Author Archive

October 2019

Written by WISDOM on . Posted in Newsletters

Calendar for WISDOM and Other Interfaith Events 
 
Wednesday, October 9th 7:00 PM
The Great American Family at the Maple Theater
See Flyer Below
 
IFLC Annual Award Dinner
Tuesday, October 29th 6:00 – 9:00 PM
Bint Jebail Cultural Center, 6220 Miller Rd., Dearborn, MI 48126
See Flyer below!!
 
Bahai Bicentenary Celebration
Sunday, October 27th at 2:00 PM
Pontiac Little Art Theatre
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Sunday, November 3rd 2:30 – 5:30 PM
Interfaith Panel on Organ Donation
See Flyer Below
Thursday, November 7th, 7:00 PM
Portraits in Faith at Temple Israel
See Flyer Below

Najah Bazzy started helping Detroit’s impoverished
community in her house.
Now, her nonprofit has reached 250,000 people.
By Kathleen Toner, CNN
Najah Bazzy, CNN Hero
In 1996, she was working as a nurse when she visited an Iraqi refugee family to help care for their dying infant. She knew the situation would be difficult, but she wasn’t prepared for what she encountered.
“There, at the house, I got my first glimpse of poverty. … They absolutely had nothing,” she said. “There was no refrigerator, there was no stove, there was no crib. … The baby was in a laundry basket, laying on clean white towels.” For years, Bazzy ran her goodwill effort from her home, transporting donated goods in her family’s minivan. Eventually, her efforts grew into Zaman International, a nonprofit that now supports impoverished women and children of all backgrounds in the Detroit area. The group has helped more than 250,000 people. According to the US Census Bureau, more than one-third of Detroit’s residents — and nearly half of the city’s children — live in poverty. It is the poorest big city in America.
Today, Zaman operates from a 40,000-square-foot facility in the suburb of Inkster. The group’s warehouse offers aisles of food, rows of clothes and vast arrays of furniture free to those in need. The group’s case managers help clients access housing and other services. “We work to stabilize them as quickly as we can,” Bazzy said. “Women walk in and they are in desperate need, and they walk out with their basic needs met.” The group’s donated clothing and furniture are also available to the public through its Good Deeds Resale Shop.
“Our mothers are able to come. They get a voucher and have the same dignified shopping experience as somebody else, but (do) not have to pay for it,” she said. “It’s about dignity.”
The nonprofit also offers clients free education and job placement, as well as vocational training through its sewing and culinary arts programs. The goal is to help women become self-sufficient.
“We’re a one-stop shop,” she said. “We help our clients move from a ‘hand out’ to a ‘hands on,’ because when you’re in crisis … the idea of how to get yourself out of it is overwhelming.”
Sherri Blanton, a Detroit native, was distressed when she came to Zaman. Her marriage had recently ended, and health issues had left her unable to support her daughter. “Not being able to stand on my own two feet, it was hard,” said Blanton, tearing up. “They helped me with clothing, furniture, my car. … They picked me up when I was down, they really did.” Blanton completed the culinary arts program and now works as a kitchen apprentice at Zaman. “I look forward to going to work every morning,” she said. “This was just a stepping stone for me … Maybe in the next year or so I’ll be a chef!”
Ultimately, Bazzy wants to empower women to achieve their potential.
“People just need an opportunity. And they need hope,” Bazzy said. “That’s what we do best.” CNN’s Kathleen Toner spoke with Bazzy about her work. Below is an edited version of their conversation.
CNN: How has Zaman evolved since you started?
Najah Bazzy: Zaman began helping refugees during the post-Gulf War (era) when we had a tremendous amount of refugees from Iraq coming into the Detroit area. But after a few years, I saw another population that was even more marginalized: the single mom, trying to raise her children with nothing. Now, we focus on women with children living well below the poverty line. Most of our families make below $10,000 a year. We still help refugees, but we now have a large African American population. It’s open to everybody. It’s not based on faith or culture. All that matters here is: What do you need?
CNN: How does your Muslim faith inspire your work?
Bazzy: Our organization is a little mini-United Nations. Watching African American and Arab and Jewish and gay and people with disabilities and everyone working together — I just love that. For me, that’s the highest expression of faith — just bringing people together. Islam is full of verses about caring for humankind, but I think I would be this human being no matter what faith tradition I followed. Because in my heart of hearts I believe we are one human family.
CNN: How did your upbringing influence your decision to do this work?
Bazzy: People are often shocked when I say, “My family’s been in America 125-plus years.” My parents are born here, and my dad served in the Army during the Korean War. I grew up in the south end of Dearborn, outside Detroit. Nowadays, it’s well known for having the largest concentration of Arab Americans in the United States, but back when I was growing up, it was a hub of immigrants. It was people from Poland, Italy, Macedonia, Mexico, and we learned about their traditions and their different faiths. That’s why I love diversity so much.
Neighbors sat on the front porch and they shared food. Children would go from house to house. And just the amount of care that people had for each other — this is where I learned to love my neighbor.
CNN: It was recently the anniversary of the September 11 attacks. Your nonprofit expanded in the years after the attacks — a time when some people viewed Muslims with suspicion. How did that affect you?
Bazzy: There is a lot of risk in doing the work that I do, as a visible Muslim woman in hijab. I’ve had death threats. I’ve had to have protection placed around me. It’s an uncomfortable feeling. To know that you can put out love, but there are people out there who will judge love, this saddens me. I want to make every breath count, so I can’t fear those who choose hate. I can only control the love I have in my heart and choose that love.
Want to get involved? Check out the Zaman International website and see how to help. To see the video about Najah Bazzy CNN hero go to

India Jains: Why are these youngsters
renouncing the world?
 India’s Jain community, a religious minority, 
has around 4.5 million believers
Hundreds of young people belonging to India’s Jain community have begun renouncing the material world to become monks who always walk barefoot, eat only what they receive as alms and never bathe or use modern technology. The BBC’s Priyanka Pathak explores why. “I will never be able to hug my daughter again,” says Indravadan Singhi, his voice breaking. He looks away, determined not to reveal emotion as he says, “I can never meet her eye again.”
Resignedly, he watches friends and family drift through his home, decorating his living room with gold and pink tassels to celebrate his daughter’s renunciation of the world and entry into monastic life.
In the days ahead of the ceremony, family came from around the country to spend her “last days” doing things she enjoyed – playing cricket in the local park, listening to music and eating out at her favourite restaurants. She will never be able to do these things again. As a nun, 20-year-old Dhruvi will never again address him and his wife as mother and father. She will pluck out her own hair, always walk barefoot and eat only what she receives in alms. She will never use a vehicle, never bathe, never sleep under a fan and never speak on a mobile phone again.
 By undergoing deeksha, the Jain ritual of renunciation, Dhruvi (left) is withdrawing completely from the world
The Singhis belong to the ancient Jain community, a religious minority comprising around 4.5 million believers. Devout Jains follow the tenets of their religion under the spiritual guidance of monks. These include detailed prescriptions for daily life, especially what to eat, what not to eat and when to eat. For the past five years, Indravadan Singhi and his wife have watched their only child – who loved ripped jeans and dreamed of winning the reality singing show Indian Idol – become increasingly religious and withdrawn. By undergoing deeksha, the Jain ritual of renunciation. Dhruvi is withdrawing from the life she knows. She is not alone. Hundreds of Jain youth are following the same path, their numbers rising each year, with women outnumbering the men.
“There used to be hardly 10-15 deekshas a year until a few years ago,” says Dr Bipin Doshi, who teaches Jain philosophy at Mumbai University. But last year, that number rose to 250 and Dr Joshi says this year is likely to see close to 400 deekshas. Community leaders attribute the rise to three things: growing disenchantment among the young with the pressures of a modern world, gurus of the faith adopting modern technology to make it easier for people to communicate religious ideas and finally, a superstructure of religious retreats that allows young people to experiment with monastic life long before they choose to commit to it. The economic and social stresses of a “hyper-connected” world have contributed to this phenomenon, Dr Joshi says.
“What’s happening in New York, or what’s happening in Europe, you see it at the same moment. Earlier, our competition was restricted only to the streets in which we were staying. Now there is competition with all the world,” he said, adding that Fomo – the Fear Of Missing Out – was driving more young people to try and escape everything.
“Once you take deeksha or renounce the world, your level of spirituality, social standing, religious standing becomes so high, even the richest man will come down and bow to you,” he added. Pooja Binakhiya, a physiotherapist who took deeksha last month, says the focus of her life changed completely after she became a nun. Where her day was once filled with concerns like family, friends, beauty and career, she says she no longer has to think about how she will appear to her friends. “Here we only think about soul, soul and soul,” she says tranquilly.
Dhruvi, days ahead of her deeksha, says her guru is “everything to me”.
“She is my world. Whatever she says, that is it.” Almost all Jain novices speak with similar warmth of their gurus. It is clear that these religious leaders also inspire tremendous obedience and loyalty. Dr Doshi says that it was not always like this. “Previously the ascetics were more introverted and interested only in their own self-purification,” he says. But today, he adds, they are more involved and are actively reaching out to young people in particular. “They are good orators and offer young people a path which is simple, they get attracted to it.”
Until as recently as 10 years ago, Jains relied on literature written in the ancient Indian languages of Ardha Magadhi or Sanskrit. Now, the religious literature is offered in many languages, especially English. “Stories of the Jain religion are made into short films, which are shareable on social media. Reading a book may not be important but just seeing one small story in a minute or two would influence youngsters a lot actually,” Dr Doshi says. These videos, which are mostly circulated via WhatsApp messages, are well produced films which often glorify renunciation and sometimes even portray monks as superheroes.
Muni Jinvatsalya Vijay Maharajsaheb, a Jain monk, says that over the last few years, films produced by Jain NGOs have played a critical role in making the religion accessible to young followers. He himself has published several YouTube videos that have had over a million views. “If one wants to reach youngsters, it is easier to go to where they are rather than to try and bring them here,” he says. “YouTube was the best choice because that is where young people spend most of their time online”.
Dhruvi says an Updhyan – a 48-day retreat she attended five years ago – was “the spark that made me consider a monk’s life”. Under a presiding guru, the retreat allows regular Jains to experience a monastic life – without shoes, electricity and baths. Most novices point to this gruelling retreat – where gurus exhort them to renounce a world “full of sorrow” – as the moment they decided they want to be monks. But such retreats cannot be undertaken overnight.
Hitesh Mota, who organises deekshas in Mumbai, say that most attendees undergo a series of short retreats to “slowly build the confidence that yes, I can live like this for a little bit longer next time”. “You know the fear of a monk’s life, the fear of giving up everything. That fear is removed during the retreat. It is the first step, a sort of training camp to become a monk.”
Last month, a retreat in the western city of Nashik ended in a celebratory procession of chariots carrying 600 attendees wearing glittering clothes. Most were under 25 and reportedly hundreds of them expressed a desire to take deeksha. Among them was 12-year-old Het Doshi. A bright student and skating champion, Het missed three skating races and several weeks of school to attend this retreat. His feet were blistered and covered in boils and he lost 18kg (40lb) during the retreat, but Het says the flame had already been kindled in his heart. “My guru has said there is nothing good in this world,” Het said, uttering words he scarcely seemed to understand. “I don’t like anything in this material world. I want to move away from my karmas, my sins. So I want to take deeksha. My guru says I should take it sooner rather than later, so I want to take it before I turn 15.”
His parents looked on proudly. But not everyone shares their children’s enthusiasm for renunciation. Dhruvi had to work very hard to get her parent’s endorsement. “My family got very upset when I told them,” she says.
She strategically stopped mentioning deeksha for a couple of years, aware that if she pushed too hard too quickly she could jeopardise her freedom to travel with her guru. And even though she eventually wore down the family’s resistance, their trepidation lingers just under the surface. On the morning of Dhruvi’s renunciation ceremony, her father hugged her for the last time before she donned the dress of a nun, grief etched on his face. “All this pomp is one thing,” he said. “Come back in two years to see how it has worked out.”

Muslim and Jewish women tour Shoah
sites in Poland and Berlin
Vow to ‘change the future’ by speaking out against hate
By Debra Rubin (New Jersey Jewish News)
Atiyah Aftab said she was already schooled in the horrors of the Holocaust, but it was not until she was in Auschwitz standing in a room filled with piles of women’s hair that the extent of the genocide hit her.
“It was physically nauseating me,” said the South Brunswick resident. “It was just unbelievable to me that this is humanity and it made me extremely sad. It made me think about what we can do in our lives today to prevent this from ever happening again and what we can do to make this a better world.”
Atiyah Aftab said she was already schooled in the horrors of the Holocaust, but it was not until she was in Auschwitz standing in a room filled with piles of women’s hair that the extent of the genocide hit her.
“It was physically nauseating me,” said the South Brunswick resident. “It was just unbelievable to me that this is humanity and it made me extremely sad. It made me think about what we can do in our lives today to prevent this from ever happening again and what we can do to make this a better world.”
Olitzky and Aftab, an attorney who also teaches at Rutgers University and serves as director of its Center for Islamic Life, founded the sisterhood’s original chapter in North and South Brunswick in 2010. The group is dedicated to building friendships between Muslim and Jewish women and teens. SOSS went national four years after its founding, and Olitzky serves as the national director. Today it has 170 chapters – including a dozen teen chapters – in the U.S. and Canada. The first “Building Bridges” trip was to the Balkans in 2016, and last year they explored the civil rights movement in the southern United States.
This year’s tour of Poland and the city of Berlin was led by Dr. Mehnaz Afridi, director of Manhattan College’s Holocaust, Genocide, and Interfaith Education Center. Afridi is the only Muslim to head a Holocaust center in the U.S.
The SOSS itinerary included Holocaust sites, interfaith dialogues, and prayer services at synagogues and mosques, and Olitzky said they held what is believed to be the only Muslim-Jewish prayer service ever held by women in Auschwitz.
“No one can prepare you to see these sites of genocide,” said Aftab. “But this was a supportive group of women. There definitely was a sense we were all together in this. It wasn’t just a Jewish trip.” One of the places visited in Poland, along with Oskar Schindler’s Enamel factory and the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, was Warsaw’s Nozyk Synagogue, the city’s only surviving prewar synagogue. There they met with its rabbi and a representative of the Tartar community, Muslims who have lived in or near Poland since the 1400s. In Krakow they met with an interfaith group of Jews, Muslims, and Christians, and assisted in the cleanup of a Jewish cemetery.
Highlights of the Berlin tour included a prayer service in the Bavarian Quarter, which served as a ghetto for Jews, and visits to memorials for gay and Roma (Gypsy) victims of Nazi mass murder. They also attended prayer services at the Dar Assalam Mosque and Shabbat evening services at the New Synagogue on Oranienburger Strasse. They also met with Syrian refugees and interfaith groups of Muslims and Jews who are working to help newcomers to the city.
Roberta Elliott of South Orange had already been everywhere the group journeyed, “but I wanted to take a dive with my Muslim sisters.”
“When I went to Auschwitz in 1990 it never occurred to me there would be any reason to ever go again,” said Elliott, who co-founded the Essex Two chapter of SOSS as well as a chapter in Tucson, Ariz., where she lives in the winter. Retired from a career in Jewish communal work, mostly working for Hadassah and HIAS in New York, Elliott said having Afridi, “who knows just about everything there is to know about the Holocaust, but it comes from the point of view of another minority,” proved both challenging and thoughtful. For instance, the group learned that a small number of Muslims also lost their lives at Auschwitz.
Miniimah Bilal-Shakir of Hillside said she feels a special kinship to the Jewish experience as an African-American and Muslim. She calls the Jewish women she’s met through SOSS “my sisters from another mother.”
At Auschwitz, Bilal-Shakir, a member of the Essex One chapter, said she was struck by the shared suffering “of slaves coming on ships from Africa, who couldn’t move and had to relieve themselves where they were, and the similarity of people on those boxcars.” Heba Macksoud of Princeton, an original member of the North and South Brunswick chapter, said among the reasons she went on the trip was to gain an understanding of why Jews have such a strong connection to Israel. She said that until the trip it had never occurred to her “how Jews felt displaced after they were subjected to such wide and discriminatory hate. How could they want to go back to those places?
“Just walking in their shoes and seeing the remnants of that hate helped me understand why Israel is so important” to all Jews, said Macksoud. “It wasn’t necessarily about religion, but more about creating an identity for them as a people.”
Macksoud also brought along her 17-year-old twin daughters.
“I wanted them to get out of their social media bubble and wake them up to what’s going on in the world,” she said. “Now they understand and can continue the legacy of standing up for things. I heard every person on the trip, Jews and Muslims, say that it is their job to stand up for the other.”
Heather Ciociola of Lawrence-ville, who started the Mercer-Somerset chapter in 2017, said the experience of Muslims and Jews witnessing together the vestiges of genocide was a powerful image in the face of all the hate being spewed nationally against refugees, Muslims, Jews, and others.
“Since we can speak up now, we should speak up,” said Ciociola, a refugee advocate. “What we do makes a difference. It matters to stand up for our neighbors, and it matters if we hear something hateful that we stand up and call it out.
“It didn’t start at Auschwitz. It started long before that and we need to take a stand against hate, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and anti-refugee sentiment.”

