Author Archive

November 2020

Written by WISDOM on . Posted in Newsletters

Calendar for WISDOM and Other Interfaith Events 
Tuesday, December 8, 7:00 PM Five Women Five Journeys
Insight Through Education, Inc.” Irma Blauner, V.P. for Programming, Palm Spring, FL.
Starting November 11th, The Jewish Wisdom of Jesus
See Flyer Below
November 16th 7:00 – 8:30 PM  Women Confronting Racisom Webinar  See Flyer Below
Tuesday, December 1 at 6:30 PM Mosaic Art Tile Outing with Song and Spirit Institute for Peace.  See Flyer Below


The Jewish Wisdom of Jesus,
and the Roots of Modern Spiritual Practice
Hazzan Steve Klaper
Song and Spirit Institute for Peace
4 classes  |  90 minutes each  |  $60
Wednesdays on Zoom at 7:00 pm
Nov. 11  –  Nov. 18  –  Nov. 25  –  Dec 2
Judaism and Christianity have each removed Jesus from his place in the lineage of Jewish teachers, but his deeply Jewish message can be understood almost entirely as a daring attempt to re-form and renew the Judaism of his day. In this 4-part interfaith class, we place Jesus in historical context as an innovative, first century teacher of Jewish wisdom. We’ll compare and contrast Kaddish and the Lord’s Prayer as examples of early rabbinic liturgy, explore the intent of the Beatitudes as a means of teaching Torah to the masses, examine the parables as they sounded to 1st Century ears, and much more. Join Hazzan Steve Klaper in exploring the life and teachings of the most famous Jewish teacher in history, in a respectful and spiritual way.

About a dozen WISDOM sisters and friends braved cloudy and chilly weather to visit the Yates Cider Mill in Rochester on October 19, enjoying fresh cider and donuts in a covered picnic area. Those in attendance agreed it was wonderful to see people in the flesh rather than on Zoom. The conversation ranged from pandemic woes to children’s books and, of course, what’s going on in our state and our nation. Several of those who came brought friends or relatives who were new to WISDOM. Here’s hoping we can plan some more socially distanced in-person gatherings soon!

Award-winning Birmingham Educator Rick Joseph Named New Chairman of World Sabbath
After 20 years, World Sabbath, a Detroit faith-based event that brings youth and adults together one Sunday each year to offer prayers of peace as an answer to global wars and conflict, is changing leadership. Birmingham language arts and social studies teacher Rick Joseph, who in 2016 was recognized by the Northwest Evaluation Association as Michigan Teacher of the Year, will take over the chairmanship position as Gail Katz steps down after 20 years of involvement and service.
Usually held in March, World Sabbath draws hundreds of worshippers and participants into a house of prayer into a multi-sensory experience with prayers, songs, and dance. Planning a future event will be a challenge due to the ongoing pandemic, Joseph acknowledges. The next in-person World Sabbath is not slated until early 2022 and is set to be hosted by Temple Israel. To mark the day in 2021, Joseph hopes he can coordinate with local religious leaders and educators to create an online compilation and collection of expressions and prayers for peace across Detroit’s diverse faith population.
Joseph believes that World Sabbath is the embodiment of “what makes us spiritual beings and is a celebration of the ties that bind us in how we come together in peace to acknowledge the Creator.” Children ph. articipating in the Parade of Flags, World Sabbath. “Coming together as we do each year at World Sabbath helps create a more peaceful loving world. I am looking forward to cultivating relationships with local religious and educational leaders to increase the diversity represented at World Sabbath.
As a social studies teacher, Joseph always encourages his students to have deeper conversations by asking hard and sometimes uncomfortable questions to learn how to respectfully engage in civic discourse. Joseph said that sometimes, questions that can come off as offensive are okay if they are framed in a curious, non-accusatory manner. When a student learns effective communication tools such as how to ask questions on sensitive topics, everyone comes out ahead if it means those questions lead to learning and understanding more about another student’s religious or ethnic backgrounds.
“There are no elephants in my classroom. No topic – religion, politics, race – is off the table. And though sometimes some questions or opinions raised by one student may seem offensive or even bigoted to another, I see them asking the question from a point of curiosity. It is then my job to reframe the question so it will have constructive and educational results.” Joseph looks forward to his new role and hopes to continue Katz’s legacy of “creating community wherever she goes and whomever she comes in contact with.”
“Gail Katz is truly one of the most inspiring educators that I know. She is a true role model for me. From her work on World Sabbath to starting Religious Diversity Journeys, she has shepherded and facilitated relationships that span across religious differences and across Metro Detroit. She is somebody whom I aspire to and will continue to learn from as I move into this position.”
As a Catholic, Joseph looks to the verse from the Book of Matthew 5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” for inspiration as he embarks on this new leadership chapter in his life to encouraging others across faiths to seek to achieve peace. He is eager to work with other faith leaders who can bring youth from different faith and ethnic perspectives together for future World Sabbath events. There is a possibility that there will be an online event in 2021 and for that, he is seeking people to submit videos illustrating peace practices in their religious traditions, rituals, or texts.
In 2000, Detroit area pastors Rev. Rod Reinhart and Rev. Ed Mullins introduced Katz to the program concept as they sought to create an annual peace event for clergy as a reaction to wars going on around the world. When Rev. Reinhart and Rev. Mullins departed the Detroit area in 2004 and turned the coordination of World Sabbath over to Katz. At the time, she was a Middle School teacher so she put her own spin on the event by asking area youth to participate and offer prayers of peace instead of clergy. Twenty years later, Katz said it is time to “pass the championship torch on” to Joseph. “I’m looking forward to staying on the World Sabbath committee and watching Rick take over as the new chairman of the World Sabbath, who will add his own insights and new ideas to the event as he encourages his own students to become involved in projects that increase their understanding of diversity.”

Bosom Buddies
Israeli and Palestinian Breast Cancer Survivors
Forge a Unique Alliance.
By Michele Chabin – Detroit Jewish News, October 1, 2020
Ibtisam Erekat, a devout Muslim, and Ruth Ebenstein, a Modern Orthodox  , have much more than breast cancer survival in common.
Jerusalem -Growing up in Southfield, Ruth Ebenstein always felt energized by the ethnic and religious diversity that characterizes Metro Detroit life. So when Ebenstein, who moved to Israel in 1990, was diagnosed with breast cancer 10 years ago, it felt natural for her to join a Jerusalem breast cancer support group for Jewish and Palestinian women. “When I found out about this breast cancer support group, I thought it would be a great way to forge a connection,” Ebenstein said. “Breast cancer is a huge thing to have in common.”
In addition to seeking the support group’s advice and reassurance, Ebenstein was hoping to find friendship. “I was looking for someone going through the same experience to connect with. I felt lonely on this journey.” The woman she connected with – to the point of feeling like sisters – is Ibtisam Erekat, a Palestinian breast cancer survivor who lives in Abu Dis, a Palestinian village on the other side of Israel’s soaring security barrier that separates the West Bank from Jerusalem.
As the political impasse and mistrust between Israelis and Palestinians has grown, so has their devotion to each other.  Erekat, a devout Muslim, and Ebenstein, a Modern Orthodox Jew, have much more than breast cancer survival in common. Both were in their 30s when they married divorced men with children, and both gave birth to three children within three years. And they both believe that love can overcome hate.
“Ibtisam is so comfortable with herself, something we have in common,” Ebenstein said. “She’s strong-willed in the best sense; she has her own opinions. She’s warm, has a wonderful sense of humor and incredible faith.” Soon, they began meeting outside the confines of the support group, woman-to-woman, and, later, family-to-family. Their common language is English. “We talk about everything,” Ebenstein said. When they talk about the “hard stuff” – terror attacks, wars – they discuss how these events relate to their personal lives.
During the 2014 Israel-Gaza war, for example, the friends leaned on each other for emotional support as Hamas launched thousands of mortars and rockets into Israel, and the IDF retaliated, decimating parts of Gaza.
On a day-to-day level, “if I hear of something that happened in Abu Dis, I’ll check in and see if she’s OK,” Ebenstein said. “Ibtisam does the same for me.”
Erekat initially joined a Palestinian support group, and then joined the Jewish Israeli-Palestinian group through the Patient’s Friends Association at Augusta Victoria Hospital in eastern Jerusalem.
“It was a beautiful experience where we got to know a group of Israeli and Arab women,” she said. She was struck by Ebenstein’s warmth and desire to help Palestinian group members. “She treated me with great respect and helped me in several situations,” Erekat said. The more time they spent together, the more their friendship blossomed.  “I got to know her family, her father, mother, sister and two brothers, and also her husband Yonatan. He is a very fun person and respects me, and I appreciate this about him. I respect them, and love them all,” Erekat said. Eventually, the friendship evolved into speaking engagements in the U.S. and Israel. Erekat and Ebenstein addressed groups, large and small, about their unique relationship and the fact that individual Israelis and Palestinians have the power to overcome ingrained hatred by seeing each other as people. They’ve started giving talks over Zoom to groups near and far. “We’re individuals,” Ebenstein said. “She’s not Palestine. I’m not Israel. She’s Ibtisam; I’m Ruth.” Along the way, Ebenstein has learned about Palestinian culture – and suffering. “Getting close to someone across the divide has taught me how much we don’t know about the ‘other.’ Getting close to someone makes you see how little you know. It really hammers it home.”
Erekat, who has asthma, lives close to the Separation Barrier. Sometimes there are skirmishes between Palestinians and Israeli military or border police, and the tear gas wafts into her home.
“She can be vomiting for hours from the tear gas, but if you don’t know anyone affected, you wouldn’t know that this is happening,” Ebenstein said. “You don’t realize an innocent person sitting on her couch will be sick for hours, or that many Palestinians who are sick can’t get an entry permit into Israel for much-needed medical treatment.
“As a cancer survivor the thought of not being able to get treatment is frightening,” both for herself and Erekat, Ebenstein said. “We are an occupied people,” Erekat said. “At first, when I got to know Ruti, I could not visit her at her home except with a permit from the Israeli government. Then the laws changed, and I was allowed in without a permit because I’m over 50 years old. Now such a visit is forbidden, possibly related to the Coronavirus pandemic.” For the vast majority of Israelis, Palestinians are “arbitrary concepts,” Ebenstein said. Having a dear friend who is Palestinian “changed so much for me.” Erekat feels the same way. “We have our own bodies but share one soul. We feel each other’s pain and help each other in many matters. Ruti is my sister and best friend,” Erekat said.

Ardeth Platte, Dominican nun dedicated to no-nukes cause, dies at 84
Religion News Service
Ardeth Platte (in the center) leading a prayer service
Sister Ardeth Platte, a Dominican order nun who fought for nuclear disarmament and later served as an inspiration for a character on the popular Netflix show “Orange Is the New Black,” died in her sleep at the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker House in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday (Sept. 30). Platte, 84, who often worked in tandem with her best friend and frequent collaborator, Sister Carol Gilbert, spent years in prison for nonviolent civil disobedience in opposition to nuclear weapons and war.
It was Gilbert who discovered Platte on Wednesday morning. She had apparently been listening to the radio, as she was still wearing headphones when Gilbert found her. Gilbert said Platte had listened to the presidential debate Tuesday night. In recent years, the duo spent the brunt of their work speaking in support of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Gilbert said she had been excited Wednesday morning at the prospect of telling Platte that Malaysia had become the 46th nation to ratify the treaty. Malaysia’s decision means just four additional ratifications are needed for the landmark disarmament treaty to be brought into force, Gilbert said. Gilbert said Platte did her final Zoom presentation in support of the treaty on Saturday to the Boston University School of Theology.
“I’m numb,” Gilbert said in a telephone interview. “She was fine yesterday. We did work. I guess you just don’t think death can come that quickly.”
Platte was born in Lansing, Michigan, and began her work for the Dominicans as a teacher. In the 1960s and ’70s, she served as principal and director of alternative education at the former St. Joseph’s Educational Center in Saginaw, Michigan. Her work as an educator impressed many in the community, and Platte was urged to run for the Saginaw City Council. She won, serving as councilwoman from 1973-1985. She also served as coordinator of Saginaw’s Home for Peace and Justice for more than a decade. It was in Michigan that Platte began her anti-nuclear work, and where Gilbert joined her. Later, the pair moved to Baltimore to join the Jonah House resistance community with Elizabeth McAlister and Philip Berrigan.  In 2002, Platte, Gilbert and Sister Jackie Hudson gained international attention when they dressed as weapons inspectors, entered and were arrested at a Minuteman III nuclear missile site in Colorado. Convicted of federal felony charges, the three nuns were sentenced to prison. Hudson died in 2011.
When Platte and Gilbert returned to Colorado in 2017 for a rally, a story in The Denver Post stated: “In the years since they served their sentences in federal prison, the Dominican sisters, hardly deterred by the threat of future incarceration, have become pop culture icons.” A character on the Netflix series “Orange Is the New Black” was based on Platte, who practiced yoga at Danbury Federal Correctional Institution with Piper Kerman, author of the book on which the series about a group of women serving time in a minimum-security women’s prison is based.
A documentary film about the sisters, called “Conviction,” led to stories about the trio being published in The New Yorker, The New York Times and The Washington Post, as well as some international publications. In recent months, Platte and Gilbert joined actress Jane Fonda for large protests at the White House. Gilbert, who called 911 when she realized Platte had died, said the Catholic Worker house was soon crawling with D.C. police.
“I wanted to tell Ardeth that even in death you have to make a scene, made our bedroom here into a crime scene.” In an email announcement of Platte’s sudden death sent to many of her friends, Catholic activist Paul Magno of Jonah House wrote: “Deep shock to hear this but grateful for all that Ardeth has given to making the peace of Christ radiate through our world.”
In 2017, Platte told The Denver Post: “I refuse to have an enemy. I simply won’t.”

German Biker Gang Stages Vigil to Protect Munich Synagogue During Yom Kippur Services

by Algemeiner Staff

Members of the ‘Kuhle Wampe’ bikers club take part in a Yom Kippur solidarity vigil, outside the synagogue on Munich’s Jakobsplatz, Sept. 28, 2020. Photo: Thomas Vonier via imago-images / Reuters.
Members of a German bikers club staged a vigil outside the main synagogue in Munich on Monday pledging to protect the city’s Jewish community as it held services for Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. About 70 people – including 20 leather and denim-clad bikers from the “Kuhle Wampe” club – gathered outside the synagogue on Jakobsplatz to mark the first anniversary of the attack by a neo-Nazi gunman on a synagogue in the city of Halle in which two people were murdered. The club, which actively campaigns against racism and antisemitism, was first launched in the 1970s by bikers who opposed the nationalist and right-wing tendencies that dominated the scene at the time. Oliver Westermann, a biker who initiated the vigil, told the assembled crowd, “We’re here to protect the synagogue.” Other members of the club held up a white banner bearing the words “Together for Our Synagogue” in Hebrew.
Other speakers at the event included Charlotte Knobloch – the head of the Munich Jewish community – who recalled her enthusiasm when Westermann suggested the vigil a few weeks ago. Praising the bikers’ for their commitment, Knobloch said that “the name ‘Yom Kippur’ has sat heavily in our hearts since Halle.” More than 50 worshippers who attended the Halle synagogue on Yom Kippur in 2019 would have faced a certain massacre at the hands of the gunman, neo-Nazi Stephan Balliet, had the synagogue’s security doors not prevented his entry.
Another speaker at the vigil, Susanne Breit-Kessler, chairwoman of the Bavarian Ethics Council, released two white balloons in memory of the two people murdered by Balliet after he fled the synagogue.
“We give antisemitism, racism and neo-fascism a clear rejection,” she declared, adding, “L’Chaim! To life in diversity.”

Why ‘namaste’ has become the perfect pandemic greeting

(The Conversation) – Hands over the heart in prayer pose. A little bow of the head. A gesture of respect. An acknowledgment of our shared humanity. And no touching. As people the world over are choosing to ditch the handshakes and hugs for fear of contracting the coronavirus, namaste is becoming the perfect pandemic greeting. As a scholar whose research focuses on the ethics of communication and as a yoga teacher, I’m interested in how people use rituals and rhetoric to affirm their interconnectedness with one another – and with the world.
Namaste is one such ritual.

I bow to you. Originally a Sanskrit word, namaste is composed of two parts – “namas” means “bend to,” “bow to” or “honor to,” and “te” means “to you.” So namaste means “I bow to you.” This meaning is often reinforced by a small bow of the head. In Hindi and a number of other languages derived from Sanskrit, namaste is basically a respectful way of saying hello and also goodbye. Today, namaste has been adopted into the English language, along with other words from non-English sources. Many words, when borrowed, keep their spelling but acquire new meanings. This is the case with namaste – it has shifted from meaning “I bow to you” to “I bow to the divine in you.”

