Author Archive

July 2019

Written by WISDOM on . Posted in Newsletters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Louis and Fay Woll Memorial Bible Garden was created by Drs. Douglas and Margo Woll in 2010 to honor the memory of Doug’s parents, who believed in and exemplified the principles of goodness, caring and generosity.
If your group would like to tour the garden with a synagogue docent and also have the opportunity to visit the Beth Ahm sanctuary and learn more about Judaism, please contact Rabbi Steven Rubenstein by phone (248) 851-6880 ext. 17 or by e-mail to schedule your visit.
There is no charge to visit the Woll Memorial Bible Garden, either on an individual basis or for group tours. Donations are welcome to help support the ongoing maintenance and enhancement of the Bible Garden.
All are welcome to find enjoyment, beauty and peaceful reflection in the experience of exploring the Louis and Fay Memorial Bible Garden in person or online. For more information, including photos of the Garden, visit

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

Foodies, Faithful Flock to Ramadan Festivals

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

Ethnic women’s ‘tireless’ campaigner
Anjum Rahman honoured

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

June 2019

Written by WISDOM on . Posted in Newsletters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 2019

Written by WISDOM on . Posted in Newsletters

Calendar for WISDOM and Other Interfaith Events 
Thursday, May 2nd 8:00 AM – 10:00 AM
National Day of Prayer at The Congregational Church of Birmingham
1000 Cranbrook Rd., Bloomfield Hills MI
See Flyer Below
Thursday, May 2nd 5:30 – 8:30 PM
WISDOM Annual Dinner
See Flyer Below
Thursday, May 9th 8:30 AM – 4 PM Women Confronting Racism Conference
Intersectionality in the 21st Century at Baker College, Auburn Hills Campus
See Flyer Below
Monday, May 13th Exploring Religious Landscapes Lecture
7:00 – 9:00 PM at Congregation Beth Shalom
Female and Convicted – What Ways Might Religious Faiths have roles?
See Flyer Below

Exploring Religious Landscapes – Correction on date – flyer should say Monday May 13th!!

