January 2019

Written by WISDOM on . Posted in Newsletters

Calendar for WISDOM and Other Interfaith Events 
 

Sunday, February 10th 3:00 PM – 6:00 PM, Adat Shalom Synagogue
29901 Middlebelt Rd., Farmington HIlls, 48334
“And Then They Came For Us” Documentary
Followed by Panel Discussion about immigration
See Flyer Below!
Thursday, March 14th 7:00 – 9:00 PM at Temple Israel, 5725 Walnut Lake Road, West Bloomfield 48323
Interfaith panel on attracting our young adult population
to their faith traditions!
Stay tuned for more information!!
Sunday, March 3rd 4:00 PM – 6:00 PM
The 20th Annual World Sabbath
Islamic House of WISDOM, Dearborn Heights
See Flyer Below
Sunday, March 24th, 2019 (afternoon)
Celebration of International Women’s Day
Save the Date

In November, Ethiopian Jews – the majority of the community now living in Israel – celebrated Sigd, a Jewish holiday unique to the traditions of a Jewish community that for centuries was cut off and isolated from the rest of global Jewry.
Today, Around 80,000 Ethiopian Jews live in Israel, many of whom were brought over to Israel in daring airlifts in 1984 and 1991.
Sigd is an Amharic word meaning “prostration” or “worship” Traditionally on Sigd, members of the Ethiopian Jewish community would fast for a day during which they would meet in the morning and walk together to the highest point on a mountain. The “Kessim,” spritual leaders of the community, would carry the “Orit,” the Ethiopian Torah, which is written in the ancient Geez language and comprised of the Five Books of Moses, the Prophetic writings, and other writings such as Song of Songs and Psalms. The Kessim recited parts of the Orit, including the Book of Nehemiah. On that day, members of the community recited Psalms and remembered the Torah, its traditions, and their desire to return to Jerusalem. In the afternoon they would descend back to the village and break their fast, dance and rejoice in a sort of seder reminiscent of Passover.
To see a video of Ethiopian Jews celebrating Sgid, go to

Helping children process hate: A Jewish perspective
Having children tends to increase our agony during moments of violence. I don’t know a parent who, after hearing about innocent people being hurt or killed, doesn’t instinctively reach for their kids and long to never let go. This feeling is especially strong when the violence was directed toward a group with whom your family identifies. What if it was us?
My family consists of conservative Jews who regularly attend a conservative synagogue, just like the Jews who were recently killed in Pittsburgh. Hate-filled trolls have repeatedly threatened violence against me, and my Jewish children, on social media. It’s getting harder and harder to not think about the unthinkable.
But after the initial agony passes and we release our children from our immobilizing grips, their presence can actually help us work through these dark moments. Children have lots of questions and tend to be dogged pursuers of moral clarity. It’s rarely enough for them to learn that something happened. They want to understand why it happened and will keep why-why-why-ing their way through each and every piece of information provided to them. Should children be activists?
At the end of this road sits the biggest question of them all, the question not about the act of violence but about what would make someone do something like that in the first place. How does one help them make sense of hate?
This is not an easy task. Intense hate is, for most of us, a foreign emotion, one we have never felt. We must talk to our children about it anyway, explaining to them why someone hates them, where this hate comes from and how it has been dealt with in the past. While this conversation should absolutely include an acknowledgment of all the other groups who are the target of it, the processing of hate best happens through particulars — of a people, of a history, of a moment. In my family, this means viewing hate through a Jewish lens.
Begin with the past
The Jewish holiday cycle rests largely upon a series of ancient stories in which Jews were persecuted for being Jewish and then, ultimately, prevail. During Passover, we remember when we were slaves in Egypt. During Purim, we remember when our lives were threatened in ancient Persia. And so on. “They tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat,” goes the old joke, a pithy summary of many Jewish holidays.
When children receive a Jewish education, it’s these stories, the Jewish communal memory, that take prominence. Is it strange to hear preschool children discuss the various ways in which one group of people can express their hatred of another? “Sometimes the Jews want to stay but aren’t allowed to, and sometimes the Jews want to leave and aren’t allowed to,” my son reflected at age 5. Yes, it’s strange. But there’s no Judaism without it. So how does one take our history, in which hatred of the Jews is a leitmotif, and use it to help our children make sense of the present?
Shai Held, rabbi, Jewish theologia, and author of “The Heart of the Torah,” said stories of past persecution can help us understand how hate is, sadly, an inescapable part of the human experience.
“Any religious perspective on the world is going to emphasize that human nature is messy and complex and human beings are prone to hate,” he said. “There is oddly something helpful in knowing there is nothing new here. … It allows you some degree of sobriety.”
An incident of hate becomes a chance to discuss not just hate but the ways all of us contain within us the capacity for bad and good. No, we aren’t ever likely to find a way to stop that bad from occasionally growing into violent hate in some people. But, if we pay attention, we will notice that expressions of hate are often met by expressions of love and compassion.
In nearly every ancient story of hate, there are non-Jewish people who fight on Jews’ behalf. Last month, Jews saw non-Jews of all backgrounds join us in mourning and protest. “I think it is always powerful to remind kids that if someone hates you, it doesn’t mean everyone hates you,” Held said.
A reckoning with hate, when rooted in Jewish history, is also a reckoning with resilience. Yes, lots and lots of people have hated us, incensed by the mere fact that we are not exactly like them. But they didn’t win. Held said parents could emphasize this against-the-odds survival of the Jews as a point of relief, if not pride, for children. “Thousands of years of antisemitism has instilled in us a deep persistence,” he said.
Connect it to childhood feelings We all, old and young, have an instinct to trace hate back to its source.
Read the rest of this article and view the videos by going to the following website:

Hindu monks perform rituals at Sangam, the confluence of the Rivers Ganges and Yamuna, at Allahabad, India, on Dec. 16, 2018. Millions of Hindu pilgrims are expected to take part in a large religious congregation called “Kumbh Mela” here in January 2019. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)

Michigan Rabbi Leads Caravan of Faith
to Help Immigrant Kids in Texas
By Niraj Warikoo, Detroit Free Press