There is Now A Peace Pole in Every Nation On Earth
It has been a decades long goal of the Peace Pole Project to get a Peace Pole planted on the soil of every nation on our planet. That goal is about to finally be reached. Late in 2018 the Peace Pole Project was down to just two countries without at least one Peace Pole within their borders. Those two countries were Montenegro and Timor-Leste. Earlier this year, through the work of Patrick Petit who is the European Liaison of the the Peace Pole Project’s parent organization the Goi Peace Foundation, a young woman named Zorana Visic planted a Peace Pole in the beautiful coastal town of Tivat in the Western Balkan Nation of Montenegro. That milestone left only one nation without a Peace Pole. With just one nation left Jim Dugan of Peace Pole Project at May Peace Prevail On Earth International, headquartered at The World Peace Sanctuary in upstate New York, was put in touch with Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and former President of Timor-Leste Jose Ramos-Horta; through his brother Kerry who lives in Thailand and is also a life long peace worker. President Ramos-Horta put Jim in touch with Sierra James, Program Manager and Co-Founder of the amazing peace organization Ba Futuru in Dili, Timor-Leste about getting a Peace Pole planted.
Ba Futuru in the local Tetun language means “For the Future” and they are renowned for positively influencing the lives of hundreds of thousands of Timorese and have provided life enhancing training programs to more than 40,000 children, youth, parents, teachers, police and community leaders across Timor-Leste. Ba Futuru specializes in peace building, gender empowerment, child protection education, teaching approaches and conflict resolution. After overcoming incredible shipping hurdles two Peace Poles are now at the Ba Futuru Headquarters in Dilli, Timor-Leste. These Peace Poles will be planted later this year when Ba Futuru holds their Youth Peace Jam where President Ramos-Horta will likely be in attendance.
All of us at The Peace Pole Project and May Peace Prevail On Earth International truly share our deepest thanks to President Ramos-Horta, Sierra James and the rest of the staff at Ba Futuru and all the People of Timor-Leste for making this dream of a Peace Pole being planted in every nation on our planet become a reality.
We encourage you to check out the amazing work of Ba Futuru by visiting their website at bafuturu.org.
May Peace Prevail in Montenegro
May Peace Prevail in Timor-Leste
May Peace Prevail on Earth

Virginia County’s Official List Of Races Includes ‘Aryan,’ ‘Hebrew’ and ‘Jew’
September 9, 2019 By Aiden Pink
Attorneys seeking to overturn a Virginia law requiring couples to list their races on marriage licenses has released one county’s official list of acceptable races, which includes over 200 options – from “Assyrian” to “Zoroastrian.” The federal suit, filed Thursday in the Eastern District of Virginia, claims that the race requirement is “offensive,” “unconstitutional” and “reflective of a racist past,” NBC News reported. The plaintiffs are three couples were denied a marriage license because they refused to disclose their race.
The lawsuit also states that different counties in Virginia have different lists of possibilities. Rockbridge County, in the rural west of the state, has over 200 “approved races.” The county’s list, released on the website of plaintiff’s attorney Victor M. Glasberg, includes several outdated or unsettling terms, including “Aryan,” “Mulatto” and “Quadroon.” There are also several variations for Jewish couples, such as “Hebrew,” “Israelite,” “Jew,” “Ladina (Ladino),” “Semitic” and, possibly, “Cosmopolitan.”
Glasberg and his clients have compared their case to Loving v. Virginia, the 1967 lawsuit that eventually struck down a ban on interracial marriage in that state and around the country. Seven other states – Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota and New Hampshire – also have laws requiring marriage license applicants to state their race.
A spokesman for Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring told The New York Times that it was “not readily apparent why state law requires the collection of this data on the marriage license application.”
Aiden Pink is the deputy news editor of the Forward. Contact him at pink@forward.com or follow him on Twitter @aidenpink

September 2019

Written by WISDOM on . Posted in Newsletters

Calendar for WISDOM and Other Interfaith Events 
Sunday, September 15th 2:30 – 4:30 PM
WISDOM Membership Tea
See Flyer Below
Thursday, September 19th 7:00 – 9:00 PM
Exploring Women and Hindu Life
See Flyer Below
Sunday, November 3rd 2:30 – 5:30 PM
Interfaith Panel on Organ Donation
See Flyer Below

On August 11th, members of the Temple Israel Sisterhood joined members of the Hartford Memorial Baptist Church Sisterhood at the Detroit Institute of Arts to take an incredible tour of the African American art collection there!  Fantastic day together!!

‘It’s long overdue’: the first exhibition for Native American female artists
In a groundbreaking new exhibition, the often unseen or uncredited works of Native American
 women are being celebrated
Walk into most museums and there might be something missing on the wall labels beside Native American artworks – an Apache dress from the 19th century might just read: “Title, year, materials.”
What’s missing? The artist’s name. Though many of the artists’ names were not recorded, and will forever be anonymous, many that have been recorded are now being recognized as never before. Hearts of Our People: Native Women Artists is the first ever museum retrospective of Native American and Canadian female artists. It opened at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, and until 18 August, over 115 artists from 50 Native communities are being given the credit they deserve.
“This is the first, believe it or not, show devoted to Native women artists,” said Jill Ahlberg Yohe, who co-curated the exhibit with Teri Greeves. “It’s the first to honor Native women from ancient times to the contemporary moment.”
Then why did it take so long? Most 19th-century art collectors were “men with a Victorian sensibility,” Yohe said. For the most part, these men weren’t interested “in identifying women, or individualizing Native people”. She added: “90% of Native art is made by women. Native artists know this. It’s just non-Native people who haven’t recognized that.”
Yohe has been working on this exhibition since 2015. “It dawned on me after scouring the collections that all the work is made by women,” she said. Putting together the show meant more than just plucking out items from renowned collections. Rather than repeating the same old narratives, the co-curators wanted to incorporate fresh voices.
That led them to working with 21 women, both Native and non-Native scholars and artists, to curate this show as part of their “exhibition advisory board”. “That’s what made it special,” said Yohe. “We have the voices, expertise and knowledge from all these women.”
Upon entering the exhibition, there’s a parked 1985 Chevy El Camino by Rose Simpson, a work which pays homage to the 20th-century potter Maria Martinez, “the first self-identified non-anonymous Native artist,” said Yohe. That sets the tone for the entire show, which is divided into three sections: legacy, relationships and power. The exhibition includes the work of 12 Canadian artists to trace tribes and communities that were established long before borders between the two countries. “The borders between the US and Canada weren’t created by indigenous people, but by outside influences,” said Yohe. “All this work is connected to our history, whether it was made in 1500 or 2019. It’s all a part of the American and Canadian story.”
Métis artist Christi Belcourt shows The Wisdom of the Universe, a painting from 2014 that features animals on the endangered species list in Canada, alongside Haida fashion designer Dorothy Grant, who sketches Haida artwork on to clothing, is showing her wool Hummingbird Dress from 1989, the same year she debuted her first collection.
Though craft and fashion play a role in this exhibit, it’s not where it ends. “It’s the gendered aspect of women’s work,” said Yohe. “These categories don’t work; they just don’t work in Native communities.”
One of the most fun pieces in the exhibit is a pair of heels by the Luiseño/Shoshone-Bannock artist Jamie Okuma, who is showing her Adaption II shoes from 2012.
 The artist has taken a pair of Christian Louboutin heels and covered them in what Yohe calls “Native couture” – including the likes of glass beads, porcupine quills and buckskin. The work counteracts the stereotype that Native art lives in the past and lacks sophistication. The Creek-Cherokee artist Joan Hill is showing her 1990 painting Women’s Voices at the Council, which shows the head of a tribe, a woman she refers to as the “Beloved Woman”, meeting with other women as part of the decision-making for their tribe. Haida artist Freda Diesing shows Mask, Old Woman with Labret from 1974, which depicts a woman with a labret, a body modification known as “lip plugs”, which were recognized as status symbols for women on the north-west coast. (Diesing was one of the few female carvers of her generation and her Haida name Skil Kew Wat means “magical little woman”).
The artworks here are more than just decorative or folk-art masterpieces. They offer an overlooked, often silenced narrative. “Their work tells the story of Native people, the idea of resilience, despite all measures of annihilation of federal policy, settlers and acts of genocide,” said Yohe. The Anishinaabe artist Rebecca Belmore shows Fringe, a sculpture from 2007, which draws attention to the violence against First Nations women with a gaping back scar the artist believes will never disappear. But this exhibition is, in part, about healing.
For one, it aims to be a counter-narrative. They’re calling it “corrective art history” to the dusty old textbooks that ignored them for decades.
“It’s long overdue,” said Yohe. “Native women’s art history is American history.”

Female chief in Malawi breaks up 850 child marriages and sends girls back to school
Theresa Kachindamoto, the senior chief in the Dedza District of Central Malawi, wields power over close to 900,000 people… and she’s not afraid to use her authority to help the women and girls in her district. In the past three years, she has annulled more than 850 child marriages, sent hundreds of young women back to school to continue their education, and made strides to abolish cleansing rituals that require girls as young as seven to go to sexual initiation camps. With more than half of Malawi’s girls married before the age of 18, according to a 2012 United Nations survey – and a consistently low ranking on the human development index, Kachindamoto’s no-nonsense attitude and effective measures have made her a vital ally in the fight for women’s and children’s rights.
Kachindamoto, who was born in Dedza District, had been working as a secretary for twenty-seven years in another district when she was called to come home and serve as a chief. Upon her return, she was dismayed at the sight of 12 year-old girls with babies and young husbands and quickly began to take action. Last year, Malawi raised the legal age to marry to 18, yet parental consent continues to serve as a loophole to allow younger girls to marry. Kachindamoto ordered 50 of her sub-chiefs to sign an agreement ending child marriage in Dedza District. When a few male chiefs continued to approve the marriages, Kachindamoto suspended them until they annulled the unions. In addition to annulling the marriages (330 in June of 2015 alone!), this fierce chief sent the children back to school, often paying their school fees with her own money. She has also asked parliament to raise the minimum age of marriage again to 21.
In an area where girls are often married early to ease a family’s financial burden and where one in five girls in Malawi are victims of sexual abuse, Kachindamoto is also taking a stand against the cleansing camps where girls are routinely sent before marriage. The sexual initiation rites that take place there are extremely disturbing, particularly in a country where one in ten people has HIV. Kachindamoto is threatening to dismiss any chiefs that continue to allow these controversial practices. Kachindamoto has faced plenty of opposition to her efforts from parents and community members, even receiving death threats, yet she remains determined to continue changing minds and laws for the benefits of Malawi’s females and their futures. In Kachindamoto’s own words, “If they are educated, they can be and have anything they want.”

Interfaith concert brings Jewish and
African American communities together

Late last month, two communities came together to share and express spirituality through music.  Called “A Celebration of Spirit: Strengthening Our Common Bonds Through Music and Faith,” the gathering, sponsored by the Arizona Jewish Historical Society and Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church, took place on Sunday, June 30 at the church, and featured religious music from both Jewish and African American traditions. The intention was to encourage more dialogue and awareness between the communities.
AZJHS Executive Director Lawrence Bell explained that the organization was making an effort to reach out to the African American community. Even though there is a strong history of connection between the two communities – especially during the fight for civil rights – Bell believed that the two communities have been growing apart.
“We came up with the idea of a religious concert so we as Jews can see what they’re singing in church and they as African American Christians can see what we’re singing in our temples and synagogues,” Bell said. “The Jewish and African American communities work together a lot in areas of common interest, but we really don’t understand each other very much.” The concert was originally going to be on Martin Luther King Jr. Day but it had to be postponed due to scheduling conflicts. However, Bell believed the spirit of King was felt that day because it was such an uplifting and joyous event.
Between 400 and 500 people attended the concert, including members of other faith traditions, including Hindu and Buddhist communities.
Temple Solel cantorial soloist Todd Herzog and Temple Kol Ami cantorial soloist Emily Kaye performed Jewish songs at the beginning of the concert, and the church’s choir sang Southern Baptist songs. All the musicians performed together at the end of the concert.
AZJHS Volunteer Event Chair Stu Siefer heard the choir rehearse multiple times. “Their singing was so powerful and spiritually uplifting that it made me realize how sharing music is a great way to bring people of different faiths together,” he said in a statement prior to the show.

