National Day of Prayer, reshaped by pandemic,
includes interfaith and online events
May 7, 2020
The National Day of Prayer, like most events amid the coronavirus, will have a different look this year as it is marked on May 7.
Now in its 69th year, the observance – often predominated by evangelical Christians gathering in public places – will feature interfaith and even international voices on computer screens and cellphones. For the first time, Religions for Peace USA has organized a National Interfaith Prayer Service for Healing & Hope via Facebook and Zoom.
“Of course, we do pray separately in our own religious communities but it’s also important for us to come together to pray together and uplift our common humanity and pray for everyone,” said Tarunjit Singh Butalia, executive director of Religions for Peace USA.
“Some of our own religious communities, ethnic and others who are poorer, have been in fact quite severely hit with the pandemic so we need to come together and pray for everyone because we’re only as secure as the very least among us,” he added.
Butalia said there will be a “prayer for the infected” that will be offered by a faith leader who has recovered from coronavirus and a “prayer for the dead and their families” offered by a faith leader who lost a close family member to the virus.
The online gathering is set to feature Sikh, Muslim, Buddhist, Zoroastrian, Hindu, Jain, Unitarian Universalist, Christian and Jewish leaders. Butalia said he expects the service will become an annual event.
Anuttama Dasa, director of communications for the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, said he plans to participate in the Religions for Peace afternoon event. He said he thinks the coronavirus has made Americans of many faiths realize the benefits of prayer for strength and guidance.
“I also hope more and more people this year realize that those doctors and nurses on the front lines include Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Hare Krishnas, Sikhs, and the whole diverse spectrum of faiths,” said Dasa, who is a board member of the U.S. chapter of the interreligious organization, in an email to Religion News Service.
“I have two friends, Krishna devotees in the DC/Baltimore area, both anesthesiologists, one African American and one Indian American, risking their lives in COVID units, and I know they are praying their Krishna prayers for each and every patient.”
The National Day of Prayer was created by Congress in 1952 and has been observed on the third Thursday of May since 1988. In the law’s original language, churches were the only houses of worship specifically mentioned. It described the day as one “on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals.”
The National Day of Prayer Task Force has held a National Day of Prayer observance featuring prominent evangelicals since 1983. In recent years, in addition to promoting tens of thousands of events from churches to courthouses, leaders such as former Southern Baptist President Ronnie Floyd have presided over a prayer service in the U.S. Capitol. President Donald Trump held Rose Garden ceremonies the last two years on the day, featuring speakers of Christian, Jewish, Hindu and Muslim faiths. However, evangelical leaders seemed dominant among both speakers and audience members, including some of Trump’s unofficial advisers.
But in 2020, with coronavirus social distancing in place, the task force’s listing of events by ZIP code show many in “virtual” rather than physical locations. Its national event, co-hosted by Will Graham, grandson of evangelist Billy Graham, is set to be broadcast and livestreamed on May 7 evening.
“This year, while some communities may have the ability to gather in small numbers, we encourage observing all local health guidelines and social distancing recommendations that are in place,” said Dion Elmore, the task force’s vice president for marketing and public relations.
The Presidential Prayer Team has likewise focused on online initiatives, requesting people to sign up for a “prayer room” time slot to pray for national leaders and offering a guide for the prayers that lists Trump and his Cabinet members.
“As we continue to face the unique challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, millions of Americans are unable to gather in their churches, temples, synagogues, mosques, and other houses of worship,” said Jim Bolthouse, president of the nonpartisan prayer ministry, in a statement. “The ability to bring praying Americans together virtually on the National Day of Prayer has never been more important.”
Some Christian groups that have not previously promoted the prayer day have chosen to observe it in their own ways this year.
The Rev. Jennifer Copeland, executive director of the North Carolina Council of Churches, said her ecumenical organization wanted to celebrate a period of ” Joyful Noise ” as a show of solidarity amid the lack of physical togetherness in COVID-19 times. Initially, council members thought solely of ringing church bells but are now urging that a range of religious expressions be heard at noon on May 7.
“Everybody has a kind of call that brings them into worship together – sometimes it’s sung, sometimes it’s spoken and sometimes it’s bell ringing,” she said. “And what we wanted to do is send this hope-filled message across North Carolina, that we will all be together again in person at some point. There will be a day after.”
At a Catholic church in Durham, North Carolina, members have been asked to select a handbell from a case inside the church, wipe it down and step outside to ring it at noon for five minutes (all while “maintaining social distance” and wearing masks). Other churches plan to have bells ring from their towers or carillons. For her part, Copeland, a United Methodist minister who expects to be able to hear church bells from her front porch, plans to ring a schoolroom bell once used by her great-grandmother: “I’ll just add my little bell to the noise.”
Another new approach comes from the United Church of Christ, which plans to observe an Interfaith Day of Prayer on Instagram and Facebook. The “day of healing and hope” will feature prayers for wholeness and health. The progressive denomination will post prayers over a 24-hour period by more than 40 leaders from the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths on its social media accounts and invite others to add their own.
“On this National Day of Prayer it is as important as it has ever been to be reminded of our interconnectedness with one another and all of creation,” said the Rev. Traci Blackmon, the UCC’s associate general minister of justice and local church ministries. “We are deeply grateful for this diverse group of faith leaders, serving in varied spaces, who have agreed to lead us in prayer each hour in ways that connect our hearts, honor the holy and amplify our cries.”
Just like in other years, there are those who are not in favor of a nationally designated day set aside for prayer. The American Humanist Association, for instance, hailed the May 1 introduction of a congressional resolution supporting a National Day of Reason. The measure did not move further in the House of Representatives, whose date of return to the Capitol is not certain.
But the U.S. observance will have a global dimension, with the Israel-based Elijah Interfaith Institute planning an installment of its online “coronaspection” series timed to the prayer day and Ramadan – a month of intense prayer and fasting for Muslims – featuring a Catholic bishop, a rabbi and a Muslim scholar discussing solitude.
Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein, its director, said he and other interreligious leaders view the pandemic as a time to move beyond religious isolation in the U.S. and around the world. “It’s almost an intuitive outcome that, whether specifically for the day or because it’s more broadly in the air, it’s a time for religions to open up to the other,” he said. “The virus doesn’t distinguish between us and therefore our efforts in addressing it, both physically and spiritually, should not distinguish between us.”
Religious Diversity Journeys (RDJ) Students continue their journey with Zoom
Area Students participate in first “RDJ Anywhere” with a Zoom visit to Muslim Unity Center
From kitchen tables, bedrooms, and family rooms, over 100 7th graders across the Detroit Metro area on April 22 Zoomed into the Muslim Unity Center as they continued their Religious Diversity Journey for the 2019-2020 school year.
RDJ began the year visiting churches and synagogues and doing hands-on community service projects in the buildings with clergy and congregant volunteers. But come March, the some 700 RDJ Ambassador students were unable to physically complete the program as social distancing restrictions set in to slow the spread of coronavirus.
IFLC staff and board members would not be discouraged. They still wanted to give these children, specially selected by their social studies teachers to be their school ambassadors for the program, to have an opportunity to continue the journey virtually as they learned about the world’s major religions through unique experiences. So, RDJ Anywhere was launched, beginning with the Islamic segment of the journey.
Dima El-Gamal, a member of the Muslim Unity Center, welcomed the children just as she would if they had visited the mosque on Square Lake Road in Bloomfield Hills in person. Through a slideshow, she offered them a tour of the mosque, starting with a photo of the large rock outside the mosque entrance. The rock contains verses from the Quran that explains Muslim reverence to the words of God that were given to Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. There is also a decorated wood post, donated to the mosque by a local church, that contains carvings of the words “Peace be upon you” in many languages including Arabic, English, and Hebrew.