Young Leaders for Peace teach us
to make room for difference
This past December I accompanied a group of international students from an organization called Rondine Citaddella della Pace to the United Nations in New York. Rondine is a little Italian village nestled in the heart of Tuscany that for over 20 years has hosted young men and women from war zone and conflict areas around the world. These energetic ambassadors for peace went to the United Nations to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to launch a new global effort entitled the Leaders for Peace initiative. This initiative seeks support from the 193 member nations of the U.N., asking world leaders to set aside just a fraction of their defense budgets to support the youth of Rondine in their desire to build bridges of understanding, overcome human differences and foster youth-led popular diplomacy. Central to this diplomatic initiative is the invitation to face our neighbors through embodied accompaniment and reconcile ourselves with those we have socially constructed as our “enemies.”
I first became acquainted with Rondine through my official diplomatic role as U.S. ambassador to the Holy See. On the occasion of the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and in remembrance of the lives lost on that day, I invited these young men and women to come to Rome to share their memories of this tragic event and to offer their transformative visions for a more humane future. I still vividly recall the lively conversations that ensued with members of the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See. Over the years, I have remained in touch with the group and regularly travel to Italy to contribute to their bridge-building efforts, especially with respect to helping Rondine students explore the valuable contribution that religious leaders and religious traditions can offer to the work of human reconciliation. I often share with the youth of Rondine practices of hospitality that emerge from religious traditions and some that are rooted in biblical texts.
A famous fifteenth century Russian icon of the Trinity depicts the hospitality that the biblical figures of Abraham and Sarah offer to three migrating strangers that come to their home (Genesis 18). The iconographer, Andrei Rublev, artistically links this story of hospitality to the central Christian teaching that affirms the Triune mystery of God in his icon. God, conceived within Christian traditions, is a God of extravagant hospitality, a God who migratesfromand forthe sake of love, offering life where life has come under threat. Rublev captures this theme of hospitality by depicting three distinctive angels “facing” one another in an open circle, reclining at a common table and sharing life-sustaining resources. In Christian tradition, these angels represent the three divine persons (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), and the orientation each person has toward the other suggests the Christian teaching that no one person, whether we think of divine or human persons, can exist alone as an island. The icon serves as a powerful reminder that we were created as one human family to exist in communal relations that affirm human differences. Through right relationship and encounter with others, we express and realize ourselves as God’s children, as icons of the God of life.
The story of the hospitality offered by Abraham and Sarah teaches us something important about the ethical values of daily accompaniment, interdependence and overcoming the fear of strangers. The story invites us to consider that the persons we wall off from our circle of relations, demonize and consider enemies might hold the key for our humanization. Capturing a central biblical motif – the reversal of the host-guest relationship – the story of the hospitality of Abraham and Sarah speaks to what happens when we open our homes to receive our estranged neighbors. The youth of Rondine learn this lesson well because the project intentionally chooses and welcomes estranged youth into a common home in order to discover the humanity of those characterized as the “enemy”- those we have declared “strangers” “aliens,” “illegals, “dangerous” and “foreigners” in our own lands.
In his book The Dignity of Difference, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks argues that “Nowhere is the singularity of ethics more evident than in its treatment of the issue that has proved to be most difficult in the history of human interaction, namely the problem of the stranger, the one who is not like us.” Sacks notes that “the Hebrew Bible in one verse commands, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’ but in no fewer than 36 places commands us to ‘love the stranger.’ ” In the New Testament, Jesus continues to teach and practice this central biblical motif. Above all, Jesus invites us to see God in the face of all our neighbors, and preferentially in those who suffer from various forms of personal and social illness (Matthew 25). As a faithful Jew, Jesus’ words and actions capture what Sacks rightly underscores is a central teaching of the Hebrew Scriptures, namely, “to make space for difference.”
Within and outside of our borders, we have witnessed what happens when we fail to make space for difference. Consider a culture that precipitates the violence inflicted on faith-filled communities of Sikh Temple of Wisconsin; Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina; Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Minnesota; First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs in Texas; and Tree of Life Congregation in a Pennsylvania synagogue. Consider the recent terrorist attacks in New Zealand that killed 50 Muslims in two mosques. We also fail to make room for difference when fellow Americans and our leaders dehumanize and ridicule desperate children and families seeking to cross our southern border in search of life. And we fail to make room for difference when we do not protect the bio-diversity of our planet and insure the survival of our Common Home for the sake of future generations.
At this time of growing threats, inhospitality and violence, Rondine’s youth-led Leaders for Peace initiative models a rejection of what Pope Francis has called the “globalization of indifference” and offers instead an option to make room for difference. As Pope Francis underscored in his message to Rondine at the Vatican before their voyage to the U.N., “only through dialogue can trust be created,” a dialogue rooted in the encounters of daily living. Indeed, what makes Rondine’s peace-building efforts a recipe for success in local and international relations is their invitation to embrace convivenza, an intentional commitment to a culture of encounter lived daily by coming together with others and their distinct differences for the sake of building the common good. These young ambassadors have much to teach us about tearing down ideological “walls” that divide and polarize us.
Every time I go to Rondine I look forward to teaching the young women and men how the stories and wisdom of our many religious traditions can contribute to building peace. But I always leave Rondine having learned much more from the personal stories and the embodied witness of these young men and women who choose to create safe spaces where strangers are no more and where humanity can be welcomed in its great diversity. Embracing their practice of hospitality – a personal and daily commitment to inclusive and just accompaniment – offers a hope that it is possible to overcome poisonous discourse and violent actions that divide our human family. Are we, in the ordinariness of our lives and in the spaces we exercise leadership, willing to listen to these young ambassadors and learn how to discover our own humanity in the faces of our estranged neighbors?
[Miguel H. Díaz is the John Courtney Murray University Chair in Public Service at Loyola University in Chicago. He was ambassador to the Holy See during the first administration of President Barack Obama.]