When Rabbi Josh Whinston of Michigan heard about the growing tent city packed with immigrant teenagers in a Texas desert town, he felt he had to act. As someone rooted in Jewish tradition, Whinston of Temple Beth Emeth in Ann Arbor said his faith and the faith of other religions compels them to help the stranger.  So the 37-year-old rabbi launched an effort to lead a multi-faith caravan from Michigan and other states to drive to Tornillo, Texas, to help immigrants and refugees in shelters and the growing tent camp. On Thursday, he and other faith leaders from Michigan protested near the tent camp, singing religious songs promoting peace and justice. They also helped distribute clothes, fed immigrants, and witnessed the struggles of asylum seekers at the border. Rabbi Whinston and dozens of others from Michigan left Monday, stopping in Indiana and Missouri to meet up with other houses of worship, gathering more than 100 people for their caravan.
“We can’t ignore these children,” Whinston told the Free Press from Texas. “It’s causing trauma to these kids. And it’s caused by us, the American people because it’s our government doing it. Not on my behalf, please don’t cause trauma to these children. They’ve been traumatized enough.”
More than 1,000 unaccompanied children are currently at the tent camp in Tornillo, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. The camp was created by the U.S. government to deal with an overflow of children that couldn’t be housed in other shelters.
While the Trump administration has said the camp is needed to house unaccompanied immigrant children, the ACLU has called the tent city a “moral disgrace.”
“The Tornillo camp was built from the ground up in the middle of the desert over the summer,” said Victoria López, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU, who has visited the site. “It is a sprawling site that backs up to a border fence marking the boundary between the U.S. and Mexico. There are khaki-colored tents lined up in rows with plastic orange cones and temporary fencing, creating makeshift streets and sidewalks.”
Many of the minors, who are mostly teenagers, are trying to be reunited with family who are already in the U.S. But the Trump administration is requiring the parents to go through stringent background checks that, in some cases, discover the parents may be undocumented and therefore ineligible to get the kids.
As the camp grew this summer, the congregation at Temple Beth Emeth grew concerned and they thought about ways to help. At first, Rabbi Whinston felt the best way would be to donate to the ACLU, which works on immigration issues.  But he thought going to the border would have a greater impact. He then worked with religious leaders in the Ann Arbor area and Rabbi Miriam Terlinchamp of Temple Sholom in Cincinnati to coordinate the trip.
The Pittsburgh synagogue shooting – which was carried out by a man who targeted Jews because he said they supported immigrants and refugees – added to the urgency of their mission.
“That man murdered 11 of my brothers and sisters not only because they were Jews but because of the values we hold,” said Whinston. “He was trying to kill our values.”
Joining Whinston on the trip to Texas were leaders of Lutheran, Baptist, and Unitarian Universalist congregations in Ann Arbor.
“It’s very important to show up, to increase the visibility, to use my voice to demand an end to this tent city separating families,” said Xan Morgan of First Baptist Church in Ann Arbor, part of the caravan. “Part of my Christian faith tradition is to … love your neighbor as yourself. … It’s an expression of love of God and love for my neighbors. We must welcome the stranger.”
On Thursday, Morgan and others walked across the border to

Juarez, Mexico, to witness asylum seekers and later participated in a rally outside the Tornillo camp.  She said they sang religious songs, including “Peace will Come” in English and Hebrew. Banners on a fence read “Let Our Children Go” and “Families Belong Together and Free,” according to photos of the event.  Some of the group were fasting during the journey and were to have dinner with migrants on Thursday night.
The caravan also brought supplies for immigrants housed in local shelters near the border such as children’s clothing, soap, towels and other items.
Some in the caravan, such as Rabbi Bruce Elder of Congregation Hakafa in a Chicago suburb, were descendants of Holocaust survivors and felt compelled to act.
“Our congregation feels very strongly about” what is happening to immigrant children, Rabbi Elder said to the Free Press from Texas. “My father survived the Holocaust as a 14-year-old kid. … What is happening at the border struck a real nerve and it has to stop before it gets out of hand. It’s just morally wrong and our country is better than that.”
On Friday, the caravan will head back to Michigan and other states, where they hope to educate their congregations and elected officials about what they saw and heard in Texas.
“Claiming asylum is not a crime,” said Rabbi Whinston. “It frightens me as an American, frightens me as Jew that this administration will hold people indefinitely who have committed no crime. It is legal to claim asylum at the border or anywhere.”
What drives him is his faith.
“More than any other commandment in the Torah, we are told 36 times to be kind to the orphan, the widow, the stranger,” he said, citing Biblical passages and Jewish tradition. “Rabbinic tradition talks about welcoming the stranger. Welcoming the stranger takes precedent over honoring the presence of God.” Rabbi Terlinchamp of Cincinnati said “I’m the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors … after the Pittsburgh shooting, it felt all the more important to have as loud as a Jewish voice as possible. This is the right thing to do, to treat immigrants the right way.”
In July, Whinston helped drive an immigrant from Ann Arbor to Pittsburgh who had been separated from her children after she crossed the border. That experience moved him and pushed him to create the caravan.
“I can’t stand in front of my congregation and talk about welcoming the stranger and not be willing to be here,” Whinston said from Texas. “If we’re going to take the Bible seriously, we can’t ignore this, we can’t ignore the children being held.”
Contact Niraj Warikoo: nwarikoo@freepress.com or 313-223-4792. Follow him on Twitter @nwarikoo

A Muslim, a Jew, and
a Christian Walk into a Concert Hall
by Vicki Garlock
“What people don’t see on stage is that our three lifestyles – as men with families, as artists, and as people deeply committed to our individual faith traditions – have come together to embody mutual respect and admiration.”
          – Dawud Wharnsby, Canadian writer, artisan, and musician
It all started in 2010 when Ontario, Canada-based Dawud Wharnsby was contacted by David LaMotte, who was working on peace and justice issues with the North Carolina Council of Churches. Anti-Muslim sentiment was on the rise in the Raleigh-Durham area, and David wanted to jump-start a counter-movement. “I was looking to start with university students,” David said, “which meant there had to be music.” The beauty of that first concert was palpable as Dawud Wharnsby (a Muslim), David LaMotte (a Christian), and Dan Nichols (a Jew), shared the stage with one another to promote interfaith harmony and inter-religious dialogue.
A few years later, the band Abraham Jam, now with Billy Jonas(replacing Dan Nichols), was formed. But they are no longer simply sharing the stage with one another; they are merging their individual talents to create a unique sound that highlights the distinctive beauty of interfaith bridge-building. They released their first CD a few days ago, just a week after performing at the Parliament of the World’s Religions. But the bigger message is how the members of Abraham Jam – all accomplished musicians and artists in their own right – honor the beauty of both their commonalities and their differences.
Over the years, Abraham Jam has continued to build a following that includes people of all ages and people of all faiths and no faith. That first concert at Duke University led to the Sacred Music Festival in Kalamazoo, Michigan and a handful of other gigs. Then, Abraham Jam performed at the 2015 Parliament of World Religions in Salt Lake City, which led to more concerts, including one at a Lutheran Synod gathering in Pennsylvania and a return to the 2018 Toronto Parliament.
Through it all, they’ve remained committed to their initial vision of actually creating music together – moving beyond the simpler, but much less rewarding, notion of three solo artists who rotate back-up duties. Dawud expressed this sentiment beautifully on Northern Spirit Radio, which featured Abraham Jam in last summer’s June 2nd broadcast. One of the songs the group now sings is Rhythm of Surrender, a song Dawud used to sing as a soloist. “For me to take an old song of mine, like Rhythm of Surrender, and bring it new life with David and Billy, is really exciting. It’s a new rhythm! After so many years of singing the song one way, I now find it brand new again because of the joy we’re able to share.”
Over the past 15 months, Abraham Jam finds itself increasingly busy as people from around the world feel called to lift up unity and connection over hostility and divisiveness. As Billy said, “We were starting to get calls about gigs, and we didn’t even have a complete web site or press kit yet.” “People just loved the idea of it,” added David. In August 2017, they played a concert in Asheville, North Carolina. In the spring of 2018, there was a mini-tour in the Washington DC metro area. In June, they started a Kickstarter campaign that raised over $48,000 from over 550 donors from around the world. Those Kickstarter earnings helped fund the release of their live CD based on the Asheville concert. Even that event seemed to reverberate with divine intervention. The trio hired a photographer, signed a videographer, set up two separate sound systems, and hoped for the best. As David said, “Our initial plan was to get an EP [more than single but less than a full album] out of it.” But, after spending a week in the studio before the concert, which “lit this eternal flame of togetherness,” as Billy put it, they ended up with a full set of soundtracks. That same Kickstarter campaign will also help fund their first studio CD, scheduled for release in the spring of 2019.
Another highlight for Abraham Jam was this year’s MuslimFest, held just outside Toronto. The festival, which celebrates Muslim art, culture, and entertainment, hosts over 25,000 people annually and is one of the three largest festivals in Toronto. As Dawud said, “It’s a real testament to the interfaith movement in Canada that they asked us, a multi-faith band, to play on the main stage.” Billy quickly added, “We were even the lead story on Al Jazeera TV.”
An added benefit for the Abraham Jam trio is that they, themselves, are able to grow both as multi-faith activists and as musicians. As David said, “Sometimes we activists forget that it’s not just about resisting what’s wrong; it’s also about lifting up what’s right. Besides, I just love hanging out with these guys and learning from them.”
Dawud also talked about using music, and his role in the Muslim community, to bridge faith-based divides. “After 10 years of writing traditional Muslim music for English-speaking families and children, I have been able to step away from performing solos. Music is still my primary path, but I can use that to bring the Muslim community along with me on this journey.”
Recently I was lucky enough to grab a quick lunch with the three members of Abraham Jam while they were in Asheville working in a studio. It’s a good day when you get to listen to three talented artists gush about the power of music and express their deep love for one another. When they also happen to be from three different faith traditions, you realize you’re in the midst of something truly special.

