Calendar for WISDOM and Other Interfaith Events
Sunday, February 9th
WISDOM Visit to the DIA
1:30 PM lunch in Kresge Court Cafe
3:00 Guided Tour
4:00 – 5:00 Optional Tour on your own
See Flyer Below
Sunday, March 1st, 4:00 – 6:00 PM
21st Annual World Sabbath Celebration
North Congregational Church in Farmington Hills
See Flyer Below
Give Yourself a Great Gift!
Holiday gift money just waiting to be spent?
Searching for a good read for yourself or your book club?
Look no further, purchase “Friendship and Faith”, 2nd edition, by the Women of WISDOM.
This unique collection of stories of women forming friendships with women different than themselves is a fantastic way to start you reading for the new year!
It is available in both print and e-book formats on Amazon.
Our book sales are a major source of program funding for our nonprofit. Your patronage is greatly appreciated.
Help us create a better world through faith and friendship. Buy a copy for yourself, a good friend and recommend it to your book club.
Happy New Year and great reading for 2020.
A group of Sikh volunteers drove all the way from Melbourne to Braidwood, just outside Canberra, Australia after hearing of how the recent bushfires had devastated surrounding communities.
A Sikh community group has driven more than 700 kilometres through the night to deliver 350 boxes of food and water to the NSW town of Braidwood, where nearby bushfires burned out of control for more than week. The Sikh Support volunteers left Melbourne at 11pm on Friday armed with hundreds of kilograms of milk, pasta, cereal, muesli bars, water and household essentials for the fire-affected communities surrounding Braidwood.
“When we came here, to Australia, we had nothing – only like two bags with us,” Sikh Support secretary Gurjit Singh told SBS News.
“So everything we have, we have because Australia gives us a lot of things. So we spread the message that if a bad situation is happening anywhere in the country, we always stand with them.”
Sikh Support drove to Braidwood armed with 350 boxes of food for fire-affected families. After stopping for a couple hours’ rest in Albury, Mr Singh and his group arrived in Braidwood on Saturday morning, delivering the boxes of food to community centres as well as affected farmers’ houses. On their way through the town, they came across a volunteer firefighter brigade by chance, and stopped to share food and drink with them too.
Volunteer firefighter Alex Dunnin said his team was just about to stop for a dinner break when the Sikh Support volunteers spotted them.
“These folks drove all the way from Melbourne – they were that keen to help,” he told SBS News. “People are getting exhausted, they’ve still got to run their jobs, their businesses, their families – so these kinds of gestures from the community mean a lot.”
Sikh volunteers visit farms with food donations after bushfires burned out of control around Braidwood for more than a week. After spending some time with the community, Mr Singh said many were also inspired to join the ranks of their own local volunteer firefighting brigades.
“We also want to look into training with the firefighters, so the next time this happens we can help,” he said. “When we met with them, we talked with them, and they motivated us, so if we can get some training through the Country Fire Authority or other firefighter groups then maybe in a few years we can join them.”
Sikh Support is now raising money for a new water system for one of the Braidwood farmers they met in their travels.
How a Jewish Santa Helps Repair
the World At Christmas
There’s a Santa Claus I know who is spreading Christmas happiness in the Louisville, Kentucky, area as the holiday season ramps up. His bushy white beard is as genuine as his affection for the people he meets. But there’s something about this Santa that might surprise the folks with whom he’s sharing his ho-ho-hos.
Art Hoffman is Jewish.
Hoffman tells me that playing Santa is one way he lives up to the beautiful Jewish principle of “tikkun olam
” – repair the world – which has been an integral part of his makeup since he was young.
“Ever since the 1960s, when I came of age in all the turmoil of that decade, I was concerned about injustice and worked on social causes,” Hoffman said. “Now, some 50 years later, there is an opportunity for me to continue this good work as ‘Santa Art.’ In fact, as we witness America becoming more polarized in so many ways, I think the mission is more urgent.”
Whatever our angle on the Christmas holiday and the religion of which it is part, there is much we can take away from Art Hoffman, the Jewish Santa Claus.