Students learned that if they visited the mosque, they would have seen the gymnasium where many social gatherings and youth athletic programs are held, as well as the sanctuary where worshippers would pray, shoulder to shoulder, five times a day.
El-Gamal also briefly discussed the many contributions the Muslim world has given to civilization from centuries past, including advances in mathematics, engineering, science in architecture, when at the same time Europe was undergoing the Dark Ages during the plague.
MUC Imam Mohamed Almasmari was also on the zoom to answer questions, which ranged from what special clothing and foods Muslims eat to Muslim views on modesty, marriage, and the afterlife. They also asked questions on how, and how many times a day, Muslims are obligated to pray.
“We pray five times a day because it demonstrates our intimacy with God at different times of the day,” Almasmari explained. “On the carpet, there are lines in our carpet (of our sanctuary), which serve as guides so when men pray, they can pray shoulder to shoulder in a perfectly straight line. In this way, we build relationships and eliminate anything that may divide us. When we pray this way, we are all equal, there is no racism or tribalism,”
Student Yusuf Hares of Novi demonstrated the call to prayer, chanted in Arabic, while his mother, Rouzana Hares offered the English translation. Hares, who attends the James R. Geisler Middle School in Walled Lake, has enjoyed his RDJ experience so far, especially learning about all the different deities in Buddhism. Hares, who was proud to demonstrate his Arabic chanting skills, said he is sad he will not be able to spend any time with his friends at MUC during Ramadan.
Almasmari also lamented how difficult it would be this Ramadan now that large gatherings are prohibited because of social distancing restrictions.
“It will be very hard that we are not gathering at the mosque,” Almasmari said. “Also, for the first time in the history of Islam, Muslims from all over the world will not be traveling to Mecca in Saudi Arabia for the Haj.”
Almasmari told the children that even though Muslims and people of other faiths cannot physically gather in houses of worship, prayer can be expressed through showing kindness to others, giving charity and even smiling at a friend, neighbor, or family member.
Almasmari said when quarantine restrictions will be lifted, everyone will gain a better appreciation for life’s simple gifts such as going outside, gathering together with friends, family and other worshippers, and seeing people face to face instead of always on a screen. Maybe at that time, humans will no longer rush to their screens to socialize, he added.
“In the meantime, even in a crisis, we can continue to pray. And in virtual gatherings like this, there is still intellectual growth. While we are in isolation, make sure you appreciate the family members who are with you in your home.”
During the Zoom, students were polled with a few questions. When asked, 73 percent of the students said they know or had met a Muslim in their life and 63 percent of the students have never visited a mosque.
In May, RDJ Anywhere will continue sharing more resources with its RDJ teachers and students. There will be a virtual visit to the Hindu Temple of Canton and perhaps the Detroit Institute of the Arts and the Holocaust Memorial Center.
These Jewish brothers are making face masks out of yarmulkes to protect Houston’s homeless
By Lauren Lee, CNN
With masks in short supply, a pair of Houston teenagers found a way to use yarmulkes to help protect some of their city’s most vulnerable people — the homeless.
With the help of their family, Matthew and Jeremy Jason have given away over 300 face masks made from yarmulkes to Houston’s homeless.
Kippahs to the Rescue
The project is called Kippahs to the Rescue. A kippah (Hebrew) or yarmulke (Yiddish) is a traditional Jewish head covering. The brothers came up with their idea over a family Shabbat dinner, which is typically a time to reflect and be grateful.
“The community has given us a lot, and my family wants to be a part of that,” 15-year-old Matthew Jason told CNN. “We want to be able to help others.”
The Jasons were discussing the recent CDC recommendations for Americans to wear face masks in public to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.
“We realized that the kippah fits the shape of a mask.”
The Jason brothers have been spending their Fridays volunteering with Food Not Bombs, a Houston nonprofit that feeds the hungry. During that time, they realized how difficult it could be for those experiencing homelessness to deal with the coronavirus threat.
“They don’t have a lot of money or access to masks,” Matthew explained. “So we’re like, ‘Hmm, that’d actually be kind of cool to see what we could do with it.'”
The teens rounded up at least 60 kippahs from around their house that they’d brought home from bar mitzvahs and other events.
“We knew there was a mask shortage, so we used those kippahs to start production,” he said. “From there, the idea took off.”
Others have also found kippahs as a good option for a face mask. The magazine Jewish Currents tweeted a photo of a man with a purple kippah over his face,
190 people are talking about this
A family and community invested in giving
Matthew Jason and his family made over 300 masks out of kippahs.
Kippahs to the Rescue has turned into a family project, with parents Veronica and Mark and 23-year-old brother Danny chipping in to sew elastic strips to the yarmulkes.
Besides his family, Matthew has enlisted the family’s synagogue, Congregation Brith Shalom, which set up a drop box to collect donated kippahs. So far, they have gathered nearly 700.
This wasn’t Matthew’s first time helping out those experiencing homeless. For his bar mitzvah service project two years ago, he launched Street Birthday Parties. Each month the teen hosts a birthday party with cake and candles for the area’s homeless.
The high school sophomore hopes others will grab onto the idea of making this sort of DIY mask in their own communities. Steps to making the mask are pretty simple. Sew a 6-inch elastic strip to both sides to anchor the kippah around the ears. “There’s a lot of people out there that really need help,” he said, “and anything can help even in the smallest way.”
Great Interfaith video by the Greater Boston Interfaith Association about dealing with the Corona Virus Pandemic. Click on the following link.
Mary Gilhuly and Steve Klaper from Song and Spirit Institute for Peace
Volunteers for Sikh nonprofit deliver food and supplies across L.A. amid pandemic
A volunteer says his drive to help comes from his religion, which includes the idea of selfless service – or “seva.”
“We have always been taught on Sikh principle that we should be helping people out.”
By Natasha Roy
May 1, 2020
When Sumitpal Singh’s phone rings, the person on the other end is almost always in need of something: a hot meal, groceries or over-the-counter medicine. When he hears the request, he immediately does what he can, either by delivering the supplies himself or by finding someone who can. Singh, 38, a Los Angeles-based scientist, is the Southern California coordinator for the international humanitarian nonprofit United Sikhs. He said his drive to help others comes from his religious beliefs, which include the idea of selfless service – or “seva.” In the past, faith has motivated Sikhs to help hurricane victims and supply on-site support to victims of violence in New Delhi. Now, it’s inspiring Singh to provide relief during the coronavirus pandemic.
“From morning all the way to night, there’s calls coming,” Singh told NBC Asian America.
Singh has been volunteering with United Sikhs for the last four years, preparing food in the langar – free kitchen – of a Sikh temple, called a gurdwara, and serving it to Los Angeles’ homeless community. Langars are a core aspect of Sikhism, and anyone can step into a gurdwara anywhere in the world and be served a vegetarian meal. These values have led Sikh groups to help deliver food, water and other supplies after emergencies like Hurricane Sandy.
In the wake of the pandemic, Singh – who is from New Delhi – has been working with United Sikhs to deliver resources to those in need in the Los Angeles area, where he’s lived for the last 16 years.
“We have always been taught on Sikh principle that we should be helping people out,” Singh said.
The organization has a hotline that anyone anywhere in the world – not just Sikhs – can call to request hot meals, over-the-counter medicine, groceries and other supplies. Singh’s days start with reviewing the hotline requests to identify which volunteers can be assigned to fulfill them. He said he’s also planning a large-scale meal distribution program.