Kashmiri Muslim devotees pray as a relic of Sufi saint Syed Abdul Qadir Jilani is displayed at his shrine in Srinagar, Indian-controlled Kashmir, on Dec. 19, 2018. Thousands of devotees thronged the shrine to mark the saint’s Urs, or yearly commemoration. (AP Photo/ Dar Yasin)

Two holidays, one theme: Hindus, Jews
celebrate joint festival of lights
 Bringing together two diverse communities and highlighting strong Israel-India relations, over 400 people gather in Chicago to simultaneously honor Diwali and Hanukkah
November 21, 2018
CHICAGO – A joint Hindu-Jewish Festival of Lights drew over 400 people to a suburban Chicago synagogue on Sunday, as together they honored the similarly-themed holidays of Hanukkah and Diwali. The evening, which featured speakers, candle lighting, food from both cultures, dance lessons, and the world’s only Indian-Jewish standup comedian, was hosted by Temple Beth-El in the Chicago suburb of Northbrook, Illinois.
The Chicago event has inspired similar gatherings nationwide – from a December 8 celebration in San Francisco, to events being planned in New York, Atlanta and Florida. The Chicago organizers also look forward to organizing a collective celebration of Purim and Holi, the Hindu spring festival, in 2019.
“I think we connect over a shared sense of pain and overcoming adversities,” Sunil Krishnan told The Times of Israel as people mingled before the program. Krishnan, who is Hindu, made the nearly two-hour drive from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to attend the event. “I don’t know much about the Hindu religion, but I’m fascinated by it,” said Margaret Geber, a Jewish woman who came with two friends. “I love the feeling of hope and the energy of the room as people are getting to know each other.”
Highlights from Sunday’s program included speeches by human rights activist Dr. Richard Benkin; Indian Consul Head of Chancery D.B. Bhati; and Aviv Ezra, the Consul General of Israel to the Midwest.
Bhati drew parallels between Diwali’s festival of lights and the lights of Hanukkah, while Ezra highlighted the 26 years of diplomacy between Israel and India. That relationship has “grown in even more profound ways” since India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited each other’s respective countries last year, Ezra said.
The idea for the joint festival began five years ago when Peggy Shapiro, Midwest executive director of StandWithUs, invited leaders of the Indian community to her house for dinner to celebrate the 65th anniversaries of Indian and Israeli independence. “The problem is, what food do you serve?” joked Shapiro. “When we got together that night at my dining room table, we found such commonalities in our communities,” Shapiro said. “I learned a bit more about India and the Jewish community there – India is one of the only places in the world that has never had anti-Semitism,” she said (presumably attributing the horrific 2008 attacks on the Mumbai Chabad House to Islamic terrorism, rather than specific hatred against Jews).
Prasad Yalamanchi of the Global Hindu Heritage Foundation also spoke about India’s support for Israel and stressed the shared experiences between Hindus and Jews, including the staggering losses that both communities faced due to persecution. “We need to get together, Hindus and Jews, to protect our heritage and civilization for future of generations,” he said to roaring applause. Shapiro then introduced “someone that nobody has ever heard of, but appeals to everybody – the world’s only Indian-Jewish stand-up comedian, Samson Koletar, aka Mahatma Moses.”
Koletar poked fun at Jewish and Indian stereotypes to the delight of a mixed crowd that apparently had a common appreciation for self-deprecating humor. And like any good comedian, Koletar didn’t spare himself, laughing about people’s confused reactions to his mixed Indian-Jewish heritage.
Standup comedian Samson ‘Mahatma Moses; Koletar performs at the Hindu-Jewish Festival of Lights at Temple Beth-El in Northbrook, Illinois, Sunday, November 18, 2018. (Ronit Bezalel/ Times of Israel)
Rounding out the speeches, Dr. Souptik Mukherjee – a researcher who has long been an advocate for Hindu-Jewish relations, and who has contributed to Israeli media – spoke about the 2,500 year history of Hindu-Jewish relationships.
“[Our] two communities today unite to celebrate values dear to us all, of coexistence, tolerance, gender equality, mutual respect and respect for each other’s culture and faith,” Mukherjee said.
The festival concluded with traditional Hanukkah and Diwali desserts, followed by dance lessons from each culture.
Dr. Souptik Mukherjee speaks at the Hindu-Jewish Festival of Lights at Temple Beth-El in Northbrook, Illinois, Sunday, November 18, 2018. (Ronit Bezalel/ Times of Israel) “It’s really wonderful to have this event in our synagogue, and see new faces in here,” noted Mandy Herlich, the director of lifelong learning at Temple Beth-El.

