Calendar for WISDOM and Other Interfaith Events
Friday July 12th and Saturday July 13th 2019 Freedom Tour,
Michigan Coalition for Human Rights
See Flyer Below
Sunday, August 4th noon to five
DION interfaith picnic at Belle Isle
See Flyer below
A Thriving Synagogue Hired Its First Female Head Rabbi. Here’s Why That Matters.
By Ari Feldman
Most job interviews are little more than sitting in a windowless room, answering questions from a manager with your resume in one hand and coffee in the other. For rabbis aiming for the pulpit, they’re a little different. This past winter, Temple Israel Center, a large Conservative synagogue in Westchester County, New York, had four candidates come to its campus for weekend-long “interviews.” These finalists were on display at multiple prayer services and gatherings, giving a Sabbath morning sermon, leading a teaching session and sitting for a question-and-answer session with over 200 synagogue members in attendance.
For Beth Grafman, who sat on the search committee, one rabbi stood out – Rabbi Annie Tucker – for her calm, thoughtful and insightful performance across this rabbinic decathlon. In February, they offered her the job, and she accepted. “And the fact that she turned out to be a woman, it wasn’t part of the selection process per se,” said Grafman, “it was a cherry on top of the process.”
Tucker, 42, is joining a small circle of women rabbis who lead some of the largest Conservative congregations in the country. While egalitarianism is the watchword at nearly every synagogue in the movement, whether due to tradition or trepidation the senior roles of some of the most influential pulpits have eluded women. Female rabbis say Tucker’s hire is another victory for Jewish women.
“This was a big long search, and the fact that it went to a woman is something that we’re really proud of,” said Rabbi Debra Newman Kamin, president of the Rabbinical Assembly, the movement’s professional association for rabbis.
Women have been ordained rabbis only since 1985 in the Conservative movement, the centrist denomination of American Judaism, which upholds Jewish law but has often reinterpreted it to keep up with changing norms in secular society. It counts roughly 570,000 members in its synagogues, roughly a fifth of American Jews – a number that has been in decline in recent decades. Of the 57 or so Conservative congregationswith more than 750 member families, only handful are led by women.
Adas Israel, in Washington, D.C., with over 1,700 families, is co-led by Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt. Congregation Beth Shalom, Seattle’s largest Conservative synagogue, has been led by Rabbi Jill Borodin since 2005. Rabbi Amy Wallk Katz leads Temple Beth El, in Springfield, Massachusetts. Multiple experts told the Forward that they do not know of any studies quantifying the number of female rabbis in senior roles at Conservative synagogues. The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism declined to share a list of the movement’s largest synagogues with the Forward. The Jewish world still struggles with equity and pay parity for female clergy. In the Reform movement, women in senior rabbi roles are paid on average 85% of the salaries of men in similar roles. In Modern Orthodoxy, a contentious debate is ongoing about whether women can have the title of rabbi, or even lead joint prayer services.
TIC occupies a large, sprawling red brick building in the very Jewish suburb of White Plains. The area is replete with Jewish communities of all kinds, from Reform and Reconstructionist to Hasidic enclaves. The synagogue’s main sanctuary sees about 200-300 congregants a week, but expands on holidays into its social hall to fit its 750 member families.
For nearly a quarter century, until 2018, TIC was led by Rabbi Gordon Tucker, (of no relation) a nationally known rabbi for his work on allowing female clergy in Conservative Judaism and an adjunct professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. TIC’s search process to replace him was spread over two years. In the synagogue’s first round of searching, it declined to make a job offer to any of the candidates it hosted for a Shabbat weekend. They decided instead to hire an interim rabbi and continue with the search.
“We always had a view that we were looking for the right fit, and that we wouldn’t settle,” said Marc Berman, TIC’s president. The synagogue’s search committee, with 23 members, ultimately agreed that Tucker was the rabbi for the job. “Gender was never an issue,” said Berman. “We were looking for the best candidate.” Tucker said that she felt that the community was the right fit for her. It’s closer to her family and friends on the East Coast, and there is a strong focus on education for both children and adults in the synagogue.
“It’s a lot of very thoughtful, interesting, interested Jews,” she said.
Like Westchester County’s Jewish community, TIC’s membership is diverse, drawing in observant Conservative Jews who send their children to day school, as well as congregants that attend only for major holidays and enroll their children in the area’s public schools.
Helping to further unite TIC’s “micro-communities,” as Tucker called them, is one of the mandates she has going into her new role. She hopes to do that by “re-imagining” their children’s educational program and adding more social justice-oriented programming and events.
Tucker will become Temple Israel Center’s first female senior rabbi – just its fourth senior rabbi since the late 1930s – and one of the few female rabbis leading large Conservative congregations in the New York City area. She was also the first female senior rabbi at her current synagogue, in Wilmette, Illinois.
Female rabbis in the movement see Tucker’s hire as a sign that, while things aren’t changing as fast as they’d like, they are trending toward equal leadership of the movement between the genders.
“The fact that this is news shows us that the Jewish community has not been where it’s needed to be on women’s leadership for a while,” said Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, an author and contributor to the Forward who is a colleague of Tucker’s in Chicago.
The Conservative movement is not past the point where such hirings should be singled out and celebrated, said several people who spoke with the Forward. “I’m conflicted always, as to whether it’s something to point out or not,” said Rabbi Rachel Ain, who leads the Sutton Place Synagogue in New York, which has 500 member families. “But until it’s something we don’t need to point out anymore, we should applaud the hiring.” Tucker said she hopes that her new role will allow other women to imagine themselves as leaders of large Jewish organizations.
Ain noted that Tucker’s hiring also comes as the United States is questioning its own readiness to have a female leader in the White House. “We’re not there yet in the world,” she said. “This is still part of the landscape, spoken or unspoken.”
Interfaith Girl Scouts Combat Hate
Interfaith Girl Scouts of Southeast Michigan are interested in more than just cookies; Jewish liaison Brenda Rosenberg helps them combat hate.
By Stefani ChudnowPhotos
courtesy of the Interfaith Girl Scouts of Southeastern Michigan
Girl Scouts tour the Holocaust Memorial Center
in Farmington Hills
For the past several years, society has felt more divided than ever. It’s been an “us” versus “them” mentality for a while now, but politics has made everyday society increasingly hateful. Working to combat this is native Detroiter and interfaith activist Brenda Rosenberg. Rosenberg is the Jewish liaison to the Interfaith Girl Scouts of Southeastern Michigan. This group not only works to combat hatred among independent cultural groups starting at young ages, but also aims to develop myriad events meant to bring young girls with different backgrounds together.
“Several years ago, Suzanne Bante, who chairs the Interfaith Girl Scouts of Southeast Michigan, contacted the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit and wanted to speak to Jewish women who were interested in interfaith work,” Rosenberg said. “I was one of those women.”
Said Bante, “I believe that Girl Scouts offers young women (and sometimes their families) the opportunity to learn about individuals who have different backgrounds and faith traditions in a non-threatening way. Understanding of religious diversity is required to prepare our young women for the future.”
“When 9-11 happened, my heart spoke to me and said, ‘Brenda, you’re really good at coordinating big projects. You need to bring Christians, Jews and Muslims together,'” Rosenberg said. “That was the day I started creating projects and relationships to bring Christians, Jews and Muslims together.” One such project is “My Promise My Faith,” which Rosenberg is working on with Bante. The goal of this project is to share elements of the Jewish faith with Girl Scouts from a Catholic school in order to further develop their understanding of Judaism.
“On May 15, we presented the My Promise My Faith program to the Girl Scouts at Holy Family Regional School in Rochester,” Bante said. “The program is designed to allow girls to learn about other faith traditions and how all faith traditions are the foundation for the Girl Scout Promise and the Girl Scout Law.” A part of that Girl Scout Law reads: “I will do my best to […] make the world a better place.” If that sounds familiar to you, it’s because it is almost identical to the Jewish concept of tikkun olam or repairing the world.
Christian Ferris, Hannah Richard, Brenda Rosenberg, Fiona Warner, and officer John Julian, a school resource officer in Troy.
Rosenberg talked to the Girl Scouts about what she’s done to make the world a better place through creating better levels of understanding between Christians, Jews and Muslims. Then, the girls were given a selection of quotes from notable Jewish women throughout history and chose their favorites to put on a mug. The girls learned “Henei Ma Tov” in both Hebrew and English as well as all about Shabbat symbols and wrote down how they plan to make the world a better place this year.