Many of the calls the group gets come from families with children, Singh said. A story that stuck out to him was the one about the parents of two young children who were stranded in a Los Angeles motel after their flight to India was canceled. They had nowhere else to go, and before calling United Sikhs, they were living off McDonald’s food. Other calls largely come from the elderly and those with disabilities, he said.
“They are really, really thankful, because they’re scared to get out,” Singh said.
People have shown their gratitude through text messages and donations, Singh said. People whom United Sikhs has helped in the past are also coming forward to volunteer. His biggest obstacle is finding volunteers in areas where there’s no local United Sikhs chapter. In those cases, the group will call restaurants, shops or grocery stores and ask them to deliver goods and cover any costs. Traveling around Los Angeles and making deliveries could put Singh at risk for contracting the virus. His day job involves making products for COVID-19 testing, so he knows the precautions he needs to take, especially because he has two young daughters. But he said his family is excited to do whatever they can to help the cause.
“Am I worried? I would say yes, because that helps me with taking more and more precautions,” Singh said. “But the Sikh principle, it’s a selfless seva. So that comes later for me, the worry. I am more worried about people sleeping without food.”
This story is part of our Asian Pacific American Heritage Month series, “AAPI Frontline,” honoring essential workers who are serving their communities during the coronavirus pandemic.
Four roommates of different faiths face a pandemic together
LOS ANGELES (RNS) – Hadar Cohen, Ala’ Khan, Maya Mansour and Jonathan Simcosky arrived as strangers, ready to embark on a new interfaith journey. The four roommates moved into a five-bedroom, five-bath house in Los Angeles’ Koreatown neighborhood earlier this year. They come from different faiths: Baha’i, Christianity, Islam and Judaism. Cohen came from Jerusalem but had already lived in the Bay Area for a few years. Simcosky made the trek from Salem, Massachusetts, to L.A. Khan and Mansour were already in Southern California. They live rent-free in a new interfaith experiment known as the Abrahamic House, the brainchild of 33-year-old Mohammed Al Samawi, a Muslim man from Yemen who, in his memoir, “The Fox Hunt,” wrote about the threats he endured for his interfaith advocacy. The catch? The four roommates, known as “fellows,” maintain their day jobs but agree to live under the same roof in a co-living and co-creating space for one to two years to learn from one another’s traditions and to organize and host interfaith events and programs for the public. Their shared mantra: “gathering not othering.”
The fellows were selected at the beginning of the year and began moving in around late February. By early March, they were establishing house rules and responsibilities. Then the coronavirus outbreak struck the country. Now, together in lockdown, they’ve adopted new ways of virtually gathering with others while honoring each other’s rituals and traditions. In a time of social distancing, they have had to learn to live together and how to keep each other “safe from potential death and illness,” said Khan.
It has only been about three months, but so far things have gone well as the community celebrated Easter, Passover, Ramadan and the Baha’i celebration of Ridvan and learned to adjust to each other’s religious practices. Just as they were moving in, Mansour, who is Baha’i, had begun fasting in preparation for the Baha’i New Year. It’s 19 days of daytime fasting that culminated just as Gov. Gavin Newsom issued statewide stay-at-home orders to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Every Friday, Cohen, 28, who is Jewish, practices Shabbat, a day of rest and celebration beginning Friday at sunset. Khan, 30, who is Muslim, is currently fasting for Ramadan. Simcosky, who described himself as a “Southern Baptist preacher’s kid,” said the Abrahamic House experience has so far been “educational and enlightening.”
“All these things are not part of the way I normally live in the world,” said Simcosky, 35, a book editor.
Simcosky said he grew up in a culture that “was very interested in converting, conquering and convincing.”
“That never really resonated with me,” said Simcosky, who now attends an Episcopal church.
“As I look at some of the conflicts we’re having in our nation, supremacy is popping up, and I feel like there’s a calling to not conquer or to convince, but to learn and to bless.”
The global pandemic has somewhat complicated this co-living situation. With the stay-at-home orders, the group takes turns going out grocery shopping. They keep a list in the kitchen of communal food running low. They signed up for a Community Supported Agriculture subscription and receive a box of produce every Sunday. The group had to cancel in-person events they had planned for the community. And in order to maintain social distancing, they decided to not have guests and friends over. Khan, a filmmaker, decided to stay in quarantine with her roommates instead of moving in with her parents in Santa Barbara. If she isolated outside the Abrahamic House, the experience wouldn’t have been the same, she said. Now, every Monday evening, the fellows have a communal dinner. It’s a way for them to not just talk logistical house issues or specific faith topics, but to simply be among one another. They rotate cooking responsibilities.
“We actually made that decision before the stay-at-home order was put in place. We wanted to intentionally spend one evening a week having dinner together,” Khan said. To Khan, doing multifaith work can sometimes be compartmentalized as a part-time thing or once-a-month meetings. The weekly dinners change that. “Living together with that intention, we have our interactions randomly through the kitchen where all of a sudden we’ll talk about scripture, which is really cool,” she said.
These are the kinds of experiences Al Samawi hoped the fellows at Abrahamic House would have. Al Samawi said he grew up thinking that anyone who wasn’t Muslim “would go to hell no matter if they are good people or bad people.” Now, Al Samawi lives by the phrase “Who saves a life, saves the whole world.” “If we can change one person’s perspective from hate and ignorance to love and compassion, that would be kind of like saving the world,” Al Samawi told Religion News Service. “That’s what I really want to do.” He was led to interfaith work after reading the Bible and realizing his faith shared many similarities with Christianity. The message and the name of the prophets were the same, he said.
Al Samawi began connecting with Jews and Christians through Facebook and at international conferences. He advocated for peace and dialogue, which he said spurred death threats against him. He eventually fled his war-torn homeland with the help of friends he’d made on Facebook, according to his book.
Since then, Al Samawi has detailed this harrowing tale at universities, churches and other houses of worship in the U.S. And now, his life will be portrayed in a film developed by “La La Land” Producer Marc Platt, with Oscar-winning screenwriter Josh Singer.
Al Samawi said he has received financial donations for the Abrahamic House from board members of the nonprofit as well as contacts he has made through his book and speaking engagements. The international nonprofit Moishe House, a collection of homes that serve as hubs for young Jewish leaders, has been a source of logistical help. Al Samawi aims to open multiple Abrahamic houses across the country and globe. For now, his focus is on the L.A. fellows.
Since the roommates can’t host events for the public in person, they moved their programming online.
So far, the fellows have hosted an online summit exploring the intersections of faith and justice and a virtual symposium discussing fasting in different faith traditions. For the end of May, Cohen organized a virtual multifaith feminism event in honor of Shavuot, a Jewish holiday that marks the celebration of wisdom by staying up all night to learn.
On Thursday (May 14), the Abrahamic House hosted its most recent virtual event with a Zoom screening of Khan’s film documenting “Pray Beyond Borders,” a binational day of prayer at the U.S.-Mexico border in San Diego that included Muslim and Christian faith leaders.
The 2019 event that Khan documented chronicled the six-month anniversary of Border Mosque, a group of Muslims that meets for prayer at the border on the last Sunday of the month. Those prayers coincide with Border Church, or La Iglesia Fronteriza, a Sunday service held for the last decade at the border and led by the Rev. John Fanestil, a United Methodist minister.
To Khan, this is the kind of storytelling she finds inspiring. “The basis of my faith as a Muslim is to treat people kindly and well and compassionately,” she said. “We have an obligation as faith people to do whatever we can to actively construct a more just world.”
The fellows have also been blogging about celebrating major holidays together. They wrote about cleaning the house in preparation for Passover and taking part in other rituals, like bedikat chametz, with guidance from Cohen. Instead of hiding pieces of leavened bread throughout the house, like the tradition entails, the fellows instead hid “spiritual chametz” embodying “anything that no longer serves us psychologically, emotionally and mentally.”
