crossland, a retired lighting company CEO, has visited Bay View every summer except one since he was two years old. He’s still close with friends he made as a kid in the summer club programs, and remembers learning to play bridge in the old rec building and mischievously ringing Bay View’s church bells. When his daughters were growing up, the family moved often, but Bay View was a constant. “This was like home,” he said, rocking slowly on his porch swing on a perfect late summer afternoon. “This was the anchor.”
From Crossland’s perspective, the Christian-only requirements were always transparent. Jews and other non-Christians knew the rules; membership, of course, is voluntary. “If you choose to be another religion, well, why do you want to be part of a Christian community? Why change the community for a few people who changed their faith?”
And where proponents of the change are adamant they’re not trying to take religion out of Bay View, only to make it more inclusive, Crossland sees a slippery slope. “I do not believe they’re malicious,” he said of the group advocating for inclusion. “But I don’t think they’ve thought it through.” Non-Christians could potentially vote down fees that go to Christian worship services, he points out, or take additional legal action. Bay View, he fears, could end up essentially secular, like most other Chautuquas have, or, with increased turnover, lose its unique sense of community altogether.
“It’s not that they’re bad people, but we’re going to change Bay View from what it was,” he said . And once you open the door to change, who knows where it could end up. “I just thought Bay View was unique,” he said of his decision to get involved. “You could break it if you tried to fix it.”
This summer’s vote was billed as a kind of compromise that would finally end the dispute. The “Christian persuasion” and minister-letter requirements would be removed, although a new amendment would require prospective members to agree to “respect the principles of the United Methodist Church” and support Bay View’s Christian mission. It would also add a requirement that a majority of the nine-person board is Methodist. On August 4, 483 members voted in favor, 214 against-a 69 percent majority.
Even change proponents, skeptical that two-thirds of Bay View members could ever agree, were taken aback at the result. “A great deal of relief that there’s a path to leave this to my family,” Sheaffer said of his reaction. “A great deal of relief that 69 percent of the members voted for change… It felt like we’re not alone in this anymore.”
But the new language, the plaintiff group argues, still imposes a religious test on prospective members, only through less explicit language. “Our group endorsed the proposal, because it was moving in the right direction,” Duquette said. “But we said from the very beginning that this would not resolve the lawsuit.
After the vote the court requested an additional briefing; the case remains ongoing. The plaintiffs are optimistic the suit will finally allow Bay View to move towards a long-overdue equality. “I think we’re fighting for the soul of the place,” Duquette said. “I didn’t expect this to take ten years, I must say that. But I have never doubted that this is where Bay View would end up.”
Crossland believes Bay View could come together again after the vote, and says he’s reconciled to the membership change. But the lawsuit, he said, “scares the hell out of me.” He worries the court could impose some unforeseen drastic action, or that the process could bankrupt Bay View. Mostly though, he worries about the future of a community he loves. “We’re just trying to retain the character and the uniqueness of Bay View as a Christian community,” he said. “Maybe you can’t do it. Maybe the culture is going to force itself in, and you’re never going to be able to keep those things the way they were.”

A pumpkin carved with the message ‘Pittsburgh Strong’ sits among flowers outside the Tree of Life synagogue, on Nov. 1, 2018, as part of a makeshift memorial dedicated to those killed while worshipping at the synagogue on Oct. 27 in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