A few years ago, Troy High School student and Girl Scout Hannah Richard approached Rosenberg about working on Rosenberg’s Hate2Hope initiative for her gold award project. Because of a recent spike in violence by and against police, Hate2Hope’s goal is to bring police and communities together and save lives as a result.
“Hannah was very taken with the project because at the time she was 15 and getting her driver’s license,” Rosenberg said. “Nowhere in driver’s education do they teach you what to do if you’re stopped by a police car.” For the past two years, Rosenberg has been working with Hannah directly on making this initiative completely actionable. Hannah came up with a slogan they’re currently using to promote positive police and community interactions. “Her three words are: Relax, Respect, Respond,” Rosenberg said. “That’s what we’re missing today, not just in police encounters, but in almost all encounters. People just spew whatever they’re feeling and they’re not taking the time to relax, respect and then respond. It’s simple, but incredibly effective.”
This past Passover, Temple Israel hosted a women’s seder. Rosenberg invited the Religious Relationships Committee of Girl Scouts of Southeastern Michigan. Committee member Lisa Pelzer attended the seder. Though Pelzer isn’t Jewish, she thought it was a particularly enlightening experience. “The seder was absolutely awesome,” Pelzer said. “It was really meaningful for me because it discussed mental health, which is key. The thing I loved the most was ‘Enough, Dayenu.’ That was wonderful to me.”
When people think of the Girl Scouts, they think of cookies. After just one conversation with Rosenberg, Pelzer and Bante, it’s clear that Girl Scouts mean so much more. They are the generation who will be future world leaders, and their track record isn’t too shabby.
“All three of our female secretaries of state, Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton have been Girl Scouts,” Pelzer said. “Sandra Day O’Connor was also a Girl Scout.” Rosenberg and Bante plan to continue their interfaith work. Rosenberg is currently planning an intercultural scavenger hunt at the Detroit Institute of Arts.
She credits her childhood exposure to art with her lifelong interfaith understanding. “I think so much more has to be done at an entry level, at that young level, because no one is born hating,” Rosenberg said. “If no one’s born hating, we need to have these very important interactions at younger ages than we are currently engaged in.”
When asked about what she sees as the future for the Girl Scouts, Rosenberg is quite confident that they will be “a powerful force for creating and understanding across America and across the world. Yay, girl power!”
For further information, visit http://njcgs.org.
West Bloomfield Synagogue’s Bible Garden Welcomes Visitors and Tour Groups
The Louis and Fay Woll Memorial Bible Garden, located at 5075 West Maple Road, West Bloomfield, on the campus of Congregation Beth Ahm, will soon be in full summer bloom, and people of all faiths are welcome to visit for learning and reflection. The Garden is available for group tours as well as for informal individual visitation. Group tours can be arranged to take place any day of the week with the exception of Shabbat (Saturday). The Garden is open in the summer, fall and spring, from sunrise to sunset.
Bible gardens usually contain plants mentioned in the Bible or use plants to recreate themes from the Bible. The Louis and Fay Woll Memorial Bible Garden does both and serves many purposes. It is meant to serve as a place of inner reflection, as a place of education, as a place for social and community gatherings, as a place to celebrate special things in our lives, and as a place to understand and appreciate the beauty and continuity of nature and its connection to the Jewish people and to the Divine.
There are a number of Bible gardens in various locations around the United States, but the Louis and Fay Memorial Bible Garden is believed to be the only one in Michigan and is one of very few in the world that are sponsored by a synagogue. Almost all other Bible gardens to date have been created by Christian houses of worship.
The Louis and Fay Woll Memorial Bible Garden was created by Drs. Douglas and Margo Woll in 2010 to honor the memory of Doug’s parents, who believed in and exemplified the principles of goodness, caring and generosity.
If your group would like to tour the garden with a synagogue docent and also have the opportunity to visit the Beth Ahm sanctuary and learn more about Judaism, please contact Rabbi Steven Rubenstein by phone (248) 851-6880 ext. 17 or by e-mail email@example.com to schedule your visit.
There is no charge to visit the Woll Memorial Bible Garden, either on an individual basis or for group tours. Donations are welcome to help support the ongoing maintenance and enhancement of the Bible Garden.
All are welcome to find enjoyment, beauty and peaceful reflection in the experience of exploring the Louis and Fay Memorial Bible Garden in person or online. For more information, including photos of the Garden, visit http://www.wollbiblegarden.
Heard the one about the Jew and the Muslim?
Ashley Blaker and Imran Yusuf’s pairing makes a unique comedy show called Prophet Share!
When Liverpool FC achieved their “miracle” win over Barcelona earlier this month, there was no doubt in Imran Yusuf’s mind as to where he should be. The avid Liverpool fan and hugely popular stand-up comic made his way to the home of his friend Ashley Blaker, an equally besotted Liverpool supporter and himself a renowned comedian. What they needed – in fact, what the world needed – was a double selfie of the two of them, proudly wearing their Liverpool red shirts.
The obvious affection between the two men, Blaker – an Orthodox Jew – and Yusuf – a knowledgeable Muslim – has led to a remarkable and probably unique stage pairing for their comedy show, Prophet Sharing, which is currently touring the UK. How did they meet? “I was a TV and radio producer,” says Blaker, “and I think I booked Imran for one of my shows. I’ve known him about eight years or so.” Yes, says Yusuf, it was after appearing on one of Blaker’s shows that they discovered their mutual passion for Liverpool FC.
Gradually, this unlikely pair became good friends. Last summer Blaker did a show at the Edinburgh Festival called Observant Jew, and Yusuf went to see it. “After the show, we were talking and Ashley came up with this proposal that we should do a tour together. I thought, what a great opportunity.” Both men have had their own successful BBC shows, so it was a natural pairing. Blaker has been doing solo stand-up comedy for a number of years and in a previous interview was adamant that he wouldn’t work with other Jewish comedians. So has he broken a rule to work with a Muslim comedian?
No, insists Blaker. “I said I would never do ‘mixed bill’ stuff where the audience comes and sees five or six different acts. This is still like a solo show – we each do stuff on our own and then we have half an hour together, which is really great fun.” The joy of the two of them together is that it is entirely driven by the audience, who have been asked to fill in a questionnaire before the show, and Blaker and Yusuf then riff off each other, each bringing their own, unscripted views to the stage.
“We designed the show together,” says Blaker. “We’re each very aware of what we are doing, and how that marries up.”
Yusuf, who has been a full-time comedy performer for 14 years, comes from an Indian Muslim family who were chased out of East Africa by Idi Amin. He was born in Mombasa, Kenya, and was brought up near Hackney Fields, before moving to Harrow. Blaker was a television producer and writer most associated with the hit comedy, Little Britain, before going it alone on a very carefully thought-out comedy path. He doesn’t do clubs and certainly won’t do anything which would conflict with his Orthodox beliefs. Of his friend’s comedy, Blaker describes it as “very warm, not cruel – audiences really like him”.
Meanwhile, Yusuf believes the pair have much in common: “We are both quite learned about our religion. I’ve read the Koran – in English – twice through, cover to cover and [Hinduism’s] Bhaghavad Gita. I’m about to start on the Tanach [the Hebrew Bible]. Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner gave me a copy.” In fact, says Yusuf, his ambition is to read every major religious book in the world. “Most of us don’t study our own religious books enough, but I want to try.” Stand-up, says Blaker, “is not easy. But we know how to do it and what works with an audience”. For him, it’s an opportunity to find out the similarities between Judaism and Islam, asking Yusuf on stage if his imam is anything like Blaker’s rabbi.
Both men believe that, particularly with the rise in antisemitism and Islamophobia, “there couldn’t be a better time to do this show”.
Blaker says the lesson he draws from it is “that we are stronger together than apart”. Yusuf, for his part, says there is a sometimes “brutal journey” between Jews and Muslims, but that “we thrive by being tolerant -that’s the trajectory we are on”.
Foodies, Faithful Flock to Ramadan Festivals
DEARBORN HEIGHTS, Mich. (AP) – Shortly before midnight, a buzzing crowd stood patiently in a line that bent around the corner of a community center and stretched far back into the night. After a countdown, the throng streamed into the fairway of food trucks and other vendors, then pressed forward to the cadence of a banging bass drum.