Cohen said that before the pandemic, she was also planning to attend Jewish festivals and home events in L.A. for Passover.
The intimacy of this tradition while at home with her housemates helped everyone get to know each other better, she said.
“It was one of the first rituals we did together, and it was really beautiful,” said Cohen, a feminist spiritual leader and artist. “It felt very powerful.”
To Mansour, 24, being at the Abrahamic House is a way to help others better understand her Baha’i faith.
“I was really attracted to an opportunity to share and represent my faith that is typically left out of interfaith spaces,” said Mansour, editor of One Report, a spiritually minded publication for young people of all faiths. “I was excited that Baha’i’s were even listed on the (fellowship) application.” Khan said the experience of being part of the Abrahamic House has been inspiring. She is glad to know there are other people who invest time and energy into this kind of interfaith work.
Before moving in, she hoped the fellows would all get along and become friends.
That hope, at least, has been fulfilled. “It has definitely panned out very beautifully,” she said.
Copyright 2020 Religion News Service LLC.
The Colorful Way Dearborn Muslims Are Celebrating Ramadan In Isolation
Michigan families decorate their homes with lights so that even as they can’t meet,
Ramadan’s festive spirit brightens their neighborhoods.
Muslims in Dearborn, Michigan, are observing Ramadan in a way that would have been inconceivable just a few months ago. Mosques are shuttered, festive dinners with extended family and friends are canceled, and many members of this ethnically and economically diverse community, one of the largest Muslim populations in the U.S., have found themselves on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic. Confronted with these changes, three Michigan Muslim organizations have come up with a way to help community members feel connected during a season of social distancing, the Ramadan Lights Contest. The challenge encourages Muslims in the area to decorate the exteriors of their houses, take photos of their creations, and nominate themselves or neighbors for prizes. Across the greater Dearborn region, at least 65 families have responded by decorating their homes with lights, lanterns, and banners to celebrate Ramadan, which began on April 23.
The organizers have received photos of Ramadan wreaths, string lights tracing the eaves of houses, and stars dangling from porches. Above the front door of one house, a family has placed an electric crescent moon that glows in the colors of the rainbow. Another family used a drone to dramatically film their lights from all angles, sending in a video submission with a holiday song playing in the background. Hassan Chami, a Dearborn resident and one of the organizers of the competition, said he has enlisted a friend to create a customized 3-D printed sign with the words Ramadan Mubarak, or blessed Ramadan, to place outside his home.
“In the short term, we’re trying to lift everyone’s spirits during COVID-19,” the disease caused by the coronavirus, Chami told HuffPost. “Maybe we’ll have some families driving around the city looking at the lights.” But Chami has a long-term dream for Dearborn in mind, too. “I hope it’s a tradition where in the future, my kids and nieces and nephews grow up in a community where, when Ramadan comes around, the entire city is lit up,” he said. Chami founded the Ramadan Suhoor Festival, a late-night food festivalthat draws thousands of Muslims and non-Muslims throughout the holy month. This year, Chami said he had about 40 vendors lined up to dish out halal delicacies, his biggest number yet. But he had to cancel the festival due to the virus.
It wasn’t the only festive social gathering that Muslims in the area have had to forego. Smoking hookah in friends’ garages, chatting around fire pits in mosque parking lots after evening prayers, sipping coffee in the city’s Yemini cafes into the early morning hours, all of these beloved local traditions have been shelved because of the virus.
The region’s Muslim communities have been on the front lines of responding to COVID-19, according to Sally Howell, a scholar of Arab-American history at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. Muslims in the area are overrepresented in fields such as health care, law enforcement, food service and taxi services, she said.
“The Muslim community has have been hit very hard by this.”
This year, Halal Metropolis, the Ramadan Suhoor Festival, and the Michigan Muslim Community Council (MMCC), an umbrella organization for the state’s Muslim groups, teamed up to organize this trend into a friendly neighborhood competition.
Howell said that it’s common in the Middle East for public areas, such as streets and cafes, to light up during the holy month, but somewhat rarer for people to decorate their own houses. Chami said he thinks it’s standard practice for Muslims in the Middle East to decorate their homes for the holiday, and that American Muslims are catching up now because they finally have access to Ramadan lights and home decor through Amazon, party stores and local grocery stores.
Machhadie Assi, an event coordinator and youth director for MMCC, said the practice of decorating homes during Ramadan wasn’t very popular in Lebanon, where she grew up. But she said it’s a trend that younger American Muslims are beginning to adapt, after seeing how important decorating is during Christmas.
Regardless of how it started, Assi hopes that more Dearborn Muslims will adopt the tradition in the future. She said she sees the Ramadan Lights Challenge as a way to bring “contagious, positive energy” to the community.
“Ramadan is a very uplifting month, so hopefully this light will represent the enlightenment of Ramadan,” she said.
The three Muslim organizations will be sharing photos of nominated houses throughout the holy month. The most creative houses will receive a certificate and a tray of sweets for Eid al-Fitr, the celebration that marks the end of Ramadan. The homes will be recognized during a ceremony in 2021. Howell said she also hopes the challenge will become an annual tradition and that it will eventually be recognized by Dearborn’s local city beautification group, which awards prizes for the city’s best Christmas decorations every year. In an era of increased surveillance and a time when Islamophobic rhetoric is spewed from the highest offices in the land, draping lights for Ramadan is a way for Dearborn’s Muslims to celebrate their religious identities and make their presence known, Howell said. “They’re saying, ‘Here in this space, we’re going to be ourselves, we’re not going to worry so much about what other people think. This is who we are,'” she said.
Four African women share wisdom for a suffering world
National Catholic Reporter
May 15, 2020
Two months ago, I was privileged to accompany a remarkable group of people touring ancient Christian sites in Greece. While our focus was on women leaders in early Christianity, I could not help but notice some impressive female leaders traveling right alongside us. The witness of four women from South Africa was especially compelling. They helped us appreciate diverse understandings of God in an African cultural context. At a pilgrimage prayer service dedicated to the “God Beyond all Names,” Nontando Hadebe, reflected that in most African languages there are no pronouns: “So for our understanding of God, it is more the mystery, the greatness of God. … The gendering or masculinization of God is not something that you find in African traditional religions.”
Further, “African religions are diverse and communal in origin. … They don’t have a founder such as Mohammed, or Moses or Jesus.” African traditional religious “emerged over centuries from communities gathering together, acquiring wisdom and reflecting on life.” For Africans, said Hadebe, “You express your faith in God in the way you treat your fellow human beings. … The understanding of what it means to be human is you are human in your relationship with others. Descartes says, ‘I think therefore I am,’ but African traditional religions say, ‘I relate, therefore I am.’ “
The African bishops’ synodal document, “Ecclesia in Africa,” and the work of African theologians greatly benefited inculturation and evangelization, she said. Cultural values from African traditional religions have been appropriated and reflected in African Christianity “so that Christianity has an African face.” For example, the idea of the church “as the extended family of God” incorporates African communal values.
Born into a Catholic family in Zimbabwe, Hadebe teaches systematic theology, pastoral ministry and African spirituality at St. Augustine College in Johannesburg, South Africa. A member of the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians, she is passionate about gender equality, Africanization and social justice. These she brings to her weekly radio program with Radio Veritas, which is the only Catholic radio channel in South Africa and reaches 4 million people. Thanks to Hadebe’s initiative and encouragement, three other South African women – including two millennials – joined our pilgrimage. Their stories are fascinating.
