October 2017

Written by WISDOM on . Posted in Newsletters

Calendar for WISDOM and Other Interfaith Events  
Sunday, October 15th, 2017, 5:00 PM – 8:30 PM
Tenth Anniversary Celebration of WISDOM
North Congregational Church
See Save the Date Below
August through November, 2017
Exploring Our Religious Landscapes
Christianity Series
See Flyer Below
November 12, 2017 3:00 – 6:00 PM
IFLC interfaith panel on Creation
See flyer Below
WISDOM’S TENTH ANNIVERSARY YEAR
CELEBRATION!
Sunday, October 15th
5:00 PM – 8:30 PM
AT NORTH CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH
Displays/Vendors, Dinner, and Delightful Entertainment
$50 per person
Register now on the WISDOM website!
See below!
$75 for a display/vendor table
WISDOM

 

First-ever Shabbat Salaam Focuses on Food, Faith and Friends
By Maayan Hoffman
eJewish Philanthropy
Two women – one Sephardic Jewish, one Egyptian Muslim – sat together, sharing a dish of Arabic fattoush salad. They laughed together, excited by the discovery that despite their different religions they have much in common, including their favorite foods.
It sounds like a scene out of a fairy tale, given the recent unrest on and around the Temple Mount and the gruesome terror attack that struck a West Bank town over Shabbat. But according to those who spearheaded the first-ever Shabbat Salaam in San Francisco, this connection was neither contrived nor isolated.
More than 65 Muslims, Jews, Christians and atheists came together on Fridaynight, July 21, for a pop-up dinner experience at which attendees dined and conversed about the parallels that exist between all Abrahamic faiths, specifically Judaism and Islam.
“People were reminded they are far more similar than different,” said Mohammad Modarres, who planned the evening on behalf of Interfaith Ventures, in partnership with OneTable’s Bay area hub manager Analucia Lopezrevoredo. He said Reform, Conservative and Orthodox Jews attended, as well as Shia and Sunni Muslims.
The event began at 7 p.m. with a social hour and finger foods – Turkish dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), finger potato knishes, khraime (Moroccan salmon) – and drinks, which prepared attendees to ask questions about faith, community and all things humanity, according to Modarres.
OneTable’s Al Rosenberg, director of communications, said the organization decided to financially back Shabbat Salaam because OneTable saw the event as both “strategic and intentional,” and aligned with its mission of presenting Shabbat as a “beautiful, purposeful and intentional practice that can benefit everyone and can bring peace and rest.”
Rosenberg said, “We want [Shabbat meal] hosts to feel comfortable celebrating Shabbat with whoever – and to feel empowered to bring a little bit of their culture to their friends and community.”
This was the first time OneTable partnered directly with a non-Jewish organization.
Opening remarks were followed by a three-course meal, curated by a local Sephardic-Jewish chef. The highlight of the meal was the main course, Persian choresht e-sabzi (herb stew) and Lebanese kousa mahshi (stuffed squash), made with the first-ever Glatt kosher and halal “interfaith meat.”
“It was the very best meat – black belly lamb, grass fed, free range,” said Modarres, who worked for more than a year to make such a ritual slaughter take place. “It was a logistics nightmare.”
Modarres said the lamb was slaughtered the Monday before the event at an Oregon farm owned by a devout Christian. The first lamb they slaughtered did not turn out to meet Glatt standards and so it was distributed to people in need. The second one hit the mark.
“There we were, three farmers, me, the rabbi-shochet (ritual slaughterer) and the Muslim slaughterer. And the rabbi checks the animal. And when he tells us it passes as Glatt kosher, we were excited knowing that we had created interfaith meat and we all high-five each other,” Modarres said.
Aside from the meat, each dish – from tahini to challah to baklava – was steeped in tradition. The chef came out to explain each course and its significance to her and her family as Jewish, American, Iranian, Israeli Jews – as humans. The Interfaith Ventures website refers to how Muslim and Jewish food roots tango with one another for a multitude of reasons, including economic trade, environmental sacristy and social mobility, and these intertwined histories shape the cultural foods of today. Participants paid $45 per person.
Jewish ritual and Muslim culture was also factored into the experience. Lopezrevoredo, who worked directly with Modarres on the dinner since February 2017, provided ritual cards that explained candle lighting, Kiddush and the blessing over bread. She invited participants to join her in these rituals before the meal. After dinner, participants enjoyed a Muslim-led Sufi performance.
Lopezrevoredo, who grew up in an interfaith family, got involved because she was struck by the growth of Islamophobia since 9/11. During the last presidential election, she felt that those fears became more covert and “because of my personal convictions, history and relations with people that are part of the Islamic faith, I just cannot stand for it.”
Modarres grew up on an “interfaith street” in New Jersey, with Jewish, Christian and Buddhist neighbors, among others. As he grew older he realized that writing cards to Jewish friends on Yom Kippur and Chanukah, or sharing Ramadan dinner with a pastor’s son and daughter, was not commonplace. The negative experiences his family faced after 9/11, which he, too, felt came to the forefront during the last election “left a sour taste in my mouth.”
“You can either pick up a pitch fork and be angry or you can try to create a narrative and space for people to realize their similarities and how they outweigh any differences,” said Modarres.
Modarres and Lopezrevoredo were brought together by a mutual colleague and friend and then they started planning. OneTable’s Rosenberg said the organization braced for backlash. “Anytime you try to bring peace, there are people who want to fight that for some reason,” said Rosenberg.
But in the end, there wasn’t any push back. Rather, participants left the meal with ideas of local volunteer opportunities they could do with their new friends. And Rosenberg said she sees Shabbat Salaam as a prototype that could be replicated in other cities. There is already a Shabbat Salaam planned for Los Angeles and discussions are underway about dinners in Atlanta, Chicago, Washington, D.C., New York and Colorado.
“It really came together,” said Modarres. “I don’t know how else to describe it, except there were Higher Powers that really wanted this.”

A Narrow Bridge
By Rabbi Barry Block
Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav[i] taught: “All the world is a very narrow bridge; the key is not to be paralyzed by fear.”
I have been on a narrow bridge. The Capilano Suspension Bridge in Vancouver, Canada is only wide enough for single file, spanning its 230 feet, hanging 460 feet above a river gorge. Not afraid of heights, I wasn’t scared when I crossed, enjoying magnificent scenery. Trusting that engineering had permitted millions to cross before me, I never considered the possibility of not arriving safely on the other side.
Our world, though, is full of less secure, narrower bridges.
When a devastating hurricane drops four feet of rain or threatens deadly winds, a person’s world can suddenly become a frighteningly narrow bridge – from security to survival, from a roof over one’s head to the peril of homelessness.
When armed white supremacists march in the thousands, people of color rightly fear for their lives. Is America a safe home?
When we hear the phrase, “Muslim ban,” America may quickly become precarious foreign land, even for a citizen.
When thousands, perhaps millions, cheer a border wall, we may ask: Why is America narrowing its bridge to the world?
When Charlottesville marchers shout, “Jews will not replace it,” American Jews wonder: “Will we have to get on a narrow bridge again, hoping to arrive safely at our next land of refuge?”
When young immigrants – who know America as their only home; and who have lived honest, productive lives in this land of opportunity – nevertheless face the prospect of deportation, they need look no further than their parents to see the narrow bridge that life in this country can be.
When a Black-majority school board is replaced by one white man, sixty years after the hard-fought but minimal desegregation of Little Rock Central High School, we may be frightened by the answer to the question: What temporal power is keeping this bridge from collapsing?
When LGBTQ Americans in many states can legally lose their jobs solely because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, the supports on the bridge of LGBTQ life in this country, which seemed to be strengthening, may become wobblier yet again.
When the white working class sees industry change along with culture, they wonder if the sturdy highway of their lives has become a rickety bridge.
When millions upon millions of Americans, and billions around the globe, do not have access to adequate quantities of nutritious food or to excellent medical care, living paycheck to paycheck, if there’s a paycheck at all, then the slightest unexpected misfortune can destroy the bridge of life beneath one’s feet.
When climate change is denied, even as historically devastating storms rage, Rabbi Nachman’s words seem particularly prescient: The whole world is on a very narrow bridge, between a healthy environment and global self-destruction.
We who are on this bridge – and make no mistake, we are all on it – live in fear, and not because we are afraid of heights. We know about people who have crossed these bridges in the past. Too many did fall to their deaths. We cannot be secure about the engineering of the bridge we must walk to traverse oppression.
Tonight, we have come together to push the bridges’ boundaries, to make each one less narrow, and to shore up the infrastructure.
If an undocumented immigrant links arms with a Muslim, then the Muslim is not alone when her people are maligned, and the immigrant may imagine refuge rather than deportation.
If a cisgender woman of color brings a transgender woman with her into the restroom, then the transgender woman may feel more secure in her place of vulnerability, and the person of color will know she’s not the only target of white supremacists’ slogans.
If a white working class American and a descendant of slaves share their anxieties about our nation’s future, each may build a better future with the other.
If the wealthy nations of the world, beginning with our own, will take responsibility for reducing humanity’s carbon footprint, then we may all take responsibility for defeating the climate injustice whose victims are disproportionately the poorest people on Earth.
If the person of faith and the unbeliever share the diverse sources of their comfort, perhaps we can hearten one another.
We do not know what the months and the years ahead may require of us. Perhaps churches will need to transform parish halls into sanctuaries from deportation. Perhaps a synagogue will need to shelter threatened Muslims. Every single one of us will have to decide: Am I going to collaborate with oppression? Am I going to remain silent, imagining there’s nothing I can do? Or am I going to use my body and soul, my voice and any power I have, to stand in the way of injustice?
We do know this: All the world is a very narrow bridge, and the only way to conquer fear is to emulate the Children of Israel at the Red Sea, “joining hands, marching together,” to a Land of Promise.
We do know this: In order to fight injustice, we must be disturbed by it. If we are not personally suffering, then we are obligated to summon empathy for those who are. We must know the heart of the stranger, for all of us have been strangers in one Egypt or another.
Nearly two millennia ago, the rabbis of the Talmud made a decree about those who live in a community beset by suffering, a world like our own, on a very narrow bridge. Hear now the rabbis’ teaching: “When the community is immersed in suffering, a person may not say: I will go to my home and I will eat and drink, and peace be upon you, my soul. . . Rather, a person should be distressed together with the community. . . And anyone who is distressed together with the community will merit seeing the consolation of the community.”[ii]
A task lies before us. Let me suggest that each of us seek to sit down for a meal with a person different from ourselves, a person we may not know well, a person who may be afflicted during these difficult days in ways that we are not. May we enjoy one another’s company, but let us also hear each other’s pain. Let the bread we break together also be our bread of shared affliction. Then, may we build a bridge – a strong, broad bridge – and may we be consoled, together.
Amen.
Rabbi Barry Block serves Congregation B’nai Israel in Little Rock, Arkansas.

They came to celebrate diversity, take a stand against hate and intolerance and strive for a safe, inclusive community. Residents from Canton and beyond gathered Tuesday evening in Heritage Park for a combined National Night Out and Not In Our Town event, both dedicated to building strong communities and making neighborhoods safer, better places to live. Representatives of the Muslim Community of Western Suburbs came from the Canton Mosque, serving up potato samosas and dates, providing henna art and a calligraphy station where visitors could see what their names look like spelled in Arabic.
Sana Soubani, a teacher at Crescent Academy International at the mosque, brought son Ammar Nusier, 9, to the event and, like other Muslims, she talked with visitors.
“Islam teaches us that all people are created equal. There is no difference between race and gender and background,” Soubani said. “All people are the same. We are here (at the event) because we like to put our faith in action. We are proactive. This is rooted in our religion from the beginning of time.”
Not far away, the Hindu youth group Yuva Bharathi welcomed visitors while, in a separate booth, Crime Stoppers of Michigan volunteer Mary Groat explained how witnesses can report crimes anonymously by calling 800-SPEAK-UP or by logging onto http://www.1800speakup.org. “You don’t have to appear in court or anything like that,” Groat, a Wyandotte resident, said, adding that tips leading to a conviction can bring rewards. “You can get $2,500 or more.”
Crime Stoppers has what Groat called “a fantastic partnership” with the Canton Public Safety Department, which also had police and fire representatives at the event. As a child took his turn getting on a police motorcycle, Deputy Police Chief Craig Wilsher said the gathering was a good way to interact with residents in a non-emergency situation and build community relations.
Police canine Hoss, accompanied by Officer Bryan Szostak, sure commanded his share of attention, with several children petting him simultaneously at times and others waiting their turn. “They love the dog, especially kids who don’t have pets at home,” Szostak said. Kristine Wiley brought children Curtis, 9, and Kaidyn, 8, to the event. She wanted Curtis, in particular, to have positive interactions with police officers, saying he is fearful of them. With face painting, arts and crafts, a bounce house, live musicians and other offerings, Curtis wasn’t sure when asked what he liked most about National Night Out. “I want to see everything,” he said.
Mohammed Rahman, 22, came from Detroit as a community organizer of Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote-Michigan. He hoped to bring attention to the group and encourage more people within the Asian-American community to get involved in efforts such as voting. “Our goal is to get Asian Americans more civically engaged,” Rahman said, whether by voting, organizing candidate forums, contacting elected officials or other activities.
“It’s really important for us to tell our elected officials what is important to us,” he added.
The two-hour National Night Out and Not In Our Town gathering was organized by the Canton Police Department, Canton Public Library, Canton Response to Hate Crimes Coalition and Canton Leisure Services. Library Director Eva Davis worked at a booth where passersby stopped to sign a banner to promote tolerance. “They are pledging to support a safe, inclusive community,” she said.
Organizers said the event was coordinated by the Canton Response To Hate Crimes Coalition, which is a group of law enforcement officials, faith-based organizations, public schools and community representatives committed to raising awareness of hate crimes, bias incidents and bullying. The coalition also offers support to victims and works to restore a sense of community when incidents do occur.
National Night Out is part of a nationwide effort that involves thousands communities in the United States, U.S. territories, Canadian cities and military bases. It is in its 33rd year. For more, go to https://natw.org/.
Not In Our Town is nationwide effort to stop hate and bullying while building safe, inclusive communities. For more, go to https://www.niot.org/

A peaceful, persistent response to injustice
BIC GENEVA – Thirty years ago, the Baha’i community of Iran embarked on a remarkable endeavor. Denied access to formal education by the country’s authorities after their numerous appeals, they set up an informal program of higher education in basements and living rooms throughout the country with the help of Baha’i professors and academics that had been fired from their posts because of their faith. This gradually came to be known as the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE).
Since its inception, BIHE has helped educate thousands of individuals, many of whom have been accepted into nearly 100 universities around the world to pursue graduate studies. Many BIHE graduates that complete their post-graduate studies abroad will return to Iran to serve their communities. Thanks to advances in technology, BIHE’s students are now taught by professors from across the globe. Those who offer their expertise and knowledge to the education of Baha’i youth in Iran, have witnessed first-hand the students’ high ideals and commitment to the pursuit of knowledge.
“The Baha’i response to injustice is neither to succumb in resignation nor to take on the characteristics of the oppressor,” explained Diane Ala’i, representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations in Geneva, quoting a letter from the Universal House of Justice.
“This,” she said, “is the fundamental definition of constructive resilience.”
“Of course, the Baha’is are not the only ones that have responded non-violently and positively to oppression, but they are finding a different way of doing that, which is more focused on their role in serving the community around them together with others,” said Ms. Ala’i.
Despite efforts by the Iranian authorities to disrupt BIHE’s operation by raiding hundreds of Baha’i homes and offices associated with it, confiscating study materials, and arresting and imprisoning dozens of lecturers, it has grown significantly over the past three decades. It relies on a variety of knowledgeable individuals both in and outside of Iran to enable youth to study a growing number of topics in the sciences, social sciences, and arts. Overall, not only has BIHE survived thirty years, it has thrived. Studying at BIHE is not easy. Because it’s not a public university, there is no funding available, and many students hold down full-time jobs. It is common to travel across the country to go to monthly classes in Tehran. Sometimes, students will have to commute from a home on one side of the city to the other in the middle of the day, because these are the only spaces available to hold classes. Despite these logistical challenges, students meet high academic standards.
“I have talked to BIHE students who said when their teacher was arrested and put in jail and all their materials were confiscated, they would get together for class just the same,” said Saleem Vaillancourt, the coordinator of the Education is Not a Crime campaign, which brings attention to the issue of denial of education to the Baha’is in Iran. “These students continued studying together, despite the fact that they didn’t have a teacher. This was their attitude, it didn’t seem remarkable to them. They just said this is what we have to do, because they had a commitment to the process.”
Universal education is a core belief of the Baha’i Faith, and when the authorities in Iran sought to deny Baha’i students this critical and fundamental right, the Baha’i community pursued a peaceful solution-never for a moment conceding their ideals, never surrendering to their oppressor, and never opposing the government. Instead, for decades, it has been seeking constructive solutions, a show of its longstanding resilience. In Iran, persecution of the Baha’is is official state policy. A 1991 memorandum approved by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei states clearly that Baha’is “must be expelled from universities, either in the admission process or during the course of their studies, once it becomes known that they are Baha’is.” Other forms of persecution torment the Baha’is in Iran as well. An open letter dated 6 September 2016 to Iran’s President from the BIC draws his attention to the economic oppression faced by the Baha’is there. The letter highlights the stark contradiction between statements espoused by the Iranian government regarding economic justice, equality for all, and reducing unemployment on the one hand, and the unrelenting efforts to impoverish a section of its own citizens on the other. “The Baha’i community in Iran wasn’t going to let itself go quietly into the night. It wasn’t going to allow itself to be suffocated in this way,” said Mr. Vaillancourt.
A distinctly non-adversarial approach to oppression fundamentally characterizes the Baha’i attitude towards social change. The Baha’i response to oppression draws on a conviction in the oneness of humanity. It recognizes the need for coherence between the spiritual and material dimensions of life. It is based on a long-term perspective characterized by faith, patience, and perseverance. It at once calls for obedience to the law and a commitment to meet hatred and persecution with love and kindness. And, ultimately, this posture has at its very center an emphasis on service to the welfare of one’s fellow human beings. “I think we see in the world today the breakdown of communities that people would not have thought could happen so easily. We’ve come to realize that living side by side is not enough. We need to live together and know one another, and the best way to know one another is to start working for the betterment of society,” said Ms. Ala’i.
“As the Baha’is in Iran have begun to do this in a more conscious way, other Iranians have come to know their Baha’i neighbors and understand that much of what they had heard about the Baha’is from the government and clergy were lies. As they have become more involved in the life of the communities where they live, the Baha’is have witnessed an immense change in the attitude of other Iranians towards them.”
The Baha’i response to oppression is not oppositional and ultimately strives toward higher degrees of unity. Its emphasis is not only on collective action, but on inner transformation.
This strategy is a conscious one employed by the Baha’i community. Going beyond the tendency to react to oppression, war, or natural disaster with apathy or anger, the Baha’i response counters inhumanity with patience, deception with truthfulness, cruelty with good will, and keeps its attention on long-term, beneficial, and productive action.
The Baha’i Institute for Higher Education embodies all of these elements.
“BIHE is an extraordinary achievement,” commented Mr. Vaillancourt. “Perhaps the least known, longest-running, and most successful form of peacefully answering oppression that history has ever seen. It sets the best example I know of for this particular Baha’i attitude to answering persecution or answering the challenging forces of our time, where we try to have an attitude, posture, and response of constructive resilience.”