For many American yoga teachers, beginning most likely with Ram Dass in the 1960s and 1970s, namaste means something like “the divine light in me bows to the divine light within you.” This is the definition of namaste I first learned and have often repeated to my students.
In the words of the popular American yoga teacher Shiva Rea, namaste is “the consummate Indian greeting,” a “sacred hello,” that means “I bow to the divinity within you from the divinity within me.” Deepak Chopra repeats a similar definition on his podcast “The Daily Breath with Deepak Chopra“: namaste means “the spirit in me honors the spirit in you” and “the divine in me honors the divine in you.” Namaste has a sacred connotation. When you bow to another, you are honoring something sacred in them. When you bow to another, you are acknowledging that they are worthy of respect and dignity. I bow to the divine light in you
However, there are critics who say that global yogis have taken namaste out of its context. Some claim that the greeting has been infused with a religious meaning that doesn’t exist in Indian culture.
I see things differently. Many common salutations have religious roots, including adios, or “a Dios,” to God, and goodbye – a contraction of “God be with you.” Most Indian religions agree that there is something divine in all individuals, whether it’s a soul, called the “atman” or “purusha” in Hinduism, or the capacity for awakening in Buddhism. As I argue in my forthcoming book, “The Ethics of Oneness: Emerson, Whitman, and the Bhagavad Gita,” this idea, of bowing to the divine in others, also resonates with a deep spiritual inclination in American culture. Beginning in the 1830s and 1840s, the influential philosopher and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson, in dialogue with a number of other thinkers, invented a form of spiritual practice that encouraged Americans to actively address the divine soul in others every time they spoke. Of particular note is that Emerson often used the metaphor of light to imagine this inner divinity, likely because of his great admiration for the Quakers, whose Christian denomination holds that God lives inside of us all in the form of an “inner light.” The definition of namaste as “the divine light in me bows to the divine light in you” is very much in the spirit of both Indian religions and 19th-century traditions of American spirituality.
In today’s global yoga culture, namaste is typically said at the end of class. As I understand, for yogis, saying namaste is a moment of contemplating the virtues associated with yoga – including peacefulness, compassion, and gratitude and how to bring those into one’s daily life.
I asked Swami Tattwamayananda, the head of the Vedanta Society of Northern California in San Francisco and one of the world’s leading authorities on Hindu ritual and scripture, how he felt about Americans like me saying namaste. He responded: “It is perfectly appropriate for everyone, including Westerners like yourself to say namaste at the end of your yoga classes.” He also reiterated that namaste means “I bow down to you” – in the sense that I bow down to the divine presence in you.
One need not be a Hindu, or a Buddhist, or a yoga teacher to say namaste. Namaste can be as religious or secular as the speaker desires.
What matters most, I believe, is the intention behind the word namaste. When you bow to another, the question to consider is this: Do you truly recognize them as a fellow human being worthy of dignity, bonded in shared suffering and a shared capacity for transcendence?
This recognition of our interconnectedness is what namaste is all about – and exactly what we need during the pandemic.
(Jeremy David Engels is a professor of communication arts and sciences at Pennsylvania State University. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

HWPL Interfaith Prayer Meeting Unites Believers in Fervent Prayer to End Suffering from COVID-19
HWPL (Heavenly Culture World Peace and Restoration of Light) brings together almost 200 religious leaders and their members to join a virtual prayer meeting to pray for an end of COVID-19 and global peace. Religious leaders of different denominations gathered their congregations and joined HWPL to “lift up prayers as one” for the end of COVID-19 around the world. The pandemic has inflicted suffering around the world, and one organization is uniting believers of all faiths to pray for its expedient end. HWPL held its Interfaith Prayer Meeting Saturday and over 180 online attendees prayed in their native languages to their deity to help a cure be discovered sooner. They also fervently prayed in unison for leaders in religion, political, medical and science fields to unite and lead with wisdom and compassion.
“In the current situation where the world is suffering from COVID-19, the purpose of this prayer meeting is for religious people to pray as one to overcome this disaster by breaking down the barriers between denominations,” the Moderator said. “Today, through our prayers, petitions, cries, tears, and smiles and through peace, the world that is suffering because of the virus will change.”
Though religions may separate people by languages and customs, faith in a higher power is what united all of them at the Interfaith Prayer Meeting Saturday. Attendees wore masks in solidarity with health workers on the front lines. And HWPL Chicago hopes this meeting will inspire other religious organizations to also hold interfaith meetings to unite people to pray for COVID-19’s end.
The event opened with meditation, where a soothing voice urged listeners to quiet themselves and focus deeply as a Hindu mantra was spoken. A quote from the Bhagavad Gita was read that translated as ‘whenever wherever there is a decline in religious practice, oh Arjun whenever there is a predominant rise of irreligion, at that time I descend myself. To deliver the pious, to annihilate the evil & to establish the (re-establish) the principle of religion.’ (Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 4, Verse 7-8)
The opening of this beautiful virtual event set the tone for a peaceful unification where believers could worship freely, and some could be cleansed by the many prayers lifted. Likewise, the montage of beautiful landscapes and religious monuments around the world set to the soundtrack of Buddhist, Christian and Hindu hymns created a surprising sense of connectedness. Though attendees were alone in their homes across the country, they were united in faith by the sincerity of the Moderator and by the shared impact of the deadly coronavirus plague.
The Moderator led participants in prayer and silent meditation for seven distinctive prayers requested from religious leaders, quoting the Quran, the Bible, Gandhi and Buddha. With humility he said, “We are united first as human beings.” Then attendees prayed each prayer out loud in their native languages.
Together they prayed:
For an end to the coronavirus around the world.
For government and medical personnel who are working to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
That all people and religious leaders would become one through love and pray for the end of coronavirus.
For fellow citizens who are suffering because of the virus, and those who have lost loved ones to the virus.
For the development of an effective treatment for the coronavirus.
A prayer of repentance.
For unity of religions and world peace.
Witnessing a hundred-plus people, their heads bowed wearing surgical masks and praying with a fervent humble heart, to their god for an end to suffering around the world was truly an uplifting sight for attendees. Recounting the Biblical story of Apostle Paul, the Moderator said, “When one of us suffer we all suffer.”
HWPL Chicago is inspiring believers to come together and transcend religion and denomination to work with one heart and help heal the world.

A cyclist pedals past rows of unfinished clay idols of Hindu goddess Durga, outside a studio ahead of Durga Puja festival, in Kolkata, India, Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020. Durga Puja, will be celebrated from Oct. 22 to 26. (AP Photo/Bikas Das)

Muslim worshippers observe social distancing during Friday prayers in Rabat, Morocco, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. For the first time since the outbreak of coronavirus in March, Morocco has allowed mosques to reopen for Friday prayers. (AP Photo/Mosa’ab Elshamy)

October 2020

Written by WISDOM on . Posted in Newsletters

Calendar for WISDOM and Other Interfaith Events 
Monday, October 19, 4:00 PM Come Join us at Yates Cider Mill for Cider and Donuts, 1990 E. Avon Rd., Rochester Hills, MI 48307. See Flyer Below.
Tuesday, December 1, 7:00 PM WISDOM Art Project

– Mosaic tiles at Song and Spirit Institute for Peace, 1717 W. 13 Mile Rd., Royal Oak, MI 48073  Stay tuned for more information
Tuesday, December 8, 7:00 PM Five Women Five Journeys
Insight Through Education, Inc.” Irma Blauner, V.P. for Programming, Palm Spring, FL.

Shofar lessons are becoming a pre-holiday necessity in the age of coronavirus

Shofars, or ram’s horns, on display for sale at a workshop in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Sept. 22, 2014. A shofar is traditionally blown during several Jewish holidays. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
(RNS) – In the biblical account, the walls of Jericho came tumbling down after Joshua commanded seven priests to blow their ram’s horns or shofars.

This year, it will take a lot more than seven priests for the plaintive wail of the shofar to penetrate the walls of Jews sheltering in place for the Jewish High Holy Days. The coronavirus has left nearly all synagogues across the country shuttered. On Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, which begins at sundown Sept. 18, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which starts the evening of Sept. 27, most Jews will be streaming services from home. But Jewish law requires Jews to hear the shofar in person, and now many Jews are scrambling to figure out ways to provide that hornlike blast to as many people as possible, since rabbis say an online recording should be the last resort. While some Jewish homes have a shofar – mainly as a decorative ritual object – few American Jews actually use it. In most Jewish congregations, a handful of people trained in blowing a shofar are called upon year after year to do the honors in front of packed sanctuaries.
A man plays the shofar at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on Aug. 22, 2010, in Champaign, Illinois. Photo by Clay Gregory/Creative Commons

But ahead of the High Holidays this year, many people are dusting off their shofars and getting on Zoom with trained shofar blowers to learn how to use it for small groups gathered outdoors. Chabad, the Hasidic Jewish dynasty based in Brooklyn, last week began offering a three-session how-to class called “The Sound and the Spirit.” As of earlier this week, 4,000 people had registered for it. Rabbi Chanoch Kaplan, who serves at Chabad House in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, teaches the prerecorded class and expects many more to register in the coming days. (The course is free but has a $40 suggested donation.) Kaplan has been blowing shofars and teaching children in Hebrew school how to make them for more than 20 years. With a little instruction, he said, anyone can do it. But “obviously, practice makes perfect.”
Kaplan said he learned from his father, who used to stand at the Jewish-American Festival in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor year after year to teach passersby how to blow the shofar. “I looked up to him and I was mesmerized by the sound as it would penetrate the air and people stood and listened,” Kaplan said.
The shofar is harvested from the carcass of a ram or almost any other kosher animal; antelopes have particularly beautiful spiraling horns. They’re widely available online for as little as $30, though they can fetch much more. A shofar has to be completely empty of bone and cartilage to be used. This can be done manually with boiling water or oil or a blowtorch. Afterward, it can be cleaned and sanitized, sometimes sanded and polished. Any puncture, even if it is repaired, renders the shofar ritually unfit.
Hearing the shofar on Rosh Hashana is a mitzvah – a required, virtuous deed. It is intended to awaken the soul and prompt people to reflect on the past year and vow to return to God. The clarion call is so important to hear in person that many synagogues switch off any microphones or audio amplifiers before the shofar is blown. This year, because the first full day of Rosh Hashana falls on a Saturday, the shofar will not be blown until Sunday, the second day of the holiday.
There are three sound combinations blown on Rosh Hashana and they can be learned. “The most important thing I tell people is, it’s not about the amount of air you’re blowing,” Kaplan said. “It’s about your position. If you get the position right, it’s no problem whatsoever.”
In Raleigh, North Carolina, Beth Meyer Synagogue has assembled a shofar corps – a group of people who will go around to outdoor courtyards around nursing homes or assisted living complexes so elderly Jewish residents can hear the sound without leaving their rooms. “We have to be sensitive to the neighbors,” said Rabbi Eric Solomon. “But we’re excited about it.” Many synagogues will also be holding limited outdoor shofar blowing events – either in synagogue parking lots or in local parks. Public health experts say it’s safe to blow the shofar outdoors if people maintain proper distance. As an extra precaution, the Orthodox Union has issued guidelines recommending a surgical mask be wrapped over the wider end of the shofar. The fear is that some droplets from the blower could turn into aerosols, thus posing a COVID-19 infection risk. Adam Levine, a professor of math at Duke University who is active at Beth El Synagogue in Durham, North Carolina, said he owns two shofars, which he received as bar mitzvah gifts years ago. “I can’t really get much of a sound out of either one of them,” Levine said. “I’m hoping to get a little Zoom lesson in between now and then. I certainly am not going to put anyone’s shofar hearing in my hands. But if I can maybe try to learn to do it for myself it’ll be nice to take this opportunity.”

Pope Francis is flanked by the Rev. Georges Breidi, a Lebanese priest, right, as they hold a Lebanese flag in remembrance of last month’s explosion in Beirut, during the pontiff’s general audience, the first with faithful since the coronavirus outbreak began in February, at the San Damaso courtyard at the Vatican on Sept. 2, 2020. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

Shiite Muslims re-enact the 7th century battle of Karbala, during Ashura commemorations outside the holy shrine of Imam Hussein in Karbala, Iraq, Sunday, Aug. 30, 2020. Ashura marks the death of Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, at the Battle of Karbala in present-day Iraq. (AP Photo/Anmar Khalil)

Interfaith program brings Jews, Muslims together
Mid-Island Times
September 8, 2020
The Muslim and Jewish co-authors of a book promoting Muslim-Jewish friendship and trust appealed directly to members of their respective communities to “stand together to protect democracy, pluralism and religious liberty in America.”
Addressing a zoom forum co-sponsored by the Interfaith Institute of the Islamic Center of Long Island (ICLI) and Temple Or Elohim, A Community Reform Congregation, the speakers, Sabeeha Rehman and Walter Ruby, whose book We Refuse to be Enemies. How Muslims and Jews Can Make Peace, One Friendship at a Time (Arcade Publishing. April 2021), argued, “As members of the two largest minority faith communities in America, we must stand together at a portentous moment in American history. Neither of our communities will be able to prosper in an America characterized by xenophobia and bigotry.”
Rehman and Ruby, who have worked to strengthen Muslim-Jewish communication and cooperation since 9-11, believe that Jews and Muslims are natural allies who share a great deal including common Patriarchs and Matriarchs, and shared principles at the core of both faiths, including: ‘If You Save One Life, It Is As If You Save The World’; ‘Welcome the Stranger’; ‘Tikkun Olam and Islah-the common moral imperative to help those in need; and ‘Standing Up for the Other’.
Yet they acknowledged the roadblocks to Muslim-Jewish solidarity: the longstanding differences over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They argued, American Muslims and Jews cannot afford to let the conflict drive us apart, especially at a time when our collective well-being in America is at stake. We can agree to disagree respectfully, even as we contribute together to humanitarian efforts to save lives and improve the quality of life for Palestinians and Israelis alike.”
Rehman and Ruby shared their respective life journeys during which they were able to overcome longstanding biases. Rehman explained that growing up in Pakistan until the age of 20, she had never met a Jew and viewed Jews through the lens of the middle-east conflict; a viewpoint replicated in reverse by Ruby; who grew up in suburban Pittsburgh and for an extended period in Israel with a deeply negative perspective on Muslims and Arabs. They shared fascinating anecdotes about how their perspectives shifted as Sabeeha found herself “living in an Orthodox Jewish community on Staten Island and being attended by a Jewish obstetrician during her first pregnancy; while Walter spoke of sipping coffee and discussing politics with Palestinian Arabs as a young journalist and witnessing Yasser Arafat deliver the Palestinian Declaration of Independence. Ruby and Rehman spoke of their work in Muslim-Jewish relations, and of the eight-point roadmap they have developed for moving forward, that begins with: “We are Americans first. While the Israeli-Palestinian issue matters greatly, we live here, not there, and our collective well-being is at risk unless we stand up for each other and unite, together with other Americans dedicated to enhancing democracy and pluralism’
According to Laurel Fried, Vice President of Temple Or Elohim, A Community Reform Congregation, and moderator of the forum;  “Together with the Interfaith Institute, we were proud to sponsor this timely event, which powerfully made the case for Muslim-Jewish and Interfaith solidarity.” Dr. Faroque Khan, founder and president of the Interfaith Institute of ICLI, and a pioneer in Muslim-Jewish relations going back to the early 1990’s, commented, “Now more than ever, Muslims, Jews and interfaith allies need to come together and stand up for core American values that sustain us all.”

Report: College Students Care About Interfaith Dialogue, But Most Don’t Engage In It
September 2, 2020
Dr. Matthew Mayhew, a professor of educational administration at The Ohio State University, attended College of the Holy Cross, a Jesuit school, then transferred to Wheaton College, an Evangelical university. He got his master’s at Brandeis University, known for its vibrant Jewish community, and did his doctoral work at University of Michigan, a large, religiously diverse public institution.
For him, interfaith dialogue felt like a critical part of his higher education journey.
“All along the way, I made friends who thought about the world incredibly differently than I did,” Mayhew said. “In developing friendships, we would talk about life, we would talk about goals, we would talk about academics … It was just so enriching to share a common pursuit of wanting to understand the world but doing so from different perspectives.”
But according to a study he recently co-authored – the Interfaith Diversity Experiences & Attitudes Longitudinal Survey, or IDEALS – college students are enthusiastic about religious pluralism and interfaith dialogue, but most aren’t engaging in it.
The survey, conducted in partnership with Interfaith Youth Core, ultimately tracked 3,486 students from 116 institutions between 2015 and 2019, collecting data on their experiences with people holding different worldviews and their level of interest in creating interfaith connections. Students were surveyed three times over the course of their college careers.
The study found that 70% of fourth-year students reported a high commitment to bridging religious divides, with lesser percentages among certain groups, like politically conservative, atheist or Evangelical students. However, only 14% participated in interfaith dialogue on campus, and less than half of students said they dedicated time to learning about other religions in college.
The distance between how much students wanted to engage with different belief systems and how little they actually did surprised co-author Dr. Alyssa Rockenbach, a professor of higher education at North Carolina State University.
“There’s this gap that I think is important for us as educators to really think about,” Rockenbach said. “How can we help students bring their values and their behaviors into greater alignment?”
Granted, students from minority religions showed higher levels of interfaith involvement, while students who identified as secular engaged less. But that dynamic can be “problematic,” Rockenbach said. “If you have religiously minoritized students only engaged in interfaith work, that puts a lot of the burden on their shoulders to bring people together across these differences. And there’s an inequity in that.”
Plus, students from minority religions also report campus climate issues. While religious students largely felt like they had spaces for religious expression on campus, less than a third of Jewish students felt their campuses were receptive to religious diversity. About 58% of Muslim students said their campuses were at least somewhat accepting, but a fifth of Muslims also felt pressure to put limits on expressing their beliefs.
Ideally, campuses should offer opportunities “where people of all perspectives can come together and try to dialogue about their differences, about what they share in common, about how they can work together to make the world a better place,” Rockenbach said, including students who identify as secular.
But the data suggests students feel ill-equipped to do that. Only 32% of them felt like they learned skills for how to better engage with diverse belief systems in college. About three-quarters of fourth-year students scored a C grade or below on a religious literacy quiz. While 93% of students had at least one interfaith friendship by their last year, 59% of college students had never had a disagreement about religious differences, which signaled to the authors that they might not be talking about faith deeply.
In interviews with students, Mayhew also found that discussions about religion between peers was difficult, more so than dialogue about other kinds of diversity, because talking about religion “cues choice for students.” In these conversations, students risk proselytizing or being proselytized to – and that can be “really sticky.”
Still, friendships help, Mayhew noted, because they create a more comfortable context for those hard conversations and give students a greater appreciation of other worldviews. He worries about how to encourage that in a pandemic where so many students are taking classes online.
“Given COVID, how do we design environments that help students become friends?” he said. “Are we in the business of friendship engineering? Should we be? Is it possible for first-year students to develop authentic friendships via a series of Zoom classes? Those are questions that haunt me … Peer effect is important for all types of learning.”
The report ultimately recommends instituting policies that promote religious inclusion, like accommodations for religious holidays and dietary restrictions. It also calls for at least one mandatory class in the curriculum that explicitly teaches students about diverse religious identities.
Leaders of public higher education institutions have “some hesitancy” about fostering dialogue about religion because of concerns about the separation of church of state, Rockenbach said, but “our beliefs and values about a whole host of social issues – many of the things that we see happening in terms of the culture wars in our society – come from our worldview. So, if we aren’t able to understand one another’s worldviews, it’s going to make it hard to have those kinds of conversations about the critical issues that we see facing our society right now.”
Sara Weissman can be reached at