Annastacia Mphuthi heads the Office of Divine Worship and Liturgy for the Johannesburg Archdiocese. In this capacity, she gives workshops in faith communities throughout the archdiocese, training people to be communion ministers, lectors and in other liturgical ministries. Because of tribal beliefs about female menstruation, one problem Mphuthi frequently faces is that parish leaders – including priests and pastoral council members – sometimes resist permitting women to distribute Communion or proclaim the Word. “They believe the women are not supposed to be entering the sanctuary,” she says.
With the support of her archbishop, Buti Tlhagale, Mphuthi works with communities telling them they “need to respect women” and that while inculturation is a value, “they must understand the church culture as well,” and the church culture is to include women. Other liturgical elements that sometimes require education and intervention include appropriate times for dancing and drumming – fine at the “Gloria,” but not at the “Agnus Dei (Lamb of God).”
Two millennial women, Sagoema Maredi and Pride Makgato, blessed us with their youthful energy and fresh vision.
Maredi describes herself as a “born and bred” Catholic from South Africa. She studied theology with Hadebe, an unusual choice for a millennial woman. “It’s a very embarrassing story,” she laughs. The impetus came from reading “the buzz book” at the time, Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code: “I went to watch the movie ‘Angels and Demons’ with my sister, and there was Tom Hanks in the Vatican, able to interpret all those ancient languages and statues and history. … I decided ‘He’s very smart, I want to be able to do that.’ I guess I’ve lived my life wanting to be like Tom Hanks.”
After majoring in the Old Testament and Hebrew in college, Maredi had an opportunity to continue graduate studies but chose to enter the workforce instead. She now works at Baptist Theological College in Johannesburg, where she was recently promoted to academic program administrator, the first black woman to hold that position. She hopes to expand awareness of the need for pastors to address social ills which she finds “too rarely thought of” in South African seminaries.
Makgato describes herself as “a 24-year-old proud black woman” and cradle Catholic who “did all my sacraments,” although her mother gave her the option of waiting to be confirmed. After having a spiritual experience one Christmas, Makgato changed from her initial career path as a beautician: “I don’t know if I can call it a religious experience, but I think I had one. And being a beautician or becoming a makeup artist just didn’t make sense to me anymore.”
Makgato’s grandmother had asked the family to attend Mass together before Christmas dinner.
“And just being in a church after I hadn’t been to church in so long, really moved me,” said Makgato. “It changed me, I guess. I don’t know, maybe it was the service that was held, but it evoked something in me.”
After the meal, Makgato found information about St. Augustine College in her grandmother’s church newspaper. She is now pursuing a bachelor of theology degree, an experience she says is “quite amazing.”
One of the things Makgato loves about the Catholic Church is that it is different from other churches in her culture that do not allow women to be in a room with men or with the tribal elders without a head covering and a long skirt: “So I think I also love the Roman Catholic Church because I’m allowed to be myself. And although it has not progressed to what we want it to be, I’m not told what I should wear.” She was confirmed last November.
Since returning home in mid-March I have been in regular communication with each of these South African “soul sisters.” Like ours, their country is suffering greatly in lockdown from the coronavirus. Thankfully each of them is healthy, if anxious about their families and worried about the poverty stricken who have even fewer options than the poor in the U.S.
After a generous benefactor helped with her fees, Makgato is thrilled that she will be able to continue theology studies in June, but worried because classes will be online and her internet access is unreliable. She is also dismayed that so many government officials are “stealing food parcels that are meant to be given to the poor.”
Because of the quarantine, neither Mphuthi nor her husband are working, so they are financially struggling. They are also concerned about their son who is frustrated by the pace of online classes and poor internet access. “But we give it all to God,” she writes.
The peripatetic Hadebe is up to her usual good works including joining with the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians “to respond to gendered aspects [of COVID-19] such as the rise in domestic violence” and aiding an ecumenical effort to help grassroots pastors who have lost income due to church closures. A week ago, on Soweto TV, she joined a panel of religious leaders addressing domestic violence through the story of the biblical Tamar.
Hadebe’s reflection on COVID-19 is inspiring: “It challenges us to answer the call that we are each other’s keepers, the pain of the other is my pain – reflected in the African teaching of ubuntu – I am because we are, my humanity is tied up with yours. COVID-19 calls us to renew our commitment to each other for the common good.”
[St. Joseph Sr. Christine Schenk, an NCR board member, served urban families for 18 years as a nurse midwife before co-founding FutureChurch, where she served for 23 years. Her recent book, Crispina and Her Sisters: Women and Authority in Early Christianity, was awarded first place in the history category by the Catholic Press Association. She holds master’s degrees in nursing and theology.]
Due to the Corona Virus Pandemic the WISDOM Membership Dinner on May 27th has been cancelled. It is now a zoom installation for the WISDOM officers and board.
WISDOM elects new officers and board
WISDOM has elected officers and board members for 2020-21. They will be installed at WISDOM’s annual meeting, which will be conducted via ZOOM starting at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 27.
These women were nominated for two-year terms as officers:
President: Teri Weingarden, Jewish, of West Bloomfield
Vice Presidents, Board Development: Paula Drewk, Baha’i, of Warren, and Patricia Harris, Roman Catholic, of Bloomfield Hills
Vice Presidents, Membership: Bobbie Lewis, Jewish, of Detroit, and Shama Mehta, Hindu, of Livonia
Vice Presidents, Programming: Sameena Basha, Muslim, of Bloomfield Hills and Ayesha Khan, Muslim, of Bloomfield Hills
Vice Presidents, Public Relations/Marketing: Karin Dains, LDS, of Lathrup Village and Gail Katz, Jewish, of Bloomfield Hills
New members nominated to the board are:
- Rev. Stancy Adams of Bloomfield Hills, Baptist, associate pastor at Russell Street Missionary Baptist Church and chair of the Interfaith Leadership Council.
- Mary Gilhuly of Oak Park, Roman Catholic, an artist and designer and co-founder of Song & Spirit Institute for Peace
- Suzanne Levin of Pleasant Ridge; Jewish, a retired physician assistant
- Reem Saleh of Dearborn, Muslim, a hospice social worker
- Rev. Diane Van Marter of Detroit, United Methodist, pastor of Faith Macomb United Methodist Church
General board members continuing their two-year terms are the Rev. Dr. Rose Cooper, Unity, of Lathrup Village; Uzma Sharaf, Muslim, of Bloomfield Hills, and the Rev. Carolyn Simon. Unity, of Southfield.
WISDOM’s Advisory Board includes Parwin Anwar, Muslim, of Sterling Heights; Sharon Buttry, Baptist, of Hamtramck; Peggy Dahlberg, Episcopalian, of Bloomfield Hills; Fran Hildebrandt, Jewish, of Farmington Hills; Delores Lyons, Buddhist, of Detroit; Brenda Rosenberg, Jewish, of Bloomfield Hills; Gigi Salka, Muslim, of Bloomfield Hills and Maryann Schlie, Unity, of Beverly Hills.
General members of WISDOM are welcome; annual dues are $25 and may be paid via the WISDOM website, www.interfaithwisdom.org. General members are invited to join any of WISDOM’s standing committees: Board Development, Finance, Membership, Program and Public Relations.
WISDOM wishes everyone to remain safe and healthy at this very difficult and scary time!!
Calendar for WISDOM and Other Interfaith Events
The April 18-24th “Arts and Faith” show at the Robert Kidd Gallery has been cancelled due to the Coronavirus epidemic. Stay tuned for a rescheduling down the road.