Elder Richard Yarbough, Pilgrim Rest administrator, agreed and said that because music is a universal language, he believed it affected those who attended on an emotional level. He was also grateful there were so many photos of the audience in the concert.  “Sometimes when you’re immersed in an environment like that, there’s so much personal appreciation for what’s going on you sort of get in your own zone and you’re not as sensitive as to what’s going on around you,” he said. “Seeing the audience captured in photos just illustrated how much how much joy, camaraderie and interaction there was between all the people who attended.”
In between the performances there were also two religious sermons led by Temple Solel Rabbi Emily Langowitz and Pilgrim Rest Pastor Terry E. Mackey. The two analyzed the same biblical text, which was the story of Korah, and shared their religious perspectives.
Audience member Allan Frenkel, resident of the Kivel Campus of Care, thought the concert was powerful, and said the Jewish community should participate in even more interfaith events.
“I do not think anyone left without making new friends. Many exchanged numbers, emails and vowed to get together,” Frenkel said. “The spirit that was in the attendees’ hearts when leaving the church could not be fully described, but all knew they had been blessed by this event.”
Cepand Alizadeh, community relations director for the Mayor’s Office, read a letter to the audience written by Mayor Kate Gallego.
“I encourage us to integrate music more into our daily lives so that Phoenix becomes a stronger and more unified place,” Gallego wrote. “I have no doubt that today’s inspiring interfaith concert is a positive step that will move our city towards harmony.”
“A Celebration of Spirit: Strengthening Our Common Bonds Through Music and Faith” concert can be viewed in its entirety on the Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church Facebook page.

Muslim Man Pledges To Keep Long Island Town’s Beloved Jewish Bakery Kosher – And Halal
The Beach Bakery & Grand Café, in Westhampton Beach, on Long Island, is a local institution. Since 1988, it has served black-and-whites, baguettes, pastries and challah from its bakery counter, and made custom wedding cakes for its community. But there’s a reason for the challah, and a reason its restaurant only serves vegetarian and fish dishes: the Beach Bakery is certified kosher, the only such establishment in Long Island’s East End, a popular summer vacation spot. When the bakery and restaurant went up for sale last year, local residents worried that the new owner wouldn’t be interested in preserving its kosher certification.
Turns out the eventual buyer actually wanted to add a certification, Newsday reported: Rashid Sulehri, owner of two other local establishments, is Muslim, and says not only will the Beach Bakery stay kosher, but it will become halal, too, so devout Muslims can eat there.
“It’s a dream come true,” Sulehri said. “Sons of Abraham can sit under one roof and they get a chance to see how much in common they have instead of staying away from each other and just thinking how different they are from each other.”
The Beach Bakery has already begun attracting Muslim residents: In June, a large group came to the restaurant to celebrate the holiday Eid al-Fitr, the closing of the month of Ramadan.
Ari Feldman is a staff writer at the Forward. Contact him at feldman@forward.com or follow him on Twitter @aefeldman
This story “Kosher And Halal: Muslim Man Saves Jewish Bakery” was written by Ari Feldman.

Attack on Hindu priest near Queens temple
 probed as possible hate crime, say police
Hindu priest Swami Ji Harish Chander Puri was beaten Thursday near the Shiv Shakti Peeth in Glen Oaks, Queens while he was walking down the street in his religious garb.
Investigators are trying to determine if an attack on a Hindu priest in Queens was a hate crime, police said Sunday. An umbrella-wielding attacker struck a punched the priest near a temple in Floral Park at about 11 a.m. Thursday morning, said cops. Swami Ji Harish Changer Puri, 62, was dressed in his religious garb when he was attacked on 264th St. near 85th Ave. 52-year-old Sergio Gouveia confronted him and said he didn’t want him in the neighborhood, police sources said. Gouveia struck Puri with the umbrella and punched him, cutting his nose, head, chest, arms and legs, said cops.
The scene unfolded about two blocks north of the Shiv Shakti Peeth temple, and about three blocks south of Gouveia’s home.
Patrol officers arrested Gouveia minutes later, and charged him with misdemeanor assault, harassment and weapon possession.
He’s not currently charged with a hate crime, but police sources said the case remains under investigation.

Jewish and Latter-day Saint scholars just had an interfaith dialogue in Jerusalem. Now they’re going to publish a book.
SALT LAKE CITY – At the beginning of June, an event at the BYU Jerusalem Center featuring two prominent religious leaders – Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Rabbi Michael Melchior, the chief rabbi of Norway and a recognized leader in Israel – served as both a highlight and illustration of something even greater that is taking place between the two faiths. Not only did BYU students and other invited guests listen to two insightful keynote addresses and witness firsthand a respectful interfaith dialogue between two faith leaders, but the program set the tone for other dialogues and study sessions held at the Shalom Hartman Institute, the Jerusalem campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, and Bar Ilan University for Jewish and Latter-day Saint scholars, said Rabbi Mark Diamond, a professor of Jewish studies at Loyola Marymount University, who was there.
Rabbi Diamond, along with fellow attendees Rabbi Samuel L. Spector of Utah’s Congregation Kol Ami and Brent Top, who served as dean of BYU’s Religious Studies Center from 2013-2018, agree that the Jewish-Latter-day Saint Academic Dialogue Project is building new bridges of common ground and friendship between the two groups.
“The Jewish-Latter-day Saint Academic Dialogue Project has built strong bonds of collegiality, friendship, and fellowship between the participating scholars,” Diamond said. “We share a passion for academic interfaith dialogue and engagement and are equally committed to both the private and public programs of the project.”
On the private academic side, their discussion has moved from topics in which there is a broad agreement between the two faith traditions to more challenging subjects such as supersessionism. On the public side, they have reached out to Jewish and Latter-day Saint communities in California, Utah and now Israel to dispel common misconceptions about one another and share some of the fruits of their interfaith exchanges, Rabbi Diamond said. Since he arrived in Utah last year, Rabbi Spector has had opportunities to meet Latter-day Saint church leaders and shared a photo or two on social media. Some members of his congregation criticized him for meeting with church leaders, but he holds to the belief that Latter-day Saints and Jews share a lot of common narratives, he said.
“With the dialogue and the work I’ve done with the church this year, one of my proudest achievements is now, in just one year, my community has changed so much their view on the church and sees them as friends. You’re not always going to agree on every single thing, but these are our friends,” Rabbi Spector said. “I explain that this is an investment for our community, a way for me to understand and learn more about the church and the dominant religion here in Utah. But likewise, this is a chance for the church to get to know us and our local leadership and to build bridges. If we want to accomplish making Utah a better place, which is something that we have as a shared goal, how can we be effective in this state, if we aren’t building bridges with the church? It’s not possible.”
In addition to the program with Elder Cook and Rabbi Melchior, Jewish scholars and leaders of BYU’s Religious Studies Center jointly participated in a wreath-laying ceremony at Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, and engaged in several interfaith dialogues. The group also made visits to Save A Child’s Heart/Wolfson Medical Center and the Save A Child’s Heart home in Holon, Israel, where they met children from Gaza, the West Bank and Africa who have undergone heart surgeries performed by SACH cardiologists.
“They were deeply moving experiences,” Rabbi Diamond said. “SACH staff members and volunteers know that every child is a child of God, and political, religious and ethnic divisions do not intrude on their lifesaving work.”
The Academic Dialogue started a few years ago when Top was the dean of Religious Studies and hosted a visit by Rabbi Diamond, Steven Windmueller and others. A genuine bond was forged and the Jewish scholars asked how they could be more involved with BYU. That’s how the dialogue group was formed, Top said.
They started out meeting twice a year; once in Utah and once in California. They would present papers, engage in discussions and have public events. One year, BYU professors were invited to speak in a southern California synagogue. Another time Rabbi Diamond participated in a Q&A session with BYU students and spoke in a Latter-day Saint sacrament meeting on the Jewish view of the Sabbath. There have been memorable discussions on Zionism and the gathering of Israel.
“What happened in Jerusalem was an outgrowth of those early years,” Top said. “We always had the goal and dream of having our dialogue meetings in Jerusalem because Jerusalem is near and dear to both traditions.”

Rabbi Spector first attended a dialogue event in Los Angeles shortly after he was appointed the new rabbi of Congregation Kol Ami. The respectful tone and depth of the conversation at the event impressed the young rabbi.
“What immediately made this dialogue different is while still being respectful, I feel like we can have difficult conversations at times,” he said. “Those are conversations I could imagine happening in another dialogue setting without people taking it personally and getting offended. Here there are people who were able to listen, but also not take it personally, but rather look at these criticisms through an academic lens for learning. That was really exciting for me. I felt like I
I could express myself and learn more in this type of dialogue.”
Building on the success of their meetings in Israel, Rabbi Diamond said the group is organizing interfaith conferences in selected cities and sending teams of Jewish and Latter-day Saint scholars to speak about the project on college and seminary campuses, as well as in churches and synagogues. There are also plans to publish a book of academic papers delivered at the first five interfaith conferences.
“We are proud that the volume is set to be jointly published by BYU Press and the Central Conference of American Rabbis Press,” Rabbi Diamond said. “This is a historic first – to have a work co-published by Jewish and Latter-day Saint presses – and we are excited about this development.”

National faith leaders begin ‘Moral Monday’ actions against federal immigration policies
EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – Hundreds of faith leaders from multiple denominations and people from across the country came together in Central El Paso Sunday night as part of the ‘Moral Monday at the Borderlands’ Mass meeting. The First Christian Church on Arizona Avenue was packed to capacity as noted speakers including Dr. William J. Barber II, Imam Omar Suleiman, Rev. Terri Horde Owens, and Linda Sarsour, who was one of the co-chairs of the inaugural Women’s March delivered remarks on the ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy, migrant detention and family separation. The group was called from around the country to protest current immigration policies that they say are against the morality of their faith teachings.
“Our faiths are on trial here,” Imam Suleiman said. “If you say that Jesus is in your heart, but you would put him in a cage today, you are a hypocrite. If you say that you believe in Moses but you would let him drown, you are a hypocrite. If you say you believe in Abraham, and you are following the footsteps of Abraham but you would turn him away from these borders, you are a hypocrite.”
Those in attendance Sunday came to El Paso from Ohio, California, Florida, and even as far as Canada to participate in the Mass Meeting and Moral Monday direct action. Repairers of the Breach and the Border Network for Human Rights will hold a mass protest action Monday morning. The Moral Monday action is the highlight of the group’s trip and the focus of their time in El Paso.
Previous ‘Moral Monday’ events have led to the arrest of participants who engage in acts of civil disobedience.

Anti-Semitic flyers posted in Birmingham, Royal Oak by neo-Nazi hate group
Birmingham resident Alicia Chandler was upset when she heard that anti-Semitic flyers were appearing in her hometown as well as in Royal Oak. Most disturbing, she said, was that one was found at the entrance to Clover Hill Cemetery, a traditionally Jewish cemetery where many Holocaust survivors are buried. Chandler, the interim executive director for the Jewish Community Relations Council/AJC (American Jewish Committee), is the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor.
“It is incredibly disturbing and scary to see these sentiments on the rise in our country and also to be appearing in our hometown where parts of the Jewish community live,” Chandler said. “We do feel targeted,”
The flyers are attributed to the Atomwaffen Division (AWD), a national neo-Nazi network that has been labeled as a terrorist hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The messages on the flyers, found in two locations in Birmingham and one in Royal Oak, are disturbing.
More: African-American man becomes president of neo-Nazi group in Detroit One of the anti-Semitic posters put up in Birmingham and attributed to the neo-Nazi hate group, Atomwaffen Division.
Three different flyers were found, all with distinct, vivid messages taking aim directly at Jewish people. One flyer uses a derogatory term for Jews in a headline that references the 6 million victims of Nazi genocide during World War II, then denies the Holocaust ever happened, but said it should have.
“When Holocaust denials are being placed on the gates of a cemetery where Holocaust survivors are buried there’s a sadness to that,” Chandler said. “There’s also a danger to what we feel that these sentiments are on the rise in this country.”
Chandler noted that the flyers ” … appear to deny the Holocaust while simultaneously saying it would be a good idea to kill 6 million Jews.”
Kim Raznik, executive director of Clover Hill Cemetery on 14 Mile in Birmingham, said the flyer was found by their superintendent, Richard Straitz, on July 4. Raznik said they immediately filed a police report.
“We take these things seriously and we reported to the officials,” Raznik said. “I think it’s a concerning topic for t
he entire nation.”
Scott Grewe, patrol commander with the Birmingham Police Department, said two flyers were found in Birmingham’s Poppleton Park. The residents who found them took them down and turned them in to police.
The poster found at the cemetery “was stuck with duct tape underneath the Jewish Star of David on a cement column near the front gate,” he said. Grewe said his department reached out to the Michigan Intelligence Operation Center, a branch of the state police, and learned that MIOC is aware of the group, “but they are not aware of any planned activity or specific event that we need to be concerned with at this specific time.” In Royal Oak, a flyer was found on a light pole near 14 Mile and Hampton, near the Birmingham border, according to Royal Oak Police Lt. Keith Spencer.
“Right now, we will continue to monitor the area and any further incidents,” Spencer said. “At this time we haven’t found that there is an imminent threat to violence.” According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit that monitors and exposes hate groups and their activities, Atomwaffen Division “is organized as a series of terror cells that work toward civilizational collapse.” Their members, the website www.splcenter.org says, “can be fairly described as accelerationists, believe that violence, depravity and degeneracy are the only sure way to establish order in their dystopian and apocalyptic vision of the world.”
On the website RationalWiki, Brandon Clint Russell is listed as AWD’s founder.
Last September, anti-Semitic flyers featuring crude caricatures of Jewswere discovered outside the First United Methodist Church in Ferndale and reported to police. The black-and-white flyers were taped to three entrances of the church and expressed support for the controversial far-right websites The Daily Stormer and Infowars.com.