 For most Americans, new research says,
family comes first
by Yonat Shimron
According to Pew Research, family is the No. 1 source to which Americans look for meaning, fulfillment and satisfaction in their lives. Photo by Mike Scheid/Unsplash/Creative Commons
(RNS) – As many Americans gather with their loves ones for Thanksgiving, a timely new survey from Pew Research confirms what miles of traffic jams and airport lines suggest: Family is the No. 1 source to which Americans look for meaning, fulfillment and satisfaction in their lives.
The survey, conducted in two waves in 2017, found clear and consistent answers among all demographic groups, as nearly 70 percent of Americans mention their family as a source of meaning and fulfillment.
After family, Americans said they drew meaning and satisfaction from being outdoors, spending time with friends, caring for pets and listening to music. In this wide range of pursuits, religion ranked behind those things as something that gave them “a great deal” of meaning.
But a fifth of Americans said religion is the most meaningful aspect of their lives. And among those who do find a great deal of meaning in their religious faith, more than half say it is the single most important source of meaning in their lives.
“If you then follow up and ask to which of these is the most important source of meaning, there religion is a clear second,” said Gregory A. Smith, associate director of research at Pew, and one of the primary researchers of this survey.
No surprise, one group in particular stood out: Two-thirds of evangelicals surveyed said they derive a great deal of meaning from their religious faith. And almost half of evangelicals say religion is the most important source of meaning in their lives.
“Religion second to family as ‘most important’ source of meaning in lives of American adults” Graphic courtesy of Pew Research Center
But evangelicals weren’t the only polling segment to find meaning in religion. Half of black Americans as a group said they derive “a great deal” of meaning from their religion.
Broken down according to political persuasion, conservative Americans are more prone to find meaning in religion, while liberals find it in creativity and causes, the survey found. The survey consisted of two rounds: an open-ended questionnaire conducted in September 2017, asking Americans to describe in their own words what makes their lives feel meaningful, and a closed-ended questionnaire conducted in December 2017, asking Americans to rate how much meaning and fulfillment they draw from each of 15 possible sources.
Jamie Aten, executive director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College, said the findings about family make sense, especially, he noted, since meaning-making is also a social construct, not just an individual one. “If you look at the cultural norms within the U.S. , there’s a high emphasis placed on family and you see that reflected out in the survey responses,” said Aten. “We also see it valued across most major world religions. Many of our institutions promote family as a highly valued unit. We see that cutting across the messaging we receive on a daily basis.”
The survey also found that Americans with high levels of income and education are more likely to mention friendships, good health, stability. That too made sense to Aten. He pointed out that people find meaning in those things that are obtainable. “It points out the real challenges that individuals in a lower income level face: Health may be ranked out of reach because of what people have experienced, oppression or racism or other challenges.”

December 2018

Written by WISDOM on . Posted in Newsletters

Calendar for WISDOM and Other Interfaith Events 
Tuesday, December 11th, 7:00 PM
Make tiles with peace quotes or heart ornaments!
Mosaic Art Workshop with Song and Spirit Institute for Peace
4300 Rochester Road, Royal Oak. Contact Ayesha for more information, ayeshakhansemail@gmail.com
Wednesday, Decembr 19th 6:00 PM
Showing of the film “The Breadwinner”
Cranbrook DeSalle Auditorium
See Flyer Below
Sunday, December 2nd at 7:00 PM
Detroit Marriot at the Renaissance Center,
Meet Amma and inspire inner peace.
See Flyer Below
Sunday, February 10th 3:00 PM – 6:00 PM, Adat Shalom Synagogue
29901 Middlebelt Rd., Farmington HIlls, 48334
“And Then They Came For Us” Documentary
Followed by Panel Discussion about immigration
Stay tuned for more information
Thursday, March 14th 7:00 – 9:00 PM at Temple Israel, 5725 Walnut Lake Road, West Bloomfield 48323
Interfaith panel on attracting our young adult population
to their faith traditions!
Stay tuned for more information!!
Sunday, March 24th, 2019 (afternoon)
Celebration of International Women’s Day
1:00 PM to 5:00 PM
Save the Date

Sikhs across the country came to synagogues to support the Jewish Community after the shootings at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Turning her Baha’i faith into precedent, lawyer helps women gain asylum
Layli Miller-Muro, right, founder and CEO of the Tahirih Justice Center, poses with actress Eva Larue, from left, and asylum recipient Aicha Abdoulaye Mahamane at a Tahirih gala fundraiser in Laguna Beach, Calif., in September 2018. Photo by Gabe Sullivan/Tahirih Justice Center
(RNS) – More than 20 years ago, when Layli Miller-Muro was still in law school, her first immigration client was a Muslim woman from Togo who sought asylum in the United States to avoid a forced marriage and female genital mutilation. Instead, the woman, Fauziya Kassindja, spent 17 months in detention before the young law student intervened.
In 1996 the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals granted Kassindja asylum and her case set a precedent establishing gender-based violence as grounds for asylum.
It also changed the course of Miller-Muro’s legal career. After receiving her J.D. from American University in 1996, the following year she created the Tahirih Justice Center, a national nonprofit organization that ever since has worked on behalf of women and girls who are fleeing gender-based violence and seeking asylum in the United States.
A member of the Baha’i religion, Miller-Muro named Tahirih after a 19th-century Persian woman and Baha’i martyr who, facing her execution in 1852 for being an outspoken proponent of women’s rights, proclaimed, “You can kill me as soon as you like, but you will never stop the emancipation of women.”
Layli Miller-Muro, founder and executive director of the the Tahirih Justice Center. Photo courtesy of Tahirih Justice Center
“Representing her (Kassindja) wasn’t an academic exercise, it was a deeply moral obligation that I felt, that certainly came from a spiritual compass,” Miller-Muro told Religion News Service.
Miller-Muro’s own roots in Baha’i begin in the buckle of the Bible Belt. Her grandmother, who left her family farm in Ohio when she was in eighth grade to pursue her education, attended Cornell University and eventually earned a doctorate in nutrition. Paying her own way through school, she took a summer job as a maid during the Masters Tournament in Augusta, Ga., and let a room in a boardinghouse that rented to both white and black women – a wildly countercultural move at the time. The brave woman who owned the boardinghouse (where crosses were burned on her front yard) was an early American convert to Baha’i, said Miller-Muro, who grew up in Georgia.
“Baha’is always believed in interracial marriage, even when it was still illegal,” she said. “They have always stood for racial equality. In fact, in the Baha’i writings, we’re told that racism is the most challenging issue in American society.”
Rising in Persia (now Iran) in the 1860s, Baha’i was introduced to the United States during the Parliament of the World’s Religions in 1893, a year after the death of its founder, Baha’u’llah, who preached the essential unity of all religions and of humankind. Baha’i’s earliest American convert is generally agreed to be Thornton Chase, who served as an officer in the U.S. Colored Troops during the Civil War.
Today, there are about 126,000 Baha’i adherents in the United States, according to a 2010 U.S. Religion Census, the most recent statistics available.
“All of the teachings of the Baha’i faith revolve around helping people who have traditionally been disunified come together, whether it’s issues of racism, equality of women and men, extremes of wealth and poverty, political division,” Miller-Muro said.
The Tahirih Justice Center works with clients of all faith traditions and none, and the vast majority of its staff, and the army of 2,500 attorneys who work pro bono for the organization, are not Baha’i. But its overarching ethos is rooted in the spiritual principles of Baha’i, particularly the belief that the achievement of full equality between women and men is necessary for society to progress, Miller-Muro explained.
The organization’s logo – the outline of a bird in flight – is inspired by a quote from Baha’i scripture: “The world of humanity has two wings – one is women and the other men. Not until both wings are equally developed can the bird fly. Should one wing remain weak, flight is impossible.”
Baha’i teaches that the best decisions should be made consultatively – not by fiat or in a top-down hierarchical manner. It also insists on strict nonpartisanship.
While Baha’is are allowed to vote and are expected to participate in their respective cultures and societies, they are not supposed to belong to any political party or accept political posts. So while Tahirih’s work is enmeshed with the U.S. immigration and legal systems, it is vehemently nonpolitical, Miller-Muro explained.
“We’re nonpartisan, we’re consultative, we’re embracing of men and women in the process of equality – all these different things that we’re trying to apply, those are spiritual solutions above and beyond normal lawyering or a normal legal aid organization and I do think it contributes to our success,” she said.
Since its inception in 1997, Tahirih, with offices near Miller-Muro’s home in Washington, D.C., as well as in Baltimore, Houston, Atlanta and the San Francisco Bay Area, has assisted more than 25,000 immigrants. Last year, the organization provided free legal services to more than 1,800 women and girls, and more than 1,700 of their family members. The organization’s success rate for winning asylum cases is a staggering 99 percent, according to its annual report.
Among those successful asylum cases is that of Aicha Abdoulaye Mahamane, who suffered a litany of horrors for the first 27 years of her life that are as unimaginable as they were relentless: rape, beatings, forced marriage, international sex trafficking, modern-day slavery.
A native of Niger, in Africa, she experienced and witnessed violence from a young age, culminating (after she refused to undergo ritual female genital mutilation) in a forced marriage at age 17 to a violent man more than thrice her age who raped and beat her for months on end.
Aicha Abdoulaye Mahamane, who received asylum in the U.S., speaks at a fundraiser for Tahirih Justice Center in Laguna Beach, Calif., in September 2018. Photo by Gabe Sullivan/Tahirih Justice Center
Fearing for her life, Mahamane fled to an aunt’s home in neighboring Togo, where she lived in constant fear of her abusive husband discovering her whereabouts until her aunt could arrange for her to immigrate to the United States.
But when Mahamane arrived in New York City in 2004, the man who had promised to help her start a new life, instead sexually abused her and kept her a prisoner in his home for five months, until word came that her sister had died, and he allowed her to return to Niger. There she stayed in hiding for almost a year, until her husband learned she was in country. She returned to the States, this time to Maryland.
Once again, the person entrusted with Mahamane’s well-being became her oppressor. “At the time, I didn’t know what human trafficking was, but I knew how I felt – being treated like a slave,” Mahamane said. “I had hoped to get a job, become independent, but this woman made me work for three years as a domestic servant – never paying me, never allowing me to have visitors, never allowing me to leave the house unless it was to go to church on Sundays.”
It was at that church in suburban Maryland, however, that Mahamane, who was reared Muslim before converting to Christianity, first learned about Tahirih.
“Not only did they help me file for my asylum, they also helped me with shelter, with food,” she said. “And the most amazing thing they could have done for me: They helped me with a therapist. She worked with me for three years and it changed everything in my life.”
In June 2014, Mahamane’s asylum petition was approved. She now is happily married and has a young son. “I finally am free from violence and abuse,” she said. “Please don’t underestimate the power you have to make a difference in girls’ lives. Every day there are girls just like me calling Tahirih looking for help.”
Mahamane and many of Tahirih’s clients are “change agents, like my grandmother,” Miller-Muro said. “By their courage and willingness to say no to multigeneration practices, they are changing the trajectory of their cultures and their communities and their families.”