Building interfaith community at work
Religion News Service
September 14, 2020
(Interfaith America) – There are lots of ways to be an “only” at work; mine has always been my faith. I’m a visibly Muslim woman who’s been wearing a headscarf, aka hijab, since I was 16 years old, out of my own desire and love for my faith. In the month of Ramadan I fast in an office filled with free snacks, regular lunch meetings and all the coffee one’s heart can desire. I strive to pray five times a day, which can be hard when there’s no space to pray at work. I don’t drink alcohol and feel a bit uncomfortable at bars and happy hours where much of the team building and socializing happens. And I eat meat, but only if it’s halal (that’s like the Muslim kosher), which basically means I’m a vegetarian at work.
I was born and raised in Miami, grew up watching Saturday morning cartoons and MTV, cheering for my hometown sports teams (Go Heat!), having birthday parties at Pizza Hut and watching Fourth of July fireworks each year with my Pakistani immigrant family. I’ve always thought of myself as 100% Muslim, 100% American, 100% normal.
But no matter how much I’ve wanted to belong and be seen as normal at work (what even is “normal”?!), at first glance, all people see is my otherness. There’s been a barrier between me and the majority of people I’ve worked with that, granted, at times existed only in my head – because my co-workers have generally been awesome human beings – but most of the time has been very real.
The barrier existed simply due to a lack of understanding about a piece of cloth on my head or other religious practices I observe. It existed because of limited exposure to meaningful interactions with people from different faiths and cultures and too much exposure to negative portrayals in news and media of people who look and believe like me. The barrier existed because everyone assumed you couldn’t talk about religion at work, or didn’t know how to talk about it, so stories and experiences like mine just weren’t heard, questions remained unasked and unanswered, and assumptions and biases remained unaddressed.
These barriers kept me from the belonging I was craving. For a lot of people who come from different cultural or religious backgrounds, the choice at work sometimes becomes a choice between changing or hiding parts of who we are to fit in, which can potentially lead to more success in our careers. Or it can be a choice to remain different – keeping that beard long, that turban or hijab or kippah on; not joining in on the happy hours or skipping out on the team lunch because you’re fasting, or because you have to make the Friday Jummah prayer, or because you have to make it home for Shabbat. All the while, you deal with the micro-aggressions, misconceptions and barriers that keep us from connecting with our co-workers and possibly keep us from moving up the corporate ladder. There’s a lot of pressure to conform or keep parts of ourselves hidden, and not a whole lot of support.
Enter Faithforce, the interfaith employee resource group at Salesforce, the San Francisco customer relationship software company.
Around three and a half years ago, I had a conversation with a wonderful person, who at the time was leading the employee resource group program at Salesforce (where we call them equality groups), in which we discussed the possibility of creating an interfaith employee resource group. Salesforce already had nine amazing ERGs that supported different underrepresented groups and minorities and drove equality initiatives across the company. Groups like BOLDforce for the Black community, and Outforce for the LGBTQ+ community, to name a couple. I wanted to know if we could add one more to the mix. Could we make space for our faith identities when we talked about equality, allyship, representation and inclusion at work? Because as a person of faith, I needed all of those things too, and I knew I wasn’t the only one.
Along with another co-worker, a devout Christian based in Sydney, we set out to create an inclusive interfaith ERG, with the intent to give our diverse faith identities a voice and a seat at the equality table. Three years ago it was a dream. Today, Faithforce is a global employee resource group at Salesforce, with over 3,000 members across five continents, representing many different faith backgrounds and worldviews.
Faithforce grew out of a need for belonging, support and a deeper understanding of our religious diversity. It exists to knock down those invisible barriers between us and build bridges instead; to make our religious identities “normal” and OK to acknowledge and learn about. It’s about being able to be fully, comfortably and unapologetically *insert religious identity here*. Just as important, it’s about helping all employees get comfortable stepping outside of their bubbles to better understand and respect the “other.” One of my favorite verses in the Quran says “Oh mankind! We created you from a single pair, and made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another.” I take this verse to heart daily and can attest to the transformative power of simply getting to know someone who’s different from you.
As a Muslim, I get so much joy planning events for Passover, Easter and Holi with my Jewish, Christian and Hindu co-workers, and I learn so much in the process. I get so excited when my teammates join a Ramadan event I’m leading or when a senior leader actually asks me to share more about my holiday with her team. I no longer celebrate alone. It may seem like a trivial thing, but to have your manager and team wish you an Eid Mubarak or throw a Chag Sameach your way, to acknowledge a part of you that you hold dear, that matters.
When over 100,000 attendees walked into last year’s Dreamforce – one of the largest tech conferences in the world – they encountered halal, kosher and vegetarian meal options, and a multifaith meditation and prayer room open and accessible to all. No more worrying about what to eat or struggling to find a secluded corner to make your daily prayers in if you need to.
This is the impact an interfaith ERG can have when it has a seat at the table. This is faith inclusion at work. Interfaith employee working groups also drive vocal and visible support for faith communities in times of need. After a tragic, hateful attack against your place of worship, instead of being greeted with silence at work the next day, you come in to find that leaders in your company actually stand with and support you. Managers and teammates ask if you’re all right and how they can help. Events are held in solidarity with faith communities, to respond to hate with education, love and support. Stories are heard that weren’t heard before, and these stories inspire hope and remind us that people of different faiths need allyship too.
This all goes to show that building an interfaith community at work is not only possible, but necessary. Over the past several years I’ve seen tremendous growth and interest in this space and have gotten to know leaders of interfaith and faith-based resource groups at other tech companies. While we each may do things a bit differently, in every group there has been an eagerness for interfaith support and collaboration that has helped the well-being of individuals as well as an added value to the diversity and inclusion efforts of the company. In a world where misinformation and division thrive, be it on the internet, in media and entertainment, or in government, an interfaith ERG can actually help provide much-needed healing and make our workplaces safe and welcoming for all. It can bring us together to share our authentic stories to drive positive change across our companies, and do it alongside and in partnership with other ERGs working to do the same for the communities they support.
Farah Siddiqui. Courtesy photo
Faithforce and other interfaith ERGs remind us every day that we don’t have to change who we are to fit in. Another way is possible, where our religious diversity can be honored, and where we can respect, learn from and make space for one another. Where we all can be given the dignity that each one of us deserves.

Michigan leaders’ charity work lands them on Lay’s potato chip bags
Detroit Free Press

Next time you go to the grocery store, stop and check out Lay’s new chip bags. You may see a local  nonprofit leader on it.
And you may see Zaman International founder Najah Bazzy, a Canton resident, and Khali Sweeney, founder and CEO of Detroit’s Downtown Boxing Gym, donning a Lay’s signature smile on a family-size chips bag.
“Meet this smile,” Bazzy’s bag, BBQ-flavored, reads. “Inspired by her experiences as a nurse, Najah and Zaman International are providing basic needs assistance and vocational training to women, children, and refugee families – empowering over 2 million people worldwide to break the cycle of poverty.”
Sweeney’s smile is on the classic yellow Lay’s bag, promoting his gym as a free after-school academic and athletic program that “has a 100 percent high school graduation rate,” according to the release.
Sweeney said he was nominated for the program, and also thought Operation Smile was a good cause. He said he was thankful for any accolades and attributed the gym’s success to his team.
But being on the Lay’s bag felt like a crazy and lucky coincidence to him, like being on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. When he was younger, Sweeney said he was incredibly skinny. He followed a strict meal and workout plan that required a light snack in between courses and the plain Lay’s chip was his No. 1 quick bite he never tired of.
“One of the things I like in this world is the Lay’s potato chips,” he said. “Anybody who knows me knows my house is full of Lay’s potato chips.”
Since CNN, Bazzy has been on TV and magazine covers, but her appearance on the Lay’s bag has been especially different because people are using the product. Her smile is in people’s pantries. She was getting texts from across the country, from Texas to Florida. She went to her niece’s house and found her carrying 12 bags with Bazzy’s face on them, ready to pass them out. Her husband was doing the same, handing out the bags of BBQ chips to their neighbors.
Her children were in a tizzy.
“The kids have seen me do a lot of things, but all my children were like,’This is so cool, Mom. This is the coolest thing you’ve ever done.’ I’m like, ‘Really?'” she recalled, laughing.
Another big question she gets: Are those really her teeth? Yes, they are, she’d reply.
Zaman has been around for 20 years, starting in the back of Bazzy’s van. Seeing it grow in recognition has been a humbling experience for Bazzy, who, as CEO, is still working on a volunteer basis. As the ongoing pandemic exasperated certain needs, Bazzy said the organization snapped into action.
“We became rapid responders,” she says. “We’re really good at crisis management, so we went right in. I actually was prepared before Gov. Whitmer had announced the quarantine – I was preparing for that. I’m a nurse so I anticipate these kinds of things.”
Their response included including turning their large Hope for Humanity Center into a food distribution site and graduating their culinary and sewing students virtually. Their GED and literacy programs have also been moved online. Bazzy said Zaman is planning on workforce development as well, helping women secure jobs and living wages.
“Zaman is on the cusp, right now, of realizing its full mission,” she said.
Downtown Boxing Gym had similar reaction to the pandemic: kicking into gear to help the community.
“That’s one of the things that I stress real heavy in the gym is that you have to be ready to help your neighbors in any type of situation,” Sweeney said. “I always tell my kids, one day the strong will be called on to protect the other one in the neighborhood.”
Inspired by the lack of resources in his own childhood, Sweeney said the gym is an academic program first. It moved its lesson and workout plans online and helped connect their students to technology at home. The second was outfitting its vans to provide meals to students and families.
As the school year starts, Sweeney said the kids who are not physically going to school and have parents who are working or unable to watch them can come to the gym. The kids are separated into small groups, with screening and testing to prevent the spread of the virus. The gym is also looking for tech donations for kids who may not have a computer to study from.
“The focus is creating the future leaders of this world,” he said.
Bazzy said she loved meeting the other nonprofit leaders and Everyday Smilers, even if virtually.
“What I’ve learned is there’s not enough appreciation around the country of the nonprofit sector,” she said, “because the nonprofit sector clearly carried the nation.
“Day upon day, you see hundreds – not tens – hundreds of stories of people who have goodwill, who either have nonprofits or who just out of sheer goodness would organize and begin to do front-line work. I think the story of nonprofits in America, as a nation, needs to be told,” she added.
Nisa Khan is a data intern for the Detroit Free Press. Contact her at and follow her on Twitter @mnisakhan.

September 2020

Written by WISDOM on . Posted in Newsletters

Calendar for WISDOM and Other Interfaith Events 
Wednesday, September 9th and Thursday, September 10th, North American Interfaith Network Conferences – See Flyer Below
Tuesday, December 8, 7:00 PM Five Women Five Journeys
Insight Through Education, Inc.” Irma Blauner, V.P. for Programming, Palm Spring, FL.


By: Stacy Gittleman
Newsletter Editor of the
InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit

Aleena Malik, 15, is a rising sophomore at Troy High School. In the seventh grade, she participated as a Religious Diversity Journeys (RDJ) Ambassador, a program of the InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit. Malik said RDJ opened her eyes and mind about different religions and hopes that more of her high school peers can find ways to learn to dispel myths and misinformation about religions that differ from their own.
Growing up in a Muslim family, she learned a little bit about Judaism and Christianity  “because these religions are intertwined with Islam.”  But being involved in RDJ also exposed her to learn about Hinduism and the Bahai faith, she said.
In her own faith practice, Malik has drawn much joy and teachings from Islam. All her life, she has been taught the values of honesty, modesty and giving to others along with the five pillars of Islam. She grew up listening to stories of the time her father went on Haj to Mecca. She loved hearing how every Muslim pilgrim dressed in white as they walk around the Kaaba so all are seen as equals regardless of their racial or socioeconomic background. Someday, she hopes to go on her own Haj.
One of the standout experiences for Malik during RDJ was when her group visited the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills. There, a Holocaust survivor led the group through the museum and gave their own account of persecution, suffering, and survival.
“I was so blown away by this experience I brought my family back there for a visit,” said Malik. “By taking this trip with RDJ, I learned the importance of never remaining passive or silent during times that people are persecuted for their religion.”
Now that she is in high school, Malik’s RDJ experiences have got her thinking that her high school peers should also be more informed about religions that differ from their own.
“Many kids do not have a clue about different religions,” said Malik. “For example, there are not that many Jewish kids at my high school. While there are different religious clubs (like a Christian and Muslim Student associations), I would like to see an interfaith club where students can learn about different beliefs and traditions. Lots of times, kids carry religious stereotypes, and having an interfaith club would help clarify a lot of these stereotypes.”
Like all students, Malik hopes that she can return to high school in person, at least part of the time, in the fall. She loves to play sports such as tennis and volleyball and enjoys hiking and nature. This summer, she is keeping a journal as well as meeting up with friends and taking a few classes online.
(for more stories and statement on the IFLC’s impact in the Metro Detroit community go to 

COVID hajj restrictions leave streets of Mecca empty, pilgrimage businesses in trouble

MECCA, Saudi Arabia (RNS) – Saeed Khan is a 58-year-old Pakistani business owner living and working in Mecca, and this is the first time in 30 years that he is not performing hajj. In the past, as many as 2 million Muslims have made the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. This year, in efforts to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, Mecca has opened its door to only a fraction of that number.
“Health determinants are the basis for selecting pilgrims residing in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and there will be no exceptions to anyone during this year’s hajj season,” the
According to the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, those already residing in the country who have not previously performed hajj, are not government officials and are between 20 and 65 years old could apply for a hajj permit, which usually costs between $1,000 and $1,200. Initially, about 10,000 people were expected to perform hajj this year. Most (70%) would be non-Saudis residing in the country, while Saudi citizens would make up the rest.
However, the number of people approved for hajj has been significantly lower.
Before being allowed entry into the holy city, pilgrims have had to also adhere to a “house confinement,” within their own homes, for a few days and then also be tested to ensure they do not have COVID-19 before being allowed to enter the holy city.
On arrival, all pilgrims performing hajj this year have stayed in a select number of four- and five-star hotels in Mecca, including Four Points by Sheraton, where social distancing and other protocols had already been implemented with consultancy from health officials. Other health-related plans for hajj include, not unlike previous years, a number of field hospitals, clinics and ambulances. Hundreds of Muslim pilgrims circle the Kaaba, the cubic building at the Grand Mosque, as they observe social distancing to protect against the coronavirus, in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, on July 29, 2020. During the first rites of hajj, Muslims circle the Kaaba counter-clockwise seven times while reciting supplications to God, then walk between two hills where Ibrahim’s wife, Hagar, is believed to have run as she searched for water for her dying son before God brought forth a well that runs to this day.
However, due to the significantly fewer pilgrims this year, only a limited number of local doctors and other medical staff have been relocated to ritual sites.
“Our work hours are usually extended to 12 hours instead of eight during two weeks around hajj, and every second or third year, I have had to cover a three- to five-day shift at a hospital at Arafat or Mina,” said Dr. Shabeeh Haider, an ear, nose and throat specialist working for a public hospital. “But nobody from the hospital I work for has longer than normal duty hours this year, nor has anyone been asked to work from the hajj sites.”
Strict measures are in place to ensure only those with a permit enter Mecca.
Every year, just days before hajj, entry into Mecca gets restricted to just those with a hajj permit or those who are residents of the city. However, within the city, security is traditionally more relaxed, allowing residents to slip in and out of areas where the rituals are performed fairly easily.
“But they can’t really keep people from Mecca from performing; it is easy to slip through if you live here, so somehow I have managed to perform (the rituals) every year since I first moved here,” said Khan. “But this year is different.”
This year all roads directly leading to an area of hajj ritual have been shut off a week in advance to prevent Mecca residents without permits from taking part in the rituals. At least 200 people have also been caught and fined or arrested for entering the holy city without permits in the week leading up to hajj, and Mecca residents have all been receiving text messages informing them of the fines for breaking the ban.
“We haven’t visited the Grand Mosque since March when, before COVID-19, I would go at least once a week. Even Ramadan, which is more of a lively and busy time here than anywhere else in the world, was spent under lockdown, and now the time of hajj is also feeling so barren,” Khan said. “Of course, this is the responsible thing to do and I respect the difficult decision the government made to value health over profits, but it is also emotionally a little difficult.”
For many residents of the city, however, the economic challenges are becoming increasingly difficult. According to the Mecca Chamber of Commerce and Industry, about a quarter of the private sector’s income in the region around Mecca and Medina depends on pilgrimage. More than 19 million pilgrims visited Mecca in 2019 for umrah, a smaller pilgrimage that can be performed yearlong; a significant proportion of those pilgrims visited during the holy month of Ramadan.
Last year 2.5 million pilgrims performed hajj. Tourism provides the source of income for many residents of Mecca, many of whom are migrants and undocumented workers. Mecca maintained the longest round-the-clock lockdown in Saudi Arabia; it was first implemented on April 2 and wasn’t fully lifted until late June.
“I’d make more in Ramadan and hajj seasons than I would in four other months combined,” said Anwar Yaseen, a taxi driver from India who is living in Mecca. “This year’s Ramadan was the most difficult time I have had financially in my life. Things are returning to normalcy now but only a little.”
Ramadan took place between April and May this year and Mecca was in a consistent lockdown throughout. “It is a really strange time,” said Abdullah Al Maghrabi, a 27-year-old native of the city. “Never in my life did I expect the city to be so eerily quiet during hajj. My friends and I would always spend our evenings of the days before and after hajj in neighborhoods where lots of pilgrims would stay, get to know people from all over the world, and tell them about our lives here. This year is sad.”
Al Maghrabi works for his family business, a three-star hotel that caters to pilgrims. He said the hotel has been in a financial crisis since April.