BAHA’I WORLD CENTRE
 In the second podcast episode about Baha’i Houses of Worship, Felipe Duhart and Eduardo Rioseco of Chile, Santos Odhiambo of Uganda, and M. A. Ghanbari of India explore the impact that Temples are having on visitors and on surrounding populations. Creating a sacred space open to all has given rise to greater consciousness of and action for the betterment of society.
“Service is the way to transform ourselves and society,” explains Mr. Rioseco. “And in the Houses of Worship, really you can find many avenues to do that. It’s a question that each visitor and each person that interacts with the House of Worship takes home. How do we keep transforming ourselves and society-in our neighborhood, in our family, in our workplace? Wherever we interact with others this question accompanies us. And the Temple inspires us in all those places.”
The interviews followed a unique gathering last month at the Baha’i World Centre, where more than 30 individuals gathered to explore what is being learned about all 10 Temples currently in operation. The participants hailed from Australia, Cambodia, Chile, Colombia, Germany, India, Panama, Samoa, Uganda, and the United States.
Part one of their discussion can be heard at this website:

Interfaith vigil held after mass shooting
In the wake of the two mass shootings that occurred within 13 hours of each other this weekend, the First Church United Church of Christ of Phoenix hosted a candlelight interfaith vigil to mourn the victims of the shootings. The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Phoenix worked to help bring the vigil together.
“There is no place for hate in Phoenix. There is no place for hate in Arizona,” Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego said to vigil attendees. “It is the 216th day of the year. We have already had 251 mass shootings in this country. That is 251 too many. We must demand change. I am not here to offer prayers, but hopeful words for action.”
The vigil was a communal response to a devastating week- end. On Saturday, a shooter killed 22 and injured more than two dozen at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. On Sunday, another shooter opened fire at a popular nightclub in the Oregon District in Dayton, Ohio, killing nine people and injuring 20. The president and dean of Valley Beit Midrash, Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz, quickly joined the interfaith coalition to help plan the vigil interfaith vigil. Hate wins, he told the gathered mourners, “when it makes us cynical, when it gives us a negative view on the human condition. We come together because we dare not accept the mass shootings as acceptable, as normal. We dare not give up hope in this country and we dare not give white supremacy the upper hand.”
Arizona Faith Network Executive Director Rev. Katie Sexton also spoke at the vigil.
“We are here tonight, again,” Sexton said. “‘Again’ is a word that no one hopes to say as we gather to mourn the mass casualties of the mass shootings. But again, we say tonight we are here, again.”
The JCRC was motivated to help organize the vigil, said JCRC Executive Director Paul Rockower, “because we wanted to help the Jewish community share its sadness and grief alongside other faith communities of the Valley. This was a means for us to express our collective condolences to the families and communities affected by these tragedies, and to understand the ramifications of xenophobia and gun violence, as means to counter these horrific incidents.”
Multiple spiritual and community leaders at the event called for the denouncement of hate-filled acts of violence and the ban of military-grade firearms such as assault rifles.
After the vigil, Yanklowitz talked about the Jewish perspective on gun ownership and the Second Amendment. “Jewish law is clear on two points,” Yanklowitz said. “Firstly, that we must protect ourselves. Secondly, that we must remove dangerous objects from our homes and from society. It is clear that the current regulations in place fall very short of what Jewish law and values require in ensuring a safe society to protect our children.”
Rabbi Bonnie Sharfman of Congregation Kehillah added that there are cases in the Torah that allow for killing a home invader, and provided examples of the Israelites arming themselves. She also referenced The Talmud Avodah Zarah chapter 15b, which states that it is prohibited to sell a weapon to someone who might kill. “When this was all being written, no one could have possibly predicted that there would be assault weapons like the ones used in the shootings,” Sharfman said. “There is a difference between owning a handgun and an assault weapon that can cause just horrific carnage and should only be used by the military.”
In Arizona, there is no permit, background check or firearms registration required when buying a handgun from a private individual. The purchaser only needs to be 18 years old. The minimum age requirement to buy a gun from a federally licensed dealer is 21. There is no ban on assault weapon sales in Arizona.
Arizona does have some restrictions on who can purchase a gun. Prohibited possessors include those convicted of a felony, undocumented aliens or anyone who is considered a threat to themselves and others. As a constitutional carry state, Arizona does not require an individual to have a permit for concealed carry. The state is the third in modern U.S. history to allow the carrying of concealed weapons without a permit, and it is the first state with a large urban population to do so. Yanklowitz doesn’t believe in banning gun ownership, but he said he wishes there were more sensible and responsible regulations in place to protect families.
“I have found most gun owners to be quite hostile toward studying the Jewish values on this approach,” Yanklowitz said. “For many, their specific interpretation of the Second Amendment was revealed at Sinai.”
Sharfman said that she doesn’t want to go to another vigil and hopes more can be accomplished at the legislative level.
“You should keep praying, sending good thoughts and attending vigils,” Sharfman said. “But this is also a legislative issue, and there’s a lot of power we have in how we vote.” Jewish News of Arizona

No more green tea, vaping or drinks ending in ‘-ccino,’ Mormon Church tells members
The Washington Post by Marisa Lati

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints wants to make clear that vaping, green tea and fancy coffee drinks are off limits under the religion’s dietary code meant to keep members from consuming unhealthy substances. Church leaders on Thursday pointed to a recent article in New Era, the church’s magazine for young people, reminding them that the Word of Wisdom prohibits “hot drinks” – understood to mean tea and coffee – and harmful or habit-forming substances. E-cigarettes are highly addictive, “iced tea is still tea,” and any drink ending in “-ccino” probably has coffee and therefore breaks the rules, the church wrote. Recreational marijuana is also banned, church leaders said, but medical marijuana and opioids are fine when used as prescribed by a doctor. The church had previously said it approved of medical marijuana in certain circumstances, but last year it opposed a medical marijuana bill in Utah that it said went too far.
Still, experts and church members said the clarifications raised as many questions as they answered: Why is iced tea off limits if it’s cold? What’s the church’s stance on coffee-flavored desserts? Are drinks with green-tea extract okay?
To Lauren Lethbridge, editor of Brigham Young University’s student newspaper, the Universe, following the Word of Wisdom is about obedience to the church. She said her friends have been talking about the clarification that green tea violates the rules because several of them drink juices with green-tea extract. Many of them feel fine about the extract, Lethbridge said, but one friend vowed to throw out her drinks immediately. “I think people are still concerned and a little stressed about ‘Does this qualify?’ or ‘Is this bad?’ ” said Lethbridge, 21. “But I think less people are having it be a major concern for them.”
The Word of Wisdom is a section of the Doctrine and Covenants, one of the church’s four volumes of scripture. Mormons believe God revealed in 1833 the foods and substances that are good and bad for people to consume. Liquor, tobacco, tea and coffee were prohibited. Heber Grant, who was a church president, decided in the 20th century to drill down on the rules and to make adherence a prerequisite for entering a Mormon temple, said Gregory Prince, a historian of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Beer and wine were initially acceptable, while liquor was not. Eventually, Prince said, all alcohol became off limits. Church members in recent years have debated whether soda, which – like coffee and tea – typically has caffeine, is prohibited. After prominent church member and then-Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney attracted attention in 2012 for drinking Diet Coke on the campaign trail, the church clarified that it has no rule against caffeine itself. The church tends to issue clarifications when it gets a lot of questions about the same substance or when it realizes members in different locations are not on the same page, Prince said. He said church members also vary in how closely they follow the Word of Wisdom, which he called “a living document.” Adhering to the dietary rules signals to others that someone is a church member, Prince said. He said the practice is similar to how Jews might keep kosher as a way of demonstrating their faith.
“This is how we self-identify within our tribe,” Prince said. “This is your outward living of your inward religion.”
Contradictions abound between the text of the Word of Wisdom and members’ 21st-century consumption habits, said Taylor Petrey, a religion professor at Kalamazoo College. Most families develop their own interpretations of the rules, he said. Some Mormon households might eat coffee-flavored ice cream, for example, while others would not. Church members believe in continuing revelation, which means that prophets interpret the scriptures for changing times, said Jana Riess, a columnist for Religion News Service and the author of “The Next Mormons.” She said the church is trying to keep up with a changing culture and the availability of new foods and other substances. “It feels like the church is trying so hard to keep up with some of the newer questions that are being raised about these drinks or about substances … but it’s not necessarily a slam-dunk in terms of clarity,” Riess said.
Riess said there’s also a generational gap: Older Mormons are more likely to be dogmatic about the Word of Wisdom, while young members tend to follow the rules less closely. In a study Riess conducted and wrote about in March, 40 percent of millennial or Generation X church members said they had consumed caffeinated coffee in the past six months. Thirty-eight percent of members with permission to enter the temples said they had consumed at least one of the forbidden substances.
Despite the continuous debate about interpretation, Riess said the Word of Wisdom is not supposed to be a list of commandments with defined borders. She cited a quote from church founder Joseph Smith that she said was meant to guide members’ dietary choices: “I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.” “People really want to know what the rules are, where the boundaries are, how far is too far,” Riess said. “I feel sorry for the leaders of the church in trying to respond to this because I think that they would much rather have members understand that they have good principles and can govern themselves.”

August 2019

Written by WISDOM on . Posted in Newsletters

Calendar for WISDOM and Other Interfaith Events 
Sunday, August 4th noon to five
DION interfaith picnic at Belle Isle
See Flyer below
 
Tuesday, August 20th Noon to 1:00 PM
Five Women Five Journeys
Blue Cross Blue Shield, 600 E. Lafayette Blvd.
Detroit, 48226
 
Thursday, August 22nd, 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM
Faith Community Nursing For All Traditions
Live Video Chat – See Flyer Below
 
Sunday, November 3rd 2:30 PM – 5:30 PM
Interfaith Panel on Organ Donation
St. John’s Episcopal Church, 26998 Woodward Ave., Royal Oak, 48067
Stay tuned for flyer and more information
 

Metro Detroit Muslims, Jews work together to raise $26K for border asylum seekers
WEST BLOOMFIELD, Mich. (FOX 2) – Republican or Democrat – it doesn’t matter what side of the aisle you think is right. There is a harsh reality on the ground in cities that border Mexico.
When asylum-seekers arrive at border cities as they try to enter from Mexico, they’re met with resistance and told to find their own way. That’s according to rabbi Jen Lader with Temple Israel.
“They’re then dumped in a downtown city with no food, no clothes, no lodging – often with children in tow and their expected, often without English skills, to find their way to their sponsors, so they can have their asylum hearings in that city,” Lader said. Members of the metro Detroit Muslim community caught wind of the effort and got on board to help. Mahmoud Al-Hadidi with the Michigan Muslim Community Council said the problems at the borders span all faiths.
“We have a lot in common as American citizens from all faiths. Whether we practice our religion or uphold our Constitution, we have a lot in common.  It’s an essential part of a mission to bring people together,” said Al-Hadidi.
These two faiths working together is nothing new in Southeast Michigan. The Muslim and Jewish communities have made a strong bond over the years and it’s something both sides are proud of, in good times or in bad.
“Our traditions, both in the Jewish and Muslim tradition, there is a teaching that he who saves one life is as if that person saved an entire world. It speaks to the magnitude of a single life,” said David Kurzmann with the Jewish community relations council.
In just one week, $26,000 have been raised for toiletries, food, underwear, and bus tickets.  All of it is going right to the New Mexico congregation that’s helping asylum seekers ahead of their legal proceedings.
“When they clear the process to give them essential health aid, transportation to their destination, some cash. To give them some dignity and welcome to this country that we all wish to receive when we enter any other country,” Al-Hadidi said.
“Buying packs of T-shirts, housing their families in hotel room for a night or two, giving them $10 cash and a bus ticket for a three-day journey to somewhere else in the country. So, we can’t be there on our hands to hug children had to hand people sandwiches, but we are doing our best to partner with them in their holy work on the ground,” said Lader.
It’s taken years for the Jewish and Muslim faiths to work hand-in-hand.
“The Jewish, Muslim relationship in our community is something we cherish and it is an initiative we work on regularly, it is been about building trust and building relationships, and partnerships,” Kurzmann said
But they can’t do it alone. Both sides are hoping others can chip in and help people who need it. For more information check out Temple-Israel.org/helpFromAfar


 
(CNN)Canada has added to its list of terrorist organizations
a neo-Nazi group and its “armed branch,” the first time the country has classified white supremacists that way.
Blood and Honour and Combat 18 were labeled terrorist entities last Friday, joining about 60 groups that include al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and the Islamic State. Under the designation, the groups could have their assets seized and organizations that aid in the terrorist activities would be subject to criminal penalties. The Canadian government described Blood and Honour as “an international neo-Nazi network whose ideology is derived from the National Socialist doctrine of Nazi Germany” and referred to Combat 18 as Blood and Honour’s “armed branch.”
Blood and Honour was founded in England in 1987 by Ian Stuart Donaldson, the lead singer of a hate rock band. The group takes its name from the slogan of the Hitler Youth movement, and its chapters and associated groups have carried out murders and bombings throughout the world. In 1998, four members of a Tampa, Florida chapter of Blood and Honour killed two homeless men in that state, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. In February 2012, members of Blood and Honour and Combat 18 firebombed a building in the Czech Republic that housed mostly Romani families. Canada’s terror designation comes as the country appears to be ramping up its fight against terrorism and extremism.
Also Friday, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) cited right-wing terrorism as a threat to the country’s national security and said it was increasing resources to understand it. On Wednesday, Canada announced initiatives to crack down on terrorist and violent extremist content online. The government committed up to $1 million for a platform to help companies detect and remove extremist content. It also said it would hold a youth summit on countering online extremism, with input from companies like Twitter, Microsoft, Facebook and Google.

Approximately 100 members of the interfaith community gathered in June at the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn to discuss how the actions they take locally, even if it is as perceiveably small as having a conversation with a neighbor of a different faith background, can have a lasting ripple effect globally.
President Raman Singh opened the afternoon with organizational updates, including the expansion of the organization’s cornerstone program: Religious Diversity Journeys. In the coming academic year, RDJ will expand its reach to even more seventh graders in the Detroit Metro area starting in the 2019-2020 academic year. The organization this year will also be hosting a healthcare webinar to discuss health issues that span across the faiths, launch a podcast centering on local issues of faith, and relaunch its website.
Board member Dan Buttry, who has traveled the world on peace-making missions to increase dialogue and harmony across the faiths, and boasts about how he lives in the ethnically and religiously diverse city of Hamtramck, told the gathering there is much work to be done in decreasing the darkness in the world by increasing the ripples of light and hope in his keynote address. Buttry said right now, the world is engaged in a multi-front struggle today between religious extremism on the one hand and understandings of religion and faith that build the community where we love our neighbors whoever they are on the other.
In spite of all the attacks on faith groups – from  Pittsburgh to San Diego to Sri Lanka to New Zealand, Buttry said we have an opportunity to make a global impact every time a member of one faith acknowledges that the purpose of another faith and their own faith is not for war, violence and killing but in how well we treat each other.
“Extremism and violence isn’t the main face of religion. In fact, most of us would say that’s definitely not the true face of our faith.
All these major religions as well as smaller religions have profound teachings about how we live together, how we love our neighbor, how we build community where justice and peace can flourish.”
Buttry concluded his address by giving participants questions for food for thought.

The InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit named Rev. Stancy Adams as its new chairperson. Rev. Adams has served as a minister and religious educator in metropolitan Detroit since 2004. She is associate minister and director of Christian education at Russell Street Missionary Baptist Church in Detroit. Rev. Adams succeeds Robert A. Bruttell, who will serve as the InterFaith Leadership Council’s vice chair. Three other officers will continue in their current roles: Raman Singh as president; Jaspal Neelam as treasurer; and Rev. Dr. Daniel Buttry as secretary.
In 2011, Stancy was ordained by Rev. Dr. DeeDee M. Coleman at Russell Street Missionary Baptist Church; where she serves as an Associate Minister and Director of Christian Education. In 2017 she graduated from Ecumenical Theological Seminary (ETS) with a Master of Divinity
degree. While attending E.T.S., she served two years as President of the Student Council.
Adams is the spiritual advisor for Seasons of Life Ministry and assistant secretary of the Council of Baptist Pastors of Detroit and Vicinity.
She served as Vice-President on the Board of Directors for the Metropolitan Organizing Strategy Enabling Strength (M.O.S.E.S.), a non-profit social justice and leadership development organization known for its grassroots work with Detroit area’s churches, mosques, temples and synagogues. It is also known for its efforts in advocating for the most marginalized segments of the population. In 2014, Adams with MOSES and other grassroots activists questioned why the City of Detroit was suddenly enforcing an ordinance that prohibited organizations from feeding the homeless in downtown Detroit, particularly in the area deemed for the new Redwings hockey stadium.
Adams is a Chaplain at Beaumont-Botsford hospital in Farmington, Michigan. She established a “Brown Bag” bible study in the workplace in 2003, at Deloitte & Touché, with the purpose of leading souls to Christ.
She has developed many institutes, bible studies and workshops for youth, women, young adults and teachers, as well as city and state government agencies, including: “Takin’ it to the Streets;” “Exemplary Service;” Youth Training and Etiquette; Teaching Techniques; and “Preparing for Success.” Her passion and gifts in ministry lie in teaching and providing Pastoral Care; serving others especially women and young adults.  She said the ministry provides a “No judgment” space
while sharing and learning more about the love of God and assisting them in building a relationship with Him and each other.