It was suhoor time.
The informal gala – in full swing after midnight, illuminated with string lights and resplendent with the scents of Middle Eastern and other cuisine – has been staged on weekends throughout May in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn Heights. But the Ramadan Suhoor Festival has a specific purpose beyond the carnival atmosphere and bountiful buffet: It’s a chance to gather during the Muslim holy month in which worshippers fast daily from dawn through dusk.
Despite its religious underpinnings, and in accordance with Muslim faith, festival organizers also have made one thing clear: Non-Muslims are welcome.
And so they all have come – Muslims and non-Muslims, thousands at a time and collectively in the tens of thousands – to share suhoor, the early morning meal typically consumed before daily fasting resumes and meant to fuel the many hungry hours after sunrise when neither food nor water may pass a faithful Muslim’s lips. The ring of food trucks serve up more than just overflowing plates. For many, it’s a welcome departure from the standard pre-dawn Ramadan fare that typically includes spiced or seasoned bread with cheese or yogurt.
Here at the festival, visitors may instead indulge their well-earned appetites with plates of pancakes, halal (permitted under Islamic dietary laws) hot dogs, cheesesteaks, fresh miniature doughnuts and shawarma, which consists of slivers of seasoned, spiced marinated meat.
The event itself reflects the area’s growing, diverse Muslim population, which goes back more than a century and whose population is estimated by experts to be approaching 300,000. As the community grows, so too does its willingness to practice and more visibly share traditions – with food as the ultimate unifier.
“People are becoming more educated about it … and it’s a beautiful thing,” said Hassan Chami, a pharmacist who started the festival last year. “One of my goals here is to celebrate religious diversity.”
Other U.S. communities have large Muslim populations, including those in and around New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. They also have hosted festivals drawing thousands to mark the Eid al-Fitr, or the end of Ramadan. The Detroit-area’s recurring events aim to amp-up such efforts: They serve as homecomings for some Muslims who left the state and missed the atmosphere, and even attracted “a foodie from Houston” who had no connection but just wanted to experience it, Chami said.
Chami said he launched the festival after seeing food trucks and tents popping up in gas station and strip mall parking lots in recent years during Ramadan. He was impressed by the entrepreneurial spirit, but thought it would be good to “centralize it.”
But it had to be authentic. Signs around the festival grounds offer guidance on fasting, prayers and good deeds, and men sitting in a tent recite verses from the Quran, or Islamic holy book, and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. Their amplified recitations waft along with the aromas from Corn on the Corner, Tornado Potato, Smiley’s Halal, Rafic’s Felafel and other trucks.
The drum Chami used to welcome attendees gets picked up a couple hours later by a food vendor, who Chami says represents “the old villager walking around the town, banging the drum, calling people to wake up and eat the suhoor.”
The traditional and contemporary mix mirrors the Islamic community around Detroit, which traces its roots to the earliest auto plants and the burgeoning industry’s hunger for workers. In the past 30 years, the area has gone from having about a dozen mosques to more than 90, reflecting immigration of Muslims from across the Mediterranean, Middle East and South Asia.
Sally Howell said Ramadan’s observance has changed significantly in the three decades she has been researching Islam in Detroit. In the early days, most people would celebrate in homes and mosques – and restaurateurs would complain how the holiday was bad for business. Mosques expanded their offerings, with post-prayer lectures and large iftars – the formal meal eaten after breaking the daily fast and recitation of prayers – that welcomed non-Muslims. Within the past decade, eateries started hosting buffets.
Even though Ramadan-related events were never closed-off to non-Muslims, the new festivals provide an opportunity to further extend participation in elements of the sacred monthlong rite, Howell said.
“This is the more social, celebratory side of Ramadan,” said Howell, director of the Center for Arab American Studies at University of Michigan-Dearborn. She said the events get a boost because Ramadan, which rotates around the calendar, currently falls in warmer weather months.
Some Muslims have complained on social media about the festival placing a greater emphasis on food over faith. Dana Mohammad, 23, who attended a recent festival, found it very loud, crowded and hype – yet spiritually beneficial.
“I think it actually adds to the essence of Ramadan because it brings people together, it binds communities and it builds bridges, which I think is a principle of the holy month,” she said.
Donna Bazzy invited fellow emergency room nurses – assuring them it would be open to non-Muslims. Among those accepting was Rhonda Hines.
“I’m enjoying myself immensely – it’s wonderful,” said Hines, hungrily eying which truck to tackle first. “I am very Christian but I love my girl Donna so much, I want to celebrate with her.”
Howell and Chami see such festivals as an antidote to the hostility Muslims feel in some quarters and the rhetoric and policies of the Trump administration, which has curbed immigration and travel from several Muslim-majority nations. For both, it recalls the increased scrutiny and suspicion directed at Arabs and Muslims after the 9/11 attacks.
The difference now, they said, is Muslims feel more comfortable outwardly celebrating their faith. That was Chami’s mission with the Ramadan Suhoor Festival: Create a space where Muslims could celebrate on their terms but with open arms.
“Having that confidence allows us to embrace our culture and allows (other) communities to support us as much as they do,” Chami said.
“We went through a point where we were trying to prove ourselves, saying ‘Hey, I’m just like you,'” he added. “I’m over that. … We’re great people. We have an unbelievable culture. We do great here.”
Ethnic women’s ‘tireless’ campaigner
Anjum Rahman honoured
Hamilton-based Anjum Rahman has been made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit. It was a sense of duty that prompted Anjum Rahman’s work as a political and human rights activist.
“I started getting involved in the community after 9/11 … I could see that our world was changing and I didn’t want my kids to grow up in fear or to feel ashamed of who they were.
“A lot of the community work I do is about making the world a better place for my children to grow up in.”
Her citation for the Queen’s Birthday honour describes her as a political and human rights activist “who has worked tirelessly to support ethnic women in New Zealand and raise awareness of human rights issues affecting them”. Rahman is based in Hamilton, but her multiple roles take her around the country, serving on boards and speaking out in favour of diversity and inclusion. In May, not long after the Christchurch mosque attacks, Rahman launched the Inclusive Aotearoa Collective – a community-led initiative to combat discrimination.
In the past, she has also had a tilt at politics, standing for Hamilton City Council in 2013 and, before that, as a Labour list candidate.
Her mantra is simple: To leave the world a better place than she found it.
“It’s that sense of duty really, that I’m put here in this world, in this place, and how am I going to leave it better than I found it.
“That’s my responsibility, it’s the responsibility of every person and it’s up to them how they take it up but for me, it’s like how do I fulfil my responsibility to this world that I’m in.”
Rahman is also a board member on various not-for-profit organisations, including Shama Hamilton Ethnic Women Centre, the Waikato Community Broadcasting Charitable Trust, the Islamic Women’s Council of New Zealand, and the Ethnic New Zealand Trust.
She has also worked in the prevention of sexual violence, as a founding member of the Hamilton Campaign for Consent and through work with ACC.
She’s a qualified Human Rights Commission facilitator and promotes diversity and inclusion through speaking engagements around the country. And she’s also an accountant. When she received a letter in the mail, notifying her of the honour, she wasn’t sure whether she would accept it.
“In our faith, in our community, we do things because it’s the right thing to do and as an act of worship, so to be recognised publicly for that is kind of difficult because I’m not doing it to be recognised.
Rahman said she was accepting the honour for her mum, who is a role model to her and her daughters. She said the work she achieves wouldn’t be possible without the support she receives from family, her community, and her employer. “I look at so many others in our community that do reat work that are unrecognised and I feel like there’s so many amazing people in our community and it’s hard for me to accept this when I know that.” But despite her coyness, she is proud of the work she has achieved. “In terms of a local place, I’m really proud of being involved with the Shama Hamilton Ethnic Women’s Centre, and part of the group that set it up. “For me, it’s about our place as Muslims in New Zealand and to be recognised as part of the fabric of New Zealand society – that’s the most important thing.
“Our prime minister’s stance after the [Christchurch terrorist attacks], placing [Muslims] as New Zealanders, was so hugely important. And being included in the awards is part of that, too. For me it says; this is my place, this is my home, I belong here.”
Calendar for WISDOM and Other Interfaith Events
Tuesday, June 11th at 7:00 PM, Citizens for Peace Interfaith Panel on Peace at the Livonia Senior Center.