All The Swastikas And Broken Glass
Since Charlottesville
In the two weeks since white supremacists marched
on Charlottesville, more than two dozen anti-Semitic incidents have occurred across the U.S.
By Christopher Mathias
On Aug. 14 – two days after the nation watched in horror as hundreds of well-armed neo-Nazis and other white supremacists held a violent rally in Charlottesville, Virginia – a 17-year-old boy in downtown Boston allegedly picked up a rock and threw it through one of the six tall glass towers that make up the New England Holocaust Memorial. Each tower is made of 22 glass panels and engraved with thousands of numbers representing the 6 million Jews murdered by Nazis during World War II. The rock reduced one of those panels to tiny glass shards strewn across the sidewalk, later swept into dustpans by city workers.
A day later, an unknown person shattered the glass doors at the K’hal Adas Yereim synagogue in Queens, New York – just hours after the nation watched in disbelief as the president of the United States described the white supremacists in Charlottesville as “fine people.” The synagogue is less than 3 miles from the president’s childhood home.
A K’hal Adas Yereim member sent a photo of the shattered doors to the Documenting Hate project, a partnership between ProPublica and numerous news outlets, including HuffPost. A New York City Police Department spokesperson says the department is investigating the incident, but won’t say whether a suspect has been identified.
Across the country in Alameda, California, on Aug. 17, a security camera captured another unidentified vandal throwing rocks at Temple Israel, shattering multiple windows.  Since the rally in Charlottesville, the Anti-Defamation League has tracked dozens of anti-Semitic incidents across the United States. It’s the sight of shattered glass at places of Jewish remembrance and worship, though, that is fraught with a terrifying poignance.
On the night of Nov. 9, 1938, and into the next day, mobs in Germany massacred nearly 100 Jews and smashed the windows of Jewish businesses and synagogues. The night became known as Kristallnacht,  “The Night of Broken Glass”, and was a preview of the Nazi effort to exterminate Jews from the Earth. At the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville two weeks ago, HuffPost witnessed Americans celebrating this Nazi legacy, proudly waving swastika flags and wearing T-shirts quoting Adolf Hitler. They chanted “Jews will not replace us!” and the Third Reich slogan “Blood and soil!” They carried signs with messages like “The Jewish Media Is Going Down” and “The Goyim Know.”
Worshippers at Charlottesville’s Congregation Beth Israel watched in terror as neo-Nazis paraded by screaming “There’s the synagogue!” and “Sieg Heil!” Online threats to burn down the synagogue forced congregants to remove Torahs, including a Holocaust scroll, from the building as a precaution.
“This is 2017 in the United States of America,” the congregation’s president, Alan Zimmerman, later wrote on ReformJudaism.org.
The anti-Semitic aims of the rally – which the Anti-Defamation League has called the largest of its kind in over a decade – were apparent the day before it started, when organizer and white nationalist leader Richard Spencer published his “Charlottesville statement.” This malevolent manifesto described Jews as an “ethno-religious people distinct from Europeans” who are resistant to assimilation and are hostile to non-Jews.
Now, the Anti-Defamation League is concerned that the large display of hatred in Charlottesville “could inspire copycat incidents or acts of hate against Jews or Jewish institutions in other parts of the country,” the group said in a statement.
The ADL provided a lengthy list to HuffPost of anti-Semitic incidents over the past two weeks. A spokesman for the group says the number of incidents is “higher than usual” when compared with other recent two-week periods.
  • On Aug. 13, a man made an obscene gesture to a security camera outside a Philadelphia synagogue. He then urinated on the synagogue.
  • On Aug. 13, someone drew a swastika on the door of a woman’s home in Manistee County, Michigan.
  • On Aug. 14, a 17-year-old boy allegedly threw a rock at the New England Holocaust Memorial in Boston, shattering one of the memorial’s glass panels. (In June, a 21-year-old man was arrested for doing the same thing.)
  • On Aug. 15, a 37-year-old man was arrested for damaging flowers that had been left at the memorial.
  • On Aug. 15, the anti-Semitic slur “KIKE” was spray-painted on a building in Washington, D.C.
  • On Aug. 15, a swastika and the words “WAR IS COMING!” were spray-painted on a wooden neighborhood fence in Bakersfield, California.
  • On Aug. 15, a swastika was found painted on a high school in Santa Rosa, California.
  • On Aug. 15 or 16, someone spray-painted swastikas on the driveway of a home in Lakewood, Ohio. Earlier that week, someone smashed in the windows of that family’s car.
  • On Aug. 15, someone shattered the glass doors at a synagogue in Queens.
  • On Aug. 16, a swastika and the initials “SS” were spray-painted on palm trees in Miami.
  • On Aug. 16, a large swastika and the word “Trump” were spray-painted near Goleta, California.
  • On Aug. 16, a swastika was painted on a restaurant in New Milford, Connecticut.
  • On Aug. 17, an unidentified vandal threw rocks at the glass windows of a synagogue in Alameda, California, shattering them.
  • On Aug. 18, a swastika was discovered on a sign in a park in Conejo Valley, California.
  • On Aug. 18, a neo-Nazi hung banners reading “UnJew Humanity” and “Jewish Financing Available” from a highway overpass near Springfield, Oregon.
  • On Aug. 18, 15 swastikas and messages including “Jews die” were found spray-painted at a skate park in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
  • On Aug. 18, swastikas were spray-painted on a sidewalk near a bus stop in Bellevue, Washington.
  • On Aug. 19, swastikas and the word “Trump” were spray-painted on a street in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
  • On Aug. 19 or 20, someone spray-painted a swastika on a sidewalk outside an Orthodox synagogue in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
  • On Aug. 19 or 20, anti-Semitic flyers bearing the name of the white supremacist group American Vanguard were posted at multiple locations in Asbury Park, New Jersey.
  • On Aug. 20, a family in Westerville, Ohio, discovered the word “Jew” written in shaving cream near their driveway. Their neighbors also found Nazi flyers in their front lawns.
  • On Aug. 21, a swastika was found carved into the green at a golf course in Lakeville, Minnesota.
  • On Aug. 21, a swastika was painted on a sidewalk near an elementary school in Las Vegas.
  • On Aug. 21, swastikas and a bomb threat were discovered carved into the walls of a Washington State University dormitory in Pullman, Washington, prompting an evacuation.
  • On Aug. 22, a 24-year-old man was arrested for spray-painting swastikas, “Heil Hitler” and other messages specifically targeting Jews and blacks at multiple locations in Coatesville, Pennsylvania. The man claimed to be associated with white supremacist groups.
The ADL cautions that it is impossible to directly link these anti-Semitic incidents to what happened in Charlottesville “without knowing the full motives of the perpetrators behind the attacks.”
Still, the past two weeks have brought rising American anti-Semitism into focus. The ADL says anti-Semitic incidents surged by 34 percent in 2016 compared with the previous year. In the first quarter of 2017, the number of incidents jumped 86 percent compared with the same period in 2016.
The FBI also maintains data on hate crimes and, while its figures are incomplete, they show that Jews were the most-targeted religious minority in the U.S. between 2010 and 2015.
And Jonathan Greenblatt, head of the ADL, told HuffPost this week that his organization has also tracked a rise in recruitment and membership among white supremacist organizations.
“One of the most significant things about Charlottesville is that it showed there’s a young generation of white supremacists willing to openly display their hate and anti-Semitism in public and in full view,” he said.
“It’s alarming to see a younger generation that’s not aged Klansmen hiding behind white hoods,” he continued, adding that “the majority of attendees appeared to be young, in their 20s and unafraid to show their faces.”
These young white supremacists, he said, have been “emboldened by this climate in the country, in an environment where the president essentially validated them and the ‘fine people’ among their ranks.”
Donald Trump won the presidency despite racist comments throughout his campaign. As a candidate and now as president, he has routinely signaled his support of white nationalism and been slow to condemn terror committed by white, right-wing extremists.  The Charlottesville rally also concluded with a terror attack. Twenty-year-old James Alex Fields Jr., a member of the white supremacist group Vanguard America, is accused of driving a car through a crowd of counterprotesters. The attack killed 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injured 19 others. In an interview with ABC News in the following days, two of Fields’ former classmates recalled visiting a Nazi concentration camp in Dachau, Germany, with him in 2015.  Standing in a place where Nazis had systematically murdered at least 28,000 people, most of them Jews, Fields’ friends recalled him issuing a chilling statement: “This is where the magic happened.”

Clergy march in Washington against white supremacy

WASHINGTON (RNS) – From Protestant preachers to Jewish cantors to Catholic nuns, religious leaders of a range of faiths demonstrated in the nation’s capital for racial justice, criticizing the silence of some within their own ranks on the subject of white supremacy and questioning the morality of Trump administration policies.  

Wearing stoles, robes and yarmulkes, the participants proceeded Monday (Aug. 28) on a 1.7-mile route from the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial to the Justice Department. Organizers estimated close to 3,000 ministers took part, a larger turnout than suggested by the title of the event: “One Thousand Ministers March for Justice.”

 

“We wanted to say this nation is in moral trouble,” the Rev. Al Sharpton told those assembled at the King memorial.
One protester carried a sign saying “Repeal and Replace Trump Pence,” a reference to the efforts to halt the Affordable Care Act signed into law during the Obama administration. Another’s sign said “Black Lives Matter To This Rabbi.”
The march was originally planned to protest increased hate crimes, mass incarceration and discrimination and to call on the Trump administration and Attorney General Jeff Sessions to address those issues.
But the recent violence in Charlottesville, Va., where neo-Nazi, white supremacist and white nationalist protesters clashed with anti-racism activists, prompted increased interest in the gathering.
Sister Patricia Chappell, executive director of Pax Christi USA, decried white supremacy but said, as a black Catholic nun, she believes “even our institutional church is racist” and needs to address some of its policies and practices.
Sharpton’s National Action Network spearheaded the march on the 54th anniversary of the March on Washington. Many of the people – from Buddhists to Baptists- had planned to be at the march before the Charlottesville events spurred more to join them. Some speakers ticked off a number of other issues that concern them, such as criminal justice, voter suppression and health care reform.
“You’re going to see the victims of Nazism, the victims of white supremacy march today to the Justice Department,” Sharpton said just before leading the march through downtown Washington. “And say we don’t care what party’s in. We are not going to be out.”
Sharpton said many of the people – from Buddhists to Baptists- had planned to be at the march before the Charlottesville events spurred more to join them.
The Rev. Jamal-Harrison Bryant, an African Methodist Episcopal pastor from Baltimore, criticized evangelical ministers who support and advise the president “and declare erroneously an outright lie – that Donald Trump is a man of God.” “He is not God’s man,” Bryant said. “They do not reflect the body of Christ at large.”
The Rev. Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners magazine and social justice organization, said the demonstration was “theological” because “the soul of the nation and the integrity of faith” were at stake. He called on clergy to speak out against white supremacy.
“We have to preach from every pulpit in America that racism is America’s original sin,” he said.
Wallis added that Trump should repent for pardoning former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was convicted of criminal contempt for his treatment of undocumented immigrants.
The interfaith crowd took part in a call-and-response conversation with speakers who urged them to sing, recite Scripture and high-five each other in shows of unity.
“Let me tell all the white supremacists and KKK and everybody that America is a multifaith country – Do you all agree?” said Sikh leader Rajwant Singh, who was greeted by cheers. “America belongs to all of us.”
Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, recalled that Jews marched 5,000 years ago “out of Pharaoh’s slavery and bondage in Egypt.”
“And we know today that we do have the power to break the bondage of the modern pharaoh,” he said.
The National Action Network, a predominantly black, Christian organization, also was an organizer of a 50th anniversary commemoration of the March on Washington that was held in 2013 and drew throngs to the National Mall to remember the event that featured King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Monday’s march originally focused on clergy but some groups encouraged all people of faith to attend.
Some clergy who have supported or advised Trump gathered at the National Press Club instead of at the King Memorial and issued a statement about the need for the government and religious officials to do more to bridge racial divides.
“Naturally, we need government, business, law enforcement, and community stakeholders to partner with us,” their statement read. “The glue that will keep our nation together, though, is the Church and faith leaders.”

September 2017

Written by WISDOM on . Posted in Newsletters

Calendar for WISDOM and Other Interfaith Events  
Sunday, October 15th, 2017, 5:00 PM – 8:30 PM
Tenth Anniversary Celebration of WISDOM
North Congregational Church
36520 W. 12 Mile Road, Farmington Hills, 48331
See Save the Date Below
Sunday, October 14th, 2017
Zoroastrian Conference
Farmington Public Library Auditorium
See Flyer Below
August through November, 2017
Exploring Our Religious Landscapes
Christianity Series
See Flyer Below

SAVE THE DATE!!
WISDOM’S TENTH ANNIVERSARY YEAR
CELEBRATION!
Sunday, October 15th
5:00 PM – 8:30 PM
AT NORTH CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH
36520 W. 12 Mile Road
Farmington Hills, MI 48331
Displays/Vendors, Dinner, and Delightful Entertainment
$50 per person
$75 for a display/vendor table
WISDOM
Please register online for this event!

Zoroastrian Association of Michigan
Proudly hosts
2017 Society of Scholars
of Zoroastrianism (SSZ) Conference
supported by
Federation of Zoroastrian Associations of North America (FEZANA)
at the Farmington Public Library Auditorium,
32737 W 12 Mile Rd, Farmington Hills, MI 48331
Saturday October 14, 2017 from 1015 AM till 530 PM.
“The Legacy Of  Zarathushtra and His Vision For The Modern World”
The topics we will be covering will be
1) Zarathushtra’s birth, his early life, his enlightenment and his early teachings
2) the Gathas,
3) Prophet Zarathushtra’s contributions as a philosopher, scientist, astronomer and ecologist,
4) his influence on world religion and philosophy,
5) how his teachings are valuable in today’s modern world.
The Society of Scholars of Zoroastrianism (SSZ) is an initiative to promote study and scholarship of the Religion of Zarathushtra, formalized during the Eighth World Zoroastrian Congress in London in 2005.  The mission of the Society is to revive the tradition of scholarship within our community among athornans and behdins alike, and to promote interaction among academicians, theologians (priests), educationists, lay scholars and practitioners of Zoroastrianism, through roundtable discussions, conferences and publications.  The aim is to make SSZ a prestigious organization on par with scholarly organizations of other faith communities, and merit affiliation with international bodies such as the American Academy of Religions.
All community members, students, scholars and members of interfaith communities are invited and encouraged to participate.  You will no doubt be enriched, your presence gives support to the speakers, and your feedback is invaluable so that future research efforts may be directed in a constructive manner for the benefit of both the academicians as well as the community.
Registration is FREE.  Suggested donation is $10 per attendee.  Breakfast, lunch and tea will be provided.  Please RSVP by October 7, 2017 to anirani2@yahoo.com and visit www.s-s-z.org for more information.

                

Top religious leaders urge followers to ‘make friends’ across faithsPope, rabbis, Muslim clerics and the Dalai Lama among those championing personal acquaintance as a cure for prejudice and distrust
Go to the following link to view the video!!
In an extraordinary appeal, top religious leaders from across the world called for inter-religious friendships “to counter misperceptions, prejudices and distrust” between peoples.
In a three-minute video made in partnership with Twitter, the petitioners – including Pope Francis, Former UK Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the Dalai Lama and Egyptian Grand Mufti Shawki Allam – disseminated their message in 16 different languages.
The initiative, organized by the Elijah Interfaith Institute under the slogan #MakeFriends, seeks to “reduce social tension around the world by stimulating interpersonal contact between people of different faiths,” according to a statement from the institute.
The video was released during a London conference organized by the institute to launch the effort.
In it, Sacks says: “One of the wonderful things about spending time with people completely unlike you is that you discover how much you have in common. The same fears, hopes and concerns.”
Pope Francis and Rabbi Abraham Skorka speak of how their religious experiences have been enriched by their interfaith friendship.
The Dalai Lama says “personal contact, personal friendship” would lead people to the exchange of “a deeper level of experience.” Bartholomew I, Archbishop of Constantinople, adds: “We are called… to look into one another’s eyes in order to see more deeply and in order to recognize the beauty of God in every living human being.”
American Shia cleric Ayatollah Hassan Al-Qazwini encourages knowing one another “to discover and explore thos commonalities,” while the Archbishop of the Church of Sweden Antje Jackelén explains “This should start a process that will take prejudices away and where new insights and hope is born.”
Israeli Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau also contributed a video, in which he says people of all religions should share common values of acceptance and mutual respect.
A second, longer video from the summit issued by the institute included statements by citizens from around the world on religious prejudice.
The initiative hopes to counter the “hazardous and widespread misperception that followers of religions other than our own view us with distrust and disdain.”
Elijah Institute director Rabbi Dr. Alon Goshen-Gottstein acknowledged that religious texts were not always helpful in allaying this concern.
“We cannot deny that in the books of many religions you can find texts that are not very open, even hostile, to people of other faiths. Therefore, when the world’s most important leaders call for friendship, they are in fact affirming a particular way of practicing religion and rejecting another,” he said.