All of us can find delight in Christmas
One, Christmas is a multifaceted holiday with many parts to enjoy even if we don’t identify with the “Christ” part. All are eligible to delight in Christmas tree lights, giving and receiving gifts, singing about sleigh bells and, if you’d like, consorting with Santa, who, for the record, is not a figure from the New Testament. Even more, Hoffman’s work as a Jewish Santa inspires us to push past our self-imposed boundaries. He shows that we don’t have to be part of something – a particular religion, community or culture – to appreciate what’s good about it and befriend the people who populate it. Even though he is not black, female or gay, Hoffman joined the fights for civil rights in the 1960s, women’s rights in the ’70s and gay rights in the ’80s. When it came to his AIDS activism, Hoffman tells me that “even though I did not have a ‘dog in that fight,’ as they say, it was the right thing to do.”
And for 45 years, he has been making Christmas happier for multitudes of kids and their families, undeterred by logic that might say, “Not your religion, not your holiday.”
Our strength depends on belonging. More of us need to be like Santa Art.
Identities, communities, tribes – they are a fact of life. We all belong to some. Thus has it ever been. As humans evolved over the eons, individuals’ ability to secure food, shelter and safety, to raise children and pass on our genes, hinged on our being part of groups and cooperating with our compatriots.
Muslim and Jewish youth groups
unite in Edmonton to serve homeless
Two youth groups from different religious backgrounds joined forces to help the less fortunate in Edmonton on Saturday. Young women from the Muslim group Gathering Angels and the Bat Mitzvah group from Temple Beth Ora organized a care package and lunch service for people at Boyle Street Community Services
“I really want to teach these girls that our job in this world pretty much is to serve others,” said Nesrine Merhi-Tarrabain, the leader of the Gathering Angels. Merhi-Tarrabain said that she has been encouraging her girls to volunteer for several years but recently got a call from a local Jewish temple to suggest a collaboration. “I thought that would be a great opportunity. First of all, getting them to go out and volunteer and do something meaningful, and the other thing… would be to get to know other kids from the wider Edmonton community,” said Gila Caine, the rabbi at Temple Beth Ora. “Getting to know each other’s culture, understand where our values come together, understand the difference in our values.”
About two dozen teens participated – around a dozen from each group.
“When it comes down to helping others, we should put our differences aside, and truly just bring out our humanity in us. We should really serve others for that reason,” said Merhi-Tarrabain.
Merhi-Tarrabain said that many of the girls in the group donated some of their own money to buy supplies for care packages.
Nour Tarrabain, 16, said that the experience of volunteering with another religious group has helped give her a new perspective.
“It’s been very eye-opening,” Tarrabain said. “Two completely different groups and religions coming together and doing the perfect thing: giving back to the community and just helping one another.
Mixed families get the best of both worlds with Christmas and Hanukkah
If you’re feeling the stress and chaos that comes with the joys of the holiday season, just think of those mixed-faith families who are planning two holidays. This December, Christmas and Hanukkah – which usually arrive in proximity to each other on the calendar – will overlap for the first time in three years. In accordance with the Christian Gregorian calendar, Christmas – marked in red on many calendars – is always celebrated on Dec. 25 each year, while the eight-day celebration of Hanukkah follows the lunar calendar, beginning on the 25th day of the ninth Hebrew month, Keslev. This year, that is Dec. 22-30.
Alicia Chandler, president of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC/AJC) in Bloomfield Hills, is part of one of those mixed-faith families. Alicia is Jewish and her husband, Jeff, is Catholic.
The Birmingham couple have been celebrating both holidays for about 20 years. Both a decorated Christmas tree and menorah – a candelabra of nine candles, one representing each of the 8 days of Hanukkah and the last to help light the others – are visible from the street, shining brightly in their window.
“In our house we very much celebrate and enjoy both holidays and traditions,” she says.
While Christians celebrate Christmas as the birth of Jesus Christ, their savior, Hanukkah is a less-important celebration in the Jewish year. Also known as the Festival of Lights, it commemorates a miracle in which lamp oil in the Second Temple in Jerusalem during the first century BCE burned for eight days even though there was only enough oil for one.
What the two holidays have in common, besides their calendar
proximity, is the giving of gifts to children.
Embracing her husband’s Polish side, each year Chandler makes a trip to Hamtramck with their two kids to buy ingredients and make homemade pierogies, traditional Polish stuffed dumplings, which you can find in the frozen food sections of most grocery stores.
“We make the pierogies from scratch, then Christmas Eve we all go to church together and have a very big Polish Christmas Eve dinner, which is a great deal of fun,” she says.