See Flyer Below
Wednesday, June 26th 7:00 – 9:00 PM
Voorhies Hall, Bay View, Michigan
An Interfaith Response for Climate Action
See Flyer Below
Friday July 12th and Saturday July 13th 2019 Freedom Tour,
Michigan Coalition for Human Rights
See Flyer Below
Friday August 9th, Greater New Mt. Moriah backkpack project.
More information to come
Tuesday, August 20th noon – 1:30 PM
Five Women Five Journeys Panel at BCBSM Detroit
Sameena Basha, board member of WISDOM, remarks on the Zaman graduation ceremony!
(26091 Trowbridge, Inkster, MI
Paula Drewek and Sameena Basha
at the Zaman Boost Graduation
I’m so proud to attend Zaman International’s Graduation Ceremony – over 40 women graduated with degrees in English literacy, sewing & culinary arts. Some couldn’t even attend because they had achieved the goal of the program: they were at work!
Zaman International’s B.O.O.S.T. program offers single mothers and marginalized women the skills to gain employment for a chance at a better life. Congratulations to Najah Bazzy, Gigi Salka and the power team at Zaman! I am humbled to be a co-sponsor on behalf of WISDOM.
WISDOM MEETS MIDDLE-SCHOOLERS
On May 21, the women of WISDOM’s “Five Women, Five Journeys” program met about 150 middle schoolers at the Covington School in Bloomfield Hills. Their language arts and social studies teacher, Rick Joseph, arranged the gathering and introduced panelists to several of his students prior to the panel’s start. They were studying various cultures through narratives of people from places like India and China and were most anxious to share their excitement with Wisdom ladies. The students filed into the media center and were instructed on behavior by Mr. Joseph and proved a most attentive and curious audience. After the 4 women presenters shared their responses to the program questions, students were interested in what kind of discrimination the women had faced as children. Raman, our Sikh presenter, noted that most were not aware of her faith as children, an experience shared by Paula, the Baha’i presenter. One young man shared a question at odds with Brenda, our Jewish presenter, on her favorite holiday—Christmas. He was of the opinion, learned at his church, that Jews killed Jesus; so how could she enjoy the Christmas season so much? Other questions showed interest in the issue of head-coverings worn by Parwin, our Muslim presenter. She explained that it was for purposes of modesty and other panelists cited similar customs in their faiths. Holidays were another interest of the students. Students became emboldened as their classmates were called upon. Paula Drewek moderated the session and had to call an end to the questions as the period was over and students needed to return to other classes.
Honoring St. John XXIII, pope and Bulgarians
give witness for peace
May 6, 2019
SOFIA, Bulgaria – Prayers for peace are important, but they must lead those praying to roll up their sleeves, reach out their hands and open their hearts, Pope Francis said at an interreligious meeting in Sofia.
The gathering – featuring children representing the Catholics, Bulgarian Orthodox, members of the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Jewish community and the Muslim community – was held under rainy skies at Nezavisimost, or Independence, Square.
Participants were not praying together, organizers insisted, but were praying for peace each in their own way.
The event May 6, the pope’s last public appointment in Bulgaria on his three-day trip, was a tribute to St. John XXIII, who was apostolic delegate to the country from 1925 to 1935 and, as pope, wrote the encyclical, “Pacem in Terris” (“Peace on Earth”).
The Bulgarian Orthodox Church had announced before the pope’s trip that it would not send a bishop to the gathering and it did not; rather it was represented by an Orthodox layman who works for the government department overseeing religious affairs.
Armenian Bishop Datev Hagopian and Sofia’s grand mufti, Mustafa Hadzhi, joined Francis on the stage along with a government official, a Protestant minister and a woman representing the Jewish community.
Children from the religious communities, including the Bulgarian Orthodox, bore lanterns, which Francis said “symbolize the fire of love that burns within us and that is meant to become a beacon of mercy, love and peace wherever we find ourselves. A beacon that can cast light upon our entire world.” “With the fire of love,” he said, “we can melt the icy chill of war and conflict.”
Francis noted that from the square, a gathering place for centuries, people can see a Catholic church, a Bulgarian Orthodox church, an Armenian church, the synagogue and a mosque. Yet their parents, grandparents and other ancestors would gather together in the square at the most important moments in the life of the nation, and people today can make the square a symbol of peace.
“Peace is both a gift and a task,” the pope said. “It must be implored and worked for, received as a blessing and constantly sought as we strive daily to build a culture in which peace is respected as a fundamental right. An active peace ‘fortified’ against all those forms of selfishness and indifference that make us put the petty interests of a few before the inviolable dignity of each person.” As the rain poured down and guests, including the cardinals in the pope’s entourage, huddled under shared umbrellas, Francis said dialogue is the only path to peace and it must include an effort to understand one another.
Members of different religions, he said, must “focus on what unites us, show mutual respect for our differences and encourage one another to look to a future of opportunity and dignity, especially for future generations.”
A religious Jew and a devout Muslim find common ground
Elhanan Miller is a kippa-wearing Orthodox Jew and Thana Jawabreh is a devout Muslim who covers her head; together, they created a project to educate members of each other’s faith and break down barriers.
The concept of inner faith exists in Judaism as well as Islam, but the concept is understood differently in the two religions. Elhanan Miller, an Orthodox Jew, and Thana Jawabreh, an Arab Muslim, created the “close neighbor” project, a series of videos uploaded to the People of the Book YouTube channel, intended to create an interdenominational and cultural bridge between Jews and Muslims in Israel.
“I like to say that I am religious,” Jawabreh says. “There are people who are just Muslims, without any commitment. They were born Muslim but are essentially secular.”
“Both religions are focused on faith, and then there are the ritual commandments required to lead a religious life,” says Miller. “I wonder if the two can be separated. You (Muslims) also have words like ‘religious,’ ‘committed,’ and believer.’ Can one be religious without believing in the whole narrative?”
Jawabreh: “I define myself as religious and there are some people who are mere Muslims. We have no equivalent in Islam to someone who is religious but does not believe in the whole religious narrative. A religious person believes in the entire narrative. They may have some reservations but not on the principles. Most people I meet among my crowd are more traditional and less religious. Some will not allow their daughters to be out later than seven or eight o’clock at night and are deliberate in their dress, but they won’t call themselves religious but rather traditional.”
“I like to say that I am religious,” Jawabreh says. “There are people who are just Muslims, without any commitment. They were born Muslim but are essentially secular.”
Miller: “In Judaism, there are many devoutly religious people who accept without question every word of Jewish scripture. But those who study at university and engage in research know that there are frequently gaps between what science tells us about our history and the narrative conveyed by the Torah and Jewish texts. It can cause an identity crisis for religious people.”
Miller says that he handles the issue by not concentrating on the big, cosmic issues. He prefers to not focus on the essence of God and the question of divine justice:
“In the 20th century, with all the wars and disasters that have taken place for us and the Muslims, it is very difficult to talk about a God who is just, at least in the way we understand such concepts of ‘good’ and ‘justice.’ It’s much more complex than that. I am more attached to the concept of “observant,” because as far as I am concerned, my connection to Judaism is expressed in practice and in this system of laws which I call Judaism.
“There is a widespread phenomenon of people abandoning their religious faith, ex-religious, who remove their head covering,” Miller continues. “There is hardly a religious family that does not have at least one child who went through such a phase. It is a phenomenon that is swept under the rug, there is an aspect of shame involved, but it is widespread. Is there something similar among Muslims?”
Jawabreh: “The issue has not been investigated thoroughly. Recently, there have been quite a few women who have chosen to remove their head covering… Go to Baka (al-Gharbiyeh) and see how the mother wears devout Muslim garb and her daughter is wearing jeans and a short-sleeved shirt with her hair down. Something about her mother’s religiosity was not conveyed to her.
“I think there was a religious renaissance in the 80s, but it didn’t last. If those women understood the religion something would have been passed on. But apparently there exists a mental block regarding the religious fundamentals. Universal ethics draw inspiration from our religions – Islam, Christianity and Judaism,” she says.
Miller: “I believe that there is a problem with role models in religion. Children and young people lack role models and often, leaving religion stems from a feeling that adults are hypocritical. People avoid talking about their difficulties with religion and faith and it creates alienation among the youth. What we are trying to do with this project is discuss the personal experience in our religion in order to attract the young.”