Religious leaders launch interfaith rainforest initiative
 
The Amazonas River on the coast of Amapa state
(credit – Reuters/Ricardo Moraes)
Setting aside their religious differences, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist and Daoist leaders have launched a global effort to end deforestation. Launching the Interfaith Rainforest Initiative at a conference in Oslo on June 19-21, religious and indigenous leaders from 21 countries spoke with forest advocates, climate scientists and human rights experts to develop goals and actions, along with milestones to mark their progress. They expect to follow up with an action plan and a global interfaith rainforest summit in 2018.  Rainforests are pivotal for life on earth, provisioning people’s needs, promoting biodiversity and protecting the climate”, said World Council of Churches general-secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit. “Today when the rainforests are threatened by deforestation driven by a shortsighted, profit-oriented economy, we must use the knowledge of what is good and our faith-driven action to protect and care for the rainforests and therefore the Earth and all life.”
The leaders said the initiative will bring needed moral attention and spiritual commitment to bear on global efforts to end deforestation and protect the tropical rainforests – forests that are fundamental to human life, the planet’s health and reducing the emissions fueling climate change. This marks the first time religious leaders from a broad spectrum of faiths are working hand-in-hand with indigenous peoples, the world’s leading rainforest guardians, to call upon and activate billions of people of faith worldwide to stand up for rainforests. The gathering was attended by His Majesty King Harald V of Norway.
Tropical rainforests in South America, sub-Saharan Africa and Asia are falling rapidly due to a range of forces, including palm oil plantations, cattle, soy and crop production, and rapacious and often illegal mining and logging operations. The losses amount to an area the size of Austria each year. With their capacity to store billions of tons of carbon, the preservation of tropical rainforests is widely viewed as fundamental to halting climate change. Many climate experts note that forests are the only proven approach for capturing and storing large amounts of carbon. Thus, staving off their destruction could keep carbon emissions at bay, buying time for the world to transition to a low carbon energy future, and also playing an indispensable role in reaching global carbon neutrality in the second half of this century.
Tropical rainforests also provide food, water and income to 1.6 billion people. They contain most of the planet’s land-borne biodiversity and help regulate rainfall and temperature globally, regionally and locally.

The group was convened by Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative, Rainforest Foundation Norway and the United Nations Development Program, in cooperation with the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale University, GreenFaith, the Parliament of the World’s Religions, Religions for Peace, REIL Network and the WCC. “Our goal – working in concert with the spiritual and indigenous leaders gathered here – is to define a shared action plan to create a popular movement for expanded political will and on-the-ground action to protect rainforests,” said Bishop Emeritus Gunnar Stålsett, honorary president of Religions for Peace. “The scope of this initiative is global. But we are also putting special focus on religious and indigenous leaders, networks and institutions in countries with the most significant tropical rainforests.”

The initiative is linked to a surge of recent grassroots action in which environmental, climate and indigenous rights issues are being embraced as spiritual imperatives that strike a chord with multiple faiths and traditions. Other leaders of Evangelical Christian and Muslim organizations, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, have stressed the shared human responsibility to protect the planet. Lending crucial leadership and indispensable momentum to these efforts was the official letter issued in 2015 by Pope Francis that called on all people of the world to quickly bring, “the whole human family together to protect our common home.” The pope also noted the unbreakable link between indigenous peoples and the environment. “For them land is not a commodity, but rather a gift from God and from their ancestors who rest there, a sacred space with which they need to interact if they are to maintain their identity and values.”

Check out Song and Spirits beautiful interfaiith
mosaic tile project, led by
Mary Gilhuly! Click on YouTube link below.

To get involved or
have a community service project
with mosaic tiles
contact Mary at

Charlottesville Happened On Shabbat.
Here’s What The Rabbis Did That Day.
The Forward
In the days leading up to the Unite the Right rally, the Jews of Charlottesville sensed that the march might put worshippers gathered to celebrate the Jewish Sabbath in danger. They asked the police to provide them with an officer during morning services and were refused, so they hired an armed security guard. They also reached out to their friends among Charlotteville’s other religious communities, so for some of the rabbis of the Reform Congregation Beth Israel, the day started with a sunrise interfaith service. After that, as anticipated, things got scary. Here’s how the rabbis and their congregation experienced the day.
9 a.m. Charlottesville’s only synagogue began services an hour earlier than usual to try to avoid any clashes with the rally, slated to start at noon. It didn’t work. Several neo-Nazis walked by Congregation Beth Israel, shouting “There’s the synagogue!” and “Sieg Heil,” a Nazi cheer meaning “Hail Victory.” For thirty minutes, three men with semi-automatic rifles stood across the street from the synagogue, wrote synagogue president Alan Zimmerman for ReformJudaism.org.
The rabbi stayed outside to keep watch, and so did a 30-year Navy veteran, John Aguilar, because he “just felt he should.” Several non-Jews came to services to show solidarity, Zimmerman wrote, and at least a dozen strangers stopped by to ask if Aguilar and Zimmerman wanted company.
Shabbat services  – “It just really felt like we were in our own place,” said Geoff Schmelkin, husband of the synagogue’s Rabbi Rachel Schmelkin, in an interview with the Forward. “Prayers strengthened us and gave us the kind of comfort that we needed. It really felt good to be with the community and to be praying together. … We were just doing our thing and being resilient in the way that we want to be in the face of a crisis like this.” Congregation Beth Israel’s stained glass windows blocked the sight and sounds of the rally outside. For two and a half hours, congregants prayed despite the chaos just across the street.
Services conclude, about 11:00 a.m.
The service ended and people filed out of the synagogue into the main hall for kiddush, the ritual blessing over wine and bread usually combined with snacks and a period of schmoozing. Geoff Schmelkin looked out of the second floor windows to see “gangs of skinheads” marching past the synagogue. The sight was “evocative of the atmosphere of a pogrom,” he said. Rabbi Thomas Gutherz, Congregation Beth Israel’s senior rabbi, said he had not experienced such blatant anti-Semitism from “white supremacist gangs” after living in the South for more than two decades.
“It’s just not part of the ordinary experience of Jews,” he told the Forward.
Saying good-bye
Zimmerman’s “heart broke” as he asked congregants to leave in groups through the back, he wrote. The rabbis had realized an attack on the synagogue was a real possibility and removed the Torahs, including a Holocaust scroll.
An interfaith safe space, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Several congregants walked two minutes down the street to First United Methodist Church, which served as a “safe space” for counter-protesters during the day, Rachel Schmelkin told the Forward. Among them was her husband, wearing a yarmulke. The short walk was “tense,” he said.
The rabbi and her husband reconnected. She’d been at the church since 8:30 a.m., playing guitar and singing songs of “love and kindness” on the steps. She frequently stopped and hurried inside when a lockdown was announced after reports of violence nearby. “It was really important for people to have their spirits lifted as they were looking at this hatred,” she said. “I wanted to drown out their noise with something beautiful.”
She said her Christian colleagues would take extra care to usher her inside the church out of view of the white supremacists and neo-Nazis just across the street and in the park. “To be at the church knowing that my husband was at the shul was very terrifying,” Rachel Schmelkin said. “I was very relieved to see him when he showed up at the church after services and all was OK.”
2:30 p.m.:  the hospital  – The Schmelkins left the church to rush an injured woman to the hospital. They returned to the church briefly before going home, worried that police could block off the downtown area and restrict their access to their home if protests became too violent.
Later that evening, the rabbis cancelled the havdalah service, consisting of a braided candle, wine, spices and song, that marks the end of Shabbat, citing safety concerns.
What’s next?
Rabbi Emeritus Daniel Alexander wasn’t in town that Shabbat and instead returned to the community on Sunday. He said Charlottesville, thanks to the University of Virginia, is a progressive town that’s been home to prominent Jewish families since the 19th century.
He said the protests on Saturday felt like an invasion. “Charlottesville (has) now become a buzzword with associations that are not really characteristic of the place,” Alexander said to the Forward. “It feels like a violation that doesn’t feel good right now. In a certain way it’s a kind of a loss.” For Gutherz, the senior rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel, the violence and bigotry of the day do not characterize Charlottesville. He said the community needs to take time to process the weekend to figure out how to best move forward. “The community was turning to the faith community for leadership, and we tried to provide it as best we could,” Gutherz said. “The war on hate is also a spiritual war … and we need to stand by our principles of love and acceptance and justice.”
Contact Erica Snow at snow@forward.com

Amid Muslim anxiety, woman
welcomes strangers to dinner
“Welcome to Our Muslim Table”
Detroit Free Press
by Susan Selasky
Every ring of the doorbell signaled another guest or two, arriving for dinner at the Saab home in New Boston. Once inside, the strangers introduced themselves and immediately noted the amazing aromas coming from the kitchen.  Fragrant saffron rice warmed, and a pot of lentil soup with carrots and turmeric simmered on the stove.
Amanda Saab was also tending to cumin-and-cinnamon seasoned kefta (ground beef) patties sizzling in oil. And the smell of rosemary roasted potatoes chimed in. While Amanda cut up melon, tended to the salmon and began caramelizing onions, her husband, Hussein, 30, filled hinged glass bottles with water, ironed napkins and set the table.
Amanda, 28, had been prepping most of the day for this dinner with people she’s met only through friends of friends or on social media. There would be nine guests for her Dinner with Your Muslim Neighbor event, her fourth such event held in Michigan.
On this particular  Sunday, the Saab family’s personal and loving attempt to facilitate cross-cultural communication happens at a time of heightened anxiety for Muslims, as terrorism by extremists conjure bigotry. The Saabs entertained strangers from Berkley, Chesterfield Twp., Detroit, Eastpointe, Plymouth and Roseville.
Amanda, a Muslim-American, came up with these dinners as a forum designed to build bonds across cultures, demystify and dispel untruths about Islam and Muslims, while also providing insight. Amanda, a social worker at Zaman International in Inkster, believes that sharing a meal can make a difference.
“There is something about breaking bread and sharing a meal that opens a path so people have a better understanding,” she says.
During the presidential campaign, Amanda says, she was overwhelmed while watching the news, listening to the candidates’ messages and all of the anti-Muslim rhetoric.  “It was how people were reacting and that it was OK to spew hate and bigotry,” she says. “Specifically, hearing Donald Trump say he was calling for a complete and total shutdown of Muslims coming into this country.” Instead of sitting at home and feeling helpless, she wanted to do something about it. She put her culinary know-how to work. An amazing self-taught cook, Amanda says she got her first Easy-Bake Oven when she was 5 years old. She learned cooking techniques by watching the Food Network and reading cookbooks. You might recognize her, as some of her recent guests did, from Gordon Ramsey’s “MasterChef” reality show on Fox.  In 2015, Amanda was the first Muslim woman on the show. More than a year ago, when the couple still lived in Seattle, Amanda approached her husband about hosting monthly dinner parties in their home.
“Sure, everyone enjoys your food,” Hussein recalls telling Amanda. “Let’s go shopping, here’s a check, 100%, whatever you want to do.”
There was a catch, however. Amanda wanted to invite strangers to their home, not just friends and colleagues. She would cook for them. She would invite them to sit at their dinner table and eat with them. It would be an open dialogue for guests to ask the Saabs about anything about their lives, their Muslim culture, their Islamic faith.
There would be no barriers. Hussein had doubts. “I like to socialize, but not that much and with total strangers,” he says. But, he felt the same way as his wife, frustrated, and isolated. The dinners made sense.
Hussein says he was nervous mostly about the questions that might be asked. “I love Amanda’s creativity with doing this, because cooking is her outlet.  And she wanted to combine that with conversation and see what that does.” Hussein says many of the questions are targeted toward Amanda. “They want to know why does Amanda wear the scarf? Did you make her to wear it? Why can’t you eat certain things?”
“It clearly shows many want to ask, but many haven’t met a Muslim in some cases,” Hussein says. “It made it very easy once they got to understand us and why we do what we do.”
The Saabs, now back in metro Detroit after living in Seattle for 5 years, brought their concept here. Their most recent Dinner with Your Muslim Neighbor took place during the holy month of Ramadan, which lasts 30 days. There is no fee for the event, the Saabs pay for everything.
Because their most recent dinner was during Ramadan, Amanda decided the menu would be more traditional to show what the family eats to break the fast; during Ramadan, Muslims fast during the daylight hours. The dinner was set to take place at 9:15 p.m. Now pregnant with the couple’s first child, due in August, Amanda is not expected to fast. Islam allows people for whom fasting may harm their health to refrain from fasting during Ramadan.
Once the guests were assembled, Amanda described what’s on menu. The meal would be served buffet-style from the kitchen island. It included baked wild Copper River salmon topped with a mustard sauce and caramelized onions, a vibrant green fattoush salad studded with pomegranate, spinach pies from Dearborn’s New Yasem bakery and, of course, hummus. Amanda’s famous hummus is beautifully garnished with fresh mint, oregano and parsley, thinly sliced watermelon radish and a sprinkling of sumac. The hummus, she says, is a two-day process that starts with soaking the chickpeas at least overnight.
Before they eat, Amanda explained that she and Hussein needed to pray. While they pray, and since Ramadan is a time for reflection about others who are less fortunate or sick, Amanda had gave her guests a task. She had set out cards, crayons and markers and asked each guest to make a greeting card to be mailed to Cards for Hospitalized Kids.
When the cards were complete, Hussein started the meal with a prayer in Arabic, which he translated to English. The dinner started out with everyone formally introducing themselves. They ate and chatted, talking about how amazing the food was and about Amanda’s stint on “MasterChef.” Armed with conversation-prompt cards,  Amanda steered the conversation by asking a question: “What is something you wished someone knew about you?”
She then said, “I wish people knew I choose to wear the hijab on my own. It was my choice to wear it.” Through tears, she explained to her guests: “I asked God for strength to wear the hijab.”
Roberta Mack of Roseville asked: “Is there a certain age that you begin to wear it?”  Amanda explained that some say it’s the age of maturity. Amanda was 16.  She said  when she first wore the hijab to school, her Spanish teacher didn’t recognize her and asked if she was a new  student.  Hussein talked about how he came to Islam. “I didn’t inherit my religion, I found it,” he said. He also stressed to the group that “with Islam you are not supposed to impose anything on people.”
Aimee Twarek, 36, of Berkley found out about the dinner through a friend of friend. Recently, Twarek participated in a study at her church about Muslims, Christians and Jews. “It was about bridging the gap and finding common ground and about opening up and talking to people of Islam.”
Twarek says she was nervous about going to a stranger’s home. But, she thought it was a great idea, saying “it takes a great amount of bravery to bring strangers in their home.  “I thought (the dinner) would be a good way to introduce us to true Middle Eastern cuisine and have an open conversation,” Twarek says.  The food, Twarek says, was amazing. A favorite was Amanda’s salmon.  Twarek thought the open and honest dialogue was a good fit because “you could see how misconceptions and how misinformed people can be about Islam.”
A plus? It was relaxed, she says. “It was just like having dinner with Muslim friends,” Twarek says. “And nothing beat  her hummus.”
The Saabs have partnered with Michael Hebb of Death Over Dinner, another dining initiative that seeks to address pressing social issues like death, addictions (Chasing Addiction over Dinner) and the environment (Earth to Dinner).
 “When we met, I got incredibly inspired by the work she had done and wanted to do,” Hebb says by phone from Seattle. “I saw the opportunity for thousands of people,  if not hundreds of thousand people.”
Hebb says the two have started to work together to scale the projects, developing guidelines on how the events should be organized and what questions should be asked. He’s worked with Amanda on a few of her dinners and finds her remarkable.
“She’s brave in the larger sense, but her vulnerability and emotional vulnerability is what is so striking as well. She’s willing to talk about an emotional depth of experiences that few people are. As soon as somebody takes a conversation to that depth and other people feel comfortable going there. It’s a real gift.”
The ultimate goal, Amanda says, is to develop downloadable tool kits from her website, www.muslimneighbor.com, for others to host their own dinners.
“I think even just extending that hand and that invitation to reach out to someone and making the invitation and our home available to other people is a success,” she says.
Contact Susan Selasky: 313-222-6872 or sselasky@freepress.com.

A Newly Minted Rabbi in Morocco
By The Times of Israel

On Thursday, May 18th, I was ordained as a rabbi by the Jewish Theological Seminary. Three days later (and nearly a year after our wedding), my wife Ariel and I departed on a belated honeymoon to Morocco. Ariel is pursuing a doctorate in Byzantine and Islamic art history, so Morocco was the perfect choice for us. As a rabbi, it was exhilarating to walk the streets once frequented by Rabbi Isaac al-Fasi and Maimonides, while Ariel was thrilled to visit some of the most significant sites in the history of Islamic art. In that sense, the trip was everything we thought it would be. What we did not anticipate was the incredibly warm welcome we received as Jews in a North African, Muslim country. Although we were initially wary to divulge that we were Jewish, once we did, we were lovingly embraced like long-lost family.  On one of the last days of our trip, we did a seven-mile hike with a Berber guide through the foothills of the Atlas Mountains. While taking a short breather to admire a magnificent mountain scene, our guide, Abdul, began to tell us about the history of the Atlas Mountains and the pivotal role that Jews played in the development of the region. Without knowing our backgrounds, he waxed rhapsodically about the significant contributions that Jews made to the growth and cultivation of the area. And most significantly, he spoke about the deep love that Muslim Berbers have for their Jewish brethren.  

 “The only difference between Jews and Muslims,” Abdul said, “is that Jews drink alcohol and Muslims don’t.” “Well,” I replied, “You pray five times a day, while we only pray three.” At this, Abdul’s eyes nearly popped out of his head. “You’re Jewish?”  Almost shockingly, tears began to stream down his cheeks as he gripped me in a genuine, loving bear-hug. Until the 1940s, roughly 250,000 Jews lived in Morocco. They began to leave in droves following the establishment of the State of Israel; sadly, the vast majority left for Israel in the 1960s, in the midst of a period of economic downturn. Now, there are only about 3,000 Jews left in Morocco, almost all of whom live in Casablanca. Before meeting us, Abdul hadn’t seen a Jewish person in quite some time. He was profoundly moved to see us in his country.  