(The Washington Post)
Religion in school can be complicated.
So teachers went to class.
School was out – and now it was time for the teachers to be quizzed.
More than two dozen Montgomery County public educators furrowed their brows as the questions flashed on the screen. “Which is not one of the Ten Commandments?” More than half of them got it wrong. Then: “What was the religion of Maimonides?” Ten guessed that the sage was Buddhist; seven guessed he was Mormon. Six got the correct answer: Jewish. “When does the Jewish Sabbath begin?” popped up. Again, wrong answers – many of the teachers guessed Saturday. (It’s Friday night.)
“See?” one teacher muttered. “This is why I’m taking this class.” In Montgomery County, these teachers say, the religious diversity of their students often astounds them. Students ask for days off for Diwali and share stories with classmates about celebrating Eid. To educators who aren’t familiar with religion, the multitude of traditions can be overwhelming.  That’s where this summer course comes in. For six days, Montgomery teachers of all grade levels tour some of the Washington area’s religious institutions, from a Muslim mosque to a Sikh gurdwara to a Jewish synagogue. They meet with experts who teach them about the difference between Catholic and Protestant, Sunni and Shiite, atheist and agnostic. They also discuss the thorny question of whether public school teachers should even be talking about religion at all.

The conversations among participants in the course, offered for county school employees who need continuing education credits, are a far cry from the discussions about religion in public schools unfolding elsewhere in the country. In many places, the idea most in vogue right now is teaching the  Bible, not the wide variety of religions studied in Montgomery’s course.
Thanks to a coordinated effort by evangelical activists, 10 state legislatures considered laws this past year encouraging public schools to teach the Christian Bible as an important work of literature and influence on history. These Bible classes, which have withstood court scrutiny in the past, are popular offerings at high schools in many states, despite critics who say teachers might far too easily violate the First Amendment by promoting a religious message as a devotional truth.
Many schools that teach the Bible are located in some of the most heavily Christian areas of the country. While Montgomery County schools don’t ask about families’ religions, they have boasted that students come from more than 157 countries and speak 150 languages at home. About 72 percent are students of color. In the summer course, which concluded this week, three of the educators raised their hands to say they had taught students who wear topknots traditional to Sikh boys; others said they had supported students who were fasting during Ramadan. Stacey Wahrman, an English teacher, said John F. Kennedy High School in Wheaton has become far more diverse than it was when she started teaching there 20 years ago. Wahrman said she needed the primer on religious basics to help walk her students through some of the texts they read in English class, which make more sense to kids who learn how to decipher the religious references. The secret marriage vows that lead to the fatal events of “Romeo and Juliet,” for example? “It’s something they have a hard time wrapping their heads aroun
As a teacher, Wahrman said she needs to better understand her students’ religions. “I feel less comfortable, and it’s one thing I’m hoping this class will help me with, discussing evangelical Christianity,” Wahrman, who is Jewish, said on the first day of the course. She recalled reading the play “A Raisin in the Sun” with students. When some students said, based on a character considering an abortion, “She’s going to hell,” Wahrman felt she didn’t have the religious knowledge to respond confidently.

That’s the type of conversation Christopher Murray, who teaches this course, wants to help teachers get through appropriately. This was the 10th time he taught a teachers’ course on religion, whether as a summer intensive or a 15-week night course during the school year.
Murray is simply a religion nerd. On visiting the many houses of worship that he takes the teachers to throughout the week, he says: “It’s kind of my Disney World.”
Before leaving last year for the private Catholic school Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in search of smaller class sizes and other perks, Murray taught social studies at Walter Johnson High School for 13 years – including an elective course on world religions. When Murray asks the teachers questions about how they can legally teach religion in their schools, most say the subject is murky to them. Several say they believe it’s illegal to teach a class on religion, although it’s not – about half of Montgomery County’s high schools offer such an elective, according to Murray. When Murray says public school teachers can’t lead prayers, according to the Supreme Court, several teachers are surprised. (“Oops,” says one teacher, admitting she has led students who share her Muslim faith in prayer at school before.)

Teachers need this sort of training, argues Diane Moore, director of Harvard University’s Religious Literacy Project, because religion inevitably comes up in their classrooms.
“There are rarely opportunities for teachers themselves to be trained in the academic study of religion, to be able to teach those hot-button, volatile issues well,” Moore said. “The key, and it’s not that profound, is to give teachers … tools to teach religion in a responsible and constitutionally sound way.” Moore’s program at Harvard also provides that training for teachers – although slightly differently. She said she wouldn’t recommend Murray’s approach of bringing teachers into houses of worship, since seeing one example of the practice of a particular faith might cloud their understanding of faith communities that are in fact highly diverse.

But for Joanna Fellows, a theater and film teacher at Seneca Valley High School in Germantown, the whirlwind tour of Washington-area congregations was deeply informative. At a visit to an Episcopal church, one of the final stops of the week-long tour, she revealed she had been gleaning a lot of theology. Her theater class is often a refuge for students struggling with their sexuality, she said. When she talks to parents, they sometimes say their religious beliefs lead them to condemn homosexuality. Now, Fellows is rehearsing an answer steeped in what she has learned in one tour after another: “In Sikhism, they say the creator and the creation are one. In the Torah, we have this idea that God made us in His image. In Buddhism, you have a central concept that there is beauty and there is value in all life,” she said. She said she knew almost nothing about these faiths before this week. She was raised Catholic and has identified with no faith since her teens.
Murray, the leader of the course, also grew up Catholic and then became nonreligious.
He always told his students on the first day of his world religions class that throughout his survey of faith traditions, he wouldn’t tell them what he himself believed in now. They could guess on the last day.
After taking the class, they hardly ever guessed correctly.
The answer? After making a careful study of the world’s religions, Murray eventually converted to Judaism, his wife’s faith, before their second son was born. “It fit all my moral and progressive views,” he says. “I liked the questioning.” He keeps encouraging fellow teachers to ask more questions, too.

Turban-tying services boom
as young Sikhs embrace heritage
(from The Guardian)
Jagdeep Singh Grewal, right, owns a turban-tying company. Photograph: Alecsandra Dragoi/The Guardian
At the height of wedding season, Jagdeep Singh Grewal professionally ties the turbans of four or five grooms a day. He is up before sunrise and often returns home long after dark. While the weddings can blur into each other, one incident has stayed with him.
On a cold October morning in 2018, Grewal arrived at the groom’s house at 5am. The groom’s mother pointed to a picture of a man wearing a turban and asked him to mimic the style. As he got to work, stretching out the fabric, then stitching and tying the turban, Grewal was taken aback by how emotional the groom’s mother and uncle became. The family were moved by the groom’s resemblance to the man in the photo, who Grewal later learned was the groom’s father – a former soldier in the Indian army who had died. “I could relate to it because my dad isn’t around and it was a tough moment,” Grewal says.
The 32-year-old runs Pagh Vala, a turban-tying service in London, with his friend and business partner Barinder Singh Bath. Theirs is part of a growing industry of bespoke turban-tying services in the UK, driven in part by younger members of the Sikh community displaying increasing pride in their roots and the rise of Bollywood stars such as Diljit Dosanjh bringing turbans into the spotlight.
“It’s all about connecting people with their culture and heritage,” Grewal says. “We’ve become more westernised and we don’t know how to tie turbans. And it’s good we have embraced the western culture, but we should remember who we are.” “It used to be family members who tied the groom’s turban, but now you can hardly find a family member to tie a turban,” says Sukhvir Aujla, who runs Tying my Turban, a business based in Wolverhampton, with her husband Taranvir Dhanda.
It’s not just turbans either. There are services for brides who want their saris pinned or gele headwraps professionally tied. Tokunbo Oluderu, a sales associate at Finetex Creatives, which sells fabrics for African headwraps and offers a wrapping service in London, says: “When we opened the shop, we saw a lot of people who came to buy a headwrap, but didn’t know what to do with it.”
While the Highland store, based in London, largely hires and sells kilts to its customers, it is becoming more common to have to show customers how to correctly wear their outfits. “We have people who come here who say their grandad is a McDonald or something like that and they have not worn kilts before,” the sales assistant Monica Zalapicz explains. “We show them how to put the kilt on, which side to wear the kilt pin, and which tartan is most appropriate to their family clan.”
Pete Singh, 39, the founder of Turban Pro, says: “Everyone wants to look good. It’s the main part of the outfit and your face is going to be in pictures, so you have to get the turban right.” He adds that he often works with “diva” grooms who are quite fussy about styles and shapes.
Dr Jasjit Singh of the University of Leeds, who studies religious and cultural transmission, says: “Community elders thought that the younger generation would move away from their heritage, but what we’re seeing is an increasing interest in understanding one’s roots.”
Naroop Jhooti, 38, a London-based photographer and co-author of the book Turbans and Tales, says: “Forty years ago, wearing the turban meant you couldn’t get the job, or could face racial abuse, so the older generation would wear black and didn’t want to be noticed. They wanted to be able to fit in. But times are definitely changing. The younger generation are taking more pride in how their turbans look.”
Singh agrees there is a greater pressure on migrants to conform in the 1960s, but “those born and bred in Britain now are comfortable to say they are British and wearing a turban doesn’t make them any less so. They are less prepared to compromise on their identity.”
Business owners welcome the enthusiasm for professional turban tying, but add that the religious connotations should be respected. Gucci was recently heavily criticised for selling a headpiece resembling a turban.
Kully, 30, who didn’t want to give his last name, hired Turban Pro for his wedding last year, saying he wanted it to look right and respect his culture. It was the first time he had worn one. “It really hurts your head and gives you a headache,” Kully says laughing, but adds that he really enjoyed wearing it. “Everyone complimented it, even the priest,” he says. It was the reaction from his dad, who has worn the turban his whole life, which he savoured the most. “He just looked at me and said: ‘Wow.'”

Singapore is set to welcome its first female president, hijab-wearing Muslim woman named Halimah Yacob.

Yacob was the only candidate to meet the stringent qualifications for presidency set up by Singapore’s Elections Department, the Straits Times reports. That means she’s likely to become president-elect after nominations close on Wednesday, and take her oath of office on Thursday. Since Yacob was the only candidate left standing, she’ll effectively win the presidency without an election, fact that has led to heated criticism from citizens of the city-state about its electoral process.
“I can only say that I promise to do the best that I can to serve the people of Singapore and that doesn’t change whether there is an election or no election,” Yacob said about the news on Monday, according to Channel News Asia.
The 63-year-old politician is the youngest of five children, raised by a single mom who worked as a food cart seller. She graduated from the University of Singapore with a law degree and went on to work for a national trade union organization. Yacob entered local politics in 2001 and rose to the rank of Speaker of Parliament in 2013. She resigned from that post in August. In Singapore, the prime minister is the most powerful political leader, while the president’s role is largely ceremonial. However, the president does have some important responsibilities, such as the ability to block key public-sector appointments, investigate allegations of corruption, and appoint a prime minister.
In 2016, Singapore’s parliament decided that the post of president will be reserved for a candidate from a particular racial group if no one from that group has been president for five continuous terms, or 30 years. That meant that this year’s election was reserved for someone from Singapore’s minority Malay community. The last time Singapore had a Malay president was in 1970.
Presidential hopefuls are required to submit applications to Singapore’s Presidential Elections Committee. Although other candidates submitted applications, the committee announced in a press release that it was only issuing a certificate of eligibility to one candidate. Yacob wasreportedly the only one who met the committee’s requirements, which include either experience in a top public post, or experience managing a private company with a specific minimum in shareholder equity.
Eugene Tan, an associate law professor at Singapore Management University, told The New York Times that there has been a “groundswell” of criticism online about the lack of an election. 
“A contest would have added to her legitimacy,” Tan said.
Although Yacob is set to make history for Singapore as a hijab-wearing woman, the city-state still has bans against hijabs in some government schools and public sector jobs. According to Reuters, Yacob hasn’t often spoken publicly about this ban.
On Monday, Yacob said that she believes the President’s role is to act as a “unifying force.”
“Obviously there is work that I have to do, but the most important thing for me is I would like Singaporeans to work together with me,” she said, according to Channel News Asia. 