Imam: ‘Allah’s Plan’ Fulfilled When Synagogue
Hosts Muslim Prayers After Fire
The Muslim congregants of a Manhattan mosque closed after a fire were not without a place to pray on Friday. “Allah had a better plan,” the imam said, after a nearby synagogue opened its doors to them.
The tense situation turned into a beautiful moment for both the Islamic Society of Mid-Manhattan and Central Synagogue, a historic New York congregation. The mosque was temporarily closed a few days earlier after a fire started in a restaurant on the first floor of its building. Friday is the holiest day in the Muslim week, and Muslims traditionally gather for prayer in the early afternoon, called Jummah.
On Friday afternoon, the imam had been hoping that the fire department’s investigation of the building would be done in time for Jummah. Outside the mosque, several members of Central Synagogue, which is just one block east, had already gathered to welcome them in, as they had done last Friday. When it became clear that the growing crowd of congregants waiting to go inside would likely be turned away, the Central members invited them to the synagogue, according to Rabbi Stephanie Kolin, a rabbi at Central. Over the next several minutes, more than 600 Muslims walked a block east to Central, and filed into the synagogue’s indoor pavilion, leaving their shoes in the hallway. A facilities manager at Central located a hand-washing station for the Muslim congregants, as hand-washing is a part of Jummah prayers.Kolin said that the Islamic Society’s imam spoke about how he had  a plan for how to conduct that day’s prayers, marking one week since the massacre of Muslims at two mosques in New Zealand. Central’s hospitality left him in awe – he called it “one of the most blessed moments of my life in New York.” He told the attendees that this was a moment they would talk about with their children and grandchildren. He said the moment showed that “light can come out of darkness.”
The sentiment brought many of the people in the room to tears, Kolin said.
“It was one of the most beautiful sights I’ve seen in my life,” she said.
Watch the imam’s sermon below. Rabbi Angela Buchdahl, the leader of Central, posted on Facebook that the moment was one of her community’s holiest moments.
Kolin said that having the Islamic Society pray in Central was deeply powerful.
“I feel like I’m still integrating it,” she said. “I’m still a little shaking from the spiritual power of what happened.” Kolin said she spoke at the end of prayers at the invite of the Islamic Society’s leader, and spoke about how the attack on the mosques in New Zealand and the attack on the synagogue in Pittsburgh are part and parcel of the same violent ideology.
“These attacks on our communities are one and the same,” she said. Kolin’s words at Central were met with a round of applause from the Muslim guests.

A Muslim woman gives away a free hijab to guests attending the Ponsonby Masjid Mosque during an open service to all religions on March 22, 2019 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Hannah Peters/Getty Images)
A week after the mass shooting that killed 50 worshippers at two Christchurch mosques, women of all faiths from across New Zealand donned hijabs to show solidarity with the Muslim community. Speaking with CNN, non-Muslim women who participated in the “headscarf for harmony” campaign on Friday said they wanted to make it clear that no one should feel unsafe or unwelcome because of their religion.
“We wanted to show our children that just because we may not belong to the same religions, or we may look different, we are all equal,” Izzy Ford, 45, told CNN. “I know days, weeks, months will go by and we will remove our scarves and be back to our lives, and for our Muslim community they will continue, but for this moment in time we want to show them we are them, we love them, and they are our family.”
“I’ve heard of Muslim women who are scared to go out wearing their hijab after the shooting and I don’t think anyone should be afraid to be themselves or practice their culture or beliefs in New Zealand,” added Mal Turner, 28.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the campaign didn’t enjoy universal support. Its detractors included those who believe the hijab is a symbol of the oppression of women. In many countries where women lack the same fundamental rights as men, critics noted, women do not have the choice of whether or not to wear a headscarf.
But supporters of the campaign argued that it was Islamophobic to suggest that women who choose to wear the hijab are embracing oppression – and that conservative sects of Judaism and Christianity have their own strict rules about what women of those faiths are allowed to wear.