Jews have been in Morocco for at least 2,500 years, dating back to the Carthaginian and Roman periods of North African history. For most of that time, they were major contributors to Moroccan agriculture and trade. Prior to the spread of Islam to North Africa in the 7th century, many Berbers converted to Judaism. On our trip, we learned that a substantial number of Jews living in Morocco today still consider themselves to be ethnically Berber.
For long stretches under Arab rule in Morocco, Jews were classified as “dhimmi,” or a protected class. As long as they paid a special tax, they were permitted to continue observing Jewish law. But ultimately, Moroccan Jews became far more than a mere protected class-they became an indispensable part of Moroccan culture and society.  When we visited the 15th century Mellah (Jewish quarter) in Fez, we discovered that it was built in the shadow of the royal palace; the king wanted Jews in close proximity. Significantly, this trend continues today. The primary advisor to the current king, Mohammed VI, is a Jewish Berber.
While visiting the Jewish quarters in Marrakesh and Fez, we had the unique opportunity to daven with the communities there. In Marrakesh, we connected with the community at the Lazama (or “Al Azma”) synagogue, which was founded in the late 15th century by Jews fleeing the Spanish inquisition. Sitting in the beautiful synagogue on a Fridaymorning, we joined with a group of Israelis to hear a captivating talk from a member of the community about his pride in his Berber lineage, and how rankled he gets when he is labeled as Sephardic. He is not Spanish, but very proudly Berber. And moreover, he said, most Moroccan Jews follow Ashkenazic, not Sephardic, religious practices.
We had a similar experience in Fez, where we visited the Ibn Danan and al Fassayine Synagogues in the Mellah, and the Roben Bensadoun synagogue in the new city. We were in Fez over Shavuot, so we davened at the Roben Bensadoun synagogue and then had dinner at their small Jewish community center. It was a fascinating experience; the members of the community spoke to each other (and us) in a blend of Hebrew, Arabic and French and regaled us with tales of Moroccan Jewish life.
The community in Fez told us about Mohammed V, the king of Morocco who protected the country’s 250,000 Jews during the Holocaust. Significantly, following the establishment of the State of Israel, he also reminded his Muslim subjects of the key role Jews had historically played in their country, and implored them not to lash out at the Moroccan Jewish community. This was deeply moving for us to learn, and encapsulated how we felt about our time in Morocco as a whole: we were able to fully experience the culture and history of a beautiful Muslim country and be embraced and welcomed as Jews.

Students Take the Lead Teenagers
 for a More Tolerant Future
by Ryan Polsky
“World Religions” is being taken to a whole new level in high schools across the country. Young interfaith activists are bringing it beyond the classroom to engage not only mind, but heart as well. These young grassroots activists are inspiring their peers to learn about different religions through clubs that promote dialogue and service.
In 2014, Jaxon Washburn found himself with a diverse group of friends at Arizona College Prep School in Chandler, AZ. At lunchtime they discussed each other’s cultures, backgrounds, and beliefs. These conversations created a desire to start a formal interfaith club, and soon the World Religion and Tolerance Society (WRTS) was born. In Washburn’s words, WRTS is “a grassroots, student-led, high school interfaith group for students of all different religious and nonreligious backgrounds to come together and have discussions with one another in friendship and relationships based on our shared values.”
When he transferred to Williamsfield High School in Gilbert, AZ he started another WRTS. Today, students meet weekly at both WRTS chapters, and the Williamsfield group has become a Cooperation Circle of the United Religions Initiative. “We bring in guest speakers from around Arizona Valley representing different faith communities. They’re able to come after school and present their faith background to us, hand out materials, and answer questions,” Jaxon says. “Most of all, they are firsthand representatives of these different worldviews. It’s a neat opportunity for high school students to be exposed to cultures and belief systems that they might not have learned as much about, giving them an opportunity to empower themselves and advance their understanding of religion.”
He believes interfaith work is crucial for a better tomorrow: “We live in a pluralistic society, one that, at its core, welcomes people of different faiths and allows them to worship freely. With that, we need to cultivate and cherish the values of interfaith work. Even more than that, being able to communicate with one another in a civil, respectful way, being able to collaborate, work together, and build relationships based on the shared values we have, makes our society a better place.”
Washburn’s leadership and passion has landed him many opportunities, among them visiting the United Nations in New York City and speaking at the 2016 Parliament of World Religions in Salt Lake City, UT. When he speaks, he encourages fellow high school students to start their own interfaith groups: “One of our missions is to establish a stepping stone for high school students to continue interfaith work and get a head start. We feel as though high school students are just as capable of being interfaith activists as the college youth. We’re just trying to bring the interfaith movement to even younger levels.”
Washburn’s work with WRTS has inspired high school students across the country. When Bany Crisp heard about the WRTS from a friend, she immediately seized the opportunity. In fall 2016, she founded a chapter at Midlothian High School in Richmond, VA. Crisp’s interest in interfaith work stems from her curiosity and desire to dive deep. “I read books about world religions and then realized I wanted to meet people from these religions and get to know them,” she said. By doing so, she realized the similarities among world religions.
“There are so many things people of different religions don’t realize we have in common, so I think it’s important to focus on the similarities. And to also learn about the differences, because that can be beautiful, too. It’s important for people to be educated on these issues.”
Interfaith conflict and violence around the world inspire her to be an agent of change. She believes interfaith dialogue and collaboration are key to addressing these larger issues. “You see things that are happening all over the world, conflicts between different religions, and you just want to learn more and help with that in the future.”
Like the Arizona chapters, Crisp’s WRTS club hosts guest speakers and participates in local interfaith service projects. Some of the most notable projects have been partnering with a local church to feed the homeless and organizing a clothing drive for Syrian refugees.
Crisp and Washburn are both members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and it’s their Mormon faith that drives them. Washburn explained, “As a faithful and practicing Mormon, I feel my faith is very open and inclusive, which drives me to learn more about different faiths, encourages me to find the best in everyone, and to on all the good in the world.”
A semester prior to Crisp starting the Richmond chapter of WRTS, Sana Shareef felt called to start an interfaith club at Saint Edward’s School in Vero Beach, FL. After witnessing and being a target of religious bigotry, she wanted a club that met hate with knowledge.
“I had the idea of starting this club during the beginning of the spring semester of my 10th grade. I wanted to start it because at the time, intolerance was becoming too familiar for a lot people I knew. It became my goal to address that religious intolerance with religious literacy. The reason why I had that goal was because I’m a Muslim, and I have experienced and seen first-hand this religious intolerance that goes on.”
While believing interfaith clubs are important for people at any stage in life, Shareef feels especially strong about the need for them at the high school level: “In high school, not a lot of students are expressive or tend to talk about religion. It’s not something that you would do as a teenager; religion is not a big part of your life. But because of the intolerance I was seeing in the outside world, I wanted to do something about that in my school. While I didn’t see this intolerance inside my school, I thought maybe it was there, but not as explicit as in the outside world.”
Swami Anjani (right), from URI Cooperation Circle Kashi, was a featured speaker at the Breaking Barriers end-of-year panel. – Photo: URI
Her passion led her to establish the Breaking Barriers Club. Its mission is to help dismantle stereotypes and bring about a greater collective awareness of all religions through discussions and debates on common religious preconceptions and practices, lectures by area religious figures, volunteer opportunities at local religious institutions, and a culminating year-end event that consists of an interfaith panel discussion for the benefit of the school and community at large.
The end-of-year interfaith panel was part of “Finding Common Ground: An Interfaith Conversation.” This first installment was extremely successful, with over 300 people attending the panel of seven speakers. The Muslim panelist Imam Khalid Latif, who shared his experiences as a chaplain at NYU and for the NYPD, impacted Shareef the most.
When he spoke, it was incredible. He started the speech with his experiences as a Muslim in this country and the bigotry he’s seen. For example, when he was in his police uniform at the 9/11 Memorial, he was insulted by a fellow American because he looked Muslim and had the cap on that Muslims wear. He said that the woman next to him, who lost her son on 9/11, had stopped the other man and let him know what an insult that was.” She was also struck by Imam Latif’s discussion of the intersection of intolerance and bigotry. “Even though he’s Muslim, he said he doesn’t know how it feels to be a black person in this country. That was quite eye opening; he’s saying that religion is not the only problem, but race is also a huge problem. It’s not just religious intolerance, but a host of other issues that need to be discussed as well.”
“Bigotry is a huge problem in the world, especially in the United States, even though we are one of the biggest cultural melting pots in the world. Unfortunately, even though you often see it among adults, teenagers and students aren’t immune to bigotry.”
These speakers and experiences have propelled Shareef to the next level of leadership and to interfaith activism. As she focuses on finishing high school next year, she is ready to take on the challenge of standing up to hate. “It’s really important that we, as young people, who will be the future leaders of the world, acquaint ourselves with these issues at this time – now – so that we can know the issues and deal with them correctly. Knowledge and education of religious intolerance will be the solution to the bigotry you see in the community. With the recent Manchester attack and terrorist attacks around the world, this issue is at the forefront of society.”
A new wave of grassroots activists is sprouting up. These youth are breaking barriers, building tolerance from the ground up amidst the chaos that often accompanies high school life.
This piece was originally published by URI North America.

August 2017

Written by WISDOM on . Posted in Newsletters

Calendar for WISDOM and Other Interfaith Events  
 
Sunday, August 6th, noon to 5:00 PM
DION Interfaith picnic at Belle Isle
See flyer below
Sunday, October 15th, 2017, 5:00 PM – 8:30 PM
Tenth Anniversary Celebration of WISDOM
North Congregational Church
36520 W. 12 Mile Road, Farmington Hills, 48331
See Save the Date Below
August through November, 2017
Exploring Our Religious Landscapes
Christianity Series
See Flyer Below

 

SAVE THE DATE!!
WISDOM’S TENTH ANNIVERSARY YEAR
CELEBRATION!
Sunday, October 15th
5:00 PM – 8:30 PM
AT NORTH CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH
36520 W. 12 Mile Road
Farmington Hills, MI 48331
Displays/Vendors, Dinner, and Delightful Entertainment
$50 per person
$75 for a display/vendor table
WISDOM

Learning about religions face to face
BY JESSICA STEELEY
Clarkston News Staff Writer
From left, Gail Katz, Judaism; April Cook, Christianity; Ranya Shbeib, Islam.
Top Photo: From left, Emily McPhersen, Hinduism; Hwa Son Josh Plucinski, Buddhism; Raman and Kabeer Singh, Sikhism. Photos by Jessica Steeley
Sashabaw Middle School (SMS) seventh graders learned about religious diversity from worshipers of six different religions during their world religion unit. The Interfaith Leadership Council paired with seventh grade classes to bring in speakers from the three Abrahamic religions and three of the world’s eastern religions. They discussed their scriptures, holidays, beliefs and practices.
“We do lots of panels and interfaith educational events, but we haven’t brought it into the schools yet. This is our kick-off trial to see how it goes,” Interfaith Leadership Council Program Director Meredith Skowronski said.
For many years, SMS has paired with the council to do religious diversity journeys, but only 25 students are able to go on them, said World History Teacher Sue Wilson.
“They spend a whole day at these houses of worship just eating traditional food, asking questions, learning from the religious leaders, interacting with members of the community, just as a way to immerse them in a faith,” Skowronski said. Wilson wanted more students to be given this chance so she contacted Skowronski about bringing speakers in as part of project based learning to teach kids about world religions.
The six religions presented were Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Sikhism, which were also taught in the students’ world history classes, Wilson said.
“I think it’s important kids are exposed to different religions and have a better understanding of it so they can speak more intelligently about it,” she said.
Seventh grader Abby Nellis said the focus of the journeys and presentations was to understand different religions and how they work.
“If you see somebody walking around with a turban or walking around with a head covering, it’s okay to ask questions,” Nellis said. “If you have background knowledge, you don’t have to automatically just jump to conclusions.”
Student Faith Kroll said she learned all the religions believe in treating everyone equally and helping people.
“It’s important because you need to learn how other people feel and how they see things, not just how you see it,” Kroll said.
Skowronski thinks there’s a lot of misunderstandings among different faiths and allowing young students to experience members of other faiths helps break barriers and stereotypes.
“What we do really is try to spread interfaith education and conciliation,” Skowronski said. “We try to teach people about other faiths, we try to teach faiths about themselves and provide resources.”
Emily Walters went on the religious diversity journeys and said the presentations helped clarify questions she had about the different religions.
“Nowadays, especially in the U.S., we are such a diverse population,” Walters said. “We need to be able to be open to other people and know about what they might believe in.”

New Islamic Institute Prioritizes Outreach
By Jeff Karoub, Associated Press
DEARBORN HEIGHTS, Mich. (AP) – When the Islamic Institute of America bought a Baptist church, the plan initially was to remove the pews – until the mosque’s leader objected, in part because he saw keeping the benches as a way of showing Islam’s compatibility with its sister faith.
“We’re sending a message to non-Muslim visitors and friends – particularly our interfaith community and Christians,” Iman Hassan Qazwini, one of the top Shiite Muslim leaders in the U.S., said from what’s now the institute’s lecture hall.
“We use the same benches you sat on. We’re using the same stage your pastor used to disseminate our message, which is not too different from your message,” he added. “The gap that exists between us is not that huge.”
Qazwini said reaching out to Christians, Jews and others has never been more important, with a U.S. president who has said Islam hates the U.S. and polls finding most Americans holding negative views of the faith. He sees education and outreach as the primary missions of the Islamic Institute of America in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn Heights, which has one of the largest and oldest Arab-Muslim communities outside the Middle East. Qazwini, who comes from a family of prominent American Shiite scholars and is of Iraqi descent, said he hopes to quell fears and misunderstandings through regular interfaith gatherings and a media division that will produce short videos and other internet-based programming.
Next year, the center plans to launch a seminary aimed at equipping a new generation of Muslim leaders who can help forge a better understanding of Islam in the West. He said the seminary would not only help produce well-rounded scholars who can engage with the wider world, but also better serve their U.S.-born congregants.
“One of the issues we Muslims face in the country is … the huge gap that exists between leaders coming from the Middle East to lead our Islamic institutions and their congregations. For most of those leaders, including myself, it takes years to adapt with the environment, with the American psyche, mentality and even lifestyle,” he said.
Qazwini’s new institute is just a few miles from the Islamic Center of America, one of North America’s largest mosques and where he served for 18 years before leaving in 2015.
Liyakat Takim, a professor of global Islam at McMaster University in the Canadian city of Hamilton, Ontario, said the U.S. has one or two Islamic educational institutions, but “none with the same vision” offered by Qazwini. “For the longest time, the Muslim community has imported scholars from abroad or sent them abroad to study,” said Takim, who knows Qazwini. “They’re not always conducive to the environment we have in America. This can create a younger generation that can preach a message which is amendable to the American environment.”
Takim said Qazwini is “a man of great vision,” and delivering on his plans for the institute will be “an exceptional feat and a great challenge,” given rising anti-Muslim sentiment.
A Pew Research Center survey conducted in 2014 found Americans view Islam less favorably than other major religions and atheism. Another Pew survey found 38 percent of Americans think Islam is more likely than others to encourage violence among its followers, while 50 percent think it is not more likely.
President Donald Trump’s campaign was marked by anti-Muslim rhetoric and, since being inaugurated, he’s sought to enact a travel ban from several Muslim-majority countries.
Qazwini said perceptions of Islam are hurt by acts of violence or terror committed by people who call themselves Muslim. He criticizes the media for rushing to associate someone’s crime with his religion if that person is or appears to be Muslim. Just because somebody acts “in the name of religion,” it “doesn’t mean the religion is acting,” he said.
Still, he can understand the fears.
“If I put myself in a non-Muslim’s shoes, I fully understand how they feel,” he said. “There’s a massive, massive bombardment of anti-Islamic literature, imagery that leads viewers and readers to believe Islam is not compatible with the 21st century. It is our job as Muslims to change that and to contribute. … Maybe we can’t do it all, but at least we try.”
Qazwini said his institute seeks to educate Muslims and non-Muslims alike, and make them feel comfortable in each other’s company.
“We’re not your enemy,” he said.

Australian Christian school defends Sikh turban whilst another Christian school banned the turban
When I reached my son’s school, I saw the principal and a teacher watching a YouTube video whilst trying to re-tie my son’s patka, which had come off. My heart melted to see so much love for the Sikh turban” – Amarpreet Singh, whose 5-year-old son studies at a Christian school in a Melbourne suburb.
MELBOURNE (Australia): United Sikhs organization and the Sri Guru Singh Sabha Gurdwara Craigeburn honoured on Sunday the principal and a teacher from the Mother of God Christian school in the Ardeer suburb of Melbourne. They were honoured for showing their Christian spirit on March 24 when they re-tied five-year-old Mansage Singh’s patka, a head wear worn by Sikh children.
This was in sharp contrast to the experience of another five-year-old Sikh student, Sidhak Singh, who was refused admission last year by the Melton Christian College of Melbourne, because he wore a patka. Sidhak Singh’s father, Sagardeep Singh, has filed a complaint, with the Human Rights Division of the Victoria Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT), which is listed for a three-day hearing from July 24. United Sikhs has arranged for legal representation for Sagardeep Singh through the prestigious international law firm of Herbert Smith Freehills LLP. You may read about the patka ban faced by Sidhak Singh here.
“Hello Amar, I am sorry that your son’s turban came off this morning. I did my best re-tying it back by watching many YouTube videos but am missing on the finishing touch. I am just wondering if you can come and tie his turban accordingly. We are really sorry. The boy who took his turban off is autistic. We explained to him why he must not touch the turban again, but he did it by accident,” the principal of the Mother of God School said in a telephone call to Mansage Singh’s father, Amapreet Singh.
The school principal, Gerard Broadfoot, and teacher, Michelle Buckley, received a siropa, a cloth of honour, from the gurdwara in a ceremony on Sunday. They also received a ‘Defender of the Sikh Dastaar’ award from United Sikhs. Mansage Singh was also honoured by United Sikhs and the gurdwara for helping his principal and teacher to re-tie his patka.
“What we did at school with Mansage was to look after him and make him feel safe. We look after each other. We are very honoured to be given this award today,” said Broadfoot.
“I feel very humbled to be here in front of so many people for doing such a small thing. It is something we would do every day with all the children to provide them with respect and care because we are a Catholic school for all people,” said Buckley.
“Sikhs are often in the news for turban removal or discrimination but this school principal and teacher has set an example and showed that humanity is alive, when they re-tied a Sikh student’s patka. The Australian Sikh community is very honoured by their action,” said Gurdeep Singh, President of the Craigeburn Gurdwara, one of the largest gurdwaras in Melbourne.
“The Mother of God School has set the standard for all schools to follow and shown that a child’s education at a school should not be at the expense of a right to practice his or her faith,” said Gurvinder Singh, United Sikhs Director, Melbourne.
“We are very humbled and very proud to know that our son is being educated in a school that respects the beliefs of every culture and religion and it takes care to protect the belief of all students,” said Amarpreet Singh.
“All the school kids have to wear sun hats when they go outside to play but since my son ties a patka he was given an option to not wear the hat. The principal asked our permission for the school logo to be printed on Mansage’s patka,” he added.