A Synagogue and a Black church search for shared history with a walk through a once-integrated neighborhood
By Ari Feldman
(The Forward)

Half of the students in the Zoom class were from Liberty Grace Church of God, a Black Baptist church in Baltimore. The other half attended the Jewish day school affiliated with Beth Tfiloh Congregation, in the Baltimore suburbs. One teacher was Black and Christian. The other was white and Jewish. Over a week in July, they gathered together on Zoom to plan an iPad-guided historical walking tour of the city’s Forest Park section, which in the 1950s and early 1960s was integrated – Black and Jewish. And one day, they hosted two guests who were children in the neighborhood at that time. One of those people, now the executive director of the synagogue, remembered the amusement park she used to love going to during the summer, Gwynn Oak Park. The other guest, a Black congregant of Liberty Grace, added an important detail: The park was whites only.
“It was one of those moments you’ll remember your whole life,” said Susan Holzman Biggs, one of the two teachers, who is also an administrator at the Beth Tfiloh school, in an interview. “Hearing those kinds of stories firsthand from the people who lived them was important for everybody, the adults and the kids.”
Since the police killing in May of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the oppression of Black Americans has dominated the national conversation, and many white American Jews are looking at their community’s role and responsibilities. These two Baltimore congregations, capitalizing on a relationship that began five years ago, are remembering the community African Americans and Jews once made, which Jews left.
‘No different than the knee on George Floyd’s neck’ The two communities first connected when Rev. Dr. Terris King of Liberty Grace visited Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg of Beth Tfiloh in Wohlberg’s office in Pikesville, a suburb in northwestern Baltimore home to about 70,000 Jews.
The reverend had come with a proposition. He’d learned that the abandoned bowling alley in his church’s basement-closed down by the previous congregation that owned the building-had once been a center of communal life when the Forest Park and adjacent Ashburton neighborhoods were integrated. Did Beth Tfiloh want to partner on rebuilding it?
“I walked in to tell him, we need your help. This was the home of your people,” Rev. King said in an interview. “And I want my people to have a standard of living as a community, equal to, if not greater, than what you have. That’s what started this process.”
Image by Courtesy of Beth Tfiloh
Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg, left, and Rev. Dr. Terris King II, right.
The meeting led to a friendship between the two faith leaders, and their flocks. Liberty Grace is a non-denominational church with 250 members, founded in the living room of the elder King’s mother – a rare woman-led church in Baltimore. Beth Tfiloh is a large Modern Orthodox synagogue whose congregants are primarily observant Jews. Yet Rev. King said he and Wohlberg have been amazed by the similarities between them. After long careers – Wohlberg’s 40 years at Beth Tfiloh, Rev. King’s 25 at Liberty Grace – they felt confident enough to try a unique, unprecedented partnership in Baltimore. (Rev. King also worked full-time as a healthcare executive in the federal government.) They both like fast cars, and good jokes.
“The major things we have that’s different is three things: You’re Jewish, I’m Baptist, you’re short, I’m tall; you’re white, I’m Black,” Rev. King said. “Virtually everything else, we’re on the same page.”
Since King and Wohlberg met, Beth Tfiloh has hosted Liberty Grace’s children’s choir to sing with the synagogue’s own children’s choir, and the two congregations have participated in several “culinary exchanges,” where women from the two communities cook together (in the synagogue’s kosher kitchen) and then serve the food for kiddush luncheon the following Saturday. Each Shabbat before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Liberty Grace’s congregation comes to Beth Tfiloh, where Rev. King gives a sermon. The deepening relationship between Beth Tfiloh and Liberty Grace has also forced the Jewish congregation to face facts about poor Black life in Baltimore.
In one visit to the synagogue, Rev. King described how the public schools in his neighborhood do not have WiFi, crippling the learning abilities of the children. Wohlberg said his congregation was shocked.
“On the most simple and basic level, what chance does this seven-year-old Black kid have if their school doesn’t have WiFi?” Wohlberg said in an interview. “And people could relate to that – that was no different than the knee on George Floyd’s neck.”
White flight, Jewish flight
Starting in 1934, with the creation of the Federal Housing Administration during the New Deal, white developers used redlining to keep both Jews and Black people out of many neighborhoods. Even Jewish developers who were major philanthropists in their communities upheld the restrictive covenants. Jewish neighborhoods, beginning with western Baltimore’s one-time Garment District, were largely graded as undesirable on redlining maps from the time, but Black neighborhoods were considered worse. For that reason, as first wealthier German Jews, then Eastern European Jews, moved northwest out of Baltimore’s center, realtors would rent the neighborhoods they left only to Black people, creating the conditions for ghettos that still exist.
“Once Jews moved out, the assumption was that realtors would only show the properties to African-Americans,” said Paige Glotzer, an assistant professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of “How the Suburbs Were Segregated.” “It was gonna be Jewish, then it was gonna be African-American.”
That meant that Jewish communities were at the forefront of white flight among white ethnicities in various cities, including Baltimore, Glotzer said.
In 1966, Beth Tfiloh moved its synagogue – established in Forest Park in the early 1920s – to Pikesville, severing the Jewish community’s last connection to the city neighborhood. Parts of the area remained middle class, while others declined. Wohlberg said his congregation is made up of people who themselves joined Beth Tfiloh in Pikesville, as well as the children they raised in the suburbs. “This Jewish knowledge of what was going on is very, very much real,” Wohlberg said. “They made the history.”
The areas are now divided by Northern Parkway. North of the parkway, the average life expectancy is about 82 years. If you’re born to the south of the road, it drops to 68.
The tour, and the iPad app it is built on, is the brainchild of Terris King II, the son of Liberty Grace’s pastor. He’s a kindergarten teacher who moved home during the pandemic after a decade abroad teaching at the Shanghai American School. He is calling the project Temple X: The “Temple” represents inter-religious cooperation, and the “X” is for experiential learning. The Forest Park/Ashburton walking tour tells the fictional story of two friends, a white and Jewish girl and a Black and Christian girl, as they show the viewer what their lives were like in their neighborhood.
By pointing an iPad camera at stickers with QR codes pasted on or near historic buildings, the children on the tour will be able to see and hear speakers and images from the past in “augmented reality,” which uses the iPad screen to, for example, show archival photographs of a former synagogue over the place it used to be. King II said that the program has a safety team to accompany the families. The elementary school students from Liberty Grace and Beth Tfiloh’s Dahan Community School – in third through sixth grades – who participated in the Zoom classes helped set the route for the tour (remotely, on Google Maps) after learning about the neighborhood’s history with King II and Holzman Biggs, though they have yet to go on the tour themselves.
Teaching the shared history to the children is the first step to bringing Baltimore’s Black and Jewish communities closer together, as they were 70 years ago, King II said.
“The people who are gonna thrive in the future are the people who are gonna understand other cultures,” he said.
Wohlberg said his community has enthusiastically embraced the walking tour project as a way to further their relationship with Liberty Grace, and engaging with the fraught history of the Jewish community’s movement from Baltimore’s center to its perimeter.
“This is not a matter of putting up a sign: Black Lives Matter,” said Wohlberg. “It’s a matter of learning who we are.”
The tour app, in technical development for more than a month, is launching on August 18, with an in-person tour for both communities.
The Beth Tfiloh community has provided funding and Holzman’s time for the Temple X project, and has put Liberty Grace in touch with Jewish foundations to begin discussions about further funding.
Beth Tfiloh has also partnered with Towson University and Liberty Grace to begin rebuilding the bowling alley where Black people and Jews rolled side by side, Rev. King said.
This walking tour is the first in a global project, King II said, to create a platform for communities around the world to make their own tours and engage the students that are simply too young to do all of their learning via Zoom.
“We want to destroy the digital divide, but also the cultural divide between our communities,” he said. “The reason we’re starting here is that there’s a lot of turmoil between the Black and white Jewish community.”
While the older elementary students did not shy away from asking about race in the past – Did you attend the same schools? Could you go to the same hospitals? – the walking tour they helped make will not feature the Jewish community’s exit or its aftermath, since it is meant as the first foray for younger students into this fraught history.
“Our goal isn’t to tap dance around the issues,” said King. “But our goal is to forcefully at a young age, teach them about the good things that have happened, and over time we can talk to them about the other things that have happened as well.”
But King II said he has been impressed with the Jewish community’s level of engagement in actually creating the app.
“We are gonna speak the truth,” he said. “And it’s not about speaking truth to some power structure, but about speaking truth to individuals that are gonna sit at the table with us.”

How Families Are Finding God, Grace and Faith Outside a House of Worship
Parents say they miss the religious communities that were a big part of their lives, but they are finding ways to practice their faith with their children.
In the Jacobs home, Shabbat has become synonymous with two things: Facebook Live and Shira Averbuch, the ukulele-playing, golden-voiced singer who serves as the artist-in-residence at B’nai Jeshurun, a nearly 200-year-old synagogue on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
“Shabbat Shalom!” she begins, warmly greeting each of the children listening from home. “I’m so happy you’re all here. Should we start getting ready for Shabbat? What do you think?”
Avery Jacobs, 3, often sings along to the “Bim Bam” song in her family’s Manhattan apartment or in the patio of her grandparents’ home on Long Island. When Averbuch tells the kids that she’s feeling “that Shabbat feeling” in her heart, their parents respond in the comments: They feel it in their head. Their hair. “Avery feels it in her feet!” writes Lindsay Jacobs, 33, Avery’s mother. Weeks later, she said, “Seeing Shira’s face has been the one piece of comfort we’ve had through this whole thing.”

Shabbat, the seventh day of rest in the Jewish tradition, is a time of joy, relaxation and worship. Likewise, Eid al-Adha, the Muslim feast of the sacrifice held at the end of July, is a celebration. And on Sundays, Christians gather to pray, sing and receive sacraments. But none of those rituals have played out as they usually do. One of the cruelties of the coronavirus is that it has led places of worship to not only strip away in-person religious traditions, but also modify or eliminate community gatherings all at a time when the faithful – still reeling from the effects of an unrelenting pandemic – need them most. For families with young children, this presents an especially big challenge: Without in-person religious education or volunteer activities, how do parents keep kids engaged in their religion? How can a family “love thy neighbor as thyself” in a world where close social interaction is discouraged?
Carrie Willard, 42, an administrator at Rice University, said that for her two boys, 12 and 9, the “big-C challenge” is the ability to see God in other people rather than casting judgment because they aren’t making the same choices. But what she and many other families continue to grieve is the loss of their in-person community, especially during the holidays.
“Easter was this weird but not terrible thing,” Willard said. Their church was closed, so her family lit a fire pit in their yard and her husband, who is the rector at Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston, read a sermon. “It was really lovely” she said. “And I think that’s what we’ll remember, I hope.” Willard’s family and others are finding new ways to express their faith and imbue their children with notions of grace and giving, even if the circumstances aren’t ideal.”Nothing can fully take the place of the communal face-to-face gatherings of religious communities,” said Tyler J. VanderWeele, Ph.D., an epidemiologist and co-director of the Initiative on Health, Religion and Spirituality at Harvard University. Dr. VanderWeele and his colleagues have examined how religious upbringing and religious service attendance can shape the lives of adolescents. Their 2018 study found that, among the adolescents studied, attending religious services at least once a week was associated with greater life satisfaction, lower probabilities of marijuana use, greater frequency of volunteering and fewer lifetime sexual partners.
In-person services are also meaningful for parents. A 2017 Pew Research Center survey found that of those U.S. adults surveyed who attended church at least once a month, two-thirds said they did so to give their children a moral foundation, to become better people, and for comfort in times of trouble or sorrow.
Asma Uddin, 40, an author and religious liberty lawyer, said having community events, like celebrating Eid together or attending Muslim summer camp, “gives you a sense that there are people like us.”
Uddin, who lives in Rockville, Md., described how slowing down during Ramadan this spring was “spiritually uplifting,” but if there continue to be fewer traditional in-person gatherings, she is concerned that her children might not learn how essential religious community is to their Muslim identity. Victor Rodriguez, 55, and his wife, Juana Rodriguez, 46, members of the Church of the Ascension, a Roman Catholic Church in Manhattan, have similar worries. He and his family of six attended church in person every Sunday, but now only he and his wife watch mass on YouTube at 9 a.m. on Sundays. Their four children, ages 14, 13, 8, and 5, used to volunteer at the church’s food pantry, which was mainly staffed by kids. But when the pandemic hit, it was no longer considered safe for them to participate and the adults took over.
“It’s real difficult,” said Victor Rodriguez, an unemployed carpenter. Even so, he added, “we have to learn to live with this right now. We have to take precautions for us and others.”
The pandemic has led some church leaders to worry about whether families will return to church when in-person services resume. Church membership has already fallen sharply over the past two decades, and an increasing number of Americans say they have no religious preference. But an April survey from Gallup, conducted during the early days of the pandemic in the United States, found that of those who were members of a church, synagogue or mosque, about half had worshipped virtually within the past seven days, and another 6 percent had worshipped in person.
Ed Brojan, 53, a member of the Chesapeake Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Baltimore, said his family has opted out of the small, in-person gatherings permitted by their church because he and his wife are nurses who want to help protect their community by remaining socially distanced. But they and their two children, 15 and 13, hold a sacrament service at home, something male members of the church can do if they become a priesthood holder.
“I definitely miss the feeling of community, the feeling of fellowship,” Brojan said, referring to the services of yore.
The lack of community also has been tough for Holley Barreto, 40, a baker and cooking instructor, as well as her husband and their two children, who are 11 and 10.
“That’s been a real loss for us when we can’t physically gather with church members,” said Barreto, whose family participated in activities at Nassau Presbyterian Church in Princeton, N.J., throughout the week. “That’s taken away a lot of what we really leaned on.”
About a month ago, Catholic churches were permitted to reopen in New York City, and churches have fought to reopen in other parts of the country, too. Some families did not hesitate to return.

“I am kind of honestly tired of doing all this online stuff,” said Robert Farina-Mosca, 54, who is now attending in-person services at Holy Trinity, a Roman Catholic church in Manhattan, with his 11-year-old son.

In the absence of any formal religious education, his son has been making cards that are delivered along with food donations. On one of the cards he drew a platter with two chicken legs and wrote “Enjoy your meal.” Then, on the inside: “Even though I don’t know you, I still care about you.”
Experts say small, simple gestures like those can help guide children in the tenets of their faith. Corrie Berg, the director of educational ministries at Nassau Presbyterian Church, is empathetic to the many responsibilities parents are shouldering right now.
“I just don’t think our parents particularly have the bandwidth to be creating – or even just following – at-home Bible studies or devotions or simple readings,” Berg said. “All of that requires uploads, downloads, links, clicks, print outs – and as a parent, especially with littler ones, you’re just like: ‘I can’t even. There’s no way.'”
Her philosophy is to “do less, better.”
David Zahl, a young adult minister at Christ Episcopal Church in Charlottesville, Va., agrees.
Zahl, the author of “Seculosity,” a book about how parenting, career and other worldly things have become like a religion, said parents often tell him how they feel guilty for missing religious services online. “It’s a mix of anxiety and deep fatigue,” he said.
Zoom church for young kids, with a few exceptions, is pretty much a nonstarter, he acknowledged.
“The first thing I want to say to them is, ‘It’s OK. Cross that off your list. God is not mad at you,'” Zahl said.
David Carey, 48, a hospice chaplain, said that before the pandemic he regularly attended services at The Refuge Church where he lives in Windham, Maine, and his twin boys, who are 5, went to Sunday school. But now everything is online and they’re “Zoom-ed out,” he said.
So he started playing Christian children’s songs at home and singing them when he and his family spend time outside.
“I remember thinking, and even praying, ‘Lord, how will they ever get to know any of this stuff?’ And then all of a sudden they start singing this on their own,” he said. “I’ve learned music is a way to transcend a lot of things.” Similar to Carey, Maggie Sandusky, 30, along with her husband, who is a student minister at Calvary Baptist Church in Nacogdoches, Tex., about three hours southeast of Dallas, believes that they are the primary people who teach their 3-year-old twins about faith.
“If we say that we believe God gives us grace for every day, how can we be modeling that for our kids?” she said.
In some respects, Zahl said, the pandemic could be considered an opportunity to help children better understand their religion.
“For parents who see things like prayer, spiritual conversation, asking for forgiveness, and overall modeling of grace in practice as the heart of their faith, well, the pandemic has been something of a gold mine,” he said.

13 nuns at Livonia convent died
 from COVID-19, report finds
Sister Rosanne Marie Glaza crowns the statue of Our Lady on May 1 during a ceremony at the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Convent in Livonia. (Photo: Felician Sisters of North America)
COVID-19 has led to the deaths of 13 nuns at a convent in Livonia in the last three months, religious officials report.
A dozen members in the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Felix of Cantalice, or Felician Sisters, died after battling the virus between Good Friday on April 10 and May 10, while a 13th associated death was reported on June 27, according to the Global Sisters Report released Monday. The nonprofit outlet is a project of the National Catholic Reporter publishing company.
The Detroit Catholic, another publication that covers the Catholic community in southeast Michigan, reported that as many as 22 sisters at the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Convent had tested positive for the coronavirus through early May.
The nuns at the 360-acre campus, who ranged in age from 69 to 99, included teachers, a librarian and a secretary in the Vatican Secretariat of State, the Global Sisters Report said.
Meanwhile, at least 19 other sisters have died in the United States during the pandemic, according to the article, which said the Livonia deaths “may be the worst loss of life to a community of women religious since the 1918 influenza pandemic.”
Representatives with the Felician Sisters of North America did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.
In a statement released July 8, Sister Mary Christopher Moore, the order’s provincial minister, said another older Felician sister had recently died “due to the residual effects of the coronavirus, which can cause continuing difficulties with other chronic medical conditions.”
“Some of our Sisters who have had COVID-19 are struggling to recover from a variety of effects, including continuing weakness, respiratory issues and more,” Moore said. “We ask for your prayers as we support them in their recovery. At the same time, we are moving forward with slowly loosening the tight restrictions under which Sisters in our convents, especially our larger convents, have operated for more than three months.”
News of the nuns’ deaths comes as coronavirus infections rise in Michigan.

State officials on Monday confirmed seven deaths and 489 cases. The seven-day average of new coronavirus cases in the state has risen to 632 daily, up from 476 a day for the previous seven-day period, according to state data.