Sikhs aim to plant million trees as ‘gift to the planet’
Global project will mark 550 years since birth of religion’s founder, Guru Nanak
From the Guardian

Sikhs around the world are taking part in a scheme to plant a million new trees as a “gift to the entire planet”.
The project aims to reverse environmental decline and help people reconnect with nature as part of celebrations marking 550 years since the birth of the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak.
Rajwant Singh, the president of the Washington DC-based environmental organisation EcoSikh, which is coordinating the Million Tree Project, said he wanted to mark the anniversary in a significant way.
“Guru Nanak was a nature lover. [He] had talked about nature as a manifestation of God and many of his writings talk about how we need to learn lessons of life from nature.”
One of Guru Nanak’s hymns, which many Sikhs recite as a daily prayer, includes the lyrical line:”Air is the teacher, water is the father, earth is the mother.”
Singh said he hoped the project would motivate Sikhs – especially the young – to improve their relationship with nature and would be seen more broadly as “a gift to the entire planet”.  

The Sikh diaspora has taken on the challenge and tens of thousands of trees have already been planted. These are mostly in India – the majority of the world’s Sikh population lives in the state of Punjab, which is planning to plant 550 saplings in every village – but also in the UK, US, Australia and Kenya.

Sikh Union Coventry has started planting native trees, shrubs and flowers such as hazel and hawthorn at Longford Park, and is exploring locations in schools, parks and recreation areas. Palvinder Singh Chana, the chair of Sikh Union Coventry, said: “As Sikhs, our connection to the environment is an integral part of our faith and identity. Future generations will benefit from the fruits of our labour, symbolising peace, friendships and continuity for generations to come.”
EcoSikh is also working with Afforestt, an organisation that trains people to design and build small native forests that grow quickly and are a sustainable part of the ecosystem. Singh said more than 1,800 of these forests were planned across the world, and that the million tree target would be achieved by the time of Guru Nanak’s birthday in November.

North Dakota lawmakers open
floor session with Hindu prayer
  • By John Hageman
North Dakota senators heard what was likely the first Hindu prayer to open a legislative floor session in the state’s history Monday.
Rajan Zed, president of the Universal Society of Hinduism based in Reno, Nev., gave the opening prayer in English and Sanskrit. Wearing an orange robe, he told senators to work “with the welfare of others always in mind.”
Zed, who was born in India, said his appearance was meant to be educational.
“We are the oldest religion in the world,” he told reporters before his prayer. “(People) misunderstand us, but they don’t know everything about us.”
Zed was the first Hindu to conduct the opening prayer in the U.S. Senate in 2007, according to The Associated Press, an event that was interrupted by Christian protesters. He said he has given the prayer in more than a dozen state Legislatures and requested to come to North Dakota.
Hinduism is the world’s third-largest religion with about 1.1 billion adherents. There were only about 340 Hindus in North Dakota as of 2014, according to the Pew Research Center.
Legislative Council Director John Bjornson couldn’t confirm whether Monday was the first time lawmakers started their session with a Hindu prayer without undertaking an exhaustive historical review. But several longtime officials in the Capitol couldn’t remember it happening before.
Zed will read the invocation in the North Dakota House Tuesday.