Why Interfaith Relations Are in the
DNA of Reform Judaism
By Aron Hirt-Manheimer , 6/08/2017
A conversation with Rabbi A. James Rudin, former head of the American Jewish Committee’s Department of Interreligious Affairs and author of seven books, most recently, Pillar of Fire: A Biography of Stephen S. Wise.
ReformJudaism.org: When did interfaith relations first become a priority of Reform Judaism?
It was in Reform Judaism’s “DNA” from the very beginning. In 1801, Israel Jacobson established an innovative religious school in Sessen, Germany that included 40 Jewish and 20 Christian students. His “mixed” student policy reflected his hopes, at the dawn of the so-called “Age of Enlightenment,” of a radiant future between Jews and Christians.
Did Reform Jewish leaders who immigrated to the United States in the mid-19th century share Jacobson’s optimism?
Yes. Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, who would emerge as the acknowledged leader of Reform Judaism, published a series of public lectures in 1883 entitled “Judaism and Christianity: Their Agreements and Disagreements.” While forcefully defending the fundamental authenticity and eternal validity of Judaism, Wise never denigrated Christianity in any of its myriad forms of belief or practice; rather, he focused on the centrality of the biblical Sinai revelation that he believed linked the two religions in an inextricable theological and human bond. Two years later, Wise participated in promulgating the Pittsburgh Platform, which would guide Reform Judaism for more than 50 years. Section six includes the words: “…Christianity and Islam, being daughter religions of Judaism, we appreciate their providential mission to aid in the spreading of monotheistic and moral truth.”
How did Reform Jewish clergy talk about Jesus in their interfaith dialogues with Christians? The subject became a flashpoint, when on December 20, 1925, Rabbi Stephen S. Wise (no relation to Isaac Mayer Wise), preached a sermon in Carnegie Hall on the book, Jesus of Nazareth: His Life, Times, and Teaching, by Joseph Klausner of the Hebrew University.
Wise made four points that remain relevant for many Jewish participants in interreligious relations today:
  1. Jesus was a man, not divine or a myth.
  2. Jesus was born, lived and died as a Jew. He was not a Christian.
  3. Jews have not repudiated Jesus the Jew, nor many of his teachings.
  4. Christians have, for the most part, not fully adopted or followed the teachings of Jesus, and have, in Jesus’ name, often mistreated and persecuted the Jewish people.
Many Orthodox rabbis publicly attacked Wise, but he retained the public support of most Reform rabbis.
In 1963, nearly 40 years after Wise’s controversial sermon, Rabbi Maurice N. Eisendrath, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (now Union for Reform Judaism), told a UAHC Biennial convention audience:
Needless to say, Jews never can and never will accept Jesus as the Messiah or as the Son of God, but, despite this constant reality, there is room for improved understanding and openness to change in interpreting Jesus as a positive and prophetic spirit in the stream of the Jewish tradition….
Do you recall any significant rifts separating Jewish and Christian clergy?
One in particular comes to mind. In 1945, Rabbi Roland Gittelsohn, a U.S. Navy chaplain who served with the Marines during the battle of Iwo Jima, was asked to deliver the main memorial address at an interreligious dedication of the military cemetery on the island. Several Christian chaplains objected to a Jew delivering a eulogy over Christian graves, though at least 150 Jewish soldiers died in battle.
As a result, Rabbi Gittelsohn spoke at a Jewish service. In a show of solidarity several of his Christian clergy colleagues attended. Ironically, the powerful eulogy he had originally written for the aborted interreligious service became the best-known sermon of World War II, and is still recited at Memorial and Veterans Day events. An excerpt:
Here lie officers and men, Negroes and Whites, rich men and poor, together. Here are Protestants, Catholics, and Jews together. Here no man prefers another because of his faith or despises him because of his color. Here there are no quotas of how many from each group are admitted or allowed. Among these men there is no discrimination. No prejudices. No hatred. Theirs is the highest and purest democracy…
Whosoever of us lifts his hand in hate against a brother, or who thinks himself superior to those who happen to be in the minority, makes of this ceremony and the bloody sacrifice it commemorates, an empty, hollow mockery….
How has interreligious relations changed in recent decades?
Once limited to Christians and Jews, it now includes Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and members of other faith communities. What has remained constant is the Reform Movement’s commitment to positive engagement across religious lines.

Peace event aimed to bring community together
in Alpena, MI
When it comes to relationships, Janice Boboltz and Leslie Kirchoff would far prefer to see bridges built between people instead of letting differences divide. Troubled by today’s super-charged negative political climate, the two decided to do something positive for the community – hold a modern-day peace event.
With help from a sizable core group, they put together an event called Who Is My Neighbor? It was Saturday,  from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Fletcher Street Depot, and promoted peace, tolerance and community primarily through the arts.
“I think everybody’s clamoring for some positive peaceful interaction,”said Kirchoff. “Everyone is tired of the negativity we’ve been bombarded with these last two years.”
Initially, the organizers were concerned about finding enough activities to engage people for the six-hour time frame of the event. Their worry, however, proved unfounded.
“It just keeps getting bigger and bigger,” Kirchoff said. “When we first started talking about this we were worried about filling up the time slots. Now we’re worried we have too much.”
It’s a good problem to have since so many have expressed a willingness to participate. There was everything from crafts for children, yoga for adults, entertainment by local musicians and dancers from the 4-D 2nd Street Dance Company to informational booths, food truck refreshments and even a chance to purchase peace-themed t-shirts.
Thunder Bay Theatre Artistic Director Jeffrey Mindock served as master of ceremonies for the day. Art in the Loft Gallery Coordinator Justin Christensen-Cooper provided a peace mural that visitors can add their own special touch to with paint and a brush. A visual representation of peace, tolerance and community came through the photographs by Bev Suszek.
“This is not a political event at all,” said Boboltz. “It doesn’t matter who was elected or not. This is just about our shared humanity and celebrating our differences.”
In planning Who Is My Neighbor?, Boboltz and Kirchoff took their cue from previous events held in Alpena and sponsored by Building Bridges, a local group that focuses on bringing programs to Northeast Michigan to educate and inform others about diversity. One such program held in September 2016 revolved around the Interfaith Amigos, who include a Christian pastor, a Jewish rabbi and an iman from the Islamic faith tradition.
“The message the Interfaith Amigos left us with was that of realizing our ‘oneness’ central to Judaism, showing ‘compassion’ essential to the Islamic faith and that of ‘unconditional love’ central to Christianity,”Boboltz said. “In light of all of the hateful rhetoric going on in our world from both political parties during the campaign for presidency of the United States and continuing to the present time, we wanted to promote the message of the Interfaith Amigos.”
As a result of getting to know the Interfaith Amigos and connecting with an interfaith group in Detroit, Boboltz and Kirchoff learned about a new event there called Flip the Script. It’s purpose, they said, also was to focus on love rather than hate.
After kicking around the concept, the two women along with the rest of their committee, decided to hold an event in Alpena.
“Although we do not live in a very diverse community, we do have a wealth of talented people to have a similar event in our area,” Boboltz said. “Thus, the wheels were set in motion to have such a celebration of our oneness, compassion and unconditional love through music, art, dance, speakers, drama, poetry and art- a celebration of our humanity that is nonpartisan and nondenominational.”

Don’t miss this fun article that
appeared during Ramadan
by the Forward Magazine
Muslim-Owned Jewish Deli To Host
Muslim-Jewish Fundraising Dinner
June 1, 2017
by Liza Schoenfein
There is a Jewish Deli in Brooklyn that closes for Ramadan. The reason is simple, if somewhat surprising: The owner of David’s Brisket House and Deli on Nostrand Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant is Riyadh Gazali, a Muslim of Yemini descent.
Next week, Gazali will host a dinner party at David’s along with Breaking Bread NYC, which describes itself as “a project from food tour guides and food lovers aimed at connecting communities through cuisine.” (“It’s always easier to understand the unfamiliar when you sit down and break bread together,” the description on Facebook says.)
The Muslim-Jewish Deli Dinner Party will raise money for the HIASorganization, which was founded in 1881 to assist Jews emigrating from Russia and Eastern Europe, and which helped resettle over 150,000 Jewish refugees after World War II. HIAS now helps place Muslim refugees.
David’s Brisket House, which serves classic (though not kosher) Jewish fare, was opened in the 1930s and sold in 1970s to two Yemini men who owned a bagel shop across the street. One of them was Jewish; the other Muslim. Eventually, the Jewish owner left the picture and the other, Gazali’s uncle, became the sole proprietor. He didn’t change the menu, which consists of classics such as Reubens and pastrami sandwiches.
For the fundraising dinner, a set menu costs $45 per person and consists of pickles, half a pastrami on rye (with mustard on the side); half a brisket on rye (with gravy on the side); half an order of fries; half an order of potato salad; a soda and a slice of cake.
Meanwhile, on June 15, The NYC Muslim-Jewish Solidarity Committee is holding its 3rd-annual Iftar-in-a-Synagogue celebration to break the Ramadan fast, at Temple Emanu-El in Manhattan. There will be food and live music. Tickets cost $20 and proceeds will be used to help fight hunger in New York City. Ramadan runs from May 26-June 24.
Liza Schoenfein is food editor of the Forward. Contact her at schoenfein@forward.com or on Twitter, @LifeDeathDinner

Pope, Rabbi Skorka join effort
to promote friendship across faiths
Reaching out to people of other religions can be both challenging and enriching for individuals and is the only hope for true peace in the world, said a variety of religious leaders, including Pope Francis.
The pope and his friend Rabbi Abraham Skorka appear in a video montage and together in their own video as part of the “Make Friends” initiative coordinated by the Elijah Interfaith Institute, which has offices in Israel and in Dallas.
The video series, posted on YouTube June 14, also includes Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran leaders, Jewish rabbis, Sunni and Shiite Muslim clerics, Buddhist monks and nuns, and Hindu and Sikh leaders.
In their video, Francis and Skorka talk about how their own religious convictions led them into conversations with each other, and how those conversations not only increased their understanding of God and formed the basis of a television series and book, but also led to true friendship.
When sending emails back and forth, “because we still have projects going on,” Skorka said, they address each other as “‘Dear brother,’ and it’s not just a saying. We have such open, deep and affectionate conversations. We understand each other.” As they met and held discussions in Buenos Aires, Argentina, “the friendship grew, always retaining our respective identities,” the pope said. “‘Brother and friend’ – those are my feelings for him.”
Explaining the “Make Friends” initiative, the Elijah Interfaith Institute said, “Friendship and getting to know one another are the antidotes to negativity and divisions in society, enhancing understanding and unity.”
Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein is the founder and director of the institute.
To learn more about the Elijah Interfaith Institute and the “Make Friends” initiative, visit http://elijah-interfaith.org/.

A rabbi, a reverend and an imam have a
plan for peace in middle America

By Dan Simon, CNN
Omaha, Nebraska (CNN)

When most people think of Omaha, they imagine sizzling steaks, billionaire Warren Buffet or even former NFL quarterback Peyton Manning calling out before the snap. (Remember “Omaha-Omaha”?).
But if a group of clergymen have their way, Nebraska’s largest city will soon also be known as the home of interfaith dialogue and peacebuilding. A rabbi, a reverend and an imam (no, it’s not a setup joke) are partners in a decade long quest to bring together the three Abrahamic faiths — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — to share and worship on the same property.  It’s called Tri-Faith Initiative.
The $65 million project, launched in 2006 and funded through donations, may be the first time in US history that the three faiths intentionally build their houses of worship side by side,
The three clergymen leading congregations participating in the Tri-Faith Initiative are (L-R) Temple Israel Rabbi Emeritus Aryeh Azriel, Countryside Community Church Senior Minister Eric Elnes, and American Muslim Institute Imam Mohamad Jamal Daoudi.
“We didn’t create this (project) to tolerate each other. We didn’t create this just to have a dialogue,” explained Rabbi Aryeh Azriel, the former senior rabbi at Omaha’s Temple Israel, whose vision helped drive the project. “We have done all this stuff already. It’s about what are we going to do together. What are we going to do for the betterment of humanity?” The location chosen for the sacred endeavor is the old golf course of Highland Country Club, a “Jewish Club” developed in the 1920s when Jews were excluded from other clubs in the city and around the country. Today, a new synagogue and mosque stand tall on the abandoned greens and fairways, and construction crews are readying to build a new church. Further plans include a Tri-Faith Center, which will be completed in 2019 and serve as a shared community space for interfaith classes and activities.
“The Tri-Faith Center will be a place to act, learn and gather,” says a project brochure. “We will promote policies protecting religions and democracies, and unite our diverse voices to challenge extremism.”
The developers say they’re excited for what the future holds. They’re also proud that a land once formed out of division, has now become a symbol of religious tolerance.
Temple Israel’s new synagogue opened in 2013 and cost more than $21 million to complete. The first of the Tri-Faith project, it’s a modern, 58,000-square foot building that features hand-cut stone imported from Jerusalem, a symbol of the Reform congregation’s connection to the Holy Land. “If you can’t create peace in the Middle East — what about Omaha?” quipped Rabbi Azriel, 67, a polio survivor from Israel.
He likes to share a story from one of his congregants who was initially apprehensive about sharing land with Muslims. The man, who would later become a donor, privately expressed fears about Islamic extremists attacking the synagogue. “What if there’s a live hand grenade rolled in the middle of the aisle during the high holidays,” the man asked. The rabbi answered there were two options. “One is to run away. But as a polio survivor, I can’t run far away,” he said with a mix of sarcasm. “The other one is for me to fall on it.” The answer, Azriel said, brought tears to the man’s eyes. Azriel believes that fear isn’t a strong enough reason to cease the project. In fact, he said the idea was born out of the tragedies of 9/11, when fear was at its highest level and he and some congregants went to defend a local mosque from vandalism.
The gesture, he said, led to new friendships and a dialogue between members of the two faith communities. Years later, when Temple Israel began making plans to relocate its aging synagogue, the rabbi and a handful of others formed Tri-Faith Initiative, and articulated their vision to have three faiths occupy the same 35-acre space.
“It will be a little taste of paradise,” said Azriel.
The American Muslim Institute is a stunning $7 million mosque that opened in June, just in time for Ramadan, Islam’s holiest month. The 15,000-square foot building has all the comforts of a modern-day mosque, including state-of-the-art feet washing stations, classrooms and recreation areas, counting a basketball court.
The centerpiece is the cavernous prayer room, where about 50 people attended on a recent evening. The tranquil sounds of the Imam’s chants echoed throughout the room, which has separate spaces for men and women. Yearning for a new opportunity, Imam Mohamad Jamal Daoudi agreed to lead the congregation after a stint with another mosque in Augusta, Georgia. “Refreshment for my soul. I was very enthusiastic to join the group,” said Daoudi, 52. Imam Mohamad Jamal Daoudi peers out the window of Temple Israel and sees his new mosque.
A Syrian native, Daoudi has been in the United States for 22 years and says it’s the first time he’s seen such an ambitious idea materialize.
The conflict between Jews and Muslims in the Mideast should not be an impediment in making peace in the Midwest, he said.
There are “so many good things as human beings to enjoy and embrace, rather than just focusing on one issue,” Daoudi said.
He concedes, however, that his enthusiasm for the project is not universal among Omaha’s Muslim community, some of whom feel anxious about the mixing of faiths. “Right now they are suspicious, they are hesitant, but very soon they will find out that it’s a good idea,” said Daoudi. He believes some of the apprehension is due to confusion — a perception that people of all faiths will be worshipping in the same sanctuary, shoulder to shoulder. “Our mission is not about compromising anybody’s faith,” he said. “We are here to learn about each other and to live as neighbors with each other.”
Countryside Community Church, part of the United Church of Christ, has a perfectly fine building less than 15 minutes away from the Tri-Faith site. It has served the congregation well for 60 years and could easily have remained for another several decades.
“Almost no congregation in America moves without some outside pressure, like the roof caving in,” said Rev. Eric Elnes, the head pastor.
“We are moving simply because we fell in love with the vision of Tri-Faith.” Elnes, 53, said the vast majority of his congregation voted for the move, despite the inherent challenges in raising the $26 million required to fund the construction of a new church.
Children playfully shovel the dirt after a groundbreaking ceremony for the new Countryside Community Church earlier this month.
The church is designed to provide congregants with a view of the synagogue and mosque. Measuring 65,000 square feet, it will include a traditional narthex, courtyard and numerous shared spaces intended to maximize interaction.
“Tri-Faith would have made sense throughout any of our religious histories, but in this time, it makes more sense than ever,” Elnes said, alluding to recent terrorist attacks in London and elsewhere.
“If you’re risk averse, you are really peace averse at the same time.”
‘A movement that changed the world’ While each of the three congregations will go about their normal worship and activities, campus landscaping will be designed to facilitate interaction. For instance, a bridge running over “hell creek” will connect the entire campus. There’s been chatter about changing the creek’s name, but appropriately the structure will be called “heaven’s bridge.”
The hiring of an executive director will help turn the interfaith vision into practice, the clergymen say.
Omaha, while not as conservative as the rest of deep-red Nebraska, has not been historically progressive or taken bold steps to promote inclusiveness. But the state’s monikers — originally “Nebraska Nice,” but recently changed to “Nebraska. Good Life. Great Opportunity” — capture the state and broader Midwest’s easygoing nature.
That doesn’t mean Tri-Faith Initiative has eluded controversy.
Locally, the most outspoken opponent has been Dr. Mark Christian, executive director of Global Faith Institute. Christian, who converted from Islam to Christianity, believes that the Quran forbids Muslims from becoming friends with Christians and Jews. It’s a controversial and widely admonished assertion that’s commonly propagated by Islamophobes.  Christian has also raised alarm by proclaiming that the Tri-Faith partners could become targets of violence. “I can see it trigger those militant Muslims,” he told CNN. The fearful rhetoric recently spilled over into a city councilman’s election race. Candidate Paul Anderson criticized the mosque’s construction. The Omaha World Herald reported that his website said there should be no mosques in the city. Anderson exited the race in April after being widely rebuked.
Mostly, though, the feedback has been positive, say the clergymen. They’re also hopeful that the initiative will influence other communities to launch similar projects across the United States and beyond.
It’s a sentiment that the Rev. John Dorhauer, general minister and president of the United Church of Christ, shared during this month’s ceremonial ground breaking for the new church.
“Let this be the story we tell our children” — proclaimed Dorhauer — “that once upon a time in a land called Omaha, the Jew, the Muslim and the Christian started a movement that changed the world.”
Dan Simon attended Temple Israel as a child while growing up in Omaha, Nebraska.