Jawabreh: “I think there is a problem of the inability to accept criticism within our religious community. If I have a problem with one verse in the Quran, leaving religion is still a far cry. But religious institutions have trouble accepting this; they should be examining the interpretation of the text and see if it remains appropriate.
“I always claimed that there is male domination of religion. For example, it is written in the Quran that a woman inherits half compared to the man, but in Arab society in Palestine and in other places women do not inherit at all. It is demeaning to have to ask for our rights from our parents who bequest their inheritance to the brothers. The clerics will not talk about it because it does not affect them,” she adds.
Since her childhood in the northern town of Fureidis, Jawabreh has been careful to perform the five daily prayers required by Muslims. Similar to Orthodox Jewish feminists, she watched how her mother – a female cleric – made progress on the issue of Muslim women in the mosques.
“My mother always believed that women must see the imam (Muslim leader) during prayers otherwise the prayer is less valid. She always said that a mosque should not be two stories high so that if one sees that the imam made a mistake, they can notify him. For example, the bow which is essential to the prayer ceremony (must be performed correctly) and a woman must know this.
“So, my mother opened the first women’s mosque in our town and she leads the prayers for the women. She stands in front and the others are in rows behind her,” she said.
Adherents of Islam are required to perform five prayers daily. The morning prayer is called Fajr and is performed shortly before sunrise. The second, Zuhr, is performed just after midday; the third prayer, Asr, is performed in the afternoon; the fourth, Maghrib, after sunset and the final prayer, Isha, is performed at night.
Devotees of both Judaism and Islam both face difficulties waking up for morning prayers and if you thought that the Muezzin (who recites the call to prayer over loudspeakers) is the solution, “the Muezzin simply does not do his job, “she says. “I understand that his calls may not be so pleasant for Muslim ears but he does not wake us.”
Some Muslims combine two prayers that are performed adjacent to one another, similar to how some Jews perform the Mincha service just before sundown and then pray the evening Ma’ariv evening service, all in one synagogue visit.
“Our prayers are different than yours because it is not merely the recitation of texts but rather it is about a dialogue with God,” Jawabreh says. “(In Judaism) part of our prayers consist of supplications,” interjects Miller, “but the prayers are not always personal, they are phrased generically.”
In Islam it’s a bit different. “There are texts that allow for improvisation, you can say whatever is on your heart. We also have supplications which involve submission to God and talking to him through your heart,” she says.
Jawabreh: “The Quran consists of 114 chapters and the final chapter has a number of short verses. Many Muslims, myself among them, find it easy to remember those verses and recite them during prayers. The more pious Muslims recite longer verses in their prayers.”
“There exists some tension between spontaneous prayer and prayers that are set in established prepared texts,” says Miller. “Oftentimes we find ourselves automatically reciting our prayers mindlessly, with rote repetition, and our head is in another place. How do you make yourself focus?
Jawabreh nods in agreement. “It’s the same by us and I believe that we are not praying correctly… Prayer should be combined with meditation, which I recently began doing and I fell that it strengthens my connection with God. During prayers, I think about life, about the children and work… I want to further work on combining prayer and meditation.”
Miller makes an effort to pray with a minyan (quorum of 10 men), at least on Fridays and Saturdays, similar to how Muslims gather at the mosque on Friday. Jawabreh explains that in Islam, praying together has a special potency. “They say that Satan cannot enter a group of people, therefore it is advised that men, not necessarily women, pray together in a mosque and not at home.
“Our women don’t need to go to the mosque for prayers; it is incumbent on men. We women pray at home but we can pray together at home,” she adds. “I recall my mother would lead the prayers and we would stand behind her. On Friday’s women go to the mosque to pray on the second floor, but the (male) sheikh leads the prayers.”
If you would like to watch the videos included in this article, please go to https://www.ynetnews.com/
Elhanan Miller is a journalist, researcher and student of Jewish law at the Harel Academy in Jerusalem.
Christian And Jewish Congregations Celebrate Easter And Passover Under One Roof
By Jamie Doolittle
Under the banner of “One House, Two Families,” two major congregations in Miami decided to take a stand against divisiveness during this Passover and Easter weekend.
On Sunday, Unity on the Bay, a non-denominational church, held its Easter Sunday Service at Temple Israel of Greater Miami, just hours after the celebration of the second night of Passover.
“I think it is exciting and meaningful to have people worshiping God in a structure that was built just for that. The two holidays are always connected by the calendar, but in spirit they are connected in someways too,” says Scott Brockman, the Director of Temple Israel of Greater Miami.
To emphasize the commonality, a sign that reads “One House, Two Families” was placed at the entrance of the Temple to greet all believers.
Reverend Chris Jackson, senior minister at Unity on the Bay, said he hoped this Easter Celebration could convey to the South Florida community that people do not have to come from a common belief system, but with respect and love they can embrace each other as human beings.
“I think above everything else it symbolizes that people of differences, even sometimes radical differences, can still come together as members of a human family and recognize that we are in this all together,” said Jackson.
The two congregations have a history of collaboration and friendship, according to Brockman.
About 5 years ago, the membership of Unity on the Bay decided to sell their property to fund a new home that could better support their growing ministry and community. With the deadline for the move looming, they reached out to Temple Israel for a temporary venue for services.
Brockman said when Unity on the Bay contacted them about the partnership he did not hesitate to say yes. He said he wanted to honor the strong Jewish belief in hospitality.
Brockman says this weekend is a symbolic representation of their partnership.
“Saturday night the synagogue is holding a second Seder, it is the second night of Passover, and just hours later in the morning, Chris will be leading Sunrise services, just in the same space we are holding our Seder,” said Brockman.
Looking forward, Jackson said the two congregations are looking into the possibility of holding interfaith services on Sundays.
Russia’s largest yeshiva attacked with arson and swastikas ahead of Passover
(From the Times of Israel)
No one reported injured in fire at Torat Chaim in eastern Moscow, hours before 60 people gathered for traditional seder meal .
MOSCOW, Russia – Jewish officials said Friday an arson fire was set at the largest yeshiva in Russia just ahead of the Passover meal celebration. Swastikas were also sprayed on the seminary.
No one was reported injured in the early Friday fire at the Torat Chaim school in an eastern Moscow suburb.
There were about 60 students, rabbis and guests in the building at the time, the state news agency RIA-Novosti reported. While Russia has a long history of anti-Semitism, it has noticeably declined under Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
Putin has made considerable efforts to reach out to Russian Jewish communities, both within his state’s borders and in Israel. His country’s chief rabbi, Berel Lazar, is a close confidante.
He has encouraged the restoration of dozens of synagogues destroyed under communism and taken a hard-line on anti-Semitism.
For millennials, mysticism
shows a path to their home faiths
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (RNS) – Anthony Graffagnino describes himself spiritually as both frustrated and curious. A Pentecostal turned Unitarian, the 28-year-old Graffagnino said he’s had his fill with “stale and dead expressions of faith that I saw really doing nothing to better the people around me or the world around me.”
Discovering the Christian mystical tradition through the work of Franciscan friar Richard Rohr helped change that.
“Father Richard’s work allowed an entryway into Christianity when I didn’t think there was any,” said Graffagnino, who is studying to be an interfaith chaplain at Starr King School for the Ministry, a Unitarian Universalist seminary in Berkeley, Calif.
Graffagnino was one of a number of millennials drawn to The Universal Christ – a four-day conference in New Mexico’s capital last month led by Rohr, one of the preeminent Christian contemplatives of the last century.
Pentecostal in his early childhood, Unitarian through his teen years and then spiritually unaffiliated until he began “flirting with the Quakers” in his late 20s, Graffagnino also has explored Vedic Hinduism, spiritual Taoism, mystical Judaism, and Sufism.
Rohr’s work has been a bridge between those spiritual traditions and his native Christianity, where they have “found a resting place in my own backyard,” he said.
While many younger Americans today are spiritually unaffiliated, aka “nones” – a quarter of all adults under the age of 30 in the United States say they don’t identify with any religion or spiritual tradition, according to the Pew Center for Religion and Public Life – millennials are increasingly finding contemplative spirituality appealing.
“One of my publishers says (younger Christians) are my biggest demographic – not Catholics but post-evangelicals,” Rohr told Religion News Service in an interview a few days before The Universal Christ conference began in late March.