May 27th WISDOM General Membership meeting and Installation dinner
See Flyer Below
WISDOM announces slate of officers and
board members for 2020-2021
WISDOM will elect its incoming board at its annual meeting, scheduled for May 27. If the meeting is cancelled because of the ongoing health crisis, the election will be held via email.
All WISDOM members in good standing (those who have paid their 2020 dues) are eligible to vote. The slate is listed below.
Nominated for two-year terms as officers are the following:
President: Teri Weingarden
Vice Presidents, Board Development: Paula Drewek and Patricia Harris
Vice Presidents, Membership: Bobbie Lewis and Shama Mehta
Vice Presidents, Programming: Sameena Basha and Ayesha Khan
Vice Presidents, Public Relations/Marketing: Karin Dains and Gail Katz
We will not have a designated treasurer this year; Teri Weingarden and Trish Harris will take care of the necessary tasks.
We will also not have a designated secretary this year; all board members will rotate in fulfilling the secretary’s role.
General board members continuing their service are the Rev. Dr. Rose Cooper, Uzma Sharaf and the Rev. Carolyn Simon.
New members nominated to the board are:
Members who have questions about the slate or the election should contact Bobbie Lewis, WISDOM’s current president, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
PRAYERS AND POEMS FOR THE PANDEMIC FROM DIFFERENT FAITHS
“Pandemic” by Lynn Ungar
What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath –
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel
Cease from buying and selling
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those whom you commit your life.
And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.
Promise this world your love —
for better of for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live
Brother Richard Hendrick, a Capuchin Franciscan Friar living in Ireland, has penned a touching poem about coronavirus. Brother Richard shared his poem “Lockdown” in a Facebook post on Friday, March 13th. His original post received more than 19k positive reactions and was shared more than 34k times.
Yes, there is fear.
Yes, there is isolation.
Yes, there is panic buying.
Yes, there is sickness.
Yes, there is even death.
But, they say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise,
You can hear the birds again.
They say that after just a few weeks of quiet,
The sky is no longer thick with fumes,
But blue and grey and clear.
They say that in the streets of Assisi
People are singing to each other across the empty squares,
keeping their windows open
so that those who are alone
may hear the sounds of family around them.
They say that a hotel in the West of Ireland
is offering free meals and delivery to the housebound.
Today a young woman I know is busy
spreading fliers with her number through the neighbourhood
So that the elders may have someone to call on.
Today Churches, Synagogues, Mosques, and Temples are preparing to welcome and shelter the homeless, the sick, the weary.
All over the world people are slowing down and reflecting.
All over the world people are looking at their neighbours in a new way.
All over the world people are waking up to a new reality.
To how big we really are.
To how little control we really have.
To what really matters.
So we pray and we remember that
Yes there is fear.
But there does not have to be hate.
Yes there is isolation.
but there does not have to be loneliness.
Yes there is panic buying.
But there does not have to be meanness.
Yes there is sickness.
But there does not have to be a disease of the soul.
Yes there is even death.
But there can always be a rebirth of love.
Wake to the choices you make as to how to live now.
Listen, behind the factory noises of you panic.
The birds are singing again.
The sky is clearing, Spring is coming,
And we are always encompassed by Love.
Open the windows of your soul
And though you may not be able to touch across the empty square,
God is our Refuge
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns.
The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.
(from Psalm 46)
Peace, Sharon Buttry
“And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and grew gardens full of fresh food, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.
“And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.
“And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.”
STOP: An Imagined Letter from Covid-19 to Humans
Kristin Flyntz wrote the following poetic letter from the Virus to us all. She is the Content Editorial Director for Ascensus. —
Stop. Just stop.
It is no longer a request. It is a mandate.
We will help you.
We will bring the supersonic, high speed merry-go-round to a halt
We will stop
the frenetic, furied rush of illusions and “obligations” that keep you from hearing our
single and shared beating heart,
the way we breathe together, in unison.
Our obligation is to each other,
As it has always been, even if, even though, you have forgotten.
We will interrupt this broadcast, the endless cacophonous broadcast of divisions and distractions,
to bring you this long-breaking news:
We are not well.
None of us; all of us are suffering.
Last year, the firestorms that scorched the lungs of the earth
did not give you pause.
Nor the typhoons in Africa,China, Japan.
Nor the fevered climates in Japan and India.
You have not been listening.
It is hard to listen when you are so busy all the time, hustling to uphold the comforts and conveniences that scaffold your lives.
But the foundation is giving way,
buckling under the weight of your needs and desires.
We will help you.
We will bring the firestorms to your body
We will bring the fever to your body
We will bring the burning, searing, and flooding to your lungs
that you might hear:
We are not well.
Despite what you might think or feel, we are not the enemy.
We are Messenger. We are Ally. We are a balancing force.
We are asking you:
To stop, to be still, to listen;
To move beyond your individual concerns and consider the concerns of all;
To be with your ignorance, to find your humility, to relinquish your thinking minds and travel deep into the mind of the heart;
To look up into the sky, streaked with fewer planes, and see it, to notice its condition: clear, smoky, smoggy, rainy? How much do you need it to be healthy so that you may also be healthy?
To look at a tree, and see it, to notice its condition: how does its health contribute to the health of the sky, to the air you need to be healthy?
To visit a river, and see it, to notice its condition: clear, clean, murky, polluted? How much do you need it to be healthy so that you may also be healthy?
How does its health contribute to the health of the tree, who contributes to the health of the sky, so that you may also be healthy?
Many are afraid now.
Do not demonize your fear, and also, do not let it rule you.
Instead, let it speak to you-in your stillness,
listen for its wisdom.
What might it be telling you about what is at work, at issue, at risk,
beyond the threats of personal inconvenience and illness?
As the health of a tree, a river, the sky tells you about quality of your own health,
what might the quality of your health tell you about the health of the rivers, the trees, the sky,
and all of us who share this planet with you?
Notice if you are resisting.
Notice what you are resisting.
Stop. Just stop..
Ask us what we might teach you about illness and healing, about what might be required so that all may be well.
We will help you, if you listen.
—— Kristin Flyntz
Prayer by Cameron Bellam, who describes herself as a “Writer of Prayers.” In an article by Tom Roberts in the National Catholic Reporter.
May we who are merely inconvenienced remember those whose lives are at stake.
May we who have no risk factors remember those most vulnerable.
May we who have the luxury of working from home remember those who must choose between preserving their health or making their rent.
May we who have the flexibility to care for our children when their schools close remember those who have no options.
May we who have to cancel our trips remember those who have no safe place to go.
May we who are losing our margin money in the tumult of the economic market remember those who have no margin at all.
May we who settle in for a quarantine at home remember those who have no home.
As fear grips our country, let us choose love.
During this time when we cannot physically wrap our arms around each other, let us yet find ways to be loving embrace of God to our neighbors.
Representation or Stereotype: Women in Art at the
Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA)
As a women’s interfaith group committed to examining and dispelling stereotypes and misrepresentations of women in the world around us, we women of WISDOM were curious: –Just how are women portrayed in art at the DIA? I’m sure this is not the first time this question has been asked, but Wisdom decided it was time for a group tour which would explore how artists depict women and contrast this with women artists’ presentations. We assembled February 9, 2020 and enjoyed lunch together at the DIA café before embarking on our tour, arranged jointly between Cynthia Blackburn and myself, which included 6 DIA docents. I had previously explored the museum collections in search of likely art objects to include for the tour. That was a good thing as many of my initial choices were no longer on exhibition when I returned shortly before our event. There is no shortage of work showing women subject matter in art, but finding women artists was another challenge. With few exceptions, objects by women artists are largely from the late 19th, 20th and 21st centuries.