Evacuees pray near tents outside a mosque damaged by the massive earthquake and tsunami in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, on Oct. 5, 2018. Hundreds of survivors in the city of Palu gathered at shattered mosques for Friday prayers, seeking strength to rebuild their lives a week after a powerful earthquake and tsunami killed more than 1,500 people. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

Clergywomen numbers increased significantly in two decades, sometimes equaling men
The Rev. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli, center, gives the benediction at Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C., on July 27, 2014. The Rev. Theresa S. Thames, associate pastor, left, and the Rev. Dawn M. Hand, executive pastor, right, joined her. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks
(RNS) – The share of women in the ranks of American clergy has doubled – and sometimes tripled – in some denominations over the last two decades, a new report shows.
“I was really surprised in a way, at how much progress there’s been in 20 years,” said the report’s author, Eileen Campbell-Reed, an associate professor at Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville, Tenn. “There’s kind of a circulating idea that, oh well, women in ministry has kind of plateaued and there really hasn’t been lot of growth. And that’s just not true.”
The two traditions with the highest percentages of women clergy were the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ, according to the “State of Clergywomen in the U.S.,” released earlier this month. Fifty-seven percent of UUA clergy were women in 2017, while half of clergy in the UCC were female in 2015. In 1994, women constituted 30 percent of UUA clergy and 25 percent of UCC clergy.
UUA President Susan Frederick-Gray credits the increase to a decision by her denomination’s General Assembly in 1970 to call for more women to serve in ministry and policymaking roles. She noted that as of this year, 60 percent of UUA clergy are women.
“All that work in the ’70s and ’80s made it possible for me, in the early 2000s, to come into ministry and be successful and lead thriving churches,” said Frederick-Gray, “and now be elected as the first female, first woman minister elected to the UUA presidency.”
Campbell-Reed and a research assistant gathered clergywomen statistics that had not been collected across 15 denominations for two decades. The Rev. Barbara Brown Zikmund, who co-authored the 1998 book “Clergy Women: An Uphill Calling,” welcomed the new report as a way to start closing the gap in the research.
“While the experiences of women and the evolution of church life and leadership have changed dramatically over the past two decades, there have been no comprehensive studies on women and church leadership,” she said.
“I was sort of looking around and seeing so many women and remembering that in my years in seminary in the ’60s how few of us there were,” said Crabtree, a trustee and alumna of the theological school. “So it’s definitely a sea change in terms of women’s ordination.”
Campbell-Reed’s research found a tripling of percentages of clergywomen in the Assemblies of God, the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America between 1994 and 2017.

But Campbell-Reed also found that clergywomen – with the exception of Unitarian Universalists – continue to lag behind clergymen in leading their churches. In the UCC, for example, female and male clergy are equal in number, but only 38 percent of UCC pastors are women.
Instead, many clergywomen – as well as clergymen – serve in ministerial roles other than that of pastor, including chaplains, nonprofit staffers and professors.
Paula Nesbitt, president of the Association for the Sociology of Religion, said other researchers have long observed “the persistent clergy gender gap in attainment and compensation.”
For women of color, especially, significant gaps remain, and for women in some conservative churches, ordination is not an option.
Campbell-Reed noted that clergywomen of color “remain a distinct minority” in most mainline denominations. Those who have risen to leadership in the top echelons of their religious groups, she said, have done so after long years of service.
“Some of them are also being recognized for their contributions and their work, like any other person who’s got longevity and wisdom, by being elected as bishops in their various communions,” she said of denominations such as the United Methodist Church and the ELCA.
Women’s Leadership by Denomination. Graphic courtesy of StateofClergywomen.org
Campbell-Reed also pointed out the role of women who serve churches despite being barred from pastoral positions in congregations of the country’s two largest denominations, the Southern Baptist Convention and the Roman Catholic Church.
Former Southern Baptist women like herself have joined the pastoral staffs of breakaway groups such as the Alliance of Baptists, which have women pastoring 40 percent of their congregations. And Catholic women constitute 80 percent of lay ecclesial ministers, who “are running the church on a day-to-day basis,” she said.
To read the rest of this interesting article, go to

Indian women smear vermilion powder on each other during Vijayadashmi celebrations in Mumbai, India, on Oct. 19, 2018. Vijayadashami, also known as Dussehra, commemorates the victory of the Hindu god Rama over demon god Ravana. The festivity is marked with the burning of effigies of Ravana, signifying the victory of good over evil. (AP Photo/Rajanish Kakade)