Salt Lake City mayor designates April as Sikh Awareness and Recognition Month
SALT LAKE CITY – Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski issued a proclamation this week recognizing April as Sikh Awareness and Recognition Month and designating April 13 as Vaisakhi Day.
Community leaders believe that the designation will increase awareness of the growing Sikh community in Utah and help celebrate an important time for the religion.
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, who was the first Sikh public official in Utah, helped draft the proclamation.
“I am very supportive of it,” said Gill, who was born in India and has been a Sikh for his entire life. “I think this is a great recognition.”
April was chosen for Sikh Awareness and Recognition Month because it is one of the holiest months of the year for the faith.
“April 13 or 14 is the day of Vaisahki,” Gill explained. “That is when the tenth Guru, our prophet, introduced the baptism of the Khalsa. It is a very big day for the folks in the Sikh faith, and it really brought everyone together.”
Vaisakhi is the Sikh New Year, commemorating the birth of the faith in 1699. Now the yearly event is a huge celebration which presents an opportunity to recommit to one’s faith. The Sikh Temple of Utah on Redwood Road will be hosting a celebration to commemorate the holiday this year on April 14.
“They’ll have their prayers and a communal service where they feed everyone who comes there as a part of their community service,” Gill explained. “I would encourage people to go to the Sikh Temple on the 14th around noon and be part of the festivities.”
To read the rest of this article, view facts about the Sikh religion, and to view a video, please go to the following website:

ERLIN (JTA) – For the first time in a century, Germany’s military will have rabbis as chaplains. Defense Minister Dr. Ursula von der Leyen announced this week that her ministry will appoint Jewish chaplains to the Bundeswehr, based on recommendations from the Central Council of Jews in Germany, the umbrella organization that represents the approximately 100,000 members of Jewish communities nationwide.
In addition, a treaty on the military chaplaincy will be negotiated between the Federal Republic of Germany and the Central Council of Jews, as it was for Protestants and Catholics decades ago.
Von der Leyen and Council President Josef Schuster are among those who will address a high-ranking conference that begins Wednesday, on both the history of Jewish chaplains in the German military, and the expectations of such a chaplain today.
According to the Central Council, the future German military rabbi or rabbis will work both in a pastoral capacity, and in instructing soldiers of all religious backgrounds, “enriching their ethical education… with a Jewish contribution.”
German soldiers are not required to identify their religion. The Defense Ministry estimates that about half have done so, and estimates a total of 300 Jewish enlistees, in addition to about 3,000 Muslims, 41,000 Catholics and 53,000 Protestants. Christian military chaplains were introduced to the Bundeswehr about 60 years ago.
After the end of World War II, Jewish military chaplains in Allied armies served in Displaced Persons camps and later served their own troops stationed in post-war West Germany. Some opened their military congregations to participation of Jews in Germany, even bringing back Reform Judaism – a movement with roots in Germany. After the unification of east and west Germany in 1990, many Allied troops left the country, and with them the Jewish chaplains.
Now it will be the Bundeswehr itself that will introduce Jewish chaplains. And as part of NATO operations and peacekeeping missions, the military may call on the rabbis to travel to areas where German soldiers are stationed; according to news reports, the rabbinical candidates will have to undergo security clearance. No appointment date for the rabbinical chaplain has been given.
There reportedly also will soon be imams appointed as military chaplains, although there will be no treaty with the Federal Republic of Germany, since instead of having a single representative body for Muslims in Germany, there are several.
This story “German Military To Have Jewish Chaplains For First Time” was written by Toby Axelrod.

April 2019

Written by WISDOM on . Posted in Newsletters

April 2019

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

“Friendship and Faith, 2nd Edition”
     May 5, 2019
                                Detroit Unity Temple
     17505 2nd Avenue
      Detroit, MI 48203
12:30 pm – 1:30 pm Luncheon and Dessert for $6
1:30 pm – 2:30 pm Storytelling and Meet the Authors

Followed by Book Sales and Signing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 2019

Written by WISDOM on . Posted in Newsletters

Calendar for WISDOM and Other Interfaith Events 

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The evolving Baha’i perspective on interfaith dialogue

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

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

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

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

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

WISDOM Mission Statement

To Provide concrete modeling of women from different faith traditions working together in harmony for the common good.
To Empower women to take a more active role in furthering social justice and world peace.
To Dispel myths, stereotypes, prejudices and fear about faith traditions different from our own.
To Nurture the growth of empathy and spiritual energy that result from our projects and interfaith dialogue.