“The collectives are emerging outside of formal religion, for the most part, because we became too insular,” the 76-year-old Catholic mystic said. “They’ve imbibed this kind of universal sacred, and we’re seeing this especially in the millennials. They just put us to shame.”
Whether it’s in the stillness of silent meditation, walking a labyrinth, or centering prayer; the practice of engaging with scripture through Lectio Divina, the Ignatian tradition’s Daily Examen; or a combination of Buddhist mindfulness, Kundalini breath work and Taizé prayer, many young adults are happy (to borrow a line from Van Morrison) to sail into the mystic.
“My heart speaks to me in the silence,” said Laurie Wevers, 35, a mental health therapist and spiritual director in San Diego.
Growing up as an evangelical Christian in the Midwest, Wevers wasn’t exposed to contemplative practice or mystical tradition. Then, a professor at her Christian college in Minnesota suggested she meet with a spiritual director.
Laurie Wevers, left, 35, a mental health therapist and spiritual director from San Diego, and Tracy Bindel, 30, a law student and anti-racism activist from Boston, stand with a cardboard cutout of Richard Rohr while holding table stanchions looking for “young-er” and “under 40” contemplatives for a meet-up after an evening session at The Universal Christ conference in Albuquerque, N.M. RNS photo by Cathleen Falsani
While similar in practice to psychological talk therapy, spiritual direction’s aim is different. In the Christian tradition, a spiritual director is a person of faith who is trained to help guide other people of faith into a deeper relationship with God.
Like all contemplative traditions, it places a high value on personal experience with the divine.
In the dozen or more years since Wevers found contemplative spirituality through spiritual direction, she has become a spiritual director herself and earned a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy.
Most recently she enrolled in The Living School, an intensive two-year program of study in contemplative practice and mystical tradition at The Center for Action and Contemplation, founded by Rohr in Albuquerque 32 years ago.
“Being contemplative and being quiet did something to my heart and brought peace – it brought change without me having words (for) how that happened,” said Wever, adding that other contemplatives, including Christians Parker Palmer, Meister Ekhart and St. John of the Cross and the Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron, also have influenced her faith and practice.
“I can’t imagine doing a non-contemplative spirituality,” she said.
Presently, about half of the Center for Action and Contemplation’s four-dozen staff members are millennials – including Executive Director Michael Poffenberger.
“Richard’s definition of mysticism is experiential knowledge of God, and in evangelical-speak you could call that the ‘personal relationship with Jesus Christ,'” said Poffenberger, 36, who grew up in Washington state, the son of an Irish Catholic mother and a Protestant father.
While he was reared largely as a Roman Catholic, Poffenberger, who joined Rohr’s staff in 2014, spent a few years in evangelical Protestant communities as a teenager.
“I had more of what I would call mystical experiences through evangelical worship than I ever did through my Catholic formation experience,” he said.
Poffenberger’s first exposure to Christian mysticism came during his college years at the University of Notre Dame, where he became involved in social justice efforts. One spring break, he spent a week at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky (the Trappist community where Thomas Merton was a member) reading Dorothy Day’s autobiography, “The Long Loneliness.” “I was radicalized by that experience,” he said.
Later, during a summer spent volunteering alongside Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta, India, Poffenberger had a life-changing mystical experience. In the evenings, after working with the Missionaries of Charity sisters as they tended to the poorest of the poor in their Home for the Dying, the community gathered in the chapel for the eucharistic adoration, where they would sit in silent meditation.
“Serving dying people throughout the day and then just sitting in total silence for an hour in the evening alongside these women who are just such symbols of love and courage in the world… It’s hard to then go on with life after that as if something hasn’t changed,” he said. After graduating from Notre Dame, Poffenberger relocated to Washington, D.C., where he worked for a decade on various anti-violence efforts in Central Africa. At a men’s retreat during his tenure there, he became acquainted with Rohr’s contemplative work.
“A lot of struggles I had were around power-privilege questions for me as somebody working in D.C.,” he said. “What I experienced in Richard was an access point into the spirituality that actually gave meaning to those deeper questions and spoke to the reality of suffering that I was seeing and engaging with, and trying to make sense out of it.”
Tracy Bindel, an anti-racism activist, attends law school in Boston and runs Freedom Beyond Whiteness, a nationwide network of contemplative action circles. For her, the Center for Action and Contemplation has been a spiritual community where she doesn’t have to hide any part of herself.
Bindel grew up in an evangelical Christian community where she learned about the power of prayer. But as a young adult coming to terms with her sexuality, she felt she no longer fit in that tradition.
“When I realized that it didn’t welcome my queerness, I kind of pulled that string and many other things fell apart in the world for me,” Bindel said. “Once I knew very clearly that I was a beloved child of God, it just became a matter of how do I actually live into that truth? The church that I grew up in didn’t affirm that.” Eventually, with the help of Rohr, who teaches that “everything belongs,” she found a home in completive practice.
Wes Lambert’s unlikely path toward mysticism began a decade ago when he was a Southern Baptist teenager. Some friends asked if they could lay hands on him and pray over him, something that to a very “hands-off” Baptist was an uncomfortable proposition. But Lambert relented, and when he did, something happened that changed his faith and life.
“This white light kind of overcame me and I ended up-the best way to describe it is in a trance-and I saw this vision of Jesus,” said Lambert, 27, who works in the fashion industry in New York City. “For me, my whole faith was in my head… This is what God had to do to get me out of my box.”
Years later, after a relationship breakup sparked a period of questioning everything-including his faith-Lambert turned to meditation, which eventually led to a five-month stay in 2017 at the Trappist-run Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Ga.
“The silence and contemplation has really kept me grounded, holding the paradoxical questions of faith,” Lambert said.
The contemplative tradition is “expansive enough… that it leaves room as you grow,” he said. “To be Christian is to see Christ in everything.”
Thousands of miles and hundreds of years separate St. Mary’s Basilica in Livonia from many of the
most revered cathedrals in the world.
On a recent Wednesday Vlasios Tsotsonis worked to bridge a continental divide as he brought the divine to the Wayne County church. Perched high on scaffolding in the northern cove of the basilica’s sanctuary, in paint-splattered pants, Tsotsonis writ large the scene of the Passion of Christ. He is nearing completion of a years-long masterpiece of which his canvas covers hundreds of feet of walls and ceilings with Biblical iconography in St. Mary’s sanctuary.
“This art is a window to heaven,” Father George Shalhoub said, gazing up and around the church with a smile. “It is what we are expected to be and where we are going. All these icons are not worshipped, but they are honored and venerated to give us a taste of the kingdom of God here on Earth and in Heaven.” He had searched the world over to find an artist who could create something worthy of the old world’s masters since the church opened in 2003. In that quest for the best, Shalhoub commissioned Tsotsonis, a Greek artist he calls “the Michelangelo of the 21st century.” The artwork has been in progress for the past 12 years and is expected to be fully completed by December.
The altar was the first phase, completed in 2007. Next in 2014 was the dome fresco, 100 feet above the floor of the sanctuary. Tsotsonis returned this January to finish the final phase of his masterpiece, the majority of which will be done by June. He notes he had already been working on this particular phase for more than a year at home and now, having painted each day since January in St. Mary’s, he feels some impatience to see the work completed.
“This is also what I do daily while I’m in Greece, so my routine hasn’t changed in terms of work,” he said. “This gives me the sensation that I’ve lived in this space for a long time. There’s the feeling of continuity in everything.”His biggest challenge is to create in the accompanying architecture, a spiritual, almost metaphysical feeling to the believer, while his reward is the ability to praise God and show his devotion through his paintings.
“I believe that my artistic journey doesn’t begin from me, but from a necessity to serve something that has always been inside me since I was a kid, but I was never able to explain what that is,” Tsotsonis said. “My reward for all I did is the fact that I didn’t waste my life, I dedicated my life to creation.”
Read the rest of this story at
Calendar for WISDOM and Other Interfaith Events
Thursday, May 2nd 8:00 AM – 10:00 AM
National Day of Prayer at The Congregational Church of Birmingham
1000 Cranbrook Rd., Bloomfield Hills MI
See Flyer Below
Thursday, May 2nd 5:30 – 8:30 PM
WISDOM Annual Dinner
See Flyer Below
Thursday, May 9th 8:30 AM – 4 PM Women Confronting Racism Conference
Intersectionality in the 21st Century at Baker College, Auburn Hills Campus
See Flyer Below
Monday, May 13th Exploring Religious Landscapes Lecture
7:00 – 9:00 PM at Congregation Beth Shalom
Female and Convicted – What Ways Might Religious Faiths have roles?