This Community Is Tearing Itself Apart Over Non-Christians Owning Houses
Bay View, Michigan, is an idyllic place that has been consumed by an unlikely 21st-century debate: Should non-Christians be allowed to vote and buy property?
At its peak in the late 19th and early 20th century, the Chautauqua movement, a Protestant continuing-education initiative characterized by lectures, concerts, and other entertainment, was a cultural force with hundreds of seasonal locations and tens of millions of devotees. The original Chautauqua, in western New York, remains a prominent destination, with its own opera company, golf course, and literary programming; a dozen or so remaining others are also spread around the country. Bay View was founded in 1875 as part of that movement by a group of Michigan Methodists who convinced a railroad company to provide the land. Its early 20th century Victorian-style cottages remain strikingly intact: With a central quad, post office, chapel, auditorium, and other buildings, the community resembles a charming small college campus, and serves as an important cultural center in its own right. Along with various intellectual and vocational courses-Roman cooking, Tai Chi, Chomsky-this past summer’s offerings included a lecture by the Yale constitutional law professor Akhil Amar and a Ben Folds concert.
“It’s got a nice reputation as being a special place,” Larry Massie, a Michigan historian, said, though he added it could also be somewhat insular. “Elitist-I think that’d be a better word than snotty.”
Bay View was clearly established as a Protestant retreat. Members opposed to changing the requirements point to its mission statementoutlining the centrality of Christian values, and to historical documents that suggest the founders’ religious intent. “We did not enter this wilderness to make money, nor build a city of pleasure,” one 1900 brochure reads. “We came to worship God, to establish a center of Christian influence.”
The membership battle is not about prejudice or bigotry, they insist, but about preserving the community’s Christian identity. “It has been a closed community and, more than that, it’s been a place where the spirit of God has been present because His people have been present,” one member, Marcia-Anne Dunbar, said. “That’s what makes Bay View a special place.”
Yet others see an expansion of Bay View’s demographics as a fair and necessary evolution-and believe the movement of Christianity is flexible enough to include even non-believers. “Some of us think that Jesus’s message-the Christian message-is one of openness and inclusiveness,” Duquette said. “And not dividing into smaller and smaller sects.”
Duquette and others collected hundreds of signatures, asking the board to convene a committee on the issue. It was a nonstarter: Amid staunch opposition from a board member, trustees passed a resolution to remain neutral. In 2011 a slim majority voted to keep the Christian requirement. The next spring the board did convene a special committee, which produced a stalemate. A 2013 vote found a slim majority in favor of a change, but not the required two-thirds. So did a 2016 vote. Proponents of change, increasingly dismayed at what they saw as both an immoral and likely illegal stance from their community, filed a complaint with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, then the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. The federal housing discrimination suit, filed in July 2017, was a last resort.
“We didn’t want to embarrass the community. We didn’t want the press,” Duquette said. “We love this place and we want to see it succeed. But eventually we were left with no options-there was no way we were going to get a two-thirds vote.”
The suit, unsurprisingly, thrust private Bay View into a harsh media spotlight; this May, as the case proceeded, the ACLU aligned with the plaintiffs. “Fifty years after the passage of the Fair Housing Act, Bay View’s policies seem stuck in the past, harkening back to an era where blatant and discriminatory restrictions on homeownership were commonplace,” Rebecca Guterman, a paralegal with the organization, wrote in a memo. “Moreover, under state law, Bay View has significant authority akin to a governmental body… and so must honor the Constitution as cities and towns do. It cannot put the government stamp of approval on practicing Christians over all others.”
From the beginning, the saga had consumed the community by the lake. At an early public hearing, Sheaffer recounted, residents packed into Voorhies Hall for an open mic forum that lasted hours. While most spoke respectfully, some residents worried aloud that a synagogue would be built, or that Bay View could end up resembling Dearborn, the Michigan city known for its large Arab and Muslim populations. “That’s the one that just hits you between the eyes,” Sheaffer said. “‘Oh God, here’s what we’re up against.'”
Mostly, though, the battle was intense but civil. The lead-up to each vote resembled a political campaign, with each side dropping fliers and sending email missives. Still, as the dispute wore on, decades-long friendships became strained. Some families, like Sheaffer’s-his cousin is a board member opposed to the change-were also divided.
“We have people-I’m one of ’em-with battle fatigue,” Dick Crossland, who led the group opposed to the change, said. “It’s been going on every summer here for ten years.”
Crossland, a retired lighting company CEO, has visited Bay View every summer except one since he was two years old. He’s still close with friends he made as a kid in the summer club programs, and remembers learning to play bridge in the old rec building and mischievously ringing Bay View’s church bells. When his daughters were growing up, the family moved often, but Bay View was a constant. “This was like home,” he said, rocking slowly on his porch swing on a perfect late summer afternoon. “This was the anchor.”
From Crossland’s perspective, the Christian-only requirements were always transparent. Jews and other non-Christians knew the rules; membership, of course, is voluntary. “If you choose to be another religion, well, why do you want to be part of a Christian community? Why change the community for a few people who changed their faith?”
And where proponents of the change are adamant they’re not trying to take religion out of Bay View, only to make it more inclusive, Crossland sees a slippery slope. “I do not believe they’re malicious,” he said of the group advocating for inclusion. “But I don’t think they’ve thought it through.” Non-Christians could potentially vote down fees that go to Christian worship services, he points out, or take additional legal action. Bay View, he fears, could end up essentially secular, like most other Chautuquas have, or, with increased turnover, lose its unique sense of community altogether.
“It’s not that they’re bad people, but we’re going to change Bay View from what it was,” he said . And once you open the door to change, who knows where it could end up. “I just thought Bay View was unique,” he said of his decision to get involved. “You could break it if you tried to fix it.”
This summer’s vote was billed as a kind of compromise that would finally end the dispute. The “Christian persuasion” and minister-letter requirements would be removed, although a new amendment would require prospective members to agree to “respect the principles of the United Methodist Church” and support Bay View’s Christian mission. It would also add a requirement that a majority of the nine-person board is Methodist. On August 4, 483 members voted in favor, 214 against-a 69 percent majority.
Even change proponents, skeptical that two-thirds of Bay View members could ever agree, were taken aback at the result. “A great deal of relief that there’s a path to leave this to my family,” Sheaffer said of his reaction. “A great deal of relief that 69 percent of the members voted for change… It felt like we’re not alone in this anymore.”
But the new language, the plaintiff group argues, still imposes a religious test on prospective members, only through less explicit language. “Our group endorsed the proposal, because it was moving in the right direction,” Duquette said. “But we said from the very beginning that this would not resolve the lawsuit.
After the vote the court requested an additional briefing; the case remains ongoing. The plaintiffs are optimistic the suit will finally allow Bay View to move towards a long-overdue equality. “I think we’re fighting for the soul of the place,” Duquette said. “I didn’t expect this to take ten years, I must say that. But I have never doubted that this is where Bay View would end up.”
Crossland believes Bay View could come together again after the vote, and says he’s reconciled to the membership change. But the lawsuit, he said, “scares the hell out of me.” He worries the court could impose some unforeseen drastic action, or that the process could bankrupt Bay View. Mostly though, he worries about the future of a community he loves. “We’re just trying to retain the character and the uniqueness of Bay View as a Christian community,” he said. “Maybe you can’t do it. Maybe the culture is going to force itself in, and you’re never going to be able to keep those things the way they were.”