July 2017

Written by WISDOM on . Posted in Newsletters

Calendar for WISDOM and Other Interfaith Events  
Sunday, October 15th, 2017, 5:00 PM – 8:30 PM
Tenth Anniversary Celebration of WISDOM
North Congregational Church
36520 W. 12 Mile Road, Farmington Hills, 48331
See Save the Date Below

 

SAVE THE DATE!!
WISDOM’S TENTH ANNIVERSARY YEAR
CELEBRATION!
Sunday, October 15th
5:00 PM – 8:30 PM
AT NORTH CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH
36520 W. 12 Mile Road
Farmington Hills, MI 48331
Displays/Vendors, Dinner, and Delightful Entertainment
$50 per person
$75 for a display/vendor table
WISDOM

Check out this YouTube video “Hijabi by Mona Haydar, Wrap my Hijab)
 

Clarkston students learn about
Judaism, Christianity, Islam
by Andrea Peck from the Oakland Press
Speakers Ranya Shbeib, April Cook and Gail Katz, (left to right), talked to Sashabaw Middle School students on Friday about world religions. (Andrea Peck/The Oakland Press)
Sashabaw Middle School students learned about world religions on May 5th. The students attended presentations given by representatives of three different religions: Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
Speakers were Gail Katz of Temple Israel, April Cook of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Ranya Shbeib of the Muslim Unity Center. The students heard the presentations as part of their history class unit on world religions. Presenters talked about the history of their religions, how they are celebrated and common foods associated with their religions.
A second set of presentations on May 9 will include Nasy from Bharativa Hindu Temple, Josh Plucinski from Still Point Zen Buddhist Center and Raman Singh from Gurdwara Sahib Ji Mata Tripta.

WISDOM Sisters Attend the Interfaith Iftar Dinner
at the Muslim Unity Center in Bloomfield Hills
on June 13th!
Paula Drewek, WISDOM past president,
spoke about WISDOM to the 200 guests
of many faith traditions
 at this incredibly wonderful coming together!!

Supporters of Chaldeans and Iraqi immigrants 
protest outside Federal Building
By Perry A. Farrell
Detroit FreePress
 

Gail and Robert Katz Protest
Outside the Federal Courthouse
on June 21, 2017
 
About 1,000 protesters, some being bused in, gathered outside of the Federal building to give their support to Iraqi’s and Chaldean’s mistreated by the President Donald Trump administration as far as deportation. Homeland Security blocked off both sides of the streets as protesters, mostly dressed in black, held up signs and voiced their displeasure about the mistreatment of immigrants living in the United States. A Homeland Security officer said the streets would be blocked off until 6 or 7 p.m.
 
“We’ve had wonderful pot lucks together with Jews and Chaldeans,” said Gail Katz of West Bloomfield, who came to the protest with her husband, Robert.  We’re planning a joint event at the newly opened Chaldean Cultural Center in West Bloomfield. “My husband and I really felt that we had to be down here. In a way we’re representing Temple Israel because I’ve been in touch with Rabbi Paul Yedwab about what’s been going on. He very much wanted to be here today.
“I’m horrified (by the treatment). Absolutely horrified. I really feel for the Chaldeans who have family members. The Muslim community is very uptight about what might happen to them. My mother was an immigrant. She came over from Poland. She went through Ellis Island. I really feel the pain that are lot of these people are feeling. It’s horrible what’s going on.”

Writing program for students promotes tolerance
Niraj Warikoo , Detroit Free Press
 
When a writing program for students started one day in March, the mostly Arab-American Muslim students from Huda School in Franklin gathered on one side of the room, while the mostly Latino and African-American students from Southwest Detroit Community School gathered on the other. But by the end of the writing workshop organized by One Earth Writing, the students were mixed together, working on stories, exchanging phone numbers and promising to keep in touch.
“Our programs are all about finding that commonality,” said Lynne Golodner, founder and CEO of One Earth Writing. “We may have our unique beliefs, but we respect one another and have a humanity that’s universal.”
As the mother of four teenagers, Golodner of Huntington Woods said she was looking for a way to help promote dialogue among youths at a time when their identities are forming. Started last year, One Earth Writing promotes writing among students through free workshops, in schools, and in an Ambassadors program where students apply to work with writers and other students. About 1,000 students have taken part in the effort  since it started in early 2016, said Golodner.
Tonight, One Earth Writing is to hold its first fund-raiser and public event at the Maple Theater in West Bloomfield. It will celebrate its first class of student writer Ambassadors and feature a screening of the movie “Freedom Writers.” This year, One Earth Writing will hold workshops that pair new refugees in metro Detroit with student writers, said Golodner, who often works on refugee issues.
“One Earth Writing uses writing workshops as a way to connect teens from different races, faiths and socioeconomic origins, and we’re seeing a huge need for this in our current political climate,” she said. “We are all more similar than we realized.”
During the March workshop at Huda School in Franklin, the students were asked to “write a letter to the world telling what they need to know about them,” she said. Many wrote about how they felt there was prejudice against their groups.
“The Muslims were saying: ‘Just because I’m Muslim doesn’t mean I’m a terrorist,’ ” she said. “And many of the Latino students were writing: ‘I’m an American, don’t build a wall.’ ” Golodner said she hopes her program can bridge divisions during a tense time.
“I didn’t see it coming,” Golodner said of the tensions over the November election. “I didn’t see our country was so divided. And it really made me sad, because we’re all Americans. … I don’t think we can function as a society if we’re so deeply divided.”

Women form sisterhood to celebrate religious differences
By Sean Quinn on
Photo Courtesy of Sheryl Olitzky
Members of the Essex County chapter of Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom gather at a recent event. The nonprofit organization, founded by Sheryl Olitzky, has grown to more than 150 chapters that bring together Muslim and Jewish women to form bonds and combat intolerance
ESSEX COUNTY, NJ – A national organization dedicated to forming bonds between Jewish and Muslim women is looking to start a few new chapters in Essex County.
The Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom already has one local chapter, but co-founder Sheryl Olitzky said she wants to create two to four more in response to the demand the nonprofit has seen from area women. Olitzky said numerous Jewish women already have their names on the waiting list, though the organization would love to see more Muslim women become involved. And she certainly hopes they will, pointing out that having more women join means more barriers can be broken down between two faiths traditionally thought of as being opposed.
“When you care about someone, it’s really hard to hate them,” Olitzky told EssexNewsDaily in a May 5 phone interview. “My goal was to build these relationships all over the country between Muslim and Jewish women. That’s how we would not only change attitudes, perceptions and negative stereotypes toward each other in our community, but work to stop the hate we see that’s out there. And that’s exactly what we’ve achieved.”
Olitzky said the SOSS has allowed women in its 150 chapters throughout the United States and Canada to form strong friendships with people they might never have met otherwise. On top of that, she said these women are standing together against hate through means such as repairing desecrated synagogues and holding peace vigils. A recent gathering of New Jersey Sisterhood chapters in Chatham saw hundreds of members come together in response to President Donald Trump’s travel ban on several largely Muslim nations.
Clearly the organization has come a long way from the initial group of 12 women Olitzky gathered seven years ago. But the founder has never doubted the Sisterhood’s power. Olitzky, who started the nonprofit organization after seeing the effects of hate during a visit to Holocaust museums in Poland, said being part of the SOSS is simply “electrifying.”
“You’re there with the common goal of wanting to change the world,” Olitzky said. “You feel full of hope. You feel the positive energy when you realize that you share more in common with these women than with many women you have as your friends and you associate with. And you are sharing your stories, your concerns and your experiences in a format that you probably haven’t had a chance to (experience before).”
That format entails the following three aspects: socialization, social justice and dialogue. Socialization occurs through the celebration of holidays, while social justice involves doing charity work. Olitzky said each chapter supports a local cause in addition to helping less fortunate Christians around Christmas time as part of a national SOSS effort.
For dialogue, Olitzky said the Sisterhood provides a curriculum spanning everything from feeling like “the other” to raising children in the modern world to practicing one’s faith in the workplace. She said chapters are asked to wait two years before discussing Israeli-Palestinian relations so that all members will be more likely to listen to one another “with their heart as opposed to their ears.” When that time comes, she said the SOSS provides a curriculum for that topic alone to help guide the conversation.
Of course, the relationships between SOSS members are not limited to the context of discussing major issues during their monthly meetings. Hadiyah Finney, co-chairwoman of the existing Essex County chapter, said her members love to cook together and gather families together. In doing so, Finney said she has seen how similar everyone is despite their different religions. For instance, although she had never sat shiva, the Jewish ritual of mourning, when a Jewish member’s husband died and the member sat shiva, Finney said she was able to connect with her as someone who understands what it means to grieve.
Yet according to Finney, the friendships she has formed with the 15 other women in her chapter should not be defined by what they all have in common, saying their bonds go much deeper than that, to the point that she goes to her chapter for everything from recipes to life advice. And that is something any woman would want, she said.
“It provides so many different (benefits) when you develop a bond with a group of women,” Finney told EssexNewsDaily in a May 5 phone interview. “You just get so much inspiration from being with them, sharing in their experiences, sharing in their knowledge. I don’t think you can get that in another space.”
Fellow chapter member Miniimah Bilal-Shakir agreed that the group has truly lived up to its name as a sisterhood. Bilal-Shakir said she knows the women she has befriended through the organization would help her if she were ever in need, and she would do the same for them. In fact, she said she talks with one of the chapter members more frequently than her own sisters.
Beyond establishing those relationships, Bilal-Shakir said the SOSS has inspired her to speak out in favor of causes she supports. Whereas in the past she would simply become upset at what she saw on television, now she is willing to share her beliefs with others and take action. And she hopes other Jewish and Muslim women feel the same, considering President Donald Trump’s comments about Muslims and the recent bomb threats against Jewish community centers.
“It seems like things are flaring up,” Bilal-Shakir told EssexNewsDaily in a May 8 phone interview. “It’s important for us to stick together as two groups coming together as one. We need to support each other in the faith and in the things we do to make sure that there’s peace among us. Where people may talk negatively about you as a group, we need to make sure to bring out the positive.”
Finney also takes comfort in being part of the SOSS in today’s times. Though her faith has kept her from getting too upset by the president’s rhetoric, she said it is reassuring to be surrounded by friendly faces in the sisterhood.
“It helps to be in a space where you can say ‘There are likeminded people in the world,'” Finney said. “There are people who are fighting to make this a better place and to make our society comfortable and inclusive for everyone. And so having that space is a reminder that there is good in the world.”

Loving the World One Face at a Time
By Amy Morris-Young
I have been on Facebook for about 10 years. I started using the social media site to shamelessly spy on my then-teenaged youngest son, Duncan (now 25). His older sister, Chelsea (now 30), advised me with a jaded tone that if I really wanted to know what was going on with my kid, I should check out what he was doing on Facebook.
I imagine that sharing this lowdown gave Chelsea at least two thrills: she was able to “narc” on her brother, as well as once again “school” her square mother about what was hip and happening, technology-wise.
Just recently, Chelsea clued me in that Facebook is now considered basically passé by her generation; she and her peers now share the moments of their lives almost exclusively via Instagram and Snapchat.
Facebook, she said, seems to be primarily a communication tool for “old people,” meaning baby boomers like me, who use it to share photos of their adorable pets, grandbabies, delicious-looking and amazingly easy recipe videos and, of course, political opinions.
To combat the red and blue ranting, some of my Facebook friends have recently shared those “121 Things I Bet You Didn’t Know About Me” posts, lists of items such as “I have been skydiving. Yes. I have been in a hot air balloon. No.” And so on. They are supposed to be light-hearted and informative about folks we thought we knew everything about, and as a special side bonus, they slam no public figures or policies whatsoever.
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So here is One Thing I Bet You Didn’t Know About Me: I am a “super-recognizer.”
That means once I see your face, I am biologically designed to remember it. You are unforgettable … to me.
My husband Dan and I were watching the news program “20/20” a couple years ago and saw a segment on face-blindness, or developmental prosopagnosia. It is a brain dysfunction that means someone not only cannot remember faces, they don’t recognize their own family and friends. Not their Mom, Dad, siblings, spouse, children, and sometimes not even themselves in a mirror. Everyone at every moment is brand new, literally a stranger.
At the end of the program, it said that Harvard planned to study folks who had the opposite of face blindness, what they called super recognizers, to research how their brains might function differently, with the ultimate hope of some kind of treatment to help those struggling in a world of perpetual strangers.
As the credits rolled, Dan turned to me and said: “Wow, that is so you. You never forget anybody! You should do this.”
So I did. I went to the Harvard Medical School Research website and filled out a questionnaire. Over the next few months, I received emails that contained tests to complete and send back. About a year later, a nice lady from the university named Sarah showed up at our front door here in Washington State. She spent a long weekend in our living room, taking me through test after test on her laptop computer.
At the end of those three days, Sarah packed up her gear in readiness for departure to visit “the four other super-recognizers” with whom she was working in the United States. The next one was in Florida. She was clearly excited that her next gig was in a warmer locale. It had rained the whole weekend.
Sarah eventually sent me a link to the study in which my data was incorporated, but I have yet to hear how it might be implemented to assist those who have face-blindness.
What I did learn was that not only do I never forget a face, my brain literally loves faces. Each and every one is a blessed artwork to me, revealing the arc of that particular life from infancy through maturity to being elderly. That is, if you are old, I can pick out your baby picture from a pile of photos – 100 percent of the time. Seriously. Yes, I agree; it is kind of spooky. My family now has documented evidence that I am an oddball.
One quick note: Just as having face-blindness does not in any way affect one’s intelligence – for example, the eminent neurologist and author Oliver Sacks suffered from prosopagnosia – being a super-recognizer in no way makes me a super-genius.
The half of my brain that is not stuffed with faces seems to be packed with completely useless song lyrics. If I don’t write it down, I can’t remember a phone number or what I need at the grocery store, and I have stopped counting the times each day I wander into another room, then stand there wondering, “Why on Earth did I come in here!?” In short, I seem to be a one-hit wonder.
Sarah told me this unique passion for faces originates in those first moments as a newborn, when we look at the faces of our caregivers and bond with the details of their eyes, their nose, their ears, their hair and forehead and eyebrows and chin. This is why a baby will cry if someone with different hair color holds them, but seems comfortable enough if the person even slightly resembles their parents. Like baby birds, we imprint those details, and they signify safety and survival. And hopefully, love.
Sarah also explained that face-recognition is a spectrum, and I happen to fall at the very far end, or about 1 percent of those tested.
This helped explain why I was never able to think of people as “us and them.” Since I was little, I never understood when grown-ups talked about “blacks and whites” or “commies and Americans.” I don’t identify people as groups, because I see each person as a distinct face. A baby. A mom. A dad. A brother, sister, aunt, uncle, grandma, grandpa. A friend.
People of other ethnicities do not, as the saying goes, “all look the same to me.” I am only able to see what makes each one unique, face-wise. And somehow, in my head and heart, that immediately links to what makes them loveable.
I truly don’t mean to sound like a Coca Cola commercial here – some musical utopia of happy faces in a Woodstockian field of waving grain – but this is how my brain, and thus my body and spirit, relate to others. To me, there is no such thing as a “faceless horde.”
They say that no two snowflake are the same. Well, to me and my quirky brain, that goes for faces, too. When I met my identical-twin cousins, Sam and Jack, I knew right away who was who. Yes, they look nearly alike, but what jumped out at me first were their differences.
And here’s the intriguing part. What if this is how God sees us? What if this is a glimmer of how there can be billions of us humans, but each one of us is unique and special in God’s eyes?
Because, when I see your face, I not only file it for perpetuity, I instantly wonder about who loves you, from when you were born, and onwards. Because somehow, when I see you, I sort of immediately love you as a person, but only in a non-creepy, I-promise-never-to-stalk-you sort of way.
Just think about how much greater it must be for God, who unconditionally adores us, and who is also probably not so concerned about the stalking thing?
My husband says that I remind him of his Mom, in that “she never met a stranger.” He says she would get in line at the grocery store with a bunch of folks she had never met, and they would all come out of the other side of the check-stand as friends.
That is a great compliment, and I hope it is true.
What I do know is that my brain’s inability to see you as nobody means I always understand that you are somebody. Somebody to someone, if only to God. No matter who you are or what you do.
For example, I have long described myself a “bigot about bigots,” meaning I just don’t understand how people can be such haters. Even if I meet a white supremacist, full of righteous rage against many groups – including me, one of those “bleeding-heart liberal Catholics” – I don’t seem to be able to hate her back.
When I look at her face, I know what she looked like as a baby and what she is going to look like as an old person. She may not see me, because she seems to be only envisioning aspects of the group into which she lumps me, but I see her.
And sort of like Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, I also see the telltale signs of what her choices have done, will do, to her. I see that the only person she is hurting with her hate is ultimately herself. And all I wish for her is to find some compassion. For others, yes. But for herself, too.
Since hate has to be learned, I have to come to consider haters as having a type of acquired face-blindness. How hard must it be to see only strangers out there? How angry and lonely must that feel? How detached from that first moment when we looked up into a face that adored us, that wanted not only for us to survive but to thrive? And, perhaps even more distant from that most understanding and loving face, the doting visage of God?
I suppose it is not accidental that Facebook is called face-book. These are the faces of family and friends. These are the people I love and who love me back. And their pets. And their grandkids. And their recipes. And often, their politics.
In a time of great divides, it is comforting to me that we share this Book of Faces. So, regardless of what the cool kids are doing now, I am going to stick with it.
[Amy Morris-Young graduated from and taught writing at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.]