South Florida Rabbi Helps Deliver Interfaith Prayer During DNC Closing
A South Florida rabbi appeared on a giant stage at the Democratic National Convention Thursday night, offering the national audience a prayer as the event wrapped up. Rabbi Lauren Berkun, who lives in Aventura, was invited to help deliver the interfaith closing benediction on the fourth and final night of the DNC.
“I wanted to bring a message of comfort, and hopefully a message of unity,” Rabbi Berkun said in an interview before her benediction aired on the televised broadcast. She and her husband Johnathan Berkun are a powerhouse rabbinic team in Northeast Miami-Dade County: he’s the longtime rabbi at the Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center, and she’s the vice president of Rabbinic Initiatives for the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America. Rabbi Lauren’s address took place right after Joe Biden accepted his party’s nomination to be the next President and delivered his remarks.
“I wanted to craft a message that would reflect Jewish values, but also be accessible to all Americans across religious and political differences,” she said. “I wanted to bring a message of hope, a call to action.”
She chose to quote the Book of Psalms in her 40 second message, and recorded it right in the living room of her Aventura home. During the broadcast, an Imam and a priest virtually helped Berkun deliver the benediction. “I think in this time of the pandemic, when we have been spending so much time in our homes, we are thinking about our homes in new ways, and the meaning of home,” Rabbi Berkun said. “And I think that is really what it means in this election season, as we think about the future leadership of this country.” “We’re thinking about what kind of national home we want to create.”

August 2020

Written by WISDOM on . Posted in Newsletters

Calendar for WISDOM and Other Interfaith Events 
Wednesday, August 5th, Hate Has No Home Where Love Abides,
IFLC Community Annual Meeting, 11:15 – 12:30 PM. See Flyer Below.
Wednesday, August 19th 1:00 – 2:00 PM  Black Jewish Coalition Conversation, featuring Rabbi Marla Hornsten from Temple Israel and Rev. Ken Flowers from Greater New Mt. Moriah Missionary Baptist Church who will be speaking about the Coalition for Black and Jewish Unity.  See Flyer Below to RSVP.
Thursdays, Temple Kol Ami’s Community Food Project,  5085 Walnut Lake Rd, West Bloomfield, MI 48323, See Flyer Below.

Jewish and Muslim women join forces to remove antisemitic graffiti in Birmingham, England
group of Jewish and Muslim women, including the city’s only female rabbi, have defiantly come together to remove antisemitic graffiti which appeared overnight on a wall in Billesley in Birmingham, transforming it into positive art depicting a rainbow. Determined to show they’re “stronger together,” the women joined forces after vile and abusive words of hate targeting the Jewish community were discovered daubed on a brick wall in the city ward, located in the Selly Oak constituency.
Image by Benita Wishart/IAB
Muslim and Jewish women including rabbi Margaret Jacobi (right) and Benita Wishart (second right) join PC Adrian Griffiths from West Midlands Police at the scene of the antisemitic vandalism
Upon discovering the words “Die Jewish” had been spray-painted onto the wall, local resident Benita Wishart contacted several other women from across the city and organized the removal of the offensive vandalism, opting to replace it with messages of peace alongside a brightly colored rainbow. Where the message of hate had been left, it now reads: “Standing Together Against Hate – Jewish and Muslim women together.” Before letting their creativity flow, the women got in touch with West Midlands Police who helped them remove the graffiti and praised their collaborative effort to make good of a bad situation.
Wishart, who called on close friends from different faiths to help, said they decided to counter hate with messages of hope.
“This is our message to those who seek to divide us. This is what being an ally looks like.” “We stand together in Birmingham. Hate crime has no place in our city. Our citizens value diversity and stand side by side.
“There must be zero tolerance of such hate against any group.”
Wishart thanked local police and residents for their assistance and the local community groups who came together to clean-up the racist graffiti.
Birmingham’s only female rabbi, Margaret Jacobi, was also on the scene to help do her bit. Heading the congregation at the city’s Progressive Synagogue since 1994, Jacobi is an active member of several initiatives promoting community cohesion and peace. Among them Citizens UK, an independent membership alliance of civil society institutions acting together for the common good of the city, and Nisa-Nisham, a national Jewish and Muslim Women’s Network set up to “build personal friendships” between faiths. Many of the women who helped remove the sickening graffiti are members of these organizations, which helped them facilitate the speedy and effective response. A spokesperson for the Birmingham branch of Citizens UK tweeted, “We are outraged and saddened by this act of hate” but praised the community response as “a powerful show of solidarity.”
Alongside the rainbow and positive messages, the women – from all faiths and none – also posed for photos, holding up posters stating ‘Active Allies’, ‘Standing Together’ and ‘We’re All Neighbours.”
Messages from The Great Get Together, which took place last month in memory of hate crime victim Jo Cox, were also attached to a tree nearby. These read: ‘We are all part of the human race’ and ‘I believe in the power of community.’
Birmingham Selly Oak MP Steve McCabe urged constituents to remain vigilant against hate crime, describing the incident as a “far-right” threat.
The number of antisemitic hate incidents recorded in the UK has reached a record high, according to Community Security Trust, a charity that monitors antisemitism in the country.
The trust recorded 767 hate crimes in the first six months of 2017 – a 30% rise in comparison to the same period last year. This is the highest level ever recorded since monitoring began 33 years ago.
The number of hate crimes recorded by West Midlands Police has also risen. Recent figures published by the Home Office show there were 5,715 hate crimes recorded in the West Midlands Police area in the 2018-19 financial year, up from 4,678 offenses the previous year – an increase of 22%, more than a fifth, in just one year.
Adam Yosef is editor-in-chief of I Am Birmingham
This article is reposted with permission from

We have a story to tell: Indigenous scholars, activists speak up amid toppling of Serra statues
Demonstrators prepare to pull down a Junipero Serra statue on June 20, 2020, in downtown Los Angeles at Father Serra Park.

LOS ANGELES (RNS) – Jessa Calderon initially felt numb watching the Junipero Serra statue topple to the ground as it was yanked from its platform with yellow rope tied around its neck. Within minutes, she was in tears. “I began to cry hysterically. It was like a sense of relief,” said Calderon, a descendant of Gabrielino-Tongva and Ventureño Chumash, who witnessed the toppling on June 20 in downtown Los Angeles.
Calderon and other California Native people prayed and left offerings, including medicinal herbs, at a makeshift altar before activists took down the statue of Serra, the 18th-century Franciscan priest who, while credited with spreading the Catholic faith in the West Coast, is also seen as part of an imperial conquest that enslaved Native Americans.
The ceremony, Calderon said, was a way to help release painful energy their disrespected ancestors may be carrying in the afterlife.
As Californians once again reckon with their statues of Serra, the founder of what would become 21 missions along the California coast, Native people and Indigenous scholars say it’s time for their voices to be heard and their existence to be recognized.

Jessa Calderon, right, cries and embraces another demonstrator after the toppling of a Junipero Serra statue June 20, 2020, in downtown Los Angeles at Father Serra Park. Photo by Erick Iñiguez
This public scrutiny of Serra has reemerged in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests denouncing institutional racism and police brutality that led to the toppling of monuments honoring Confederate leaders.
In California, this has resulted in protesters overthrowing Serra statues in San FranciscoLos Angeles and most recently in Sacramentoon Saturday (July 4). Catholic parishes in OrangeMonterey and Los Angeles counties have removed statues of Serra in fear of potential vandalism.
Activists in the city of Ventura are demanding the Serra monument near City Hall be removed as soon as possible and on Tuesday will virtually gather with community stakeholders to discuss the statue, which the mayor, a pastor and a tribal leader recently pledged to remove.
To Calderon, this renewed attention on Serra can help enlighten the public who, she said, “believed Native Americans didn’t exist anymore.”
“Now that this moment is happening, we have a story to tell,” Calderon said.
The Catholic Church response to the toppling of the statues has been persistent. The California Catholic Conference of Bishops in a statement said protesters “failed the test” of history in toppling Serra statues.
Salvatore Joseph Cordileone and José Gomez, archbishops of San Francisco and Los Angeles, issued letters staunchly defending the image and history of Serra and criticizing those who defaced the statues.
Cordileone, in a June 20 statement, referred to protesters as embodying “mob rule.” He said Serra made heroic sacrifices to protect Indigenous people from Spanish soldiers. While Cordileone acknowledged “historical wrongs have occurred,” he said they cannot be “righted by re-writing history.” Healing is needed, he said.
A week later, Cordileone held an exorcism at Golden Gate Park, where the statue was taken down, because he said “evil has made itself present here.”
Gomez, in a June 29 letter, acknowledged that the image of Serra and the missions evoke “painful memories for some people.” However, he denounced activists for “revising” history to portray Serra as the “focus of all the abuses committed against California’s indigenous peoples.”
He said that crimes and abuses Serra is blamed for happened after his death. Gomez likened California missions to other communes and “communitarian” societies. He said Serra “did not impose Christianity, he proposed it.” And, he said, Serra wrote and advocated for a “bill of rights” for the Native peoples.
These responses have galvanized Indigenous scholars who want the Catholic Church to fully admit to a history of colonialism that led to the loss of culture and land among the Native community.
Through a project known as Critical Mission Studies, University of California researchers and Indigenous scholars are working to provide a more nuanced understanding of the state’s missions. The research highlights Native, Mexican and Mexican-American voices and “supports Indigenous perspectives on the California colonial missions and their aftermath.”
As part of this project, Native people and Indigenous scholars will virtually gather on July 15 for a Zoom event titled “Toppling Mission Monuments and Mythologies: California Indian Scholars and Allies Respond.”
To Indigenous scholars such as Jonathan Cordero, who is part of this project, the statements from the archbishops are factually wrong and misleading.
“They’re implying that we’re anti-Catholic. They’re accusing us of being uncivil by not following their purported rules for how to handle this,” said Cordero, a professor at California Lutheran University. “They’re accusing us of not knowing the actual historical record.” Cordero, who studies California Indians during the Spanish colonial and early American periods, takes issue with a number of their claims. He said Serra was both a colonist and an evangelist.  “He was responsible for establishing self-governing colonies of Hispanicized and industrious Native citizens in service of the Spanish crown,” said Cordero.
Cordero criticizes the claim that Serra advocated for a “bill of rights” he wrote for the Native peoples. Serra, said Cordero, did not get any new rights for California Indians.  And, Cordero said, missionaries worked with the Spanish military to control the Native population, which was confined to the mission grounds. Indigenous people, he said, were granted a two-week furlough but they had to come back. If they didn’t, they were sought, and in some instances, killed by the military, Cordero said.
“A commune is not a place where you’re forced to go to church, where you’re forced to labor without fair compensation, where you’re punished for minor infractions,” he said. To Cordero, if the Catholic Church wants justice for California Indians, “it begins by telling the truth of what happened at the California missions.” “Until the Catholic Church owns up to the truth …  there will be no justice for California Indians, and if there is no justice as the protest signs say, ‘There will be no peace.'”
Caroline Ward, center, of the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians, speaks during a June 27, 2020, ceremony next to the Junipero Serra statue in Mission Hills. She said the Catholic Church needs to acknowledge the mistreatment of Native people at the missions. RNS photo by Alejandra Molina
The truth is what Caroline Ward, of the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians, demanded at a June 27 ceremony next to the Serra statue across from the San Fernando Mission.
People knelt, burned sage and pounded the drums in front of the statue of Serra, who many in Spanish referred to as an “asesino,” a murderer.
Ward watched as a group of young activists covered the statue with a black plastic sheet and placed a chain around its neck. It felt liberating, she said.
“The church still refuses to acknowledge the treatment of our ancestors,” said Ward, addressing the dozens of people who were there.
While Ward demanded the statue be removed by Sept. 23, on the five-year anniversary of Serra’s sainthood, it has since been temporarily taken down by the city of Los Angeles to prevent violence, according to the San Fernando Valley Sun.
Ward applauds the statue removal, but said the Catholic Church still needs to acknowledge the complete stories of their ancestors within the mission system. That is half of the healing process, she said.
“If they put it back up, it’s going to come back down,” she said.
Now, Ward would like to see the missions transferred to Native people and be repurposed into cultural and healing centers.
“We are the first people of this land and nobody knows we’re here,” she said.
For UC Santa Cruz professor Yve Chavez, who is also part of the Critical Mission Studies Project, it’s crucial to recognize the different Serra viewpoints among the Native community. Some admonish the Catholic Church due to this history of mistreatment, while others try to balance their Catholic faith with knowing their ancestors were forced to live in the missions and “were sometimes doing what they had to do to survive,” she said. “If we completely dismiss the experience of these individuals, we lose sight of the bravery of our ancestors who managed to survive a very difficult situation,” said Chavez, a descendant of Tongva.
To Chavez, whose research focuses on Indigenous art of Southern California and the missions, Serra should not be seen as representative of the entire Catholic Church or even the mission system.
Removing Serra statues won’t make the missions any less Catholic, Chavez said. Instead, it can “help our Native communities feel a sense of recognition that these are not spaces that are strictly about Serra anymore,” said Chavez. Native people provided the labor that built the mission system and made up the majority of its population, said Chavez. The missions stand on ancestral homelands and some are located in preexisting Native villages.
“These are also spaces that we can claim as our own,” Chavez added.
Whether it’s through the removal of statues or through more public awareness of why these monuments are problematic, “now our communities have an opportunity to be heard on a public level,” Chavez said.
She hopes people can recognize that “Native people are still alive and these are their homelands.”

US Sikhs tirelessly travel their communities
 to feed hungry Americans

When Gurpreet Singh and other members of the Sikh community in Riverside, California, started to organize efforts to provide food assistance in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, Singh figured it would simply be a variation on the work the Riverside Gurdwara had been doing for years. “When the pandemic came along,” Singh told CNN, “the Sikh temples were shutting down, and that didn’t seem right. At times of dire need, you don’t close down, you open up.
Worldwide, Sikh temples, also known as Gurdwaras, offer free meals to anyone who shows up. Known as Langar, it’s a tenet of faith and a key part of the Sikh religion, which emphasizes a concept of selfless service to the community at large. In the pre-pandemic days, the Riverside Gurdwara was used to providing 800 to 1,000 meals each Sunday, its busiest day, Singh said. So the community, unable to gather in large groups inside the temple because of pandemic restrictions, decided to serve food out front – Langar-by-drive-through. Gurpreet Singh and members of his Sikh community provide meals for those in need in Riverside, California.

“We thought, ‘we’ll run it two or three days a week — good deed done, pat on the back,'” Singh said. Within the first week, however, “the lines got crazy.” Singh said he quickly realized the scope of the problem.
“Hunger has no days off,” he said, “so there’s no way we can serve less often than every day.” On the busiest days, Singh said, the line of cars can reach two or three miles long.
As an organized religion, Sikhism is relatively new.
Founded some 500 years ago in the Punjab region of India, the faith has some 30 million adherents, making it the fifth largest religion worldwide. Conservative estimates place the number of Sikhs in the United States at just over half a million. “Hunger has no days off, so there’s no way we can serve less often than every day.”

Among the principles of the Sikh faith is Seva — “basically, ‘selfless service,'” explained Vaneet Singh, a member of the Sikh community in Memphis, Tennessee. “It’s so engrained in our faith, it’s everywhere.” (The Singh surname is a traditional and common one for Sikh men.)
Among the principles of the Sikh faith is Seva — selfless service, essentially. “We believe that to serve others, to help others, is a key to who we are,” he said. Perhaps the most visible example of Seva to a non-Sikh, is Langar – the practice of a free community kitchen based in a Sikh temple and open to all. “The concept of the common kitchen is you sit together on the floor and eat together – you are all equal in God’s place,” Singh said. But as the coronavirus pandemic sweeps the nation and a jumble of restrictions, shutdowns and distancing precautions has kept the Sikhs from inviting their neighbors in, several communities have found new ways to break bread. It’s an act of service that, in the face of massive need and fear of infection, has required commitment, devotion and careful planning.
The Mid-South Sikh Sabha, on the outskirts of Memphis, is the only Gurdwara for 100 miles in any direction, Singh said. The community is small, no more than 300 people at its most active, by his estimate. At the beginning of 2020, Singh said he was focused on interfaith outreach, connecting with Christian and Jewish communities in the greater Memphis area. “Then – boom – coronavirus came along,” he said.
“As a community, we thought, ‘OK, how can we contribute?'” he said. It was a question made all the more difficult by the fact that the pandemic meant services in the Gurdwara were suspended. Together with a small team of volunteers, Singh coordinated food donations to local hospitals and aid organizations.
Initially they provided meals to healthcare workers in Memphis hospitals. Working long shifts in a city mostly devoid of restaurants, the city’s essential workers were having a hard time finding food, Singh said.
The University of Memphis reached out as well, Singh said, and asked for food for their international students stranded by the pandemic.
Volunteers took food around Memphis in masks and gloves, and a small group of volunteers took precautions working in the Gurdwara’s kitchen.
In all, Singh said, his small community distributed 1,700 meals before pausing to reassess.
“I hope and pray that this goes away,” he said, but he expressed concern about another rise in coronavirus cases. “I don’t know how long we have to continue this.”

Up the Mississippi River, Deb Bhatia and the volunteers of his non-profit, the Sikhs of STL, had organized similar efforts in St. Louis, Missouri.
When the state started to shut down, Bhatia said, he reached out to his local Gurdwara to ask about using its kitchen.
“When we started, it was for two shelter homes,” he said.
Before the pandemic, Bhatia organized volunteers from the Sikh community to go volunteer at local shelters. As fear of the coronavirus spread, Bhatia said shelters told him they weren’t getting enough volunteers to run their own kitchens. So with four volunteers, Bhatia set the modest goal of making and donating 150 hot meals. But as he started making deliveries, he said he noticed more and more people in need.
“We started driving for hours downtown, bringing people food,” he said. A large group of homeless St. Louis residents had set up tents in front of City Hall, and Bhatia began making weekly visits to deliver meals.
Before long, the Gurdwara’s kitchen wasn’t large enough, Bhatia said. The demand had grown to 1,500 meals a week.
Bhatia said 85 families have volunteered to make meals in their kitchens at home. Bhatia himself does all the shopping. On Wednesday, volunteers come to get groceries from his home. By the weekend, they bring him meals to deliver by van to a dozen shelters across St. Louis.
The idea is to minimize his volunteers’ exposure, he said. “A lot of elderly and kids — I didn’t want them to go out. It’s my responsibility.”
Funding has been a team effort, too, Bhatia said. A GoFundMe he setup was fulfilled in two weeks’ time. “It’s not only the Sikh community,” he said when asked who donated, “it’s the whole community.”
In recent weeks, as the state of Missouri has reopened, Bhatia said that requests for food had gone down slightly. But he said he was prepared to keep offering support. “The fear is still there in people,” he said.