During Hanukkah, the family spends at least one of the eight nights with Alicia’s parents, partaking in traditional customs: One candle of the menorah is lit during each day, and the traditional festive foods feature oil, especially latkes – fried potato pancakes, often topped with applesauce or sour cream.
Chandler’s first Christmas memory with her now-husband was as a senior in college.
“While studying for exams, my husband, who loves Christmas so much, says that it doesn’t even feel like Christmas,” she says. “I was a 21-year-old Jewish girl going out to buy Christmas lights for the first time and I surprised him by stringing his apartment with lights and putting up a mini Christmas tree.”
Combining holidays was never a challenge for the Chandler family. While it can be overwhelming and easy to get caught up in the over-commercialization of it all, they always keep the focus on what the holidays are really about. To prevent an overflow of gifts they set a few ground rules.
During Hanukkah, smaller gifts such as books or pajamas are exchanged. During Christmas, Chandler’s limit is three gifts for each of her children and one gift from Santa Claus. She chose the limit of three in remembrance of the three gifts – gold, frankincense and myrrh – that the three Magi in the book of Matthew brought to baby Jesus.
“I’m really happy that my kids are raised in an environment where they see not just their two faith traditions but other faith traditions,” she says. “It makes us all focus on what we have in common rather than focus on what might be different about our various religions.”
According to Chandler, about 30 percent of married Jews in Metro Detroit are mixed-faith relationships, and on a national scale, about 45 percent of Jews have a non-Jewish spouse.
Each year, the City of Birmingham allows local organizations to decorate Shain Park with both a Nativity scene and menorah. This year’s menorah lighting will be at 5:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 23, with music, latkes and doughnuts.
As a gesture of friendship toward the Christian community, the JCRC/AJC is getting ready to host its 23rd annual Mitzvah Day on Christmas Day at several nonprofit organizations through Metro Detroit. More than 600 volunteers of all faiths will visiting nearly 40 locations to perform good deeds, including meal and toy delivery, visiting and working with the elderly or filling in at animal shelters.
“We volunteer on Christmas Day so it allows those Christians who volunteer to take the day off and be with their families,” Chandler says. “It’s a wonderful time for Jewish and other non-Christians to step up for their Christian neighbors and help out.”
Mitzvah Day is the largest day of volunteering by Detroit’s Jewish community. The word “mitzvah” is Hebrew for “commandment” and commonly refers to a good deed done in the spirit of charity.
Diversity in Christianity panel tackles issues that bind, divide in fractured religion
Rev. Bethany Peerbolte, Pastor at Birmingham First Presbyterian Church
Louise Ott is ready to broach tough subjects this Christmas at the dinner table, regardless of whether she is sitting across from a relative who doesn’t share her views. She got started on the often “off-limits” topic – religion – during a “Diversity in Christianity” panel discussion at Birmingham Covington School.
“We have to agree that love and acceptance and agreeing to disagree has to be OK, and that doesn’t mean the other person is evil because they don’t believe as you believe,” Ott, a Birmingham United Church of Christ pastor, said. That attitude is one the Birmingham Covington School Diversity Committee has been embracing much of the year with a series of panel discussions meant to educate and inform, dispelling misconceptions and stereotypes about people and fostering understanding and kindness. At these panel discussions have been members of the African-American, LGBTQ, Muslim and Jewish communities. The most recent discussion was perhaps the most controversial, said Rick Joseph, a Covington teacher and member of the diversity committee.
“We had many discussions about whether or not this panel should take place at all,” Joseph said. “This of course was due to the pain, hurt, and exclusion that many people, particularly people in the LGBTQ community, have felt in their church communities over the years.”
Despite concerns over possible legitimization or even glorification of what he said has been very “unchristian treatment of people” the committee went ahead in the belief that all political and cultural viewpoints should be represented in diversity work and people must come together to find solutions to challenges faced while promoting mutual understanding. While the 12-member panel, which besides Ott included two other pastors, as well as parents, students, and Covington staff members, were all representing the predominant religion in the United States, they were from varying denominations and showed that even within a religion that shares one major belief, there are vast differences about what it means to be Christian. Joseph, himself a Catholic, was eager to learn, as was the moderator of the panel, Covington Spanish teacher Joe Leibson, who is Jewish.