See Flyer Below
Exploring Religious Landscapes – Correction on date – flyer should say Monday May 13th!!
Young Leaders for Peace teach us
to make room for difference
This past December I accompanied a group of international students from an organization called Rondine Citaddella della Pace to the United Nations in New York. Rondine is a little Italian village nestled in the heart of Tuscany that for over 20 years has hosted young men and women from war zone and conflict areas around the world. These energetic ambassadors for peace went to the United Nations to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to launch a new global effort entitled the Leaders for Peace initiative. This initiative seeks support from the 193 member nations of the U.N., asking world leaders to set aside just a fraction of their defense budgets to support the youth of Rondine in their desire to build bridges of understanding, overcome human differences and foster youth-led popular diplomacy. Central to this diplomatic initiative is the invitation to face our neighbors through embodied accompaniment and reconcile ourselves with those we have socially constructed as our “enemies.”
I first became acquainted with Rondine through my official diplomatic role as U.S. ambassador to the Holy See. On the occasion of the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and in remembrance of the lives lost on that day, I invited these young men and women to come to Rome to share their memories of this tragic event and to offer their transformative visions for a more humane future. I still vividly recall the lively conversations that ensued with members of the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See. Over the years, I have remained in touch with the group and regularly travel to Italy to contribute to their bridge-building efforts, especially with respect to helping Rondine students explore the valuable contribution that religious leaders and religious traditions can offer to the work of human reconciliation. I often share with the youth of Rondine practices of hospitality that emerge from religious traditions and some that are rooted in biblical texts.
A famous fifteenth century Russian icon of the Trinity depicts the hospitality that the biblical figures of Abraham and Sarah offer to three migrating strangers that come to their home (Genesis 18). The iconographer, Andrei Rublev, artistically links this story of hospitality to the central Christian teaching that affirms the Triune mystery of God in his icon. God, conceived within Christian traditions, is a God of extravagant hospitality, a God who migratesfromand forthe sake of love, offering life where life has come under threat. Rublev captures this theme of hospitality by depicting three distinctive angels “facing” one another in an open circle, reclining at a common table and sharing life-sustaining resources. In Christian tradition, these angels represent the three divine persons (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), and the orientation each person has toward the other suggests the Christian teaching that no one person, whether we think of divine or human persons, can exist alone as an island. The icon serves as a powerful reminder that we were created as one human family to exist in communal relations that affirm human differences. Through right relationship and encounter with others, we express and realize ourselves as God’s children, as icons of the God of life.
The story of the hospitality offered by Abraham and Sarah teaches us something important about the ethical values of daily accompaniment, interdependence and overcoming the fear of strangers. The story invites us to consider that the persons we wall off from our circle of relations, demonize and consider enemies might hold the key for our humanization. Capturing a central biblical motif – the reversal of the host-guest relationship – the story of the hospitality of Abraham and Sarah speaks to what happens when we open our homes to receive our estranged neighbors. The youth of Rondine learn this lesson well because the project intentionally chooses and welcomes estranged youth into a common home in order to discover the humanity of those characterized as the “enemy”- those we have declared “strangers” “aliens,” “illegals, “dangerous” and “foreigners” in our own lands.
In his book The Dignity of Difference, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks argues that “Nowhere is the singularity of ethics more evident than in its treatment of the issue that has proved to be most difficult in the history of human interaction, namely the problem of the stranger, the one who is not like us.” Sacks notes that “the Hebrew Bible in one verse commands, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’ but in no fewer than 36 places commands us to ‘love the stranger.’ ” In the New Testament, Jesus continues to teach and practice this central biblical motif. Above all, Jesus invites us to see God in the face of all our neighbors, and preferentially in those who suffer from various forms of personal and social illness (Matthew 25). As a faithful Jew, Jesus’ words and actions capture what Sacks rightly underscores is a central teaching of the Hebrew Scriptures, namely, “to make space for difference.”
Within and outside of our borders, we have witnessed what happens when we fail to make space for difference. Consider a culture that precipitates the violence inflicted on faith-filled communities of Sikh Temple of Wisconsin; Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina; Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Minnesota; First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs in Texas; and Tree of Life Congregation in a Pennsylvania synagogue. Consider the recent terrorist attacks in New Zealand that killed 50 Muslims in two mosques. We also fail to make room for difference when fellow Americans and our leaders dehumanize and ridicule desperate children and families seeking to cross our southern border in search of life. And we fail to make room for difference when we do not protect the bio-diversity of our planet and insure the survival of our Common Home for the sake of future generations.
At this time of growing threats, inhospitality and violence, Rondine’s youth-led Leaders for Peace initiative models a rejection of what Pope Francis has called the “globalization of indifference” and offers instead an option to make room for difference. As Pope Francis underscored in his message to Rondine at the Vatican before their voyage to the U.N., “only through dialogue can trust be created,” a dialogue rooted in the encounters of daily living. Indeed, what makes Rondine’s peace-building efforts a recipe for success in local and international relations is their invitation to embrace convivenza, an intentional commitment to a culture of encounter lived daily by coming together with others and their distinct differences for the sake of building the common good. These young ambassadors have much to teach us about tearing down ideological “walls” that divide and polarize us.
Every time I go to Rondine I look forward to teaching the young women and men how the stories and wisdom of our many religious traditions can contribute to building peace. But I always leave Rondine having learned much more from the personal stories and the embodied witness of these young men and women who choose to create safe spaces where strangers are no more and where humanity can be welcomed in its great diversity. Embracing their practice of hospitality – a personal and daily commitment to inclusive and just accompaniment – offers a hope that it is possible to overcome poisonous discourse and violent actions that divide our human family. Are we, in the ordinariness of our lives and in the spaces we exercise leadership, willing to listen to these young ambassadors and learn how to discover our own humanity in the faces of our estranged neighbors?
[Miguel H. Díaz is the John Courtney Murray University Chair in Public Service at Loyola University in Chicago. He was ambassador to the Holy See during the first administration of President Barack Obama.]
Imam: ‘Allah’s Plan’ Fulfilled When Synagogue
Hosts Muslim Prayers After Fire
The Muslim congregants of a Manhattan mosque closed after a fire were not without a place to pray on Friday. “Allah had a better plan,” the imam said, after a nearby synagogue opened its doors to them.
The tense situation turned into a beautiful moment for both the Islamic Society of Mid-Manhattan and Central Synagogue, a historic New York congregation. The mosque was temporarily closed a few days earlier after a fire started in a restaurant on the first floor of its building. Friday is the holiest day in the Muslim week, and Muslims traditionally gather for prayer in the early afternoon, called Jummah.
On Friday afternoon, the imam had been hoping that the fire department’s investigation of the building would be done in time for Jummah. Outside the mosque, several members of Central Synagogue, which is just one block east, had already gathered to welcome them in, as they had done last Friday. When it became clear that the growing crowd of congregants waiting to go inside would likely be turned away, the Central members invited them to the synagogue, according to Rabbi Stephanie Kolin, a rabbi at Central. Over the next several minutes, more than 600 Muslims walked a block east to Central, and filed into the synagogue’s indoor pavilion, leaving their shoes in the hallway. A facilities manager at Central located a hand-washing station for the Muslim congregants, as hand-washing is a part of Jummah prayers.Kolin said that the Islamic Society’s imam spoke about how he had a plan for how to conduct that day’s prayers, marking one week since the massacre of Muslims at two mosques in New Zealand. Central’s hospitality left him in awe – he called it “one of the most blessed moments of my life in New York.” He told the attendees that this was a moment they would talk about with their children and grandchildren. He said the moment showed that “light can come out of darkness.”
The sentiment brought many of the people in the room to tears, Kolin said.
“It was one of the most beautiful sights I’ve seen in my life,” she said.
Watch the imam’s sermon below. Rabbi Angela Buchdahl, the leader of Central, posted on Facebook that the moment was one of her community’s holiest moments.
Kolin said that having the Islamic Society pray in Central was deeply powerful.