Across the country, Japjot Sethi, a software engineer in San Jose, California, turned an idea for a new way to serve the community into a large-scale operation.
Sethi said he’d had a crazy idea back in 2019. He’d been volunteering his time at homeless shelters since he came to America 20 years ago, but he wanted to do more.
“I started this last year with the crazy idea that there should be food trucks with free food on street corners,” Sethi said.
He was in the middle of starting a nonprofit and shopping for his first truck when the pandemic hit.
He’d already gathered a few volunteers and had started renting space in a commercial kitchen, so he and his partners decided to put the truck on the backburner and help get food to area homeless shelters.
“The shelters were in a dilemma,” Sethi said. “They get the food from restaurants, and the restaurants were shut down.”
Sethi, like many of the Sikhs who spoke to CNN, referenced the concept of Dasvandh – a religious obligation to give 10% of your income to good causes.
With the work he had already done in preparing for his nonprofit, Sethi said he could start cooking meals at a cost of no more than $2 each. He gathered together seven volunteers and got to work.

Langar food is typically vegetarian in an effort to meet the dietary requirements of anyone who might attend. Asked whether he followed the same guidelines in his commercial kitchen, Sethi said that for him, it’s also a logistical concern.
“I have a very strict chef. He says vegetarian food will last longer than any meat,” he said. “We’re keeping all food hazards in mind.”
To date, Sethi said, he and a group of no more than 10 volunteers have made about 20,000 hot meals and distributed them to shelters in San Jose and surrounding communities. Once a week, Sethi also distributes food in Richmond, California, where his family owns a gas station.
“My goal is to make sure our resources really go to the people in need,” he said, noting that the relatively affluent city of San Jose has resources that nearby Richmond and Oakland do not.
“Richmond is hourly wage employees, and many of them lost their jobs,” he said.
On a recent Thursday morning, Sethi said he distributed meals to 1,000 families in Richmond in three hours.
“Next week, we’ll have enough for 1,500,” said Sethi.
While Sethi’s efforts were originally self-funded, they’ve grown to a level where he’s started accepting donations. He’s also begun to take advantage of a coronavirus relief package through the US Department of Agriculture, which distributes food from farmers and distributors to food banks nationwide. Known as the Farmers to Families Food Box Program, Sethi said it’s been a boon to his ability to serve the surrounding communities.
“The need for food is going to keep going on,” he said. “School is shut for the summer – they’re not going to be able to provide meals for the kids. We are prepared to go on until the end of the year.”

Gurpreet Singh estimates that they distribute between 3,000 and 5,000 meals a day.
Gurpreet Singh/United Sikh Mission
Back in Riverside, California, Gurpreet Singh has built his large-scale Langar for the long haul.
Singh said he comes from an engineering and project-management background, and that he’s approached his support efforts accordingly.
He’s split his volunteers into four teams. Four volunteers are dedicated to logistics, he said. Their job is to keep tabs on inventory, figure out where to get more food and how to transport it to the Gurdwara.
“We’re fortunate our Gurdwara’s got a lot of truckers,” Singh said.
A team of six to eight people handles the cooking each morning. “We have very large pots,” Singh said.
They keep the menu simple — rice and beans, pasta dishes and the like.
When the cooking team is done, another team packs meals into boxes to keep them warm and make them easy to distribute.
Then the food is handed off to a team that distributes the food to a line of waiting cars in front of the temple.
“There’s no overlap,” Singh said of the work the teams do. In addition to giving everyone a clearly focused task, Singh said he also sought to limit each volunteer’s exposure to three hours a day.
“This is not just food, it’s getting everyone to feel a sense of community, a sense of support … It’s a way of being American- we’re all in this together.”
The operation has become so efficient that the volunteers store surplus in two donated refrigerator trucks to send to other communities in need.
But the real success, Singh said, has been watching the greater Riverside community coalesce around his temple.
“I’ve always felt conflicted,” Singh said, “that if someone is hungry somewhere within five miles of a Sikh temple, we are not doing our job.”
Now, he says, the Gurdwara has become a hub for the community. Families that came early on but have since had to isolate because of a positive COVID-19 test call the temple. Other families – strangers, says Singh – offer to drop their meals off on their doorsteps.

A villager uses a net to catch offerings thrown into the crater of Mount Bromo by Hindu devotees during Yadnya Kasada festival in Probolinggo, East Java, Indonesia, Tuesday, July 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Trisnadi)

A Jewish man prays outside his house, as synagogues are limited to 20 people following the government’s measures to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, in Bnei Brak, Israel, Thursday, July 9, 2020. Israel is going through a new coronavirus outbreak that is hammering both the economy and public health. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty

Vendors arrive with their decorated camels at a market set up for the upcoming Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha on the outskirts of Karachi, Pakistan, Thursday, July 16, 2020. Eid al-Adha, or Feast of Sacrifice, commemorates the willingness of the Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham to Christians and Jews) to sacrifice his son. (AP Photo/Fareed Khan)

July 2020

Written by WISDOM on . Posted in Newsletters

On Racial Inequities and a new Era of Jim Crow
By Stancy Adams
To begin, I want to thank my sisters and brothers across faiths who have called me in tears and wrote me with letters of support.  I am grateful for prayers that have gone forth, not just for how my community has been ravaged by COVID-19, but for the hateful, unconscionable, blatant killings of black men. My prayers as an ordained minister and chaplain are for worldwide healing.  Even amid my anger and pain, I believe G-d is in charge. Prayer and faith will prevail.
I write this with an aching and heavy heart. From a personal perspective, I have a black son, nephews, and other relatives. My grandchildren are biracial boys. I taught in Sunday school and mentored many young black men and women. Right now, I feel that each has a target on their backs. It is open season to hunt and kill for sport all black and brown people of any age!
I believe that the current civil unrest – bordering on civil war – is the result of the encouragement of extremist right-wing leaders in every level of our government.
The looting and destruction of buildings is the least of our problems,  The problem is not the fall of the stock market. The crux of the matter is the systemic racism that has permeated America since 1619 when the first African slaves were brought to this country.
Africans were treated worse than animals – stuffed into the holes of ships like sardines, chained together with those who died or were diseased. Those slaves who did not commit suicide or die faced lives of heinous treatment, i.e., merciless beatings with whips and chains, brutal rapes, lynching, castration and worse.
After Emancipation came Reconstruction, giving civil rights to freed slaves. This was a time when black men were able to vote and hold public office, Black literacy surged, surpassing that of whites in some cities. Black schools and churches thrived. But this era was short-lived. Redemption followed, led by white supremacists to reverse all black advancement. They erased the right of the black man to vote, and leased black prisoners to provide disposable, cheap labor. These unjust moves relegated black people into a place of servitude as indentured servants.
Then came the cascade of unjust laws targeting the black community: Jim Crow laws that reestablished white supremacy and codified segregation. These laws included bans on interracial marriage and separation of races in public places and businesses.
With the fight for Civil Rights legislation came lynching; and the burning of crosses, houses, and churches. Many of us watched in disbelief either in person or on television as fire hoses were turned on civil rights activists. We were horrified to see police unleashing dogs on men, women, and children to discourage and mutilate protestors.
Now we live in the “New Jim Crow” era, according to author, civil rights litigator and legal scholar, Michelle Alexander. Alexander describes “mass incarceration” and the age of “colorblindness” of which many of our people are not even aware, as they lose  freedoms through the movement every day!
Now the lynching is no longer from poplar trees but from within our governments, businesses and institutions of education – starting in kindergarten and continuing all the way through university. Jobs are provided based on physical attributes, experience, and education with less emphasis on the last. Skin color and gender are the most decisive factors.
Traffic stops give opportunity to police officers to antagonize, degrade, and strip persons of their man- or womanhood, without conscience. The statement, “I felt threatened,” justifying the killing of a black “unarmed man,” is considered a valid defense if one is white. However, that same defense is not acceptable in reverse.
Blatant injustices carried throughout police departments, such as coroner reports claiming  incorrect or misleading causes of death, make it possible for crimes of police to receive either a lesser sentence or no sentence at all.
This, indeed, is “systemic racism,” along with its resulting annihilation of black and brown people in cooperation with injustices in the court system – from district courts right up to the Supreme Court.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, statistics have proven a disproportionate number of blacks have died compared to whites. Some hospitals are reported to have discriminated in care provided to black people presenting with underlying health issues, and were turned away. Personal protection equipment often has been unequally disseminated in the black community, risking a death sentence for people who have to catch a bus to get to their often minimum-wage jobs that offer no sick pay, even in a global pandemic.
These abuses are but a microcosm of the travesties and tragedies poured out on my ancestors, parents, peers, sons, daughters, grandchildren, friends, neighbors and countless others.
The protests should not end until there is change. Looting and destruction should stop, but demanding justice should prevail – until ending racism is the mission of all.
May G-d have mercy on America, our leadership, and our people.

Faith leaders in metro Detroit call for justice and peace
Niraj Warikoo, Detroit Free Press
(l to r) Rabbi Daniel Schwartz, of Temple Shir Shalom in West Bloomfield and the incoming president of the Michigan Board of Rabbis, Rev. Kenneth Flowers of Greater New Mount Moriah Baptist Church in Detroit, Imam Mohammad Ali Elahi of the Islamic House of Wisdom in Dearborn Heights, and Rabbi Asher Lopatin, Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of metro Detroit/American Jewish Committee, stand inside Flowers’ church in Detroit on May 31, 2020. They called for justice, unity and peace, speaking out against racism. (Photo: Rev. Kenneth Flowers)
Faith leaders across metro Detroit are calling for justice, and peace, after the death of George Floyd at the hand of a white police officer in Minnesota.
Jewish, Christian, and Muslim leaders are standing in solidarity with the African American community and have held interfaith gatherings and news conferences, and put out statements condemning the death of Floyd who died when a police officer held a knee down on his neck for several minutes.
In Detroit on Sunday at Greater New Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church, rabbis, an imam and the Rev. Kenneth Flowers spoke out against the injustices that African Americans face while calling for peace.
In Dearborn, Muslim faith leaders, Arab American advocates with the Arab American Civil Rights League, as well as the Dearborn mayor and police chief, also criticized the death of Floyd at a news conference on Sunday outside the Dearborn Police Station.
Also on Sunday, the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan, Rt. Rev. Bonnie Perry, preached: “George Floyd. Say his name. We cannot be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit and crush the life out of another. We cannot tolerate a world, where videos reveal one and we choose to pretend other.”
And on Monday, the Imams Council of Michigan released a statement on behalf of Islamic clerics calling the death of Floyd “criminal and unjustified.”
During Sunday services broadcast online at Greater New Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church, Jewish leaders said they stand with the black community. The church has a predominantly African American congregation.
“On behalf of the Jewish community of Detroit … we are with you at this time, we are with you forever,” said Rabbi Asher Lopatin, Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of metro Detroit/American Jewish Committee. “We are with the African American community, with all the communities that are discriminated against.”
“When George Floyd said those terrible words, ‘I can’t breathe,’ when Eric Garner said those terrible words, ‘I can’t breathe,’ we have to remember that we can’t breathe,” Lopatin said.
Rabbi Daniel Schwartz, of Temple Shir Shalom and the incoming president of the Michigan Board of Rabbis, also spoke at the church, saying: “I want you to know that you are not along in your pain … you are not alone in your fear. … I stand here today to say we must do better.”
Imam Mohammad Ali Elahi, of the Islamic House of Wisdom, said at the church that the death of Floyd was a case of “unbelievable brutality” that “shocked the world.”
“There was no justification … to kneel on Floyd’s neck,” Elahi said.
In his remarks, Flowers said “As a black man living in America, I’m tired of these modern-day lynchings. I’m tired of being treated unfairly and un-trusted based on the color of my skin.”

Flowers said that when he gets pulled over for speeding, “my heart drops not because I’m afraid of getting a ticket” but because of “not knowing if that traffic stop will result in violence and me losing my life.”
Flowers also called for peaceful demonstrations. He was previously a pastor in Los Angeles during the 1992 riots and remembers the devastation. “America is being ripped apart” almost 30 years later after the death of Floyd,” Flowers said.
Flowers said he spoke Saturday night with Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon and Detroit Deputy Police Chief Todd Bettison, saying they want to send a message that they support the protesters, “but in a peaceful, law abiding away and that everything is done in a nonviolent way.”
He commended them for “working to keep the peace in the city.”
Through the weekend, Detroit had not seen the widespread looting and vandalism seen in other cities across the U.S.
“I call upon you also,” Flowers said, “if you are looting, we urge you to stop the looting now, we do not do any justice to our cause by burning buildings, burning the police cars and looting in the neighborhoods.”
“Let us strive to keep the peace, and stop the looting, and stop the violence,” Flowers said.
The Rev. Steven Bland, pastor of Liberty Temple Baptist Church in Detroit and president of the Council of Baptist Pastors of Detroit & Vicinity, said at the Dearborn news conference: “If it happened to George Floyd, it can happen to anyone of us.”
Also at the Dearborn event, Dearborn Police Chief Ron Haddad said that the officer’s actions against Floyd was “the most despicable, indefensible, and incomprehensible action by a human being against a human being.”
Contact Niraj Warikoo: or 313-223-4792.

Poll: US believers see message of
change from God in virus
NEW YORK – The coronavirus has prompted almost two-thirds of American believers of all faiths to feel that God is telling humanity to change how it lives, a new poll finds. While the virus rattles the globe, causing economic hardship for millions and killing more than 80,000 Americans, the findings of the poll by the University of Chicago Divinity School and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research indicate that people may also be searching for deeper meaning in the devastating outbreak.
Even some who don’t affiliate with organized religion, such as Lance Dejesus of Dallastown, Pa., saw a possible bigger message in the virus.
“It could be a sign, like ‘hey, get your act together’ – I don’t know,” said Dejesus, 52, who said he believes in God but doesn’t consider himself religious. “It just seems like everything was going in an OK direction and all of a sudden you get this coronavirus thing that happens, pops out of nowhere.”
The poll found that 31% of Americans who believe in God feel strongly that the virus is a sign of God telling humanity to change, with the same number feeling that somewhat. Evangelical Protestants are more likely than others to believe that strongly, at 43%, compared with 28% of Catholics and mainline Protestants.
The question was asked of all Americans who said they believe in God, without specifying a specific faith. The survey did not have a sample size large enough to report on the opinions of religious faiths with smaller numbers of U.S. adherents, including Muslims and Jews. In addition, black Americans were more likely than those of other racial backgrounds to say they feel the virus is a sign God wants humanity to change, regardless of education, income or gender. Forty-seven percent say they feel that strongly, compared with 37% of Latino and 27% of white Americans.
The COVID-19 virus has disproportionately walloped black Americans, exposing societal inequality that has left minorities more vulnerable and heightening concern that the risks they face are getting ignored by a push to reopen the U.S. economy. Amid that stark reality, the poll found black Americans who believe in God are more likely than others to say they have felt doubt about God’s existence as a result of the virus – 27% said that, compared with 13% of Latinos and 11% of white Americans.
But the virus has prompted negligible change in Americans’ overall belief in God, with 2% saying they believe in God today, but did not before. Fewer than 1% say they do not believe in God today but did before.
Most houses of worship stopped in-person services to help protect public health as the virus began spreading, but that didn’t stop religious Americans from turning to online and drive-in gatherings to express their faiths. Americans with a religious affiliation are regularly engaging in private prayer during the pandemic, with 57% saying they do so at least weekly since March – about the same share that say they prayed as regularly last year.
Overall, 82% of Americans say they believe in God, and 26% of Americans say their sense of faith or spirituality has grown stronger as a result of the outbreak. Just 1% say it has weakened.
Kathryn Lofton, a professor of religious studies at Yale University, interpreted the high number of Americans perceiving the virus as a message from God about change as an expression of “fear that if we don’t change, this misery will continue.”
“When people get asked about God, they often interpret it immediately as power,” said Lofton, who collaborated with researchers from the University of Chicago and other universities, along with The Associated Press, on the design of the new poll. “And they answer the question saying, ‘Here’s where the power is to change the thing I experience.'”
Fifty-five percent of American believers say they feel at least somewhat that God will protect them from being infected. Evangelical Protestants are more likely than those of other religious backgrounds to say they believe that, with 43% saying so strongly and another 30% saying so somewhat, while Catholics and mainline Protestants are more closely split on feeling that way or not.
However, the degree and nature of protection that God is believed to offer during the pandemic can differ depending on the believer. Marcia Howl, 73, a Methodist and granddaughter of a minister, said she feels God’s protection but not certainty that it would save her from the virus.
“I believe he has protected me in the past, that he has a plan for us,” said Howl, of Portalas, N.M. “I don’t know what’s in his plan, but I believe his presence is here looking after me. Whether I can survive it or not, that’s a different story.”
Among black Americans who believe in God, 49% say they feel strongly that God will protect them from the virus, compared with 34% of Latino and 20% of white Americans. David Emmanuel Goatley, a professor at Duke University’s divinity school who was not involved with the survey, said religious black Americans’ view of godly protection could convey “confidence or hope that God is able to provide – that does not relinquish personal responsibility, but it says God is able.”
Goatley, who directs the school’s Office of Black Church Studies, noted a potential distinction between how religious black Americans and religious white Americans might see their protective relationship with God. Within black Christian theology is a sense of connection to the divine in which “God is personally engaged and God is present,” he said. That belief, he added, is “different from a number of white Christians, evangelical and not, who would have a theology that’s more a private relationship with God.
(The AP-NORC poll of 1,002 adults was conducted April 30-May 4 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.)