A pumpkin carved with the message ‘Pittsburgh Strong’ sits among flowers outside the Tree of Life synagogue, on Nov. 1, 2018, as part of a makeshift memorial dedicated to those killed while worshipping at the synagogue on Oct. 27 in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

In Pittsburgh, Muslims are eager to join Jews
 in fight against immigrant hate
PITTSBURGH (RNS) – At the end of Jummah prayers at the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh on Friday (Nov. 2), its leaders made an unusual request: Go attend Friday night services at a synagogue near you.
The request came an hour before the funeral of 97-year-old Rose Mallinger, the last of those killed at Tree of Life synagogue to be buried, and as the Jewish community of Squirrel Hill was readying for its first Shabbat after 11 of the synagogue’s congregants died in an anti-Semitic shooting spree last Saturday (Oct. 27).
Politically, American Jews and Muslims have their differences, especially on the issue of Palestinian statehood, but here in Pittsburgh, the two faith groups have cultivated a strong and mutually supportive relationship, one that precedes the terrorist strikes of 9/11.
These days, they also share a common foe: people who demonize immigrants, such as Robert Bowers, the man accused of storming the synagogue with a semi-automatic weapon and shooting indiscriminately.
Bowers was particularly incensed by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, reportedly posting on social media, “HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people.” He was apparently referring to Muslims. HIAS has taken pride in resettling mostly Muslim refugees from war-torn Syria.
Muslims, like many Jews, understand that a person like Bowers could strike at their faith community, too.
“You go half an hour this way or that way, it’s a different country,” said Mizanoor Biswas, chair of the board of directors of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh. “Immigrant sentiment is very raw. I don’t want to talk politics, but the seed is there. It’s spewing all over.”
For Jews, who are themselves mostly children or grandchildren of immigrants, growing nativism is a serious concern.
“The Jewish story in America is one of the most successful stories of immigration, ever,” said Rabbi Jamie Gibson of Temple Sinai, a large Reform congregation in Squirrel Hill. “People came to this country and often lived in poverty in the first generation but worked very hard to achieve what used to be called the American dream. We do not want that dream all to ourselves.”
Many here in Pittsburgh have noted that the same raw immigrant sentiment was apparently shared by Cesar Sayoc, the Florida man accused of mailing a pipe bomb to George Soros, a Jewish hedge-fund manager turned global philanthropist who was born in Hungary. President Trump’s calling Hispanic immigrants “rapists” and “animals” hits hard in Jewish communities like Squirrel Hill, where the elders especially remember how Jews were taunted in Nazi Germany.
Meanwhile, this week’s funerals have been held as thousands of active-duty soldiers are being sent to the U.S. border with Mexico to bar the efforts of a Central American migrant caravan to seek asylum in the United States.
“There’s this sadness and anger toward the president who keeps pouring oil on the fire,” said Jacob Naveh, an educator who has lived in Squirrel Hill since 1969.
Bowers himself is alleged to have been motivated in part by anti-Semitic agitators who contend that Jews – or at least some prominent Jews like Soros – are behind an effort to replace native-born whites with immigrants. Muslims, no less attuned to the anti-immigrant rhetoric, are taking note of the rising hysteria and working hard to combat it. They were among the groups to raise the most money for victims of the Pittsburgh Jewish community. To date, the Muslims Unite for Pittsburgh Synagogue campaign has raised more than $232,000. Wasi Mohamed, the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh executive director, went beyond a pitch for dollars. “We just want to know what you need,” he told a crowd at a vigil honoring the lives of the shooting victims. “If it’s more money, let us know. If it’s people outside your next service protecting you, let us know – we’ll be there….  If you just need somebody to come to the grocery store because you don’t feel safe in this city, we’ll be there and I’m sure everybody in the room would say the same thing. We’re here for the community.”
Muhammed Haq, another Muslim center board member, said the beauty of America is that it brings different faith groups together.
“It’s interesting how many nationalities I’ve met here that I would never have met in any other nation on earth,” said Haq, who planned to attend a Friday night service at Rodeph Shalom, a Reform synagogue in Pittsburgh. “There are 48 nationalities in this mosque. I can’t travel to all those countries in my lifetime. But here in Allegheny County I can see the beautiful coming together of different cultures and religions.
“That’s what faith does,” Haq said. “Faith unites us; politics often divide us.”

Joining Together
Interfaith vigils offer support
amidst violence and hatred in Pittsburgh.
Jewish News, November 8, 2018
Chaplain Yvonne Fant Moore leads the singing of “We Shall Overcome” at the interfaith service at Beth Shalom in Oak Park.
Photo by Rabbi Matt Zerwekh
Several vigils for the Tree of Life Congregation shooting victims held last week were gatherings of people of many faiths, all saddened by the show of hatred in Pittsburgh. At Temple Beth El on Oct. 30 in Bloomfield Township, 1,200 people of various faiths and backgrounds filled the main sanctuary to mourn and be together. Through solidarity and faith expressed in words and music, they found comfort and hope. The support from non-Jewish neighbors was heartwarming to the Jewish community.
“The first call I received [after the shootings] was from Imam Almasmari. Then I heard from our other [interfaith] partners right away,” said Rabbi Mark Miller, Beth El’s senior rabbi.
Clergy from six local congregations, in addition to Beth El, as well as a representative of state government, provided moving personal and religious perspectives. The vigil closed with the lighting of individual memorial candles for each Tree of Life victim. Members of the participating congregations as well as representatives of Beth El, Jewish Federation and JCRC/AJC pronounced each name along with a specific message of anti-bigotry.
Interfaith vigil at Beth El: Rabbi Steven Rubenstein, Beth Ahm; Rabbi Megan Brudney, Beth El; Rev. Jasmine Smart, Kirk in the Hills; Pastor Aramis Hinds, Breakers Covenant Church International; Father Tony Tocco, St. Hugo’s Parish; Lutheran Bishop Donald Kreiss; Imam Mohamed Almasmari, Muslim Unity Center; Richard Bernstein, Michigan Supreme Court Associate Justice; Rev. Canon Dr. William J. Danaher Jr., Christ Church Cranbrook; and
Rabbi Mark Miller and Cantor Rachel Gottlieb Kalmowitz, Beth El.
Congregation Beth Shalom, along with Temple Emanu-El, hosted an interfaith vigil the same evening that was organized in part by the Interfaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit, the Detroit Interfaith Outreach Network and the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion. The vigil drew 500 people. Members of Beth Shalom and Emanu-El welcomed and thanked participants and encouraged them to light a candle in memory of those murdered.
Before the evening concluded with the singing of “We Shall Overcome,” Beth Shalom’s Rabbi Robert Gamer reminded the crowd of the teachings of Rabbi Hillel: If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?
“We have to be for ourselves, but we have to go outside of ourselves to reach out to those who are different from us, who do not look like us and who do not pray the same as us,” Gamer said. “This evening must mark a beginning and not an end. We have to be for each other not just today, but every day. That is the only way we can change the world. That is the only way we will never have another evening like this.”
In Windsor, hundreds gathered Oct. 30 at Temple Beth El for a multi-faith service. Clergy from Christian, Muslim, Sikh and indigenous faiths talked, prayed and sang during the 90-minute service, which opened with the lighting of Yizkor candles in memory of the 11 Pittsburgh dead. The gathering underlined the goodwill that has long characterized the Windsor faith communities. Bruce Elman, religious vice president of Congregation Shaar HaShomayim and Windsor city hall’s integrity commissioner, called on the local community to respond to the atrocity by reaffirming Judaism and its larger community ties, noting the gathering was a first step.
“We can stand together as a community united against hate,” he said.
Imam Mohamed Mahmoud of the Windsor Islamic Association said the “attack on you is an attack on all of us” and that “we all under the skin are the same.” And he said violence afflicts all groups, pointing to the mass shooting at a mosque in Quebec City in January 2017 that killed six and injured 19.
Beth El Rabbi Lynn Goldstein noted the irony of the killings as the victims “took their last breath in a building named for life.” She implored Jews, in wake of the tragedy, not to hide but “to act.” She said now, more than ever, “we have to reach out to each other with caring and compassion.”
JN Contributing Writers Shari S. Cohen and Stacy Gittleman as well as Ron Stang in Windsor contributed to this report.