As a women’s interfaith group, we wanted to explore works that represented diverse religions as well as women from different ages, places and cultures. I drew upon some of my favorites from my almost 40 years teaching Humanities in college. Several of the art objects viewed on the tour are portrayed by photographs taken by tour member Trish Harris.
This supple, standing figure with child might remind you of Mary and her son, Jesus, so often depicted in Christian art.
But, it’s Kuan Yin from the Buddhist tradition of China done in ivory, c. 1800’s. Kuan Yin is a Buddhist goddess of Mercy derived from the Mahayana Buddhist tradition which saw the qualities of Enlightenment in many forms of the past and future. She represents the female form of Avalokitesvara and is commonly shown on a lotus pedestal with flowing robes and a benign countenance. Her compassion (a key Buddhist virtue) is exemplified by her cradling the child and his prayer beads. I felt that each work portraying women would be best understood by comparing it with its contrasting opposite. I chose the voluptuous figure of Parvati in bronze from the Chola dynasty in India as a good idealized female representation of Hinduism. Both she and Kuan Yin are idealized women portrayed in stylized forms. Parvati is the wife/consort of Lord Shiva, one of the Trimurti or Hindu “trinity,” and, as such, represents female power and energy as well as an idealized woman.
Our next stop was the American art galleries and a couple of marble sculptures by Edmonia Lewis entitled Minihaha and Hiawatha. Edmonia is of mixed African-American and Native-American heritage. Her works are from the late 19th century and in the Neo-Classical style.
These works recall the poem, Hiawatha, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and their beautiful but tragic love. Our next photo is of Penelope by Franklin Simmonds, who, like Edmonia, worked in the Neo-Classical style. Such artists often studied abroad and became ex-pats as did Simmonds, who settled in Rome and died there in 1913. He preferred Greek subject matter so his marble statue of Penelope recalls the Odyssey of Homer and the wife of Odysseus who waited for his return from the Trojan War for 20 years.
She is seated on her throne with a robe across her lap which she faithfully wove everyday and unraveled every night to stall her suitors. “When I’ve finished this robe, I’ll decide which of you to marry.” Of course, she didn’t want any of them and was stoically awaiting the return of Odysseus. Her demure, classically styled face with its rosebud mouth and classical nose are complemented by her Grecian-style dress which we may have seen in countless movies taking place in ancient Greece or Rome. The lion forms on her chair remind us that she is indeed the queen of her realm as well as the ruler of her heart. Like Minihaha, Penelope’s form is idealized to represent her faithfulness and composure under stress.
Our tour concluded with examples of women in art in the 20th-21st centuries. Trish’s photo of Henry Moore’s Recumbent Figure, 1938, reveals the artist’s use of the Elmwood medium to take advantage of the grain as it accentuates the curvilinear form.
Moore is a British artist who worked largely in the 20th century after abstraction had become adopted as the visual language of much 20th century art. Such abstraction, which simplifies and distorts physical reality, is intended to focus our attention on an inner reality… inspired by the Surrealists who relied on intuition. Moore’s materials may suggest many forms and qualities. He clearly establishes a rhythm of solids and voids in this piece which carry the eye around and through the figure. We also respond to the warmth of the wood used and to the organic nature of the image. Such a contrast from the cool marble of the Neoclassical works!
Alison Saar’s, Blood, Sweat and Tears, 2005, was one of the 21st century’s women artists on display. Alison was born in 1956 in Los Angeles and moved to New York City in 1983. She takes art beyond aesthetics to a spiritual, inner reality by the pendants of brown teardrops hanging from every pore.
This particular work was inspired by the death of her dad. Saar’s work combines multiple materials to give a sense of past and present: the base is made from old ceiling tiles while rusted nails are used to fasten the teardrops. The overall mottled skin treatment is due to sheets of copper covering the wooden figure and lends an especially tragic quality to the work. We witness no face so that arms and hands become the physical representation of grief. Alison is the daughter of artist, Betye Saar, famous for her work The Liberation of Aunt Jemima.
In conclusion, we certainly found both stereotypes of women as well as representations of many aspects of her, but, more often as idealized representations. Current women artists such as Alison Saar and Florine Stettheimer are working in more personal and intuitive styles not dictated by the major art movements of an era; whereas both Helen Frankenthaler and Joan Mitchell fall within the mid- to late 20th century Abstract Expressionist camp. I’m left with the idea that stereotyping and its cousins are just lazy thinking, an unwillingness to explore the true diversity of women’s talents, capacities and qualities. Whereas, studying these diverse representations in art opens and challenges our minds to think and feel beyond the obvious and pay more attention to what is behind the eye as well as in front of the eye.
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.
Delhi Riots: How A Sikh Hero Transported Dozens Of Muslim Neighbours To Safety
Mohinder Singh took exceptional steps to ensure the safety of Muslim residents in one of the worst-hit neighbourhoods in the Delhi Riots.
NEW DELHI – On 24 February, as the worst communal violence since the 1984 Sikh riots swept Delhi, Mohinder Singh and Inderjit Singh used a Bullet motorcycle and scooty to transport somewhere between 60 to 80 of their Muslim neighbours to a safe location. The father and son duo say they had sensed the situation was spiralling out of control in the Hindu-dominated neighbourhood of Gokalpuri in northeast Delhi, and started moving their terrified neighbors in batches to the nearest Muslim locality of Kardampuri, one kilometer away.
Mohinder Singh, 53, said that his son was on the Bullet motorcycle and he was on the scooty, and they made around 20 trips each from Gokalpuri to Kardampuri in one hour. When it was women and children, they took three to four of them at a time. When it was men and boys, they took two or three at a time. For some of the boys, they tied Sikh turbans to conceal they were Muslim.
“I did not see Hindu or Muslim,” said Singh, who runs an electronics store and is a father to two children.
“I just saw people. I saw little children. I felt like they were my children and that nothing should happen to them. We did this because we all should act humanely and help those in need. What more can I say?” he said.
Gokalpuri saw some of the worst violence in the three days of rioting, which has left almost 40 people dead. Head constable Ratan Lal died of a bullet injury that he sustained here. Muslim shops, houses and a mosque were torched and looted here. The Muslims who fled are yet to return. The “sardars” are now famous among the Muslims of Kardampuri, where HuffPost India heard about them. Their story offers a rare heartwarming tale in a grieving city torn apart by the riots. For Singh, who was 13 years old when the horrific anti-Sikh riots swept through the city, the violence last weekend was a grisly reminder of the past. His incredible bravery offers hope that not all is lost at a time when India seems more divided than ever before. “I have lived through the hell that was 1984,” Singh said. “Those memories have been revived.”
There were very few shops open in Gokalpuri market on 27 February, five days after Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Kapil Mishra made a hate speech against people protesting the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which is now regarded as the trigger for the violence. Singh had opened his electronic store for the first time since the riots on 27 February.
Smiling at this reporter’s repeated queries about what motivated him and his son to make so many trips to save his neighbors, Singh said, “You have to understand that this is the belief and culture of our community. You may have heard the expression: nanak naam chardi kala, tere bahne sarbat da bhala. Sarbat da bhala means that we want everyone to prosper. We did this to honour humanity and our 10 gurus whose central message is that we should act for everyone to prosper.”