Global Citizen
Meet Britain’s ‘Skipping Sikh’: a 73-Year-Old Bringing Joy to Older People Exercising at Home
First there was Colonel Tom walking laps for the NHS, then we had Dabirul Islam Choudhury fundrasing while fasting for Ramadan – and now, adding to the list of inspirational people from the older generation keeping Britain motivated during the coronavirus pandemic, Rajinder Singh has been showing off how to stay fit at home in lockdown.
The 73-year-old retired bus driver from west London has found himself unexpectedly in the limelight after posting a series of videos showing people how to skip – all while raising money for the NHS, encouraging almost £12,000 in donations so far.
The sprightly pensioner was passionate about exercise and keeping healthy before the pandemic, regularly running for charity and joining Park Run for an organised 5km jog every Saturday.  But now he’s using that interest to inspire others in his generation and community to do the same, after receiving a huge response online.  Global Citizen spoke to Singh and his daughter Min Kaur, who has been helping to film and upload his workouts to YouTube .
“I have always exercised and done things for charity, but in lockdown we decided to put some of the exercises I was doing online to show others what they could do too – my daughter encouraged me, she said it could help other people,” Singh says. “I agreed. I wanted to show people that you can stay active in lockdown.” His daughter explained that she started to realise how isolated older people could become as lockdown began. The government advised people over 70 and those with underlying health conditions to “shield” – meaning going out as little as possible and getting food delivered to their homes.
“I spoke to my friends who have parents or grandparents living with them at home, and even though they were together in the same house, they were spending time in separate rooms to keep them safe,” Kaur said. “I thought it was all a bit sad and depressing.”   Kaur also worried that many people would resort to staying on the sofa all day and eating unhealthy food, affecting both their physical and mental health.   But her father was determined to keep his spirits up – he couldn’t go for runs anymore but was still skipping every day. So Kaur filmed one of Singh’s sessions, put it on Twitter, and it quickly got over 35,000 views.  They’ve since built a lively community of followers on YouTube and across social media, using the hashtag #skippingsikh – with his story featured on the BBC and international outlets such as CNN and Al Jazeera.

Singh explains that he likes skipping because it’s simple to do inside the house or in the garden. “You just get a rope and you don’t need a lot of space to start skipping,” he says.   “I skip daily between five and 20 minutes of interval skipping as it’s a great cardio workout,” he adds. “In lockdown this is the best form of exercise as it’s easy to learn and do.”
Some of the workouts show other ways to keep active at home, like lifting makeshift weights, such as watering cans filled with water and other household items. Singh’s wife, Pritpal, has featured in some of them too.
“The younger generation are showing them to their parents and grandparents, and they’ve also been shown on the British-Asian TV channels, so more people saw them on TV and got in touch,” says Kaur.
“People have sent us so many messages online saying they are learning to skip now. During a time of doom and gloom, it’s felt really positive to have motivated people,” Kaur adds.  The pair explain that it has also been a good way to connect with the Sikh community online too, as of course during lockdown people can no longer gather to worship weekly.
“We would normally gather at the Gurdwara and the elderly would go there regularly,” Kaur explains. “It has a kitchen and food is available throughout the day, and as they aren’t working that would be their time to meet people from the community and socialise.”
Kaur adds that it is helpful for people in their community to relate to her dad. “He’s not Joe Wicks – some of the exercises are not that intense – and it’s not professional, but it doesn’t need to be, it’s just about having fun and encouraging people to stay active,” she says.
“And it just adds something, if somebody sees someone like them exercising then it makes them want to try it – they’ll engage because it’s someone from their community,” she continues.
As the UK starts to ease lockdown measures, many older people will continue to practice social distancing because of the continued potential risk to their health, and many have been strongly advised to continue to do so by doctors. So Singh and Kaur say they will continue with their videos and keep up the momentum amid their new virtual community.
“I’m really humbled by the response I have got and thank everyone out there who’s supported the fundraiser and felt inspired by my exercises and has started to do exercise,” Singh says of his lockdown project.  “I’m truly thankful to those who have shown me so much love.”

Outgoing President Bobbie Lewis’s Speech at the WISDOM Installation Zoom meeting on May 27th, 2020.
Despite the challenges, we held several successful programs, including a membership tea, a docent-led tour of the Detroit Institute of Arts that focused on images of women, and a panel discussion, “Coming to America,” in honor of International Women’s Day, where a diverse group of women shared their experiences and perspectives as immigrants to our country. We held our signature Five Women Five Journeys programs for Oakland Center Physicians, Covington Middle School, Blue Cross/Blue Shield and Hadassah, a Jewish women’s organization.
We also did several community services projects. As we have done for many years, we stuffed backpacks with school supplies with Greater New Mt. Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in Detroit. We prepared food for the communal kitchen in Zaman’s headquarters in Inkster and participated in the graduation ceremony of Zaman International’s BOOST program, which provides English language instruction, GED classes and vocational training for women. This year, with many of Zaman’s activities on hiatus, we have made a donation to help them purchase supplies for the women to make face masks that they can sell. We also contributed to the Oakland County Poverty and Homelessness Task Force.
While our programming challenges remain huge, we are going to get to work soon on planning for the coming year, either programs we can present remotely, like the one are doing now, or activities that will take place once social distancing becomes less intense.
It has been a huge honor to serve WISDOM as president for the past two years. I joined WISDOM – I can’t even remember when, probably about 10 years ago – because I strongly believe in its mission and vision. Interfaith relationships have always been important to ne. WISDOM has been a lifeline in that regard, especially after I retired and my social group contracted to consist mainly of people like me.
I’m looking forward to working with the sisters I have come to know so well over the past few years and with Mary, Suzanne, Reem and Diane, who are joining us today. I know that the intelligence, caring, and energy we share will lead us to do great things for our community.
And I am thrilled to be turning over the presidency to my dear friend Teri Weingarden. I can’t think of anyone better qualified or better suited to lead our organization over the next two years.
Incoming WISDOM President Teri Weingarden’s speech at the WISDOM Installation Zoom
meeting on May 27th, 2020.
I am honored and humbled to “Zoom” before you, as your next WISDOM President. WISDOM started with a few women deciding to sit down and just get to know each other. That is really how most friendships begin, when we take the time to truly listen to and get to know each other.
The founders of WISDOM shared a belief that women were best suited to form an interfaith movement, build on these relationships, encouraging collaboration, empathy, respecting each other’s differences, building bridges and taking action towards change.
This very human and spiritual component is what personally led me to WISDOM. I wanted to be a part of an interfaith group of friends finding commonality, supporting each other and creating pathways to peace. I feel such an integral part of this WISDOM sisterhood and am excited to be helping lead us our organization forward. As our WISDOM President, I want to increase our impact on helping those unseen or misunderstood in our community through interfaith collaboration, engaging in educational programming, and finding new and innovative ways to share our stories.
In our book Friendship & Faith, Parker Palmer is quoted, “What we need is right here, within us and between us, in the places we meet, in the moments we pray, in the times we reach out and across to one another in love.”
It’s important to me to understand what attracted each of you to WISDOM and find a way to engage, encourage and motivate you to work with your WISDOM sisters to make your best contribution towards our world. We need to empower members to be actively involved in supporting our mission as well as experiencing personal fulfillment. We are a team and each member of the team has unique skills, interests and resources to share.
One of our first WISDOM programs, before my time with WISDOM, brought together a group of interfaith women, mostly strangers to do a Habitat for Humanity build. As the day progressed the women worked together, talked together and built together. By the end of the day they had achieved a tangible goal and not only build a home, but also new relationships, understanding and friendships. This is the power of our work together. Building relationships that can lead to powerful collaborations.
We need to continue to deepen our relationships throughout our organization and also leverage our connections with other interfaith organizations to jointly create programming that engages our communities and helps us make space for peace. We are small and powerful but we cannot accomplish everything ourselves. We need to focus on our strengths and help others succeed in their areas of expertise. We should continue to work with organizations that further our mission and support them financially, publicly and through joint projects and volunteer efforts.
Our International Women’s day began two years ago as an idea. One of our WISDOM sisters brought it to us and that program took life. We have invited others to share poems and stories and this year, highlighting immigrant experiences and even raised funds for Alternatives for Girls. This resonates with people and brings light to issues of immigration and discrimination.
In these times of isolation and quarantine, it is important to find additional ways to connect. We deepen our own spirituality and motivation to help others through these inspirational relationships. Luckily, this draws upon several of our strengths. We have a beautiful new addition of Friendship and Faith which shares 52 women’s stories of interfaith relationships, struggle and perseverance. We need to ensure these books are being shared and read so our message can travel into homes around the world. This supports our efforts to dispel myths, stereotypes, prejudices and fear about faith traditions different from our own.
We have our 5W5J (Five Women Five Journeys) which adds a very personal and interactive component to our stories. 5W5J This unique WISDOM program features personal stories of women of different faith traditions, how their childhood impacted their beliefs today, what the challenges are for women in their faith tradition, what parts of their religion are misunderstood, how reaching out to someone from a different faith has enriched their lives.
Through 5W5J, we share our unique perspectives and commonalities, highlighting the fact that none of us are really the “other”. We are your sister, neighbor, colleague or friend. We are discussing ways we can share past discussions or tape new ones and allow for panel interviews or interactive question and answer sessions. This will present a new challenge, but ultimately allow us to share our message more widely. What message do you want to share about the importance of WISDOM?
We need to continue to find ways to support “the other” and advocate for inclusion and tolerance. As stated by Ambassador Samantha Power,U.S. Representative to the United Nations (2013-17), “But as women who, even to this day, know what it feels like to be unheard or unseen, we have an additional responsibility. I think the burden of being treated differently is also our strength – because it gives us the capacity to notice when others are treated differently. To see the blind spots.” We need to take an active role in supporting equality and social justice and “hear, and lift up, the voices of those whom others choose not to hear.”
Our recent support of the Oakland County Poverty and Homelessness Task Force and continued collaboration with the Zaman Boost program show strides in this area. Let’s continue and expand these efforts. How do you want to help us focus on helping those without a voice, thus supporting our efforts to further social justice and world peace? How do you see your passion contribution helping us achieve our mission?
Let me close by quoting President Barack Obama in his commencement speech to my daughter’s college in 2012,
“And if you’re willing to do your part now, if you’re willing to reach up and close that gap between what America is and what America should be, I want you to know that I will be right there with you.  If you are ready to fight for that brilliant, radically simple idea of America that no matter who you are or what you look like, no matter who you love or what God you worship, you can still pursue your own happiness, I will join you every step of the way.”
WISDOM Board of Directors 2020-2021
Teri Weingarden, President, (Jewish) West Bloomfield
Karin Dains Vice President of Public Relations, (LDS) Lathrup Village
Gail Katz Vice President of Public Relations (Jewish) Bloomfield Hills
Dr. Paula Drewek, Vice President of Board Development, (Baha’i), Warren
Trish Harris Vice President of Board Development, (Catholic) Bloomfield Hills
Ayesha Khan Vice President of Programs (Muslim) West Bloomfield
Sameena Basha Vice President of Programs (Muslim) Rochester Hills
Bobbie Lewis Vice President of Membership (Jewish) Detroit
Shama Mehta Vice President of Membership (Hindu) Livonia
Suzanne Levin (Jewish) Beverly Hills
Mary Gilhuly (Catholic) Oak Park
Rev. Carolyn Simon (Christian) Southfield
Rev. Dianne Van Marter (Christian) Detroit
Rev. Dr. Rose Cooper (Unity) Lathrup Village
Reem Saleh, (Muslim) Dearborn
WISDOM Advisory Board 2020-2021
Rev. Stancy Adams (Christian) Bloomfield Hills
Parwin Anwar (Muslim) Sterling Heights
Rev. Sharon Buttry (Christian) Hamtramck
Peggy Dahlberg (Christian) Bloomfield Hills
Fran Hildebrandt (Jewish) Farmington Hills
Delores Lyons (Buddhist) Detroit
Brenda Rosenberg (Jewish) Bloomfield Hills
Gigi Salka (Muslim) Bloomfield Hills
Maryann Schlie (Unity) Beverly HIlls

Christians, Muslims hope Mosul project
helps rebuild trust
Jun 3, 2020

AMMAN, JORDAN – Christians and Muslims hope a project to reconstruct Mosul’s iconic places of worship, badly damaged by Islamic State militants during their 2014-2017 occupation of the city, will also help to rebuild trust between Iraq’s fractured religious communities.
“Walking in the streets of Mosul, I saw a young neighbor, probably born after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, who never knew peace time in the city,” French Dominican Father Olivier Poquillon told Catholic News Service from the northern Iraqi city of Irbil.
“‘Oh, you are Christians,’ he told me and the group. ‘Come back, come back here to live in peace together,’ he implored us.”
“We know it will be a challenge for everybody to rebuild trust among people, families and communities. But this is our faith. We believe in a God of mercy, and we believe we have this humanity as a common responsibility,” Poquillon said.
The $50.4 million UNESCO project, funded by the United Arab Emirates, envisions rebuilding not only Mosul’s landmark Great Mosque of al-Nouri and its minaret, but also the renowned Conventual Church of Our Lady of the Hour, along with the Al-Tahera Syriac Catholic Church.
Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed a “caliphate” from the al-Nouri Mosque’s minaret in 2014 and, three years later, had it blown up as Iraqi government forces retook the city. The battle for Mosul lasted almost nine months, leaving large areas in ruins and killing thousands of civilians. More than 900,000 others were displaced from the city.
The extremists forced tens of thousands of Christians to choose conversion to Islam or death, if they remained. Instead, they escaped northward, while others fled abroad.
The Dominicans built Our Lady of the Hour Church in the 19th century as a place of encounter. Their history in Iraq dates back to the 13th century, soon after the founding of the order, when their first friar arrived at the behest of the pope. In the 17th century, the Dominicans in Mosul established educational instruction, health care, and sought to unite local Christian communities with Rome.
Later, both large and small seminaries associated with this church educated Iraq’s Chaldean Catholic Cardinal Louis Sako and a host of other top Catholic clerics in the country. Mosul was always considered, along with the Ninevah Plain, the ancestral heartland of Iraq’s Christian community. Our Lady of the Hour’s famed clock tower, the first in Iraq, was gifted by Empress Eugenie de Montijo, wife of Napoleon III, in 1876. The clock installed in 1880 was a famous four-dial clock.
Poquillon, who oversees the project on behalf of the Dominicans, is excited that it is Mosul’s citizens, now nearly 99% Sunni Muslim, who requested that UNESCO include both Catholic churches as absolutely necessary to the city’s rebuilding efforts.
“It’s not a top-down initiative but bottom-up. They (Mosul’s Sunni Muslims) told UNESCO that if you rebuild the Great Mosque, the old city will never again be our city without the Dominican church,” he recounted. “We hope, by the help of God, that this place may return as a sanctuary for the Virgin Mary, venerated by Christians and Muslims alike.”
“The project is a great opportunity because our mission has always been to support the people and to help value the fantastic heritage of this region. Mesopotamia is part of the Holy Land. Abraham was from Ur and Mosul is Ninevah,” Poquillon said. “It is very important not to lose this perspective and to see how we can contribute to help people engage together for the common good.”
Poquillon said the project’s first goal is for Muslims, Christians and other communities “to work together, to do something positive together.” Then, he said, Christians and other religious minorities must see again that Mosul is “their home and that they are in their own land.”
“It is a symbolic commitment of the authorities to tell the Christians that they are indeed part of the community. This the is heart of the joint message between Pope Francis and the grand imam of Al-Azhar to move from minority status to full citizenship,” he said of the leaders’ signed agreement, “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together.”
Poquillon said Christian and Muslim workers will once again rebuild Mosul’s landmark mosque and churches as they had initially done in the past.
“We are sharing a joint responsibility to rebuild for the common good,” he said. He noted that the Dominicans are not employers for the project, but are accompanying UNESCO on this mission.
A recent spike in COVID-19 cases forced authorities to impose a strict curfew and lockdown from June 1 until midnight June 6, halting work. Northern Iraq was already under a two-month curfew.
Poquillon said workers hoped to be able to clear leftover land mines and sort stones.
“We have to keep the historical stones,” he said of plans to maintain the same cityscape afforded by both the mosque and the church.
“The church is at the heart, the crossroads of the old city of Mosul, on the corner of the two main streets of the city. So, when the people entered the city, they first saw the Clock Tower of Our Lady of the Hour and the Great Mosque minaret,” UNESCO said.
Poquillon said 50 Christian families have returned to Mosul, likely due to the cost of living being lower there than in Irbil or the towns of the Ninevah Plain. But the hope is that Christians and Muslims alike will find jobs and homes in Mosul once again, and perhaps the project will contribute to that.