In Pittsburgh, Muslims are eager to join Jews
 in fight against immigrant hate
PITTSBURGH (RNS) – At the end of Jummah prayers at the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh on Friday (Nov. 2), its leaders made an unusual request: Go attend Friday night services at a synagogue near you.
The request came an hour before the funeral of 97-year-old Rose Mallinger, the last of those killed at Tree of Life synagogue to be buried, and as the Jewish community of Squirrel Hill was readying for its first Shabbat after 11 of the synagogue’s congregants died in an anti-Semitic shooting spree last Saturday (Oct. 27).
Politically, American Jews and Muslims have their differences, especially on the issue of Palestinian statehood, but here in Pittsburgh, the two faith groups have cultivated a strong and mutually supportive relationship, one that precedes the terrorist strikes of 9/11.
These days, they also share a common foe: people who demonize immigrants, such as Robert Bowers, the man accused of storming the synagogue with a semi-automatic weapon and shooting indiscriminately.
Bowers was particularly incensed by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, reportedly posting on social media, “HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people.” He was apparently referring to Muslims. HIAS has taken pride in resettling mostly Muslim refugees from war-torn Syria.
Muslims, like many Jews, understand that a person like Bowers could strike at their faith community, too.
“You go half an hour this way or that way, it’s a different country,” said Mizanoor Biswas, chair of the board of directors of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh. “Immigrant sentiment is very raw. I don’t want to talk politics, but the seed is there. It’s spewing all over.”
For Jews, who are themselves mostly children or grandchildren of immigrants, growing nativism is a serious concern.
“The Jewish story in America is one of the most successful stories of immigration, ever,” said Rabbi Jamie Gibson of Temple Sinai, a large Reform congregation in Squirrel Hill. “People came to this country and often lived in poverty in the first generation but worked very hard to achieve what used to be called the American dream. We do not want that dream all to ourselves.”
Many here in Pittsburgh have noted that the same raw immigrant sentiment was apparently shared by Cesar Sayoc, the Florida man accused of mailing a pipe bomb to George Soros, a Jewish hedge-fund manager turned global philanthropist who was born in Hungary. President Trump’s calling Hispanic immigrants “rapists” and “animals” hits hard in Jewish communities like Squirrel Hill, where the elders especially remember how Jews were taunted in Nazi Germany.
Meanwhile, this week’s funerals have been held as thousands of active-duty soldiers are being sent to the U.S. border with Mexico to bar the efforts of a Central American migrant caravan to seek asylum in the United States.
“There’s this sadness and anger toward the president who keeps pouring oil on the fire,” said Jacob Naveh, an educator who has lived in Squirrel Hill since 1969.
Bowers himself is alleged to have been motivated in part by anti-Semitic agitators who contend that Jews – or at least some prominent Jews like Soros – are behind an effort to replace native-born whites with immigrants. Muslims, no less attuned to the anti-immigrant rhetoric, are taking note of the rising hysteria and working hard to combat it. They were among the groups to raise the most money for victims of the Pittsburgh Jewish community. To date, the Muslims Unite for Pittsburgh Synagogue campaign has raised more than $232,000. Wasi Mohamed, the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh executive director, went beyond a pitch for dollars. “We just want to know what you need,” he told a crowd at a vigil honoring the lives of the shooting victims. “If it’s more money, let us know. If it’s people outside your next service protecting you, let us know – we’ll be there….  If you just need somebody to come to the grocery store because you don’t feel safe in this city, we’ll be there and I’m sure everybody in the room would say the same thing. We’re here for the community.”
Muhammed Haq, another Muslim center board member, said the beauty of America is that it brings different faith groups together.
“It’s interesting how many nationalities I’ve met here that I would never have met in any other nation on earth,” said Haq, who planned to attend a Friday night service at Rodeph Shalom, a Reform synagogue in Pittsburgh. “There are 48 nationalities in this mosque. I can’t travel to all those countries in my lifetime. But here in Allegheny County I can see the beautiful coming together of different cultures and religions.
“That’s what faith does,” Haq said. “Faith unites us; politics often divide us.”