July 2019

Written by WISDOM on . Posted in Newsletters

Calendar for WISDOM and Other Interfaith Events 
 
Friday July 12th and Saturday July 13th 2019 Freedom Tour,
Michigan Coalition for Human Rights
See Flyer Below
 
Sunday, August 4th noon to five
DION interfaith picnic at Belle Isle
See Flyer below

A Thriving Synagogue Hired Its First Female Head Rabbi. Here’s Why That Matters.
By Ari Feldman
Most job interviews are little more than sitting in a windowless room, answering questions from a manager with your resume in one hand and coffee in the other. For rabbis aiming for the pulpit, they’re a little different. This past winter, Temple Israel Center, a large Conservative synagogue in Westchester County, New York, had four candidates come to its campus for weekend-long “interviews.” These finalists were on display at multiple prayer services and gatherings, giving a Sabbath morning sermon, leading a teaching session and sitting for a question-and-answer session with over 200 synagogue members in attendance.
For Beth Grafman, who sat on the search committee, one rabbi stood out – Rabbi Annie Tucker – for her calm, thoughtful and insightful performance across this rabbinic decathlon. In February, they offered her the job, and she accepted. “And the fact that she turned out to be a woman, it wasn’t part of the selection process per se,” said Grafman, “it was a cherry on top of the process.”
Tucker, 42, is joining a small circle of women rabbis who lead some of the largest Conservative congregations in the country. While egalitarianism is the watchword at nearly every synagogue in the movement, whether due to tradition or trepidation the senior roles of some of the most influential pulpits have eluded women. Female rabbis say Tucker’s hire is another victory for Jewish women.
“This was a big long search, and the fact that it went to a woman is something that we’re really proud of,” said Rabbi Debra Newman Kamin, president of the Rabbinical Assembly, the movement’s professional association for rabbis.
Women have been ordained rabbis only since 1985 in the Conservative movement, the centrist denomination of American Judaism, which upholds Jewish law but has often reinterpreted it to keep up with changing norms in secular society. It counts roughly 570,000 members in its synagogues, roughly a fifth of American Jews – a number that has been in decline in recent decades. Of the 57 or so Conservative congregationswith more than 750 member families, only handful are led by women.
Adas Israel, in Washington, D.C., with over 1,700 families, is co-led by Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt. Congregation Beth Shalom, Seattle’s largest Conservative synagogue, has been led by Rabbi Jill Borodin since 2005. Rabbi Amy Wallk Katz leads Temple Beth El, in Springfield, Massachusetts. Multiple experts told the Forward that they do not know of any studies quantifying the number of female rabbis in senior roles at Conservative synagogues. The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism declined to share a list of the movement’s largest synagogues with the Forward. The Jewish world still struggles with equity and pay parity for female clergy. In the Reform movement, women in senior rabbi roles are paid on average 85% of the salaries of men in similar roles. In Modern Orthodoxy, a contentious debate is ongoing about whether women can have the title of rabbi, or even lead joint prayer services.
TIC occupies a large, sprawling red brick building in the very Jewish suburb of White Plains. The area is replete with Jewish communities of all kinds, from Reform and Reconstructionist to Hasidic enclaves. The synagogue’s main sanctuary sees about 200-300 congregants a week, but expands on holidays into its social hall to fit its 750 member families.
For nearly a quarter century, until 2018, TIC was led by Rabbi Gordon Tucker, (of no relation) a nationally known rabbi for his work on allowing female clergy in Conservative Judaism and an adjunct professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. TIC’s search process to replace him was spread over two years. In the synagogue’s first round of searching, it declined to make a job offer to any of the candidates it hosted for a Shabbat weekend. They decided instead to hire an interim rabbi and continue with the search.
“We always had a view that we were looking for the right fit, and that we wouldn’t settle,” said Marc Berman, TIC’s president. The synagogue’s search committee, with 23 members, ultimately agreed that Tucker was the rabbi for the job. “Gender was never an issue,” said Berman. “We were looking for the best candidate.” Tucker said that she felt that the community was the right fit for her. It’s closer to her family and friends on the East Coast, and there is a strong focus on education for both children and adults in the synagogue.
“It’s a lot of very thoughtful, interesting, interested Jews,” she said.
Like Westchester County’s Jewish community, TIC’s membership is diverse, drawing in observant Conservative Jews who send their children to day school, as well as congregants that attend only for major holidays and enroll their children in the area’s public schools.
Helping to further unite TIC’s “micro-communities,” as Tucker called them, is one of the mandates she has going into her new role. She hopes to do that by “re-imagining” their children’s educational program and adding more social justice-oriented programming and events.
Tucker will become Temple Israel Center’s first female senior rabbi – just its fourth senior rabbi since the late 1930s – and one of the few female rabbis leading large Conservative congregations in the New York City area. She was also the first female senior rabbi at her current synagogue, in Wilmette, Illinois.
Female rabbis in the movement see Tucker’s hire as a sign that, while things aren’t changing as fast as they’d like, they are trending toward equal leadership of the movement between the genders.
“The fact that this is news shows us that the Jewish community has not been where it’s needed to be on women’s leadership for a while,” said Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, an author and contributor to the Forward who is a colleague of Tucker’s in Chicago.
The Conservative movement is not past the point where such hirings should be singled out and celebrated, said several people who spoke with the Forward. “I’m conflicted always, as to whether it’s something to point out or not,” said Rabbi Rachel Ain, who leads the Sutton Place Synagogue in New York, which has 500 member families. “But until it’s something we don’t need to point out anymore, we should applaud the hiring.” Tucker said she hopes that her new role will allow other women to imagine themselves as leaders of large Jewish organizations.
Ain noted that Tucker’s hiring also comes as the United States is questioning its own readiness to have a female leader in the White House. “We’re not there yet in the world,” she said. “This is still part of the landscape, spoken or unspoken.”

Interfaith Girl Scouts Combat Hate
Interfaith Girl Scouts of Southeast Michigan are interested in more than just cookies; Jewish liaison Brenda Rosenberg helps them combat hate.
By Stefani ChudnowPhotos
 courtesy of the Interfaith Girl Scouts of Southeastern Michigan
Girl Scouts tour the Holocaust Memorial Center
in Farmington Hills
For the past several years, society has felt more divided than ever. It’s been an “us” versus “them” mentality for a while now, but politics has made everyday society increasingly hateful. Working to combat this is native Detroiter and interfaith activist Brenda Rosenberg. Rosenberg is the Jewish liaison to the Interfaith Girl Scouts of Southeastern Michigan. This group not only works to combat hatred among independent cultural groups starting at young ages, but also aims to develop myriad events meant to bring young girls with different backgrounds together.
“Several years ago, Suzanne Bante, who chairs the Interfaith Girl Scouts of Southeast Michigan, contacted the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit and wanted to speak to Jewish women who were interested in interfaith work,” Rosenberg said. “I was one of those women.”
Said Bante, “I believe that Girl Scouts offers young women (and sometimes their families) the opportunity to learn about individuals who have different backgrounds and faith traditions in a non-threatening way. Understanding of religious diversity is required to prepare our young women for the future.”
“When 9-11 happened, my heart spoke to me and said, ‘Brenda, you’re really good at coordinating big projects. You need to bring Christians, Jews and Muslims together,'” Rosenberg said. “That was the day I started creating projects and relationships to bring Christians, Jews and Muslims together.” One such project is “My Promise My Faith,” which Rosenberg is working on with Bante. The goal of this project is to share elements of the Jewish faith with Girl Scouts from a Catholic school in order to further develop their understanding of Judaism.
“On May 15, we presented the My Promise My Faith program to the Girl Scouts at Holy Family Regional School in Rochester,” Bante said. “The program is designed to allow girls to learn about other faith traditions and how all faith traditions are the foundation for the Girl Scout Promise and the Girl Scout Law.” A part of that Girl Scout Law reads: “I will do my best to […] make the world a better place.” If that sounds familiar to you, it’s because it is almost identical to the Jewish concept of tikkun olam or repairing the world.
Christian Ferris, Hannah Richard, Brenda Rosenberg, Fiona Warner, and officer John Julian, a school resource officer in Troy.
Rosenberg talked to the Girl Scouts about what she’s done to make the world a better place through creating better levels of understanding between Christians, Jews and Muslims. Then, the girls were given a selection of quotes from notable Jewish women throughout history and chose their favorites to put on a mug. The girls learned “Henei Ma Tov” in both Hebrew and English as well as all about Shabbat symbols and wrote down how they plan to make the world a better place this year.
A few years ago, Troy High School student and Girl Scout Hannah Richard approached Rosenberg about working on Rosenberg’s Hate2Hope initiative for her gold award project. Because of a recent spike in violence by and against police, Hate2Hope’s goal is to bring police and communities together and save lives as a result.
“Hannah was very taken with the project because at the time she was 15 and getting her driver’s license,” Rosenberg said. “Nowhere in driver’s education do they teach you what to do if you’re stopped by a police car.” For the past two years, Rosenberg has been working with Hannah directly on making this initiative completely actionable. Hannah came up with a slogan they’re currently using to promote positive police and community interactions. “Her three words are: Relax, Respect, Respond,” Rosenberg said. “That’s what we’re missing today, not just in police encounters, but in almost all encounters. People just spew whatever they’re feeling and they’re not taking the time to relax, respect and then respond. It’s simple, but incredibly effective.”
This past Passover, Temple Israel hosted a women’s seder. Rosenberg invited the Religious Relationships Committee of Girl Scouts of Southeastern Michigan. Committee member Lisa Pelzer attended the seder. Though Pelzer isn’t Jewish, she thought it was a particularly enlightening experience. “The seder was absolutely awesome,” Pelzer said. “It was really meaningful for me because it discussed mental health, which is key. The thing I loved the most was ‘Enough, Dayenu.’ That was wonderful to me.”
When people think of the Girl Scouts, they think of cookies. After just one conversation with Rosenberg, Pelzer and Bante, it’s clear that Girl Scouts mean so much more. They are the generation who will be future world leaders, and their track record isn’t too shabby.
“All three of our female secretaries of state, Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton have been Girl Scouts,” Pelzer said. “Sandra Day O’Connor was also a Girl Scout.” Rosenberg and Bante plan to continue their interfaith work. Rosenberg is currently planning an intercultural scavenger hunt at the Detroit Institute of Arts.
She credits her childhood exposure to art with her lifelong interfaith understanding. “I think so much more has to be done at an entry level, at that young level, because no one is born hating,” Rosenberg said. “If no one’s born hating, we need to have these very important interactions at younger ages than we are currently engaged in.”
When asked about what she sees as the future for the Girl Scouts, Rosenberg is quite confident that they will be “a powerful force for creating and understanding across America and across the world. Yay, girl power!”
For further information, visit http://njcgs.org.

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 summer 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.
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/

Heard the one about the Jew and the Muslim?
Ashley Blaker and Imran Yusuf’s pairing makes a unique comedy show called Prophet Share!
When Liverpool FC achieved their “miracle” win over Barcelona earlier this month, there was no doubt in Imran Yusuf’s mind as to where he should be. The avid Liverpool fan and hugely popular stand-up comic made his way to the home of his friend Ashley Blaker, an equally besotted Liverpool supporter and himself a renowned comedian. What they needed – in fact, what the world needed – was a double selfie of the two of them, proudly wearing their Liverpool red shirts.
The obvious affection between the two men, Blaker – an Orthodox Jew – and Yusuf – a knowledgeable Muslim – has led to a remarkable and probably unique stage pairing for their comedy show, Prophet Sharing, which is currently touring the UK. How did they meet? “I was a TV and radio producer,” says Blaker, “and I think I booked Imran for one of my shows. I’ve known him about eight years or so.” Yes, says Yusuf, it was after appearing on one of Blaker’s shows that they discovered their mutual passion for Liverpool FC.
Gradually, this unlikely pair became good friends. Last summer Blaker did a show at the Edinburgh Festival called Observant Jew, and Yusuf went to see it. “After the show, we were talking and Ashley came up with this proposal that we should do a tour together. I thought, what a great opportunity.” Both men have had their own successful BBC shows, so it was a natural pairing. Blaker has been doing solo stand-up comedy for a number of years and in a previous interview was adamant that he wouldn’t work with other Jewish comedians. So has he broken a rule to work with a Muslim comedian?
No, insists Blaker. “I said I would never do ‘mixed bill’ stuff where the audience comes and sees five or six different acts. This is still like a solo show – we each do stuff on our own and then we have half an hour together, which is really great fun.” The joy of the two of them together is that it is entirely driven by the audience, who have been asked to fill in a questionnaire before the show, and Blaker and Yusuf then riff off each other, each bringing their own, unscripted views to the stage.
“We designed the show together,” says Blaker. “We’re each very aware of what we are doing, and how that marries up.”
Yusuf, who has been a full-time comedy performer for 14 years, comes from an Indian Muslim family who were chased out of East Africa by Idi Amin. He was born in Mombasa, Kenya, and was brought up near Hackney Fields, before moving to Harrow. Blaker was a television producer and writer most associated with the hit comedy, Little Britain, before going it alone on a very carefully thought-out comedy path. He doesn’t do clubs and certainly won’t do anything which would conflict with his Orthodox beliefs. Of his friend’s comedy, Blaker describes it as “very warm, not cruel – audiences really like him”.
Meanwhile, Yusuf believes the pair have much in common: “We are both quite learned about our religion. I’ve read the Koran – in English – twice through, cover to cover and [Hinduism’s] Bhaghavad Gita. I’m about to start on the Tanach [the Hebrew Bible]. Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner gave me a copy.” In fact, says Yusuf, his ambition is to read every major religious book in the world. “Most of us don’t study our own religious books enough, but I want to try.” Stand-up, says Blaker, “is not easy. But we know how to do it and what works with an audience”. For him, it’s an opportunity to find out the similarities between Judaism and Islam, asking Yusuf on stage if his imam is anything like Blaker’s rabbi.
Both men believe that, particularly with the rise in antisemitism and Islamophobia, “there couldn’t be a better time to do this show”.
Blaker says the lesson he draws from it is “that we are stronger together than apart”. Yusuf, for his part, says there is a sometimes “brutal journey” between Jews and Muslims, but that “we thrive by being tolerant -that’s the trajectory we are on”.