“I feel like I’m still integrating it,” she said. “I’m still a little shaking from the spiritual power of what happened.” Kolin said she spoke at the end of prayers at the invite of the Islamic Society’s leader, and spoke about how the attack on the mosques in New Zealand and the attack on the synagogue in Pittsburgh are part and parcel of the same violent ideology.
“These attacks on our communities are one and the same,” she said. Kolin’s words at Central were met with a round of applause from the Muslim guests.
A Muslim woman gives away a free hijab to guests attending the Ponsonby Masjid Mosque during an open service to all religions on March 22, 2019 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Hannah Peters/Getty Images)
A week after the mass shooting that killed 50 worshippers at two Christchurch mosques, women of all faiths from across New Zealand donned hijabs to show solidarity with the Muslim community. Speaking with CNN, non-Muslim women who participated in the “headscarf for harmony” campaign on Friday said they wanted to make it clear that no one should feel unsafe or unwelcome because of their religion.
“We wanted to show our children that just because we may not belong to the same religions, or we may look different, we are all equal,” Izzy Ford, 45, told CNN. “I know days, weeks, months will go by and we will remove our scarves and be back to our lives, and for our Muslim community they will continue, but for this moment in time we want to show them we are them, we love them, and they are our family.”
“I’ve heard of Muslim women who are scared to go out wearing their hijab after the shooting and I don’t think anyone should be afraid to be themselves or practice their culture or beliefs in New Zealand,” added Mal Turner, 28.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the campaign didn’t enjoy universal support. Its detractors included those who believe the hijab is a symbol of the oppression of women. In many countries where women lack the same fundamental rights as men, critics noted, women do not have the choice of whether or not to wear a headscarf.
But supporters of the campaign argued that it was Islamophobic to suggest that women who choose to wear the hijab are embracing oppression – and that conservative sects of Judaism and Christianity have their own strict rules about what women of those faiths are allowed to wear.
Sikhs aim to plant million trees as ‘gift to the planet’
Global project will mark 550 years since birth of religion’s founder, Guru Nanak
From the Guardian
Sikhs around the world are taking part in a scheme to plant a million new trees as a “gift to the entire planet”.
The project aims to reverse environmental decline and help people reconnect with nature as part of celebrations marking 550 years since the birth of the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak.
Rajwant Singh, the president of the Washington DC-based environmental organisation EcoSikh, which is coordinating the Million Tree Project, said he wanted to mark the anniversary in a significant way.
“Guru Nanak was a nature lover. [He] had talked about nature as a manifestation of God and many of his writings talk about how we need to learn lessons of life from nature.”
One of Guru Nanak’s hymns, which many Sikhs recite as a daily prayer, includes the lyrical line:”Air is the teacher, water is the father, earth is the mother.”
Singh said he hoped the project would motivate Sikhs – especially the young – to improve their relationship with nature and would be seen more broadly as “a gift to the entire planet”.
The Sikh diaspora has taken on the challenge and tens of thousands of trees have already been planted. These are mostly in India – the majority of the world’s Sikh population lives in the state of Punjab, which is planning to plant 550 saplings in every village – but also in the UK, US, Australia and Kenya.
Sikh Union Coventry has started planting native trees, shrubs and flowers such as hazel and hawthorn at Longford Park, and is exploring locations in schools, parks and recreation areas. Palvinder Singh Chana, the chair of Sikh Union Coventry, said: “As Sikhs, our connection to the environment is an integral part of our faith and identity. Future generations will benefit from the fruits of our labour, symbolising peace, friendships and continuity for generations to come.”
EcoSikh is also working with Afforestt, an organisation that trains people to design and build small native forests that grow quickly and are a sustainable part of the ecosystem. Singh said more than 1,800 of these forests were planned across the world, and that the million tree target would be achieved by the time of Guru Nanak’s birthday in November.
North Dakota lawmakers open
floor session with Hindu prayer
North Dakota senators heard what was likely the first Hindu prayer to open a legislative floor session in the state’s history Monday.
Rajan Zed, president of the Universal Society of Hinduism based in Reno, Nev., gave the opening prayer in English and Sanskrit. Wearing an orange robe, he told senators to work “with the welfare of others always in mind.”
Zed, who was born in India, said his appearance was meant to be educational.
“We are the oldest religion in the world,” he told reporters before his prayer. “(People) misunderstand us, but they don’t know everything about us.”
Zed was the first Hindu to conduct the opening prayer in the U.S. Senate in 2007, according to The Associated Press, an event that was interrupted by Christian protesters. He said he has given the prayer in more than a dozen state Legislatures and requested to come to North Dakota.
Hinduism is the world’s third-largest religion with about 1.1 billion adherents. There were only about 340 Hindus in North Dakota as of 2014, according to the Pew Research Center.
Legislative Council Director John Bjornson couldn’t confirm whether Monday was the first time lawmakers started their session with a Hindu prayer without undertaking an exhaustive historical review. But several longtime officials in the Capitol couldn’t remember it happening before.
Zed will read the invocation in the North Dakota House Tuesday.
Salt Lake City mayor designates April as Sikh Awareness and Recognition Month
SALT LAKE CITY – Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski issued a proclamation this week recognizing April as Sikh Awareness and Recognition Month and designating April 13 as Vaisakhi Day.
Community leaders believe that the designation will increase awareness of the growing Sikh community in Utah and help celebrate an important time for the religion.
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, who was the first Sikh public official in Utah, helped draft the proclamation.
“I am very supportive of it,” said Gill, who was born in India and has been a Sikh for his entire life. “I think this is a great recognition.”
April was chosen for Sikh Awareness and Recognition Month because it is one of the holiest months of the year for the faith.
“April 13 or 14 is the day of Vaisahki,” Gill explained. “That is when the tenth Guru, our prophet, introduced the baptism of the Khalsa. It is a very big day for the folks in the Sikh faith, and it really brought everyone together.”
Vaisakhi is the Sikh New Year, commemorating the birth of the faith in 1699. Now the yearly event is a huge celebration which presents an opportunity to recommit to one’s faith. The Sikh Temple of Utah on Redwood Road will be hosting a celebration to commemorate the holiday this year on April 14.
“They’ll have their prayers and a communal service where they feed everyone who comes there as a part of their community service,” Gill explained. “I would encourage people to go to the Sikh Temple on the 14th around noon and be part of the festivities.”
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ERLIN (JTA) – For the first time in a century, Germany’s military will have rabbis as chaplains. Defense Minister Dr. Ursula von der Leyen announced this week that her ministry will appoint Jewish chaplains to the Bundeswehr, based on recommendations from the Central Council of Jews in Germany, the umbrella organization that represents the approximately 100,000 members of Jewish communities nationwide.
In addition, a treaty on the military chaplaincy will be negotiated between the Federal Republic of Germany and the Central Council of Jews, as it was for Protestants and Catholics decades ago.
Von der Leyen and Council President Josef Schuster are among those who will address a high-ranking conference that begins Wednesday, on both the history of Jewish chaplains in the German military, and the expectations of such a chaplain today.
According to the Central Council, the future German military rabbi or rabbis will work both in a pastoral capacity, and in instructing soldiers of all religious backgrounds, “enriching their ethical education… with a Jewish contribution.”
German soldiers are not required to identify their religion. The Defense Ministry estimates that about half have done so, and estimates a total of 300 Jewish enlistees, in addition to about 3,000 Muslims, 41,000 Catholics and 53,000 Protestants. Christian military chaplains were introduced to the Bundeswehr about 60 years ago.
After the end of World War II, Jewish military chaplains in Allied armies served in Displaced Persons camps and later served their own troops stationed in post-war West Germany. Some opened their military congregations to participation of Jews in Germany, even bringing back Reform Judaism – a movement with roots in Germany. After the unification of east and west Germany in 1990, many Allied troops left the country, and with them the Jewish chaplains.
Now it will be the Bundeswehr itself that will introduce Jewish chaplains. And as part of NATO operations and peacekeeping missions, the military may call on the rabbis to travel to areas where German soldiers are stationed; according to news reports, the rabbinical candidates will have to undergo security clearance. No appointment date for the rabbinical chaplain has been given.
There reportedly also will soon be imams appointed as military chaplains, although there will be no treaty with the Federal Republic of Germany, since instead of having a single representative body for Muslims in Germany, there are several.
This story “German Military To Have Jewish Chaplains For First Time” was written by Toby Axelrod.