Joining Together
Interfaith vigils offer support
amidst violence and hatred in Pittsburgh.
Jewish News, November 8, 2018
Chaplain Yvonne Fant Moore leads the singing of “We Shall Overcome” at the interfaith service at Beth Shalom in Oak Park.
Photo by Rabbi Matt Zerwekh
Several vigils for the Tree of Life Congregation shooting victims held last week were gatherings of people of many faiths, all saddened by the show of hatred in Pittsburgh. At Temple Beth El on Oct. 30 in Bloomfield Township, 1,200 people of various faiths and backgrounds filled the main sanctuary to mourn and be together. Through solidarity and faith expressed in words and music, they found comfort and hope. The support from non-Jewish neighbors was heartwarming to the Jewish community.
“The first call I received [after the shootings] was from Imam Almasmari. Then I heard from our other [interfaith] partners right away,” said Rabbi Mark Miller, Beth El’s senior rabbi.
Clergy from six local congregations, in addition to Beth El, as well as a representative of state government, provided moving personal and religious perspectives. The vigil closed with the lighting of individual memorial candles for each Tree of Life victim. Members of the participating congregations as well as representatives of Beth El, Jewish Federation and JCRC/AJC pronounced each name along with a specific message of anti-bigotry.
Interfaith vigil at Beth El: Rabbi Steven Rubenstein, Beth Ahm; Rabbi Megan Brudney, Beth El; Rev. Jasmine Smart, Kirk in the Hills; Pastor Aramis Hinds, Breakers Covenant Church International; Father Tony Tocco, St. Hugo’s Parish; Lutheran Bishop Donald Kreiss; Imam Mohamed Almasmari, Muslim Unity Center; Richard Bernstein, Michigan Supreme Court Associate Justice; Rev. Canon Dr. William J. Danaher Jr., Christ Church Cranbrook; and
Rabbi Mark Miller and Cantor Rachel Gottlieb Kalmowitz, Beth El.
Congregation Beth Shalom, along with Temple Emanu-El, hosted an interfaith vigil the same evening that was organized in part by the Interfaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit, the Detroit Interfaith Outreach Network and the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion. The vigil drew 500 people. Members of Beth Shalom and Emanu-El welcomed and thanked participants and encouraged them to light a candle in memory of those murdered.
Before the evening concluded with the singing of “We Shall Overcome,” Beth Shalom’s Rabbi Robert Gamer reminded the crowd of the teachings of Rabbi Hillel: If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?
“We have to be for ourselves, but we have to go outside of ourselves to reach out to those who are different from us, who do not look like us and who do not pray the same as us,” Gamer said. “This evening must mark a beginning and not an end. We have to be for each other not just today, but every day. That is the only way we can change the world. That is the only way we will never have another evening like this.”
In Windsor, hundreds gathered Oct. 30 at Temple Beth El for a multi-faith service. Clergy from Christian, Muslim, Sikh and indigenous faiths talked, prayed and sang during the 90-minute service, which opened with the lighting of Yizkor candles in memory of the 11 Pittsburgh dead. The gathering underlined the goodwill that has long characterized the Windsor faith communities. Bruce Elman, religious vice president of Congregation Shaar HaShomayim and Windsor city hall’s integrity commissioner, called on the local community to respond to the atrocity by reaffirming Judaism and its larger community ties, noting the gathering was a first step.
“We can stand together as a community united against hate,” he said.
Imam Mohamed Mahmoud of the Windsor Islamic Association said the “attack on you is an attack on all of us” and that “we all under the skin are the same.” And he said violence afflicts all groups, pointing to the mass shooting at a mosque in Quebec City in January 2017 that killed six and injured 19.
Beth El Rabbi Lynn Goldstein noted the irony of the killings as the victims “took their last breath in a building named for life.” She implored Jews, in wake of the tragedy, not to hide but “to act.” She said now, more than ever, “we have to reach out to each other with caring and compassion.”
JN Contributing Writers Shari S. Cohen and Stacy Gittleman as well as Ron Stang in Windsor contributed to this report.

Indian vendors arrange marigold flowers and await customers at a flower market ahead of Diwali, the festival of lights, in Hyderabad, India, on Nov. 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Mahesh Kumar A.)
Poll workers Romana Akter, left, and Urrmi Begum give an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man his ballot for the U.S. midterm elections on Nov. 6, 2018, in Brooklyn, N.Y. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

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