Menorah exhibit in Rome underlines positive Catholic-Jewish relations

At the center of the first joint exhibit between the Vatican Museums and the Jewish museum in Rome is the Magdala Stone, a large decorated stone block from a first century Galilean synagogue which has shed light on synagogue worship before the destruction of the Second Temple.

The Magdala Stone was found during the excavation of an synagogue on the site of what is believed to be Magdala, the hometown of Mary Magdalene. The 4.2 cubic feet limestone block may have been used as a bema, on which the Torah was read.
It is carved on four sides and its top with decorative symbols, most prominently the Menorah which was found in the Jewish Temple – a seven-branch menorah described in Exodus, distinct from the nine-branch menorah associated with Hannukah and the Maccabees.
The stone is the centerpiece of the exhibit “Menorah: Worship, History, and Legend”, shown simultaneously at the Jewish Museum and the Braccio di Carlo Magno Museum in the Vatican, located under the left colonnade in St. Peter’s Square.
The exhibit runs May 15-July 23 and includes roughly 130 pieces, including menorahs from various periods and depictions of them in paintings, sarcophagi, sculptures, and medieval and Renaissance drawings and manuscripts.
This is the first time the Magdala Stone has left Israel or been displayed publicly, and its presence at the Vatican is just “one more sign of the collapsing of the walls between Christianity and Judaism,” in the opinion of Fr. Juan Solana, L.C., General Director of the Magdala Project.
Fr. Solana told CNA that the stone’s presence at the exhibit marks not only an interreligious effort between the Vatican Museums and the Jewish museums in Rome, but also collaboration between Vatican City and the State of Israel.
“I know that it was a lot of work behind the scenes to make it happen,” he explained. “I think it really shows the importance of interreligious dialogue and especially dialogue and friendship between Catholics and Jews.”
Magdala “is very close to Capernaum, in the old area where Jesus preached and taught and performed many miracles,” Fr. Solana said. “So we believe that Jesus went to Magdala and eventually he went to the synagogue and preached there.”
While they can’t know for sure, it is even possible that Christ used the Magdala Stone himself to display scrolls of the Torah.
The town and synagogue were first discovered in 2009 during excavations in preparation for building a Catholic center in Israel. Stalled by the discovery of the site, the Magdala Center, as it is called, is still in the works.
“We found the whole town of Mary Magdalene,” Fr. Solana said; and the cherry on the top, so-to-speak, was the Magdala Stone.
There are seven synagogues known of from the period of Christ’s life and more or less 50 years before and after, but in no other synagogue have they found this kind of block, he said.
Archaeologists found a total of three stone blocks in Magdala: one from what was probably a school of the synagogue and one which had been reused as a chair of Moses, the place of authority from which the scribes and Pharisees interpreted the Jewish law. The Magdala Stone was at the center of the synagogue.
The stone is considered important for Judaism because Jewish scholars believe it marks a change within Judaism itself, brought about by the influence of Christianity, Fr. Solana explained.
This is because “Jesus destroyed the idea of the Temple as the center of Judaism,” he said, “and it was confirmed by the destruction of the Temple” in AD 70.
The Magdala Stone and the synagogue both pre-date the destruction of the Temple, which has been confirmed by coins found inside which range from AD 5 to 63 – the time of Christ’s life and the first generation of Christians.
Of course, this makes them very important pieces historically, Fr. Solana continued, explaining that the stone itself is a model of the destroyed Temple in Jerusalem. Covered in carvings of Jewish symbols, more even than the Temple itself, it also displays the oldest-known carving of a menorah in Israel.

Muslim Imam Consoles Jewish Woman and
 Melts Heart of Mourning Manchester
A Muslim cleric and an elderly Jewish woman melted the heart of a grieving nation with their poignant embrace at the scene of the Manchester terror attack. Rachel Black, 93, and Sadiq Patel, an imam, came together in grief and worship on Wednesday at a memorial for the 22 people killed and scores wounded in the suicide bombing at an Ariana Grande concert.
“We’re all the same people. We bleed just like everybody else,” Black told Britain’s Channel 5 News.
“One thing we do definitely know is we’re in this together, we’ll get through this together,” Patel added.
The pair traveled to Manchester together from the gritty industrial town of Blackburn to pay their respects for the victims of the bombing, which has gripped Britain with grief and defiance.
In pictures from the scene, Black pushed herself up from a folding chair to lean on her walker and pray. Overcome with emotion, she was taken in hand by Patel. He helped her walk from the site and carried her chair.
“Renee’s 93. Jewish lady. I’m a Muslim man,” Patel said. “But at this moment in time faith doesn’t mean anything. We don’t know what to say, no words can actually express what we’re going through.
The two are members of Blackburn Darwen Interfaith Forum, a town group focused on mutual understanding.
Black is one of the few Jews in the town, which now has a large population of Muslims, mostly from south Asia.
The Manchester vigil they attended brought together representatives of Muslim, Christian, Jewish and Sikh communities in a show of defiance and unity. Even at 93, Black said she was determined to make her voice heard against hatred, terror, and violence.
“We came to pay our respect to the people who passed away and to hope that they never have anything like this again,” she said. “We try to bring people together and not matter about the colour or creed or whatever you are.

Muslim, Sikh and Hindu leaders gather together to condemn Manchester Arena atrocity
Muslim, Sikh and Hindu leaders gathered together in Fartown to condemn the terrorist attack in Manchester. Candles were lit at the Ahmadiyya mosque in Spaines Road, and a powerful message given out condemning the attack which left 22 people dead and more than 60 in hospital with 23 still in critical care.
Gurdeep Singh Kooner, general secretary of Fartown Sikh Temple, said: “The Sikh community condemns these brutal attacks of violence.
“We extend our prayers and deepest condolences to the families of the victims. Now is the time for communities to come together in care and compassion for each other.”
Kiran Bali, general secretary of the Hindu Society of Kirklees and Calderdale, said “Our healing prayers and thoughts are with all those affected by this horrific terrorist attack. “We deplore this criminal violence perpetrated by hatred and stand in solidarity to oppose extremist ideologies. “Let us redouble our efforts to strengthen the unity of our society based on a profound commitment to mutual respect, resilience and hope.”
Fatihul Haq, president of Ahmadiyya Muslim Association Huddersfield South, said “The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Huddersfield strongly condemns the barbaric attacks in Manchester Arena.

Vigil for Manchester victims by AMA, Spaines Road, Fartown.
“Our sympathies and prayers are with the people of Manchester and all those affected. Such attacks and violence against innocent people can never be justified under any circumstances.”
And Sabhat Karim, regional missionary for the Huddersfield area, said of the victims: “Our heartfelt condolences go to those involved. May God have mercy on them. “This is the time when we need to get together and show solidarity.” He emphasised that it was important that “these attacks can never divide us in any way.”
Huddersfield Muslim group hoping to dispel misconceptions about the Quran. Munir Ahmed, president of Ahmadiyya Muslim Association, added: “I would like to echo what has just been said. Our heartfelt prayers and thoughts are with those people who have lost their lives. The Muslim community must stand up and condemn these actions.”
Children from the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association (AMYA) held a minute’s silence in memory of the victims as part of their three mile charity walk at the Baitul Tauhid Mosque in Huddersfield. The walk took place a day before many Muslims began the month of fasting. Four year old Zakariyya planned to walk the three miles for charity and set up a JustGiving campaign which raised over £240 in three hours. Money raised from the walk will go to support Forget Me Not Children’s Hospice in Huddersfield.

June 2017

Written by WISDOM on . Posted in Newsletters

Calendar for WISDOM and Other Interfaith Events  
 
March through June, 2017
Exploring Our Religious Landscapes
Immersive Experiences in Religion and Culture
for Adults
See flyer below
 
Sunday, June 11th 3:00 PM – 6:00 PM
Sounds of the Spirit
IFLC Interfaith Musical event
See flyer below!!
World Views Seminar
June 19th – June 24th
See flyer below!
 
July 13 – 15th 
Seeking the Sacred at the Saline Church 
of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
See flyer below!
 
Sunday August 6th
Interfaith Suburban Urban Unity Picnic
at Belle Isle
See Flyer Below!
 
Sunday, October 15th, 2017, 5:00 PM – 8:30 PM
Tenth Anniversary Celebration of WISDOM
North Congregational Church
36520 W. 12 Mile Road, Farmington Hills, 48331
See Save the Date Below

Sounds of the Spirit
Sacred Sounds and Holy Vibrations
All sound is vibration. Vibrations at different frequencies make different sounds or pitches. And this week, we experienced the different frequencies on which faith traditions call out to or praise God. Under the roof of Christ Church Cranbrook, which Rev. Dr. Bill Danaher said was meant to be a house of prayer for all people, we came together in music to share the beauty and meaning of our sacred sounds.
“We can build a community, woven together by empathy, love, compassion, and justice,” said Rev. Dr. Danaher. “When we are engaging in musical offerings, we are pulling them together. Music is meant to pull us together.”
Christopher Wells, the Music Director and Organist at Christ Church Cranbrook helped us understand the mechanism by which the pipe organ creates sound. A wind instrument, originally provided with air manually by bellows, and now electrically, it is played at a console containing 1 – 7 keyboards and 30 or more notes for the feet. The keyboard opens and closes a variety of pipes, which can be in a stand-alone organ or built into the walls of a chamber organ, which might contain thousands of pipes. Wells demonstrated the pipes by blowing into them, and then played for us on a stand-alone organ.
“This, to me, is God,” he said.
In Islamic tradition, God is not portrayed in paintings, sculpture, or any kind of visual image. “Words or poetry, spoken or song,” said Professional Rudolph Ware. “This is how Muslims paint pictures. The poetic tradition is an amplification of the musicality of the Quran, which is a rhythmic and rhyming text.” To demonstrate, and to honor the venue, Professor Ware chose a surra, or verse, on Mary.
“Music and poetic recitation,” said Ware, “make an appeal directly to the heart and bypass reason.” Muslim music is often created with musical instruments, but, said Ware, the primary instrument for the traditional Muslim is the human voice. “Humans were created by God breathing his own breath into the human form,” said Ware, “and you can tap into the holy breath inside.”
The rhythm of drums, he said, can create the condition which moves the self out of the way, so the individual can be closer to God.
The musical group Seven8Six demonstrated the rhythm of the drums, the power of four human voices in Sufi devotional Qawwali call and answer, and the beauty of guitar strings vibrating, with a presentation that had heads bobbing and toes tapping around the room. The first American Muslim boy band, Seven8Six has released two albums with their unique Islamically inspired blend of English pop, Arabic Nasheed, and Urdu Qawwali music.
The first Jewish instrument was the ram’s horn, and Hazzan Steve Klaper used it to kick off a lively lecture on the history of Jewish music, in which he demonstrated thousands of years of Jewish music by singing the explanation in each successive mode and accompanying himself on guitar and tamborine.
“That’s impressive,” remarked an audience member. To which Klaper replied, “My father would be pleased.”
Starting with the pentatonic music believed to be the original mode based on the spacing of the holes of ancient flutes, he moved on to culturally diverse north African Sephardic music and northern European Ashkenazic music, and to the nigun, or wordless chant created by the Jewish mystic the Baal Shem Tov in the 1700s.
“They don’t need any more words in Heaven,” Klaper said the Baal Shem Tov explained, “They need the cry of a broken heart.”
That cry was combined with Slavic folk music to produce klezmer, and eventually with American folk music to produce modern liturgical expressions.
Following up the history, geography, and culture hopping Jewish presentation, classical and jazz musician Bob Schneeweis demonstrated Baha’I music. Like Jewish music, Baha’I music drew from surrounding cultures as the Baha’I faith spread around the world. Schneeweis demonstrated the range with a beautiful orchestral and choral recording of traditional Baha’I music, and a performance of songs from South Africa, where he studied, and the intro to a piece by jazz legend and Baha’I Dizzy Gillespie.
The Baha’u’llah, founder of the Baha’I faith, wrote extensively about the importance of music. Persecuted for his beliefs and thrown into a foul pit to die with some of his followers, he led them in songs of profound love and joy for God, the spiritual light that can come out of the darkness, said Schneeweis.
As many of us followed the suggestion of natural healer Christopher Davis to close our eyes, the light came from the vibration of the four huge gongs that Davis stroked into rumbling vibrational tonal landscapes, walking the room with them, and letting the sounds overlap, trail off, join together and fill the room. It was a sound without words, big and powerful, massaging the atoms of animate and inanimate alike with soothing force as we all assimilated the afternoon’s many magnificent expressions each in our own way.
This session was the first of a two-part series which concludes with Sounds of the Spirit – Dharmic Faiths on Sunday, June 11, 3 – 6 pm at the Mata Tripta Ji Gurdwara Sahib in Plymouth. It will include Native drumming, Sikh Kirtaan, Buddhist music, Hindu Veena, and an encore Sacred Wave Gong Immersion.
See flyer above for registration information!

SAVE THE DATE!!
WISDOM’S TENTH ANNIVERSARY YEAR
CELEBRATION!
Sunday, October 15th
5:00 PM – 8:30 PM
AT NORTH CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH
36520 W. 12 Mile Road
Farmington Hills, MI 48331
Displays/Vendors, Dinner, and Delightful Entertainment
$50 per person
$75 for a display/vendor table
WISDOM

Seeking the Sacred: A Journey to
the Tabernacle of Moses
A free interfaith event on
Thursday, July 13th at 7 PM at
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
525 E. Woodland Dr.
Saline, MI
See flyer below and register at

BRINGING FAITHS TOGETHER AT TEMPLE BETH EL
RELIGIOUS REVIVAL
Detroit Free Press April 10, 2017
Pastor Aramis Hinds of Bethel Community Transformation Center and Rabbi Ariana Silverman of the Downtown Detroit Synagogue inside Temple Beth El that was designed by Albert Kahn in the 1920’s at 8801 Woodward Avenue in Detroit on Wednesday, April 5, 2017. (Photo: Romain Blanquart, Detroit Free Press)
Standing inside the sanctuary of his Detroit church that used to be a historic synagogue, pastor Aramis Hinds glances up and points to a painting of the Ten Commandments in Hebrew on the wall high above the pulpit. Underneath it is engraved a popular Jewish prayer: “Hear Israel, The Lord our God, The Lord is One.”
“The Christian faith is based off that foundation,” said Hinds of Breakers Covenant Church International. “We read the Old and the New Testaments, so we understand the Ten Commandments. When we see ‘Oh Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One,’ we understand that text because we study and we believe it too. You have these similarities that really help to bring us together. … The values are very similar.”
Hinds’ church is now working together with the Jewish community in metro Detroit to develop a community and interfaith center in the former Temple Beth El  on Woodward Avenue that they hope will be a model of racial and religious cooperation. The remodeled space will be called the Bethel Community Transformation Center,
“I really believe that this is going to be the place for reconciliation across socioeconomic, ethnic, religious walls,” said Hinds, who founded his church 14 years ago in Detroit. Designed by noted architect Albert Kahn, Temple Beth El was the home of Detroit’s first Jewish congregation (founded in the 1850s in another location) in 1922-73. It has striking limestone columns outside and a soaring dome inside with paintings of Jewish life and leaders across the centuries. Seating 1,600 in its main sanctuary, it later transformed into a church, Lighthouse Cathedral, and then other churches were based there, before Hinds purchased it in 2014 for his church.
Local Jews have held services this year inside the church – which still retains the architecture and paintings of the synagogue – and there are ambitious plans to repair the aging, historic space of Detroit’s first Jewish congregation. On Thursday, the church and members of that remaining Jewish congregation in Detroit, Downtown Synagogue, will have a joint Seder meal together in the historic Temple Beth El building for Passover, which starts Monday evening. It’s one way the Jewish community is trying to establish itself again in the city of Detroit, which once had thriving Jewish neighborhoods and 44 synagogues, but now has only one freestanding synagogue. The project helps the Jewish community to reconnect with a historic synagogue and the city.
“This building … is opening up a space for people to continue to have that emotional relationship with the city of Detroit,” Rabbi Arianna Silverman of Downtown Synagogue. “They grew up here. This was a place where their families worshiped, this is the kind of imagery that they recognize from their faith. It’s still here and there’s still the possibility of having a relationship with the city and with its residents. It’s not over. We can do something different.”
Hinds said that Temple Beth El building was left alone during the uprising because it had a good relationship with its neighbors.
“It was honored by everybody in the community, and when a lot of buildings and things were being caught on fire, being vandalized … this space didn’t get touched,” Hinds said.
The center recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $100,000 to make repairs, including fixing the roof, elevator, restrooms, and hiring an architectural firm. Plans include having computer training for local children. Hinds said the center will be “community oriented … to grow and transform lives.” The poverty rate in the neighborhoods around the congregation in Detroit’s north end is about 50%, he said.
“We wanted to bring programming into this space that would help to lift the lives of individuals,” Hinds said.
That aligns with the values of Temple Beth El, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is now based in Bloomfield Hills. On its walls are paintings of Abraham welcoming strangers, Jewish immigrants arriving at Ellis Island gazing at the Statue of Liberty, and Jewish leaders.
“It speaks to a history of refuge, a history of struggle, and also survival for the Jews that initially came to the Detroit region,” said Dr. Ralph Williams II, a member of the church. “You look at their story. You look at the story of African Americans in the city and some of the things that we’re facing now. You look at the revival and the renaissance that is taking place in the city. This is a perfect time to really bridge all of the those gaps and come together and do some great things and really make this like a meeting place where we connect the past to the future.  We can connect across ethnic groups and cultural groups and really tap the pulse of what it means to come together to transform a community.”
Contact Niraj Warikoo: nwarikoo@freepress.com

Interfaith effort aims to revive
iconic Temple Beth El building
Rev, Aramis Hinds                Rabbi Ariana Silverman
On a recent Friday night, the majestic sanctuary of a 95-year-old Detroit synagogue came alive with music, song and Sabbath prayers. It was a momentous occasion. It has been decades since a Jewish congregation called the Temple Beth El building on Woodward Avenue “home.”
The stunning 1922 Albert Kahn structure is noted for its grand entrance-way and Corinthian columns on the outside and cavernous walls and ornate domed ceiling inside. In the 1970s, following the 1967 riot, Temple Beth El moved to its current location on Telegraph Road in West Bloomfield. A non-denominational Christian church, Breakers Covenant Church International, owns the building today.
“The evening was beautiful, with the sunlight slowly fading in the space,” says Justin Wedes of Huntington Woods, a lifelong Temple Beth El member who will marry his fiance, Rachel Rudman, in the sanctuary next month. Two rabbis, Dan Horwitz of The Well and Ben Shalva of Tamarack Camps, led a group of about 100 attendees.
“We sat in a circle surrounded by concentric circles,” Wedes says. “We were right under the dome in the center of the room.”
Wedes is also part of a growing interfaith group working hard to breathe new life into the historic synagogue, now called the Bethel Community Transformation Center. A Kickstarter campaign will go through Friday, April 28; donations for the next $20,000 will be matched dollar for dollar, thanks to generous donors. The goal is to raise $100,000 and begin what will ultimately be a multiyear, multi-million dollar restoration and renovation project. Emblazoned on the outer wall:

“My House Shall Be Called a House of Prayer for All People.”