How to Feed Crowds in a Protest
 or Pandemic? The Sikhs Know
The New York Times, June 10, 2020
Inside a low, brick-red building in Queens Village, a group of about 30 cooks has made and served more than 145,000 free meals in just 10 weeks. They arrive at 4 a.m. three days a week to methodically assemble vast quantities of basmati rice, dal, beans and vibrantly flavored sabzis for New York City hospital workers, people in poverty and anyone else in search of a hot meal. This isn’t a soup kitchen or a food bank. It’s a gurdwara, the place of worship for Sikhs, members of the fifth-largest organized religion in the world, with about 25 million adherents. Providing for people in need is built into their faith.
An essential part of Sikhism is langar, the practice of preparing and serving a free meal to promote the Sikh tenet of seva, or selfless service. Anyone, Sikh or not, can visit a gurdwara and partake in langar, with the biggest ones – like the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India – serving more than 100,000 people every day.
Since the coronavirus pandemic has halted religious gatherings in most of the country, including langar, gurdwaras like the Sikh Center of New York, in Queens Village, are mobilizing their large-scale cooking resources to meet the skyrocketing need for food aid outside their places of worship. Some are feeding the protesters marching in outrage over the killings of George Floyd and other black Americans by the police. Last week, a dozen or so volunteers from the Queens center served 500 portions of matar paneer, rice and rajma, a creamy, comforting dish of red beans stewed with tomatoes, and 1,000 bottles of water and cans of soda to demonstrators in Sunnyside. They also offered dessert: kheer, a sweetened rice pudding.
“Where we see peaceful protest, we are going,” said Himmat Singh, a coordinator at the World Sikh Parliament, an advocacy group providing volunteers for the Queens Village efforts. “We are looking for justice. We support this.” Since the pandemic began, soup kitchens have had difficulty keeping up with demand. Shuttered schools and even fine-dining restaurants are using their kitchens to prepare and serve hot meals. But few other places are as well positioned to handle the sheer scale of assistance required right now as the gurdwaras. Most have large, well-equipped kitchens, a steady stream of volunteers and no shortage of ingredients, thanks to regular donations from community members. During the last annual Sikh Day Parade in New York, in April 2019, the Queens Village kitchen – which has a walk-in cooler, multiple freezers, 50-liter stockpots and a huge grill that can cook dozens of rotis at once – produced 15,000 meals in a single day. The Sikhs’ biggest challenge isn’t keeping up with demand. It’s letting people know that they’re here – without making a big show of it or proselytizing, which is forbidden.
Founded in the 15th century in Punjab, India, by the spiritual leader Guru Nanak, Sikhism has an estimated 500,000 followers in the United States and 280 gurdwaras, according to the Sikh Coalition, a civil-rights organization in New York City. One of the most visibly distinctive features of the Sikh practice is the turban – a symbol of the religion’s belief in equality – though not everyone chooses to wear one.
Sikhs in America have been often been prey to bigotry, hate crimes and Islamophobia, particularly since 9/11. A few volunteers said in interviews that before going out to distribute meals, they worried that they might hear ignorant comments. But Santokh Dillon, the president of the Guru Nanak Mission Society of Atlanta, said the people he serves are often more puzzled than prejudiced. Most have never even heard of Sikhism, he said. When some find out that the meals are free, “They look at us and say, ‘You are kidding, right?’ “
At least 80 gurdwaras in the United States are now providing food assistance. For many, the transition has been quick and seamless.
This is not just because the infrastructure is already there, said Satjeet Kaur, the executive director of the Sikh Coalition. “The call to action and the responsibility” for helping others is deeply entrenched in the Sikh way of life. Sikhs are expected to donate at least 10 percent of their time or income toward community service.
It took the Gurdwara Sahib of Fremont, Calif., just a few days after suspending religious services in March to set up a meal and grocery delivery program, and a drive-through meal pickup system outside the gurdwara. Cooks wear gloves and masks, and the kitchen is big enough for workers to stand more than six feet from one another. As at most gurdwaras, the menu changes regularly, but is typically Indian and always vegetarian. (Meat is not permitted in gurdwaras.)
While these Sikh volunteers, known as sevadars, are experts in mass-meal preparation, they aren’t as accustomed to spreading the word. The Fremont kitchen has produced 15,000 to 20,000 meals a day on holidays like New Year’s Eve, said Dr. Pritpal Singh, a member of the gurdwara. But now, the gurdwara is serving just 100 to 150 people each day.
Dr. Singh said he hoped that more people in need would come pick up food. “We could do hundreds of thousands of meals if given the task,” he said.
But with the demonstrations unfolding around the country, Sikhs aren’t waiting for people to come to them any longer. On Tuesday, volunteers from the Gurdwara Sahib attended a protest in Fremont and handed out several hundred bottles of water as a show of solidarity.
On a recent Friday, Gurjiv Kaur and Kiren Singh asked the volunteers at their gurdwara, the Khalsa Care Foundation, in the Pacoima neighborhood of Los Angeles, to prepare meals in the community kitchen that they could take to the protest. The next morning, they and others picked up about 700 containers of pasta with a garlic- and onion-laden tomato sauce and 500 bottles of water from the gurdwara, and set up a tent in Pan Pacific Park. Soon, protesters started arriving at the tent with other donations, like medical supplies, snacks and hand sanitizer.
“It is our duty to stand up with others to fight for justice,” said Ms. Kaur, a graduating senior at the University of California, Irvine. “Langar at its core is a revolution – against inequality and the caste system,” the antiquated hereditary class structure in South Asia, which Sikhism has always rejected.
In Norwich, Conn., volunteers from five gurdwaras handed out a few hundred bottles of water to protesters last Tuesday, and on Friday, distributed as many containers of rajma, or kidney beans, and rice on a Main Street sidewalk, a block from City Hall. Swaranjit Singh Khalsa, a volunteer and a member of the Norwich Board of Education, noted that historically, many Sikhs in India have been killed by the police while fighting for their civil rights.
At many gurdwaras in the United States, most of those who show up for langar meals are Sikhs. Now that they are catering to a broader population, menus have changed to suit different tastes. In the Seattle area, volunteers at the Gurudwara Sacha Marag Sahib are making pasta and tacos in addition to rice and dal.
At the Hacienda de Guru Ram Das in Española, N.M., meals have included enchiladas and burritos. Still, Harimandir Khalsa, a volunteer, said the community kitchen is operating at less than 10 percent of its capacity.
“I think it is about convenience,” Mr. Khalsa said, as the gurdwara isn’t centrally located. “If we had a food truck parked in front of Walmart that said, ‘Free food,’ we could get more takers. But for people to get in their cars and drive over to this place – people aren’t that desperate yet.”
Location is also an issue for the Guru Ramdas Gurdwara Sahib in Vancouver, Wash., as the neighborhood doesn’t have much foot traffic, said Mohan Grewal, the gurdwara secretary. So every other Sunday, volunteers pack up 300 to 400 meals made in the gurdwara and drive them to the Living Hope Church, a Christian congregation six miles away, in a more urban part of the city. One of the biggest challenges for gurdwaras is that many hospitals, shelters and other charitable organizations they’d like to help don’t take cooked food because of hygienic concerns, or accept it only if it meets certain health codes. Many Sikhs have started collecting and distributing pantry items in addition to making meals.
Still, some gurdwaras are bustling. In Riverside, Calif., a hub for the Sikh population, volunteers from the United Sikh Mission, an American nonprofit aid group, and the Khalsa School Riverside, a children’s program, serve 3,000 to 5,000 meals every day at the Riverside Gurdwara. People line up in the drive-through as early as 9:30 a.m., even though it doesn’t open until 11:30.
The process is highly systematized. The cooking team shows up at 5:30 a.m. to prepare meals based on previous days’ numbers, as well as requests from senior centers, hospitals and nursing homes; another team packs the meals into microwave-safe boxes; and the third distributes them at the drive-through and other locations. The gurdwara shares information about the free meals through regular posts on large Facebook groups for local residents.
“We didn’t just sit there and say we are going to cook and wait for people to come,” said Gurpreet Singh, a volunteer for the United Sikh Mission.
Since the protests, Mr. Singh and others have been reaching out to black organizations, like churches, offering to drop off meals or groceries. They expect to see an increase in people showing up for meals, as thousands have been attending protests in the area.
Groups like United Sikhs, an international nonprofit, are helping to get the word out. They have stepped up efforts to identify areas of need, connect gurdwaras with organizations seeking assistance, provide best practices for food preparation during the pandemic and mobilize Sikhs to help feed protesters.
While the pandemic continues, a few gurdwaras aren’t using their kitchens. Tejkiran Singh, a spokesman for the Singh Sabha of Michigan, west of Detroit, said the gurdwara committee decided it was too risky to start a meal distribution service, especially since Michigan has become a hot spot for the coronavirus.
When the Sikh Society of Central Florida, in Oviedo, reopens on June 14, services will be limited to fewer people, and food will be handed out in to-go containers as they leave.
But Amit Pal Singh and Charanjit Singh, the chairman and the treasurer of the Sikh Society of Central Florida, also want to continue the drive-through and delivery services they developed during the pandemic.
“The concept of langar is to serve the needy,” Mr. Pal Singh said. Before the pandemic, he said, most people participating in langar were local Sikhs coming more for social and religious reasons than out of need. The drive-through and deliveries will allow them to put meals into the hands of people who struggle to afford to eat.
That will mean a lot of extra food for volunteers to prepare, in a city where the Sikh population is still small. But none of that seemed to worry Mr. Pal Singh. “We would love to be in that situation,” he said, his optimism vibrating through the phone. “We will handle it.”

Zaman Founder’s Life-Changing
 Experience Prepares Her for Pandemic
Earlier in my career, I was a critical care nurse at a hospital in Detroit caring for a 50-year-old man with heart disease. In the middle of the night, the monitors started beeping and the monitors showed the line flattening. I hollered, ‘Code blue! Code blue!’ “The surgeon ran in and said, ‘We have to split the chest.’ Before I knew it, I was looking down at this man’s heart. The surgeon grabbed my hand and put it on the heart. I began to gently clap the heart; it started to quiver. And then it started to beat. “It was a pivotal moment in my life. I have not been the same person since. This is what some call a spiritual synapsis. We all have them. We just aren’t aware of them and often don’t know how to capture the moment.”
Najah Bazzy not only captured the moment; she has been guided by it. Eventually her role as a nurse expanded, and she has found her life’s work. Today, Bazzy, 60, is a world-renown humanitarian recognized for her work as founder of Zaman International, a Detroit-based nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating poverty and restoring dignity among refugee women and children. She has earned a 2019 CNN Top Ten Hero award, among many other such honors. Zaman’s humble beginnings reflect Bazzy’s approach to life: Fix the immediate problem. Do not be slowed down by limitations. Follow the guiding spirit. In the beginning there was no office, no staff, no organization. There was only Bazzy. Her van. And her outstretched hand.
For nearly 15 years, Bazzy delivered food, clothing and household items to newly arrived families in Detroit and Dearborn who had next to nothing. She asked her doctor and nurse colleagues for contributions. And when her van grew too small to store all the donated items, she asked her friends to make room in their garages. Bazzy remains every bit the visionary today as she was then. In January, when coronavirus was an exotic name of a far-off medical condition, Bazzy was planning for the devastation it could cause at home.
“I lived through the HIV crisis. I spent time in critical care, the emergency room, with end-of-life patients. It was almost instinctive, anticipating what we are seeing now: food insecurity with hundreds of cars lined up to receive food. A lot of phone calls, a lot of fear around not being able to pay bills.
“Prior to the state’s shelter-in-place order, I knew we had to prepare. I mobilized our team and we talked about what was coming: The first crisis is going to be around the availability of food. The second is economic anxiety. And the third is grief. “Organizations like Zaman must constantly revisit their operations and ask: Are we as focused as we should be? Are we as efficient as we could be? Are we as strategic as we could be?”
Focus, efficiency and strategy are the reasons why Zaman was able to continue its services without interruption-as well as add new ones-when the pandemic did hit Detroit. Zaman’s food pantry, which had been open to the community, has become a food distribution center where volunteers pack food kits and provide them to area families. Vocational arts and literacy classes for women who are the head-of-households have continued-online. Social work and case management have also continued and can help calm the anxiety of those who miss rent payments and utility bills. And, perhaps most important, her team is ready to offer grief support for those who have lost loved ones.
“Once the shock of this wears off, I think there will be a time of mourning and grief for the families of those who died, and for those who died alone. We are preparing ourselves to help manage grief for those who call on us.”
Though much of Zaman’s current focus is on meeting the needs of COVID-related emergencies, the programs that put Zaman on the map continue. Plots for Tots Infant Burial Program assists families in poverty who suffer miscarriages and infant deaths. Those families include refugees who often experience language barriers and do not understand how to have their infants’ remains released to them from hospitals. Zaman helps these families through this heart-wrenching process ensuring their religious and cultural beliefs are honored and they are treated with dignity. Zaman gives these babies proper burials.
Another program, less grave, but impactful just the same, is the Back to School Initiative. The program expanded in 2015 with a $12,500 grant from Ford Fund, and provides backpacks filled with new school supplies to K-12 students at the beginning of each school year. More than 5,000 students have been served.
This grant represents an on-going relationship between Ford Fund and Zaman. In 2016, Ford Fund donated a Ford Transit to support Zaman’s food pantry operations. And in 2018, Zaman became a nonprofit partner in the Ford Volunteer Corps-a global network of Ford employees and retirees who lend their time and expertise in tens of thousands of community service projects each year. Bazzy said the backpack program will continue this fall whether students return to brick and mortar schools or continue to their classes from home.
“It’s important that kids feel they are counted,” she said. “The ritual of collecting school supplies at the beginning of the school year is exciting for kids. It’s symbolic of hope for the future, and Ford Fund helped make it possible.”
Always the visionary, Bazzy likens the emergency of COVID-19 to the emergency of the man whose heart she held in her hands all those years ago. “These times require a collective human response. If we could look through the lens of our collective heart, maybe we would be kinder and there would be less war and less destruction. I believe we will learn to honor the differences between us. That’s the human spirit. It is something beautiful to watch.

What Latter-day Saints Can Learn from Ramadan to Enhance Their Fasting Experience
For our Muslim friends and neighbors around the world, April 23 through May 23 is the holy month of Ramadan. Serving on the board of directors for the Interfaith Leadership Council of Metro Detroit and in my capacity as public affairs director for the Church in my stake, I have had some incredible opportunities to explore the rich religious landscape of my diverse community. One of my favorite experiences has been celebrating Ramadan with my wonderful Muslim friends and neighbors.
Before I got involved in interfaith work, the only thing I knew about Ramadan was that it involved fasting-for a really, really long time. As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I am no stranger to fasting. During our designated fast Sunday at the start of each month, we go without food or drink for two consecutive meals, or approximately 24 hours. But a month! How do you fast for an entire month?
Ramadan lasts for 29 or 30 days, depending on when the new moon is seen based on the Islamic calendar. Before sunrise each day, a pre-fast meal called the Suhoor is eaten to provide energy for the day. The morning prayer (Fajr) marks the beginning of their fast, which lasts until the sun sets. Once the evening prayer (Maghrib) has been observed, it is time to refuel physically and emotionally for the next day of fasting and devotion. Family and friends often gather for the evening meal (Iftar) which is a time of unity and celebration during this season of spiritual reflection and increased worship to God.
One of my favorite interfaith experiences has been joining my Muslim bothers and sisters for an Iftar during the month of Ramadan. Not only is the food absolutely amazing (seriously the best!) but the spirit of love and community consecrated by the fast of faithful believers is truly touching. I would highly encourage anyone who has the opportunity to attend a community Iftar.
So why do Muslims observe Ramadan?
For followers of Islam, fasting isn’t just a good thing to do-it’s a requirement, or pillar of faith. You may have heard of the Five Pillars of Islam. Fasting (Sawm) was taught by the prophet Muhammad as a way to increase devotion to God.
“O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous” (Quran 2:183)
The practice of fasting is common to many religions and acts as a way to elevate the self or the soul above physical wants and needs to access a higher level of spirituality. Jewish men and women fast at Yom Kippur, Buddhist fast on Vesak, and many Christians fast as part of Lent and the Holy Weeks. Muslims fast specifically during the holy month of Ramadan to commemorate the month in which the Qur’an, the holy text of Islam, was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. Muslims also fast at other times throughout the year to ask for forgiveness of sins.
What can we learn from Ramadan?
One of the most inspiring aspects of witnessing my Muslim friends’ observance of Ramadan is their cheerful obedience. I have asked them if it is hard to fast while working or going about their daily activities while others may give little or no thought to their religious practice. But they always respond with a smile that it is a blessing to fast. I have never heard them complain about the long, hot days when Ramadan falls in the summer due to the lunar calendar.
As we have held interfaith meetings in past years during the fast, there is no grumbling or complaint when others enjoy a snack or a meal. When asked if it is hard to fast for 30 consecutive days, I am met with responses of nothing but gratitude, giving me an increased devotion for the season and how I can learn lessons from it in my own life.
As a young person growing up, the approach of Fast Sunday often solicited dread as I contemplated the hours of stomach pains surely ahead. Even on a Sunday surrounded by fellow participants in the fast, when a younger sibling enjoyed a bowl of Cap’n Crunch cereal, I would lament the unfairness of my plight. Now as an adult, I am ashamed to admit how often I note the approach of the first Sunday of the month as I would an upcoming visit to the dentist-necessary, but not desired.
Now imagine a blend of fast Sunday and the Christmas season! Think about what it would be like with all the sights, smells, traditions, and memories of that special time connected with the increased spiritual devotion from fasting. What if the night before fast Sunday felt like Christmas Eve? Wouldn’t that be the coolest?
What I have learned from Ramadan is how to celebrate the fast! I have discovered how to be more intentional about my devotion and how to be grateful for the sacrifice fasting requires. Here are some elements of Ramadan that my family and I have incorporated into our fast Sundays to make them more meaningful-I hope they will be useful for your own fasting observance, too.
Create fun and memorable traditions.
Make it a day to celebrate and look forward to each month!
Have a special meal at a designated time to break your fast. Use special plates. Make a favorite or meaningful meal. Wait until sundown and eat by candlelight. Create a tradition around the meal.
Gather with family and friends to break the fast. Treat it like a birthday or special occasion, one to be shared!
Start your fast with increased intention.
Central to the Islamic practice of fasting is the concept of intention. Muslims offer special prayers (Dua) to state their intention before fasting.
According to the Qu’ran, “He who does not make the intention for fasting before dawn, there is no fast for him.”
In October 2004 general conference, Elder Carl B. Pratt of the First Quorum of the Seventy  spoke about the importance of Church members fasting with real intent.
“If we have a special purpose in our fasting, the fast will have much more meaning,” he said. “Perhaps we can take time as a family before beginning our fast to talk about what we hope to accomplish by this fast. This could be done in a family home evening the week before fast Sunday or in a brief family meeting at the time of family prayer. When we fast with purpose, we have something to focus our attention on besides our hunger.”
Make it about more than just food.
When Muslims observe Ramadan, they don’t just refrain from food or drink. They also refer to it as a fast from all wrongdoing. As Latter-day Saints, we can also pray for greater charity and patience to become our best selves while fasting rather than giving into the “hangry” feelings. Additionally, it should be noted that all Muslims who are unable to fast for medical or other reasons can find spiritual ways to make the day meaningful for them.
Increase prayer and worship.
One thing my Muslim friends have mentioned they like about Ramadan is how much more time they devote to study and prayer. Although their worship looks different this year due to the coronavirus, typically mosques become a hive of activity with special devotional studies, lectures, and extra prayers. Most people also commit to reading the Qu’ran more intensely, with some reading the book in its entirety during the month.
Sometimes, fast Sundays can feel like they’re more about survival than study. Dedicating extra time to prayer and scripture study during fasting can enhance your experience. In October 1974 general conference, President Ezra Taft Benson admonished, “To make a fast most fruitful, it should be coupled with prayer and meditation; physical work should be held to a minimum, and it’s a blessing if one can ponder on the scriptures and the reason for the fast”
Find joy in giving.
Another key element of Ramadan is charitable giving (Zakat), which is another one of the Five Pillars of Islam. During the month, Muslims make charitable donations and find ways to serve and bless their community. This is similar to fast offerings made by members of the Church. But we could make this an even more significant part of our devotion? Besides giving a donation, can we reach out and bless our families and communities while we fast?
I am excited to take the lessons I have learned from my Muslim friends and from the practices of the nearly 1.8 billion members of the Islamic faith and apply them to my own. There is truly so much we can learn from one another, and I am grateful to the faithful men and women of all religions who inspire me with how they live their devotion.
Featured image from Shutterstock
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