It was around five in the evening on 24 February when tensions spiked in Gokalpuri, Singh said, giving a blow-by-blow account of what happened in his neighborhood that evening. It started with people chanting Jai Shri Ram, and raising slogans in praise of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and calling for “traitors” to be shot, said Singh. Their numbers swelled quickly. The Muslims of Gokalpuri panicked and gathered at their local mosque – the Jamia Arabia Madinatul Uloom mosque – that would be set on fire and looted later that night. After the meeting, the Muslims decided they would leave immediately. Singh said he offered them protection and asked them to consider staying back, but they told him the people who wanted to harm them were likely to be more than those willing risk their own lives to save them. The Muslims of Gokalpuri were terrified they would not be able to make it past Hindu mob that had commandeered the main road outside the locality. That is when Singh and his son stepped in, offering to ferry 60 to 80 of them to the closest Muslim locality. Given how quickly the situation was worsening, father and son decided there was no time to get their car from the parking lot. They would have to make do with their motorcycle and scooty.
“We don’t think we did anyone a favour,” said Singh. “We didn’t do it for praise or for thanks. We did it because it was the right thing to do.”
Something human’: Mideast fight against virus elicits rare unity
The Christian Science Monitor
For years, cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians has been in retreat, as peace negotiations became a remote prospect, governments focused on mutual demonization, and President Donald Trump cut support for the Palestinian Authority. The coronavirus pandemic, however, has forced the sides to put recriminations on hold and instead work together to save lives. Palestinian health care professionals have received training in Israeli hospitals, Israeli labs have analyzed Palestinian COVID-19 diagnostic tests, and doctors on both sides are sharing data. Despite decades of arguing over where to draw a border, the spread of COVID-19 has highlighted how Israel and the Palestinian areas in the West Bank are in fact one unit in the battle to preserve public health. Handling the challenge requires the sides to collaborate and resist the tendency to focus first on the political.
“In the end, this isn’t something related to politics. This is something human, for the benefit of everyone,” says Mariana Alarja, chief manager of the Angel Hotel in Beit Jala, next to Bethlehem, where dozens of Palestinian coronavirus patients – including herself – are staying in quarantine.
As of Tuesday, 29 Palestinians in the West Bank have been diagnosed with the virus. An emergency was declared there last week. COVID-19 tests from Palestinians were sent to laboratories at Israel’s Sheba Hospital outside Tel Aviv for analysis because the facilities don’t exist in the West Bank. After years of Israeli military closures imposed on Bethlehem, the Palestinian Authority (PA) is enforcing its own closure to prevent the virus from spreading to other cities in the West Bank.
“A doctor should help everyone, regardless of race or nationality – whether the patient speaks English or Arabic,” says Ms. Alarja. “It doesn’t matter if you are an Israeli or a Palestinian, we all have to work on this very quickly.”
While any sign of normalization of ties with Israel carries a stigma among Palestinians, Zaher Nazzal, an epidemiologist at An-Najah University in the West Bank city of Nablus, says the cooperation makes sense. “This is normal. Whenever there’s a crisis that affects the people’s health, collaboration should be possible,” says Dr. Nazzal. “It doesn’t mean you put everything behind you, or that you agree with everything that’s happening.
Since the first Israeli was diagnosed with the virus nearly three weeks ago, the outbreak in Israel is showing signs of spiking: The count stood at 77 on Wednesday, after jumping 50% Monday to Tuesday.
Israel has responded by requiring all arrivals at Ben Gurion Airport to self-quarantine for 14-days, and on Wednesday banned gatherings of more than 100 participants in closed spaces. Tens of thousands are already in isolation. The country has closed its border with Egypt, and both Israel and Jordan have restricted traffic on their border. The Israeli and Palestinian populations, however, are far more intertwined. Yet, save for the coordination between Israeli and Palestinian security forces, cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority has all but completely eroded over the past five or so years. The collaboration on the coronavirus includes the health ministries of both governments along with the Israeli military liaison. Israel in recent days delivered 250 virus test kits to the West Bank and held training sessions for Palestinian medical workers on how to protect themselves. Israel’s Civil Administration, the military-run authority in Palestinian areas of the West Bank, promised to supply medical equipment and training as needed.
“Viruses and epidemics don’t stop at the border, and the spread of a dangerous virus in Judea and Samaria could endanger the health of Israeli citizens,” Dr. Dalia Basa, health coordinator for the military administration, said in a statement, using the biblical terms for the West Bank. Helping the PA fight the virus “is both in the interest of Israel and of the highest humanitarian significance.”
In practice, a border between Israel and the Palestinian territories barely exists. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinian laborers from the West Bank commute daily to jobs in Israel. Palestinian residents of Jerusalem also cross Israeli checkpoints into the West Bank. Because Israel and the Palestinian areas are effectively one territorial unit, the discrepancy between the two public health systems figures as a major challenge to containing the outbreak, say experts.
“Israel has the stronger economy and the stronger health system. It has not only a moral obligation but a self-interest to help all its neighbors. Given the seriousness of the crisis, there’s an urgent need for much greater cooperation,” says Gidon Bromberg, Israeli director of EcoPeace Middle East.
“Should the PA, Jordan, or Egypt request emergency hospital facilities to be set up,” he says, “Israel should be ready to respond like it responds to earthquakes in other parts of the world.”
Public health threats have spurred cooperation among rivals on other maladies. A year ago, the “vaccine diplomacy” of international organizations prompted Afghanistan and Pakistan to introduce all-age polio vaccinations to travelers at their joint border to combat that virus in the violence-wracked region. And Cold War era vaccine diplomacy between the U.S. and the Soviet Union helped eradicate polio and smallpox in much of the world. Israelis and the Palestinians have cooperated on health before. Some 15 years ago, the Israeli, Palestinian, and Jordanian governments established an organization to promote joint public health initiatives – the Middle East Consortium on Infectious Disease Surveillance. The organization sponsored joint epidemiological training for doctors and nurses and promoted research collaboration and a regional network of public health professionals.
Those professional connections still exist, but Israeli-Palestinian government cooperation became nearly nonexistent as political ties eroded, says Nadav Davidovitch, director of the School of Public Health at Ben Gurion University and one of the founding members of the consortium. “On both sides, people on the ground really want to collaborate in spite of the political situation,” says Dr. Davidovitch. “It’s part of a shared goal of public health.”
That goal was made more difficult to achieve after the Trump administration cut funding for joint Israeli-Palestinian research projects under a program that promotes Israeli collaboration with its Arab neighbors.
Ikram Salah, a Bethlehem resident who did doctoral studies under Dr. Davidovitch, had a joint epidemiological research project cut off by USAID under the Trump administration. She acknowledges that the public health infrastructure in the Palestinian territories is limited, but says it’s due to Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank.
“I’m always saying that disease knows no borders,” she says. “As a Palestinian, it’s hard to say, but we are not independent. We are dependent on Israel in all sectors.”
Despite the collaboration in the West Bank, however, there is serious uncertainty about what would happen should the pandemic spread to the Gaza Strip, where some 2 million Palestinians live under military blockade in cramped conditions with woefully inadequate infrastructure. Israel has no direct relations with Hamas, the Islamic military group that rules Gaza.
Though there is a hard border between Israel and Gaza, there’s still traffic back and forth. Military officials reportedly consider an outbreak there a nightmare scenario that will have humanitarian and geopolitical fallout for Israel, as much of the world still holds it responsible for the situation there despite its 2005 military withdrawal.
“Gaza is not sterile. It will enter Gaza at some point. It has to,” says an Israeli health official who asked not to be named. “It’s one of the most densely populated places in the world. It will burn through Gaza very quickly, I’m afraid.”
In such a scenario, the World Health Organization would have to intervene to help coordinate efforts between Israel, Hamas, and the Palestinian Authority. For the time being, however, Israel and the Palestinians are focusing on handling the West Bank.
“This is being done because we don’t have another choice. We have to work together,” says Dr. Itamar Grotto, associate director-general of Israel’s Health Ministry. “If you are looking for a positive effect of this event, you could point to this.”