Foodies, Faithful Flock to Ramadan Festivals

DEARBORN HEIGHTS, Mich. (AP) – Shortly before midnight, a buzzing crowd stood patiently in a line that bent around the corner of a community center and stretched far back into the night. After a countdown, the throng streamed into the fairway of food trucks and other vendors, then pressed forward to the cadence of a banging bass drum.
It was suhoor time.
The informal gala – in full swing after midnight, illuminated with string lights and resplendent with the scents of Middle Eastern and other cuisine – has been staged on weekends throughout May in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn Heights. But the Ramadan Suhoor Festival has a specific purpose beyond the carnival atmosphere and bountiful buffet: It’s a chance to gather during the Muslim holy month in which worshippers fast daily from dawn through dusk.
Despite its religious underpinnings, and in accordance with Muslim faith, festival organizers also have made one thing clear: Non-Muslims are welcome.
And so they all have come – Muslims and non-Muslims, thousands at a time and collectively in the tens of thousands – to share suhoor, the early morning meal typically consumed before daily fasting resumes and meant to fuel the many hungry hours after sunrise when neither food nor water may pass a faithful Muslim’s lips. The ring of food trucks serve up more than just overflowing plates. For many, it’s a welcome departure from the standard pre-dawn Ramadan fare that typically includes spiced or seasoned bread with cheese or yogurt.
Here at the festival, visitors may instead indulge their well-earned appetites with plates of pancakes, halal (permitted under Islamic dietary laws) hot dogs, cheesesteaks, fresh miniature doughnuts and shawarma, which consists of slivers of seasoned, spiced marinated meat.
The event itself reflects the area’s growing, diverse Muslim population, which goes back more than a century and whose population is estimated by experts to be approaching 300,000. As the community grows, so too does its willingness to practice and more visibly share traditions – with food as the ultimate unifier.
“People are becoming more educated about it … and it’s a beautiful thing,” said Hassan Chami, a pharmacist who started the festival last year. “One of my goals here is to celebrate religious diversity.”
Other U.S. communities have large Muslim populations, including those in and around New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. They also have hosted festivals drawing thousands to mark the Eid al-Fitr, or the end of Ramadan. The Detroit-area’s recurring events aim to amp-up such efforts: They serve as homecomings for some Muslims who left the state and missed the atmosphere, and even attracted “a foodie from Houston” who had no connection but just wanted to experience it, Chami said.
Chami said he launched the festival after seeing food trucks and tents popping up in gas station and strip mall parking lots in recent years during Ramadan. He was impressed by the entrepreneurial spirit, but thought it would be good to “centralize it.”
But it had to be authentic. Signs around the festival grounds offer guidance on fasting, prayers and good deeds, and men sitting in a tent recite verses from the Quran, or Islamic holy book, and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. Their amplified recitations waft along with the aromas from Corn on the Corner, Tornado Potato, Smiley’s Halal, Rafic’s Felafel and other trucks.
The drum Chami used to welcome attendees gets picked up a couple hours later by a food vendor, who Chami says represents “the old villager walking around the town, banging the drum, calling people to wake up and eat the suhoor.”
The traditional and contemporary mix mirrors the Islamic community around Detroit, which traces its roots to the earliest auto plants and the burgeoning industry’s hunger for workers. In the past 30 years, the area has gone from having about a dozen mosques to more than 90, reflecting immigration of Muslims from across the Mediterranean, Middle East and South Asia.
Sally Howell said Ramadan’s observance has changed significantly in the three decades she has been researching Islam in Detroit. In the early days, most people would celebrate in homes and mosques – and restaurateurs would complain how the holiday was bad for business. Mosques expanded their offerings, with post-prayer lectures and large iftars – the formal meal eaten after breaking the daily fast and recitation of prayers – that welcomed non-Muslims. Within the past decade, eateries started hosting buffets.
Even though Ramadan-related events were never closed-off to non-Muslims, the new festivals provide an opportunity to further extend participation in elements of the sacred monthlong rite, Howell said.
“This is the more social, celebratory side of Ramadan,” said Howell, director of the Center for Arab American Studies at University of Michigan-Dearborn. She said the events get a boost because Ramadan, which rotates around the calendar, currently falls in warmer weather months.
Some Muslims have complained on social media about the festival placing a greater emphasis on food over faith. Dana Mohammad, 23, who attended a recent festival, found it very loud, crowded and hype – yet spiritually beneficial.
“I think it actually adds to the essence of Ramadan because it brings people together, it binds communities and it builds bridges, which I think is a principle of the holy month,” she said.
Donna Bazzy invited fellow emergency room nurses – assuring them it would be open to non-Muslims. Among those accepting was Rhonda Hines.
“I’m enjoying myself immensely – it’s wonderful,” said Hines, hungrily eying which truck to tackle first. “I am very Christian but I love my girl Donna so much, I want to celebrate with her.”
Howell and Chami see such festivals as an antidote to the hostility Muslims feel in some quarters and the rhetoric and policies of the Trump administration, which has curbed immigration and travel from several Muslim-majority nations. For both, it recalls the increased scrutiny and suspicion directed at Arabs and Muslims after the 9/11 attacks.
The difference now, they said, is Muslims feel more comfortable outwardly celebrating their faith. That was Chami’s mission with the Ramadan Suhoor Festival: Create a space where Muslims could celebrate on their terms but with open arms.
“Having that confidence allows us to embrace our culture and allows (other) communities to support us as much as they do,” Chami said.
“We went through a point where we were trying to prove ourselves, saying ‘Hey, I’m just like you,'” he added. “I’m over that. … We’re great people. We have an unbelievable culture. We do great here.”

Ethnic women’s ‘tireless’ campaigner
Anjum Rahman honoured

Hamilton-based Anjum Rahman has been made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit. It was a sense of duty that prompted Anjum Rahman’s work as a political and human rights activist.
“I started getting involved in the community after 9/11 … I could see that our world was changing and I didn’t want my kids to grow up in fear or to feel ashamed of who they were.
“A lot of the community work I do is about making the world a better place for my children to grow up in.”
Her citation for the Queen’s Birthday honour describes her as a political and human rights activist “who has worked tirelessly to support ethnic women in New Zealand and raise awareness of human rights issues affecting them”. Rahman is based in Hamilton, but her multiple roles take her around the country, serving on boards and speaking out in favour of diversity and inclusion. In May, not long after the Christchurch mosque attacks, Rahman launched the Inclusive Aotearoa Collective – a community-led initiative to combat discrimination.
In the past, she has also had a tilt at politics, standing for Hamilton City Council in 2013 and, before that, as a Labour list candidate.
Her mantra is simple: To leave the world a better place than she found it.
“It’s that sense of duty really, that I’m put here in this world, in this place, and how am I going to leave it better than I found it.
“That’s my responsibility, it’s the responsibility of every person and it’s up to them how they take it up but for me, it’s like how do I fulfil my responsibility to this world that I’m in.”
Rahman is also a board member on various not-for-profit organisations, including Shama Hamilton Ethnic Women Centre, the Waikato Community Broadcasting Charitable Trust, the Islamic Women’s Council of New Zealand, and the Ethnic New Zealand Trust.
She has also worked in the prevention of sexual violence, as a founding member of the Hamilton Campaign for Consent and through work with ACC.
She’s a qualified Human Rights Commission facilitator and promotes diversity and inclusion through speaking engagements around the country. And she’s also an accountant. When she received a letter in the mail, notifying her of the honour, she wasn’t sure whether she would accept it.
“In our faith, in our community, we do things because it’s the right thing to do and as an act of worship, so to be recognised publicly for that is kind of difficult because I’m not doing it to be recognised.
Rahman said she was accepting the honour for her mum, who is a role model to her and her daughters. She said the work she achieves wouldn’t be possible without the support she receives from family, her community, and her employer. “I look at so many others in our community that do reat work that are unrecognised and I feel like there’s so many amazing people in our community and it’s hard for me to accept this when I know that.” But despite her coyness, she is proud of the work she has achieved. “In terms of a local place, I’m really proud of being involved with the Shama Hamilton Ethnic Women’s Centre, and part of the group that set it up. “For me, it’s about our place as Muslims in New Zealand and to be recognised as part of the fabric of New Zealand society – that’s the most important thing.
“Our prime minister’s stance after the [Christchurch terrorist attacks], placing [Muslims] as New Zealanders, was so hugely important. And being included in the awards is part of that, too. For me it says; this is my place, this is my home, I belong here.”

June 2019

Written by WISDOM on . Posted in Newsletters

Calendar for WISDOM and Other Interfaith Events 
 
Tuesday, June 11th at 7:00 PM, Citizens for Peace Interfaith Panel on Peace at the Livonia Senior Center.  
See Flyer Below
 
Wednesday, June 26th 7:00 – 9:00 PM
Voorhies Hall, Bay View, Michigan
An Interfaith Response for Climate Action
See Flyer Below
 
Friday July 12th and Saturday July 13th 2019 Freedom Tour,
Michigan Coalition for Human Rights
See Flyer Below
Friday August 9th, Greater New Mt. Moriah backkpack project.
More information to come
 
Tuesday, August 20th noon – 1:30 PM
Five Women Five Journeys Panel at BCBSM Detroit

Sameena Basha, board member of WISDOM, remarks on the Zaman graduation ceremony!
(26091 Trowbridge, Inkster, MI
Paula Drewek and Sameena Basha
at the Zaman Boost Graduation

I’m so proud to attend Zaman International’s Graduation Ceremony – over 40 women graduated with degrees in English literacy, sewing & culinary arts. Some couldn’t even attend because they had achieved the goal of the program: they were at work!
Zaman International’s B.O.O.S.T. program offers single mothers and marginalized women the skills to gain employment for a chance at a better life.  Congratulations to Najah Bazzy, Gigi Salka and the power team at Zaman! I am humbled to be a co-sponsor on behalf of WISDOM.

WISDOM MEETS MIDDLE-SCHOOLERS
          On May 21, the women of WISDOM’s “Five Women, Five Journeys” program met about 150 middle schoolers at the Covington School in Bloomfield Hills. Their language arts and social studies teacher, Rick Joseph, arranged the gathering and introduced panelists to several of his students prior to the panel’s start. They were studying various cultures through narratives of people from places like India and China and were most anxious to share their excitement with Wisdom ladies. The students filed into the media center and were instructed on behavior by Mr. Joseph and proved a most attentive and curious audience. After the 4 women presenters shared their responses to the program questions, students were interested in what kind of discrimination the women had faced as children. Raman, our Sikh presenter, noted that most were not aware of her faith as children, an experience shared by Paula, the Baha’i presenter. One young man shared a question at odds with Brenda, our Jewish presenter, on her favorite holiday—Christmas. He was of the opinion, learned at his church, that Jews killed Jesus; so how could she enjoy the Christmas season so much? Other questions showed interest in the issue of head-coverings worn by Parwin, our Muslim presenter. She explained that it was for purposes of modesty and other panelists cited similar customs in their faiths. Holidays were another interest of the students. Students became emboldened as their classmates were called upon. Paula Drewek moderated the session and had to call an end to the questions as the period was over and students needed to return to other classes.

Honoring St. John XXIII, pope and Bulgarians
give witness for peace
May 6, 2019
 
SOFIA, Bulgaria – Prayers for peace are important, but they must lead those praying to roll up their sleeves, reach out their hands and open their hearts, Pope Francis said at an interreligious meeting in Sofia.
The event May 6, the pope’s last public appointment in Bulgaria on his three-day trip, was a tribute to St. John XXIII, who was apostolic delegate to the country from 1925 to 1935 and, as pope, wrote the encyclical, “Pacem in Terris” (“Peace on Earth”).
The Bulgarian Orthodox Church had announced before the pope’s trip that it would not send a bishop to the gathering and it did not; rather it was represented by an Orthodox layman who works for the government department overseeing religious affairs.  

Armenian Bishop Datev Hagopian and Sofia’s grand mufti, Mustafa Hadzhi, joined Francis on the stage along with a government official, a Protestant minister and a woman representing the Jewish community.


Children from the religious communities, including the Bulgarian Orthodox, bore lanterns, which Francis said “symbolize the fire of love that burns within us and that is meant to become a beacon of mercy, love and peace wherever we find ourselves. A beacon that can cast light upon our entire world.” “With the fire of love,” he said, “we can melt the icy chill of war and conflict.”
Francis noted that from the square, a gathering place for centuries, people can see a Catholic church, a Bulgarian Orthodox church, an Armenian church, the synagogue and a mosque. Yet their parents, grandparents and other ancestors would gather together in the square at the most important moments in the life of the nation, and people today can make the square a symbol of peace.
“Peace is both a gift and a task,” the pope said. “It must be implored and worked for, received as a blessing and constantly sought as we strive daily to build a culture in which peace is respected as a fundamental right. An active peace ‘fortified’ against all those forms of selfishness and indifference that make us put the petty interests of a few before the inviolable dignity of each person.” As the rain poured down and guests, including the cardinals in the pope’s entourage, huddled under shared umbrellas, Francis said dialogue is the only path to peace and it must include an effort to understand one another.
Members of different religions, he said, must “focus on what unites us, show mutual respect for our differences and encourage one another to look to a future of opportunity and dignity, especially for future generations.”

A religious Jew and a devout Muslim find common ground
Elhanan Miller is a kippa-wearing Orthodox Jew and Thana Jawabreh is a devout Muslim who covers her head; together, they created a project to educate members of each other’s faith and break down barriers.
The concept of inner faith exists in Judaism as well as Islam, but the concept is understood differently in the two religions. Elhanan Miller, an Orthodox Jew, and Thana Jawabreh, an Arab Muslim, created the “close neighbor” project, a series of videos uploaded to the People of the Book YouTube channel,  intended to create an interdenominational and cultural bridge between Jews and Muslims in Israel.
“I like to say that I am religious,” Jawabreh says. “There are people who are just Muslims, without any commitment. They were born Muslim but are essentially secular.”
“Both religions are focused on faith, and then there are the ritual commandments required to lead a religious life,” says Miller. “I wonder if the two can be separated. You (Muslims) also have words like ‘religious,’ ‘committed,’ and believer.’ Can one be religious without believing in the whole narrative?”
Jawabreh: “I define myself as religious and there are some people who are mere Muslims. We have no equivalent in Islam to someone who is religious but does not believe in the whole religious narrative. A religious person believes in the entire narrative. They may have some reservations but not on the principles. Most people I meet among my crowd are more traditional and less religious. Some will not allow their daughters to be out later than seven or eight o’clock at night and are deliberate in their dress, but they won’t call themselves religious but rather traditional.”
“I like to say that I am religious,” Jawabreh says. “There are people who are just Muslims, without any commitment. They were born Muslim but are essentially secular.”
Miller: “In Judaism, there are many devoutly religious people who accept without question every word of Jewish scripture. But those who study at university and engage in research know that there are frequently gaps between what science tells us about our history and the narrative conveyed by the Torah and Jewish texts. It can cause an identity crisis for religious people.”
Miller says that he handles the issue by not concentrating on the big, cosmic issues. He prefers to not focus on the essence of God and the question of divine justice:
“In the 20th century, with all the wars and disasters that have taken place for us and the Muslims, it is very difficult to talk about a God who is just, at least in the way we understand such concepts of ‘good’ and ‘justice.’ It’s much more complex than that. I am more attached to the concept of “observant,” because as far as I am concerned, my connection to Judaism is expressed in practice and in this system of laws which I call Judaism.
“There is a widespread phenomenon of people abandoning their religious faith, ex-religious, who remove their head covering,” Miller continues. “There is hardly a religious family that does not have at least one child who went through such a phase. It is a phenomenon that is swept under the rug, there is an aspect of shame involved, but it is widespread. Is there something similar among Muslims?”
Jawabreh: “The issue has not been investigated thoroughly. Recently, there have been quite a few women who have chosen to remove their head covering… Go to Baka (al-Gharbiyeh) and see how the mother wears devout Muslim garb and her daughter is wearing jeans and a short-sleeved shirt with her hair down. Something about her mother’s religiosity was not conveyed to her.
“I think there was a religious renaissance in the 80s, but it didn’t last. If those women understood the religion something would have been passed on. But apparently there exists a mental block regarding the religious fundamentals. Universal ethics draw inspiration from our religions – Islam, Christianity and Judaism,” she says.
Miller: “I believe that there is a problem with role models in religion. Children and young people lack role models and often, leaving religion stems from a feeling that adults are hypocritical. People avoid talking about their difficulties with religion and faith and it creates alienation among the youth. What we are trying to do with this project is discuss the personal experience in our religion in order to attract the young.”
Jawabreh: “I think there is a problem of the inability to accept criticism within our religious community. If I have a problem with one verse in the Quran, leaving religion is still a far cry. But religious institutions have trouble accepting this; they should be examining the interpretation of the text and see if it remains appropriate.
“I always claimed that there is male domination of religion. For example, it is written in the Quran that a woman inherits half compared to the man, but in Arab society in Palestine and in other places women do not inherit at all. It is demeaning to have to ask for our rights from our parents who bequest their inheritance to the brothers. The clerics will not talk about it because it does not affect them,” she adds.
Since her childhood in the northern town of Fureidis, Jawabreh has been careful to perform the five daily prayers required by Muslims. Similar to Orthodox Jewish feminists, she watched how her mother – a female cleric – made progress on the issue of Muslim women in the mosques.
“My mother always believed that women must see the imam (Muslim leader) during prayers otherwise the prayer is less valid. She always said that a mosque should not be two stories high so that if one sees that the imam made a mistake, they can notify him. For example, the bow which is essential to the prayer ceremony (must be performed correctly) and a woman must know this.
“So, my mother opened the first women’s mosque in our town and she leads the prayers for the women. She stands in front and the others are in rows behind her,” she said.
Adherents of Islam are required to perform five prayers daily. The morning prayer is called Fajr and is performed shortly before sunrise. The second, Zuhr, is performed just after midday; the third prayer, Asr, is performed in the afternoon; the fourth, Maghrib, after sunset and the final prayer, Isha, is performed at night.
Devotees of both Judaism and Islam both face difficulties waking up for morning prayers and if you thought that the Muezzin (who recites the call to prayer over loudspeakers) is the solution, “the Muezzin simply does not do his job, “she says. “I understand that his calls may not be so pleasant for Muslim ears but he does not wake us.”
Some Muslims combine two prayers that are performed adjacent to one another, similar to how some Jews perform the Mincha service just before sundown and then pray the evening Ma’ariv evening service, all in one synagogue visit.
“Our prayers are different than yours because it is not merely the recitation of texts but rather it is about a dialogue with God,” Jawabreh says. “(In Judaism) part of our prayers consist of supplications,” interjects Miller, “but the prayers are not always personal, they are phrased generically.”
In Islam it’s a bit different. “There are texts that allow for improvisation, you can say whatever is on your heart. We also have supplications which involve submission to God and talking to him through your heart,” she says.
Jawabreh: “The Quran consists of 114 chapters and the final chapter has a number of short verses. Many Muslims, myself among them, find it easy to remember those verses and recite them during prayers. The more pious Muslims recite longer verses in their prayers.”
“There exists some tension between spontaneous prayer and prayers that are set in established prepared texts,” says Miller. “Oftentimes we find ourselves automatically reciting our prayers mindlessly, with rote repetition, and our head is in another place. How do you make yourself focus?
Jawabreh nods in agreement. “It’s the same by us and I believe that we are not praying correctly… Prayer should be combined with meditation, which I recently began doing and I fell that it strengthens my connection with God. During prayers, I think about life, about the children and work… I want to further work on combining prayer and meditation.”
Miller makes an effort to pray with a minyan (quorum of 10 men), at least on Fridays and Saturdays, similar to how Muslims gather at the mosque on Friday. Jawabreh explains that in Islam, praying together has a special potency. “They say that Satan cannot enter a group of people, therefore it is advised that men, not necessarily women, pray together in a mosque and not at home.
“Our women don’t need to go to the mosque for prayers; it is incumbent on men. We women pray at home but we can pray together at home,” she adds. “I recall my mother would lead the prayers and we would stand behind her. On Friday’s women go to the mosque to pray on the second floor, but the (male) sheikh leads the prayers.”
If you would like to watch the videos included in this article, please go to https://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-5491947,00.html
Elhanan Miller is a journalist, researcher and student of Jewish law at the Harel Academy in Jerusalem.