“There are some who have wondered why a Christianity panel is part of the diversity series,” Leibson said during the panel’s introduction. “After all, Christians represent a large majority of the U.S. population and have power and influence in every sphere of our society. Every US president has identified as a Christian and we often hear that our founding principles are based on Judeo-Christian values. Those things are all true, but they don’t mean that there is no room for Christian voices in the context of diversity work. Diversity is for everyone.”
Leibson continued by noting that religious participation in general is “dramatically slipping.” He cited FiveThirtyEight
, a statistical analysis website, saying, “Millennials are leaving religion in droves and aren’t coming back,” with people between the ages of 23-38 almost as likely to say they have no religion as to identify as Christians. Less than half of this age group subscribe to the idea that a belief in God is necessary to be moral, and millennials are much less likely than baby boomers to believe it is necessary to raise children with religion so they learn values. Panelists at the “Diversity in Christianity” forum were invited to consider and share their answers to questions about their faith and its importance in their lives to about 50 people in attendance. Mike Elia, a Chaldean Catholic panelist, said we are “living in an age of relativism, wanting to redefine the truth in a way that suits me” and in the process “erasing the absolute truth of Jesus Christ.”
“Obviously, we are all sinners in this room,” he said. “You have to confront in a loving way when you see someone doing something that might affect their salvation…In this day and age, you need to do it in a delicate way.”
Nicole Jones, a Baptist who sat next to her son David, a Covington student, on the panel, said God is not open for interpretation.
“If God tells me something in the Bible, I would rather err on the side of what is there than to be found wrong,” she said. “It is good to consider Jesus ministered to all kinds of people, no matter their walk of life.”
While she said “all sin is sin,” God is the one to do changing of hearts. Love doesn’t mean agreement or acceptance for her, but means that she can be in a room with someone with a different lifestyle or beliefs and be friends.
“I have a friend who is an atheist, and I love her,” Jones said. “We can sit and talk and be friends. We do not have to agree.”
Bethany Peerbolte, a panelist and associate pastor at Birmingham First Presbyterian, said she grew up in a church in which attitudes toward LGBTQ persons that she knew and loved nearly drove her away from the church. She views the Bible as “a living, breathing text,” and one through which the words have been translated a hundred million times from texts and languages which aren’t understood completely.
“It says women are not supposed to speak in churches, and here I am a pastor,” Peerbolte said. “We have to go back to what Scriptures are teaching us in 2020. What is it saying right now? We talk about sin like we know what it is… Jesus sat with people who are sinful and outcasts. Those are people who Jesus would sit with and didn’t ask to change.”
Peerbolte said in a time when it is perceived there is a “war on Christmas” and the loudest Christian voices seem to be evangelicals and those offended about coffee cups from a corporate organization without religious affiliation, she was grateful for the panel and the opportunity for a variety of Christian voices, including her more liberal, progressive one. “It’s great to see diversity and get us into a room to hash it out,” she said. “That understanding gets us to a unity place instead of being in our corners comfortably.”
Joseph said he saw at the forum a common bond between the 12 panelists-their deep faith and belief in its power, as well as understanding as a Christian value the importance of loving their neighbors. He was surprised by how consistently humble all of the panelists were. “I kept waiting for someone to sound self-righteous, perhaps, because therein lies the problem that so many people have with organized Christianity, and perhaps religion in general throughout the world – that is, the dichotomy between the sacred Scriptures and their interpretation by people,” Joseph said. “Furthermore, the extent to which people have interpreted sacred texts and used them to justify ways that have excluded, marginalized, and hurt people.”
Joseph was impressed with the panelists’ comments in regard to the importance of doing the will of God, which he believes ultimately means “developing a realization that humans are not in control.”
The BCS Diversity Committee plans to continue panel discussions into 2020. Joseph said there will be a repeat of a panel on issues related to people who are LGBTQ plus and he would also like to have a panel on mental health awareness and suicide prevention due to an increase in teen suicides as well as the stigma surrounding these issues. Other possible subjects include atheism/agnosticism, military veterans, women’s history and Native Americans.
“We certainly will continue to have these panels because they have clearly met and identified need for many people in our community,” he said. “I believe that people are hungry for a way to have conversations about difficult issues that is constructive. I believe we have found that way.”
Check the Birmingham Covington School Facebook page for information on future panels, which will be posted by mid-January.