In a nutshell, organizers want to create a modern performing arts space, worship space and community center that “will create jobs, unite our fractured faith and racial communities, and inspire hope for a better day for Detroit.” “Entering the building brought a flood of memories and emotions,” said Jamie Feldman of Southfield, a photographer and one of the service participants. “Walking through the halls and into the sanctuary, the beauty reached way beyond what I remembered as a child. The magnificence is there despite the disrepair and fallen plaster. I was thrilled to have my camera in hand to capture the splendor.”
Pastor Aramis Hinds of Breakers Covenant Church International is also quite taken with the old temple. He describes the sanctuary as “holy” and “peaceful” and says he has “fallen in love” with the space.
While his church holds weekly Sunday services in an adjacent auditorium, restoration plans include keeping Jewish symbols intact and preserving imagery painted on the walls and ceiling around the sanctuary. There will also be displays honoring Metro Detroit’s Jewish heritage, along with ongoing Jewish Historical Society of Michigan tours and more. “We see this building as a community center that houses our church along with other community programming,” Hinds says. “I can see lectures taking place in here, concerts, graduations, musicals. I see this place as a house of healing for everybody and for me – that’s the vision.” When Hinds first approached the building at the corner of Woodward and Gladstone, he was struck by the words emblazoned on the outer wall: “My House Shall Be Called a House of Prayer for All People.” “When I saw that,” he recalls, “I said this is going to be a place of reconciliation.” While it is in need of significant repairs, the 55,000-square-foot structure is already serving the community. The building features numerous classrooms, offices, a large kitchen, social hall and more. Several organizations utilize the space, including a youth performing arts guild, a computer-learning center and a resource center for homeless youth. Lodging is also provided for volunteers and organizations that take part in local community service projects.
Restoring the temple is a “massive task and a sacred task,” says Rabbi Ariana Silverman of Detroit’s only active, free-standing synagogue, the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue on Griswold. Silverman also serves on the Bethel Community Transformation Center board of directors. She has lived in Detroit for seven years. “We need money to rebuild both the building and to rebuild relationships,” she says.
To read the rest of this article go to:

Temple Israel Hosts Social Justice Seder For
 Diverse Group of Women
At the Passover seder, Jews all over the world celebrate their freedom from Egypt more than 3,000 years ago. At Temple Israel’s Freedom Seder on March 28, more than 100 women expressed wishes that all people enjoy freedom. Using a Haggadah for Justice compiled by Rabbi Jennifer Kaluzny, participants focused on worldwide social justice for all. This was the second Freedom Seder organized by Temple Israel’s Sisterhood. Last year, they invited women from Hartford Memorial Baptist Church in Detroit. This year, in addition to the Hartford women, Sisterhood member Gail Katz invited some Muslim women active in interfaith efforts in Metro Detroit. A representative of Alternatives for Girls, a Detroit nonprofit, also attended. Several guests spoke about their personal struggles for freedom from oppression.
Parwin Anwar of Sterling Heights, a member of the Islamic Organization of North America, described her escape from Russian-occupied Afghanistan to Pakistan more than 20 years ago. Six months pregnant, she, with her husband and two small children, joined a group of 18 who walked 150 miles to safety over mountains. Her third child was born after they arrived in Pakistan. It was eight months before her family could come to the U.S., even though her father and brother had been living here for years.
The Rev. Cecilia Holliday, social pastor at Hartford Memorial, talked about her struggles to overcome racial prejudice. She described an elementary school teacher who would always give her lower grades than her white friend, even when her work was better. One day, she and her friend switched papers and, when the friend again got a higher grade, they told the teacher what they had done. In high school, Holliday had to cope with a teacher who called her and her black classmates “pickaninnies.” The teacher was eventually disciplined.
“I got a B in that class when I earned an A, but I felt OK because I had stood up for myself,” Holliday said. “I had to let the world know that bigots could not control my mind. God made us in his image. By the grace of God, I am what I am.”
Kaluzny’s Haggadah reimagined several parts of the traditional seder to focus on social justice. In describing matzah as the “bread of affliction,” the Haggadah noted that every day, 25,000 people worldwide die from hunger and malnutrition.
The Four Children, traditionally described as wise, defiant, simple and unable to ask, were updated as the Activist child, who asks how to follow God’s command to pursue justice; the Skeptical child, who asks how one can solve problems of such enormity; the Indifferent child who says it’s not her responsibility; and the Uninformed child who does not know how to ask. Guests enjoyed a catered meal augmented by Passover kugels, casseroles and desserts prepared by Sisterhood members. After dinner, they made cards and packed gift bags with donated socks, cosmetics and hair accessories for clients at Alternatives for Girls, an agency on the west side of Detroit that provides shelter and support services for girls and young women ages 15-21. Deena Policicchio, director of outreach and education services, thanked the women for their support. Sue Birndorf, a psychologist who lives in Detroit, said the Haggadah used at the Freedom Seder awakened her to the idea that we need to be more open to other people. “I realized it’s fear [of people unlike ourselves] that drives us apart,” she said. “When I sit next to an amazing woman and hear her speak, my fears just fly away.” Barbara Schultz of Farming-ton Hills also enjoyed meeting diverse women. “We learned about our likenesses and celebrated our differences,” she said. “I’m proud that Temple Israel did such a program.” The Freedom Seder committee included Wendy Kohlenberg, Temple Israel Sisterhood president; Rabbis Ariana Gordon, Marla Hornsten, Jennifer Kaluzny and Jen Lader; Laila Cohen, Gail Katz, Lauren Marcus Johnson, Linda Mickelson, Diane Okun, Randi Sakwa, Marilyn Schelberg and Carolyn Herman.
Barbara Lewis Contributing Writer, Detroit Jewish News

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks on clearing scriptural minefields and building interfaith friendships
Pope Benedict XVI, left, receives a gift by Lord Jonathan Sacks, center, then chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, during a private audience at the Vatican on Dec. 12, 2011. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Osservatore Romano
You’re meeting with clergy this week. Is there any one message you want to convey to them?
Yes. We all have hard texts in our sacred scriptures that have been the source of estrangement, hatred and violence. For the past few centuries we haven’t worried about those texts because for the past few centuries no one has taken religion seriously outside the home and the house of worship. But now religion has become a factor in world politics. We have not yet cleared the mines from the minefields. There are hard texts in each tradition which me must confront and ask ourselves, ‘Can we reinterpret those texts to allow us to live peaceably and respectfully with people of other faiths?’ That is a job only Jews can do for Judaism, only Christians can do for Christianity and only Muslims can do for Islam. But sometimes the sight of someone in one faith wrestling with that faith can empower you to wrestle with another faith.
For me, it was reading about how the Catholic Church wrestled with itself in the 1960s. Pope John XXIII set Nostra Aetate (the Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions) in motion. It changed the relationship between Jews and Catholics. Today Jews and Catholics meet as friends. If you can do that after the longest history of hatred the world has known, that empowers you as a Jew or a Muslim to wrestle with your faith.
What role can interfaith dialogue take?
I distinguish between two kinds of interfaith engagement: what I call face to face and side by side. Face to face is interfaith dialogue. As a religious leader, I encourage even more side by side. When you’ve got Jews and Christians, Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus removing graffiti from buildings or getting drug dealers off the street, that’s side by side. When you do that, you take it from the very elevated level of interfaith dialogue to the street level of neighbors. You get them working side by side and they become friends. Friendship sometimes counts for more than interfaith agreement or understanding. Friendship is deeply human. Let’s say there were, God forbid, riots in Birmingham. The fact that laypeople in that community are friends can stop that from happening very fast. Local friendships are very powerful.

The Baha’i community organizes a series of forums on religion’s role in the public sphere.
BERLIN, 13 April 2017, (BWNS) – With the accelerated movement of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa over the past several years, German society is encountering a changing cultural and religious landscape. These shifts are stimulating profound societal reflection on fundamental issues.
“Thought leaders in Germany are asking foundational questions, especially about religion and its expression in public life,” explains Saba Detweiler, a representative of the German Baha’i community.
These questions are not confined to Germany. Among some in Europe, a longstanding assumption that religion would gradually fade out of the public sphere and become only a private matter has been turned upside down. “People are seeing that religion is an essential part of humanity’s collective life. It is not going away. For this reason, it is important to better understand the nature and contributions of religion and to have a dialogue about its positive expression in society,” explains Ms. Detweiler.
Yet, the Baha’i community has also found that traditional spaces for discussions on religion-primarily interreligious forums-are often not oriented to explore the questions now arising in Europe and elsewhere. “It seems that the conversation needs to move beyond interreligious dialogue, beyond issues of theology and rituals, to allow for a more rich discourse on religion’s contribution to the betterment of society and the common good,” says Ms. Detweiler.
One of the more challenging questions is whether religion can be seen as something more than just groupings of differing sects and denominations at odds with one another. “This is what we are interested in exploring-the idea that religion can be seen as a cohesive force in society and as a system of knowledge that has, together with science, propelled the advancement of civilizations,” she continues.
Part of the reason that German society is now grappling with questions around religion, explains Ingo Hofmann, Director of the Baha’i Office of External Affairs in Germany, is that many Germans are seeing religion practiced in ways that are foreign to them. This has made them more aware of their own religious norms and beliefs, even among those who do not typically associate themselves with organized religion.
Naturally, this process has stimulated curiosity and a quest to build mutual understanding but has also given rise to fears and xenophobia. As national conversations on migration and religion have gained momentum in recent years, the Baha’i community of Germany has been learning how to work side by side with its fellow citizens and various organizations to begin a constructive dialogue on the questions arising from the changing landscape in the country.
Striving to make a meaningful contribution, the Baha’i community has, over the past year, organized a series of forums on religion’s role in the public sphere. These culminated in a conference on 24 March, titled “Further thoughts on Religious Pluralism,” in which some sixty individuals from government, civil society, media, and faith-based groups attended.

 
While searching for a connection today often means looking for a wi fi connection, Pope Francis said real connections between people are the only hope for the future.
“How wonderful would it be if the growth of scientific and technological innovation would come along with more equality and social inclusion,” he said in a video talk played April 25 for 1,800 people attending TED 2017 in Vancouver, British Columbia, and posted online with subtitles in 20 languages.
“How wonderful would it be, while we discover faraway planets, to rediscover the needs of the brothers and sisters orbiting around us,” the pope said in the talk that TED organizers had been advertising as that of a “surprise guest.”
Francis spoke to the international conference about combating the current “culture of waste” and “techno-economic systems” that prioritize products, money and things over people.
“Good intentions and conventional formulas, so often used to appease our conscience, are not enough,” he said. “Let us help each other, all together, to remember that the other is not a statistic or a number. The other has a face.”
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Many people in the world move along paths “riddled with suffering” with no one to care for them, the pope said. Far too many people who consider themselves “respectable” simply pass by, leaving thousands on “the side of the road.”
“The more powerful you are, the more your actions will have an impact on people,” he said, the greater the responsibility one has to act and to do so with humility. “If you don’t, your power will ruin you, and you will ruin the other.”
“There is a saying in Argentina,” he told his audience: “‘Power is like drinking gin on an empty stomach.’ You feel dizzy, you get drunk, you lose your balance, and you will end up hurting yourself and those around you, if you don’t connect your power with humility and tenderness.”
“The future of humankind isn’t exclusively in the hands of politicians, of great leaders, of big companies,” he said, even though they all have power and responsibility. “The future is, most of all, in the hands of those people who recognize the other as a ‘you’ and themselves as part of an ‘us.'”
Francis said that when he visits someone who is sick or in prison or has been forced to flee war, he always asks himself, “Why them and not me?”
Telling the tech-savvy crowd that he wanted to talk about “revolution,” the pope asked people to join a very connected and interconnected “revolution of tenderness.”
Tenderness, he said, is “love that comes close and becomes real,” something that begins in the heart but translates into listening and action, comforting those in pain and caring for others and for “our sick and polluted earth.”
“Tenderness is the path of choice for the strongest, most courageous men and women,” he insisted. “Tenderness is not weakness; it is fortitude. It is the path of solidarity, the path of humility.”
Francis also urged the crowd to hold on to hope, a feeling that does not mean acting “optimistically naive” or ignoring the tragedies facing humanity. Instead, he said, hope is the “virtue of a heart that doesn’t lock itself into darkness.”
“A single individual is enough for hope to exist.” he added. “And that individual can be you. And then there will be another ‘you,’ and another ‘you, and it turns into an ‘us.'”
TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a media organization that posts talks online for free distribution, under the slogan “ideas worth spreading.” TED was founded in February 1984 as a conference, which has been held annually since 1990.

At Ramadan, group pushes positive images of Muslims
By Niraj Warikoo, Detroit Free Press
Dr. Mahmood Hai on Tuesday, May 23, 2017, at his medical practice, Comprehensive Urology, in Westland.
(Photo: Elaine Cromie/Detroit Free Press)
As a medical doctor in Westland, Dr. Mahmood Hai has treated thousands of patients in Michigan and helped develop a new technique with lasers to treat prostate enlargement that has helped more than 1 million patients.
What motivates him is his faith: Islam.
“My religion was my main driving force because in God’s eyes, every human being on this Earth is equal,” said Hai, 70, a urologist. “Whether he’s rich or poor, white or black, African or Indian, whatever, in God’s eyes, they’re all the same.”
Hai is one of many doctors in Michigan who are Muslim and contributing a lot to society, according to a new report released this month by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, a think tank started by Muslims in Michigan with offices in Dearborn and Washington, D.C.
As Ramadan, a holy month of fasting and spiritual reflection, starts today for Muslims around the world, the report seeks to educate the public with stories of success in Michigan. The report estimates the number of Muslim medical doctors in Michigan could be more than 15%, as well as more than 10% of the state’s pharmacists. There are 35 Muslims in Michigan who hold public office, and more than 700 attorneys in the state are Muslim, the report said. It also detailed Muslim contributions in other areas such as business and technology.
“We …  reveal important and oftentimes overlooked contributions by Muslims to the state,” says the report, written by doctoral student Rebecca Karam of the City University of New York.
The study comes during an anxious time when some Muslims and immigrants feel under attack. Hai, an immigrant from India who has lived in the U.S. since 1973, says that many patients speak highly about their personal doctors who happen to be Muslim, but might not make the connection when they hear about Islam and Muslims in general.
“If you ask a lot of patients, they may say, my doctor is phenomenal, he saved my life, and he spends the whole night with me in the ICU saving my life, and he happens to be Muslim,” Hai said. “But when it comes to looking at Islam and Muslims, they forget the guy who spent the whole night saving his life or the one who did his surgery is of the faith of Islam.”
Titled “An Impact Report of Muslim Contributions to Michigan,” the study includes empirical data to showcase Muslim accomplishments, but cautions some of the figures are estimates.
Determining the population percentages of Muslim doctors in Michigan was derived by looking at a database of names of doctors statewide and comparing that to a list of names that sound Muslim, the report says. The list of Muslim names came from Muslim communities and groups, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations. It said the Muslim names were of various ethnicities, including Arab, west African, Eastern European and others. The report cautioned that some doctors with names that sound Muslim could be non-Muslim, and there might be other Muslim doctors without Muslim-sounding names.
Another doctor featured in the report is Dr. Farha Abbasi, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Michigan State University, who works on mental health issues among Muslims. She established the Muslim Mental Health Conference and is managing editor for the Journal of Muslim Mental Health.
“Muslim mental health has become this movement, everybody wants to talk about it,” Abbasi said. But “we are so behind in the research.”
Young Muslims are facing unique stresses because of negative views about them, she said.
“From that young age, you’ve been bombarded by negative messages … you feel this sense of insecurity, uncertainty.”
Abbasi said that some Muslim Americans start to question: “How much of a Muslim can I be? How much of a visible Muslim can I be? How much of a practicing Muslim can I be?”
The report hopes to show that Muslims can be open about their faith while serving their communities.
Hai started doing research in the 1990s for a new technique using lasers to reduce a common condition afflicting men: enlarged prostate gland.
Of the established procedure, known as TURP (transurethral resection of the prostate), Hai said, “I felt it was a very traumatic technique and involved pain, getting hospitalized, with a catheter, bleeding, pain. … I felt that we should do some research to find some better ways. So I started doing research with lasers.”
It eventually got FDA approval and “since then, I’ve been doing the procedures and teaching it around the world. I’ve taught thousands of urologists in nearly 30 different countries.”
Born in India to a medical doctor who once served a former president there, Hai moved to Detroit in 1975 for a medical residency at Wayne State University before starting his urology practice. He said his family has always believed in serving the community where you live.

Secret Life of Muslims” Nominated for Peabody Award
The “The Secret Life of Muslims”, a series of short films featuring a diverse set of American Muslims speaking from their own respective experiences, has been nominated for the prestigious Peabody Award.
AltM’s own EIC Asma Uddin was one of the producers for this ground-breaking series, which has been featured on Vox, The USA Today Network, PRI’s The World, CBS Sunday Morning.
The series included short films featuring American Muslims including Khalid Latif, Linda Sarsour, Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, Reza Aslan, Ibtihaj Muhammad, and Wajahat Ali, and used humor and empathy to showcase the views, lives and interests of American Muslims.  Its aims was to “subvert stereotypes and reveal the truth about American Muslims,” and was directed by Emmy-nominated director Joshua Seftel.
It is a timely and important addition to the media portrayals of Muslims, with rising curiosity and misunderstanding about Muslims in America, and showcases the diversity of views, careers, talents, and accomplishments of the Muslim community.
Check out some of their skits by going to:

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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.