Christian And Jewish Congregations Celebrate Easter And Passover Under One Roof
By Jamie Doolittle
Under the banner of “One House, Two Families,” two major congregations in Miami decided to take a stand against divisiveness during this Passover and Easter weekend.
On Sunday, Unity on the Bay, a non-denominational church, held its Easter Sunday Service at Temple Israel of Greater Miami, just hours after the celebration of the second night of Passover.
“I think it is exciting and meaningful to have people worshiping God in a structure that was built just for that. The two holidays are always connected by the calendar, but in spirit they are connected in someways too,” says Scott Brockman, the Director of Temple Israel of Greater Miami.
To emphasize the commonality, a sign that reads “One House, Two Families” was placed at the entrance of the Temple to greet all believers.
Reverend Chris Jackson, senior minister at Unity on the Bay, said he hoped this Easter Celebration could convey to the South Florida community  that people do not have to come from a common belief system, but with respect and love they can embrace each other as human beings.
“I think above everything else it symbolizes that people of differences, even sometimes radical differences, can still come together as members of a human family and recognize that we are in this all together,” said Jackson.
The two congregations have a history of collaboration and friendship, according to Brockman.
About 5 years ago, the membership of Unity on the Bay decided to sell their property to fund a new home that could better support their growing ministry and community. With the deadline for the move looming, they reached out to Temple Israel for a temporary venue for services.
Brockman said when Unity on the Bay contacted them about the partnership he did not hesitate to say yes. He said he wanted to honor the strong Jewish belief in hospitality.
Brockman says this weekend is a symbolic representation of their partnership.
“Saturday night the synagogue is holding a second Seder, it is the second night of Passover, and just hours later in the morning, Chris will be leading Sunrise services, just in the same space we are holding our Seder,” said Brockman.
Looking forward, Jackson said the two congregations are looking into the possibility of holding interfaith services on Sundays.

Russia’s largest yeshiva attacked with arson and swastikas ahead of Passover
(From the Times of Israel)
No one reported injured in fire at Torat Chaim in eastern Moscow, hours before 60 people gathered for traditional seder meal .
MOSCOW, Russia – Jewish officials said Friday an arson fire was set at the largest yeshiva in Russia just ahead of the Passover meal celebration. Swastikas were also sprayed on the seminary.
No one was reported injured in the early Friday fire at the Torat Chaim school in an eastern Moscow suburb.

There were about 60 students, rabbis and guests in the building at the time, the state news agency RIA-Novosti reported. While Russia has a long history of anti-Semitism, it has noticeably declined under Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

Putin has made considerable efforts to reach out to Russian Jewish communities, both within his state’s borders and in Israel. His country’s chief rabbi, Berel Lazar, is a close confidante.
He has encouraged the restoration of dozens of synagogues destroyed under communism and taken a hard-line on anti-Semitism.

For millennials, mysticism
shows a path to their home faiths
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (RNS) – Anthony Graffagnino describes himself spiritually as both frustrated and curious. A Pentecostal turned Unitarian, the 28-year-old Graffagnino said he’s had his fill with “stale and dead expressions of faith that I saw really doing nothing to better the people around me or the world around me.”
Discovering the Christian mystical tradition through the work of Franciscan friar Richard Rohr helped change that.
“Father Richard’s work allowed an entryway into Christianity when I didn’t think there was any,” said Graffagnino, who is studying to be an interfaith chaplain at Starr King School for the Ministry, a Unitarian Universalist seminary in Berkeley, Calif.
Graffagnino was one of a number of millennials drawn to The Universal Christ – a four-day conference in New Mexico’s capital last month led by Rohr, one of the preeminent Christian contemplatives of the last century.
Pentecostal in his early childhood, Unitarian through his teen years and then spiritually unaffiliated until he began “flirting with the Quakers” in his late 20s, Graffagnino also has explored Vedic Hinduism, spiritual Taoism, mystical Judaism, and Sufism.
Rohr’s work has been a bridge between those spiritual traditions and his native Christianity, where they have “found a resting place in my own backyard,” he said.
While many younger Americans today are spiritually unaffiliated, aka “nones” – a quarter of all adults under the age of 30 in the United States say they don’t identify with any religion or spiritual tradition, according to the Pew Center for Religion and Public Life – millennials are increasingly finding contemplative spirituality appealing.
“One of my publishers says (younger Christians) are my biggest demographic – not Catholics but post-evangelicals,” Rohr told Religion News Service in an interview a few days before The Universal Christ conference began in late March.
“The collectives are emerging outside of formal religion, for the most part, because we became too insular,” the 76-year-old Catholic mystic said. “They’ve imbibed this kind of universal sacred, and we’re seeing this especially in the millennials. They just put us to shame.”
Whether it’s in the stillness of silent meditation, walking a labyrinth, or centering prayer; the practice of engaging with scripture through Lectio Divina, the Ignatian tradition’s Daily Examen; or a combination of Buddhist mindfulness, Kundalini breath work and Taizé prayer, many young adults are happy (to borrow a line from Van Morrison) to sail into the mystic.
“My heart speaks to me in the silence,” said Laurie Wevers, 35, a mental health therapist and spiritual director in San Diego.
Growing up as an evangelical Christian in the Midwest, Wevers wasn’t exposed to contemplative practice or mystical tradition. Then, a professor at her Christian college in Minnesota suggested she meet with a spiritual director.
Laurie Wevers, left, 35, a mental health therapist and spiritual director from San Diego, and Tracy Bindel, 30, a law student and anti-racism activist from Boston, stand with a cardboard cutout of Richard Rohr while holding table stanchions looking for “young-er” and “under 40” contemplatives for a meet-up after an evening session at The Universal Christ conference in Albuquerque, N.M. RNS photo by Cathleen Falsani
While similar in practice to psychological talk therapy, spiritual direction’s aim is different. In the Christian tradition, a spiritual director is a person of faith who is trained to help guide other people of faith into a deeper relationship with God.
Like all contemplative traditions, it places a high value on personal experience with the divine.
In the dozen or more years since Wevers found contemplative spirituality through spiritual direction, she has become a spiritual director herself and earned a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy.
Most recently she enrolled in The Living School, an intensive two-year program of study in contemplative practice and mystical tradition at The Center for Action and Contemplation, founded by Rohr in Albuquerque 32 years ago.
“Being contemplative and being quiet did something to my heart and brought peace – it brought change without me having words (for) how that happened,” said Wever, adding that other contemplatives, including Christians Parker Palmer, Meister Ekhart and St. John of the Cross and the Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron, also have influenced her faith and practice.
“I can’t imagine doing a non-contemplative spirituality,” she said.
Presently, about half of the Center for Action and Contemplation’s four-dozen staff members are millennials – including Executive Director Michael Poffenberger.
“Richard’s definition of mysticism is experiential knowledge of God, and in evangelical-speak you could call that the ‘personal relationship with Jesus Christ,'” said Poffenberger, 36, who grew up in Washington state, the son of an Irish Catholic mother and a Protestant father.
While he was reared largely as a Roman Catholic, Poffenberger, who joined Rohr’s staff in 2014, spent a few years in evangelical Protestant communities as a teenager.
“I had more of what I would call mystical experiences through evangelical worship than I ever did through my Catholic formation experience,” he said.
Poffenberger’s first exposure to Christian mysticism came during his college years at the University of Notre Dame, where he became involved in social justice efforts. One spring break, he spent a week at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky (the Trappist community where Thomas Merton was a member) reading Dorothy Day’s autobiography, “The Long Loneliness.” “I was radicalized by that experience,” he said.
Later, during a summer spent volunteering alongside Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta, India, Poffenberger had a life-changing mystical experience. In the evenings, after working with the Missionaries of Charity sisters as they tended to the poorest of the poor in their Home for the Dying, the community gathered in the chapel for the eucharistic adoration, where they would sit in silent meditation.
“Serving dying people throughout the day and then just sitting in total silence for an hour in the evening alongside these women who are just such symbols of love and courage in the world… It’s hard to then go on with life after that as if something hasn’t changed,” he said. After graduating from Notre Dame, Poffenberger relocated to Washington, D.C., where he worked for a decade on various anti-violence efforts in Central Africa. At a men’s retreat during his tenure there, he became acquainted with Rohr’s contemplative work.
“A lot of struggles I had were around power-privilege questions for me as somebody working in D.C.,” he said. “What I experienced in Richard was an access point into the spirituality that actually gave meaning to those deeper questions and spoke to the reality of suffering that I was seeing and engaging with, and trying to make sense out of it.”
Tracy Bindel, an anti-racism activist, attends law school in Boston and runs Freedom Beyond Whiteness, a nationwide network of contemplative action circles. For her, the Center for Action and Contemplation has been a spiritual community where she doesn’t have to hide any part of herself.
Bindel grew up in an evangelical Christian community where she learned about the power of prayer. But as a young adult coming to terms with her sexuality, she felt she no longer fit in that tradition.
“When I realized that it didn’t welcome my queerness, I kind of pulled that string and many other things fell apart in the world for me,” Bindel said. “Once I knew very clearly that I was a beloved child of God, it just became a matter of how do I actually live into that truth? The church that I grew up in didn’t affirm that.” Eventually, with the help of Rohr, who teaches that “everything belongs,” she found a home in completive practice.
Wes Lambert’s unlikely path toward mysticism began a decade ago when he was a Southern Baptist teenager. Some friends asked if they could lay hands on him and pray over him, something that to a very “hands-off” Baptist was an uncomfortable proposition. But Lambert relented, and when he did, something happened that changed his faith and life.
“This white light kind of overcame me and I ended up-the best way to describe it is in a trance-and I saw this vision of Jesus,” said Lambert, 27, who works in the fashion industry in New York City. “For me, my whole faith was in my head… This is what God had to do to get me out of my box.”
Years later, after a relationship breakup sparked a period of questioning everything-including his faith-Lambert turned to meditation, which eventually led to a five-month stay in 2017 at the Trappist-run Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Ga.
“The silence and contemplation has really kept me grounded, holding the paradoxical questions of faith,” Lambert said.
The contemplative tradition is “expansive enough… that it leaves room as you grow,” he said. “To be Christian is to see Christ in everything.”

Thousands of miles and hundreds of years separate St. Mary’s Basilica in Livonia from many of the 
most revered cathedrals in the world.
 

On a recent Wednesday Vlasios Tsotsonis worked to bridge a continental divide as he brought the divine to the Wayne County church. Perched high on scaffolding in the northern cove of the basilica’s sanctuary, in paint-splattered pants, Tsotsonis writ large the scene of the Passion of Christ. He is nearing completion of a years-long masterpiece of which his canvas covers hundreds of feet of walls and ceilings with Biblical iconography in St. Mary’s sanctuary.
 
“This art is a window to heaven,” Father George Shalhoub said, gazing up and around the church with a smile. “It is what we are expected to be and where we are going. All these icons are not worshipped, but they are honored and venerated to give us a taste of the kingdom of God here on Earth and in Heaven.” He had searched the world over to find an artist who could create something worthy of the old world’s masters since the church opened in 2003. In that quest for the best, Shalhoub commissioned Tsotsonis, a Greek artist he calls “the Michelangelo of the 21st century.” The artwork has been in progress for the past 12 years and is expected to be fully completed by December.
 
The altar was the first phase, completed in 2007. Next in 2014 was the dome fresco, 100 feet above the floor of the sanctuary. Tsotsonis returned this January to finish the final phase of his masterpiece, the majority of which will be done by June. He notes he had already been working on this particular phase for more than a year at home and now, having painted each day since January in St. Mary’s, he feels some impatience to see the work completed.
“This is also what I do daily while I’m in Greece, so my routine hasn’t changed in terms of work,” he said. “This gives me the sensation that I’ve lived in this space for a long time. There’s the feeling of continuity in everything.”His biggest challenge is to create in the accompanying architecture, a spiritual, almost metaphysical feeling to the believer, while his reward is the ability to praise God and show his devotion through his paintings.
“I believe that my artistic journey doesn’t begin from me, but from a necessity to serve something that has always been inside me since I was a kid, but I was never able to explain what that is,” Tsotsonis said. “My reward for all I did is the fact that I didn’t waste my life, I dedicated my life to creation.”
 
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