Indian vendors arrange marigold flowers and await customers at a flower market ahead of Diwali, the festival of lights, in Hyderabad, India, on Nov. 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Mahesh Kumar A.)
Poll workers Romana Akter, left, and Urrmi Begum give an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man his ballot for the U.S. midterm elections on Nov. 6, 2018, in Brooklyn, N.Y. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

November 2018

Written by WISDOM on . Posted in Newsletters

Calendar for WISDOM and Other Interfaith Events 
 
Thursday, November 1st, 6:30 PM at Thai Basil im Livonia
Sister Circle Get Together
Interested?  Contact Shama Mehta at shama.mehta7@gmail.com 

Monday, November 5th 1:00 – 3:00 PM
WISDOM’s Five Women Five Journeys at SOAR
Adat Shalom Synagogue, 29901 Middlebelt, Farmington HIlls
Wednesday, November 7th, 7-9 Women Confronting Racism Lecture
Civil Discourse – Exploring racism within ourselves and our society.
St. John’s Episcopal Church, 26998 Woodward Ave., Royal Oak
See Flyer Below
Sunday, November 11th 11:00 AM
Jewish Community Center Book Fair WISDOM presentation
of book Friendship and Faith
6600 W. Maple Rd., West Bloomfield
See flyer Below
Sunday, November 11th, 3:00 PM – 6:00 PM
InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit
Panel on “Religious Sensitivities” at st George Antiochian Orthodox Church, 2160 Maple Rd., Troy 48083
See Flyer Below
Thursday, November 14th 7 – 9, Women Confronting Racism Lecture
Examining White Fragility
St. John’s Episcopal Church, 26998 Woodward Ave. Royal Oak
See Flyer Below
Thursday, December 5th  7 – 9, Women Confronting Racism Lecture
The Intersectionality of Culture, Race, and Gender
St. John’s Episcopal Church, 26998 Woodward Ave. Royal Oak
See Flyer Below
Saturday, December 8th 10:00 – 3:00
Mosaic Tile Sale
See Flyer Below
Tuesday, December 11th, 6:30 PM
Mosaic Art Workshop with Song and Spirit Institute for Peace
4300 Rochester Road, Royal Oak
Save the Date
Sunday, March 24th, 2019 (afternoon)
Celebration of International Women’s Day
Save the Date

WISDOM Women will be presenting “Friendship and Faith” 2nd Edition at the Jewish Community Center’s 2018 Book Fair, on November 11th at 11:00 AM. Come join us at the JCC, 6600 W. Maple Road, West Bloomfield, MI 48322
Gail Katz will facilitate and introduce Rabbi Dorit Edut, Najah Bazzy, and Padma Kuppa, who will read excerpts from their stories and respond to questions from the audience.
Purchase our book at the JCC or find it online at Amazon, in both print and e-book formats.
Questions?  Contact Gail at gailkatz@comcast.net

Muslims Raise $146K for Victims in Synagogue
Detroit Free Press
Niraj Warikoo
Muslims have raised more than $146,000 so far through a Detroit-based fundraising site to help the victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue attack.
After the attack on Saturday that killed 11 inside the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Muslims mobilized on LaunchGood, an online site headquartered in Detroit  created and led by Muslims since 2013. The site is similar to platforms like GoFundMe.
The effort is focused on raising money to help support shooting victims with short-term needs such as funeral expenses and medical bills, according to LaunchGood. The money is being distributed to the synagogue through the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh.
LaunchGood said the campaign for the synagogue victims was started by two Muslim groups, Celebrate Mercy, which honors Islam’s prophet, and MPower Change, a nonprofit group that mobilizes Muslims on social justice issues.
“It was very sickening to see the synagogue attacked like that,” Subhan Vahora, a manager at Celebrate Mercy, which is based in Philadelphia, told the Free Press. “Our organization teaches about the life of the prophet. Many of his teachings tell us to try and respond to these evil actions with good. And so we thought, what better way to reach out to our Abrahamic cousins and support the Jewish community in hard times.”
Vahora recounted a story in Islam where Prophet Mohammed is said to have stood up to show respect as a Jewish funeral procession passed by. He said that the fundraising is one way that Muslims and Jews can come together. In a statement, LaunchGood said “the Muslim-American community extends its hands to help the shooting victims, whether it is the injured victims or the Jewish families who have lost loved ones.”
“We wish to respond to evil with good, as our faith instructs us, and send a powerful message of compassion through action. Our Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said: ‘Show mercy to those on Earth, and the One in the Heavens will show mercy to you.’ The Quran also teaches us to ‘Repel evil by that which is better.'”
Saturday’s shooting was the deadliest attack on Jewish people in the history of the U.S., according to the Anti-Defamation League. Before he attacked, the shooter had expressed anger about Jewish groups helping migrants and Muslim immigrants.
On Saturday, LaunchGood set a goal of raising $25,000 and quickly reached that. It then increased the goal to $50,000, then $75,000, and now $150,000. LaunchGood has been raising more than $3,000 per hour.
It has now raised $146,985 as of late Monday afternoon with 3,471 supporters donating. “Through this campaign, we hope to send a united message from the Jewish and Muslim communities that there is no place for this type of hate and violence in America,” said LaunchGood. “We pray that this restores a sense of security and peace to the Jewish-American community who has undoubtedly been shaken by this event.  The CEO of LaunchGood, Chris Abdur-Rahman Blauvelt, of Dearborn, helped co-found LaunchGood in 2013. The crowdfunding site said it has raised more than $55 million with more than 5,000 fundraising campaigns.  Last year, it helped raise $162,000 to help repair Jewish cemeteries that were vandalized. 
After the Pittsburgh shooting, LaunchGood featured on its main page a headline that read “Muslims Unite for Pittsburgh Synagogue. Donate to Shooting Victims’ Families.” Vahora, whose group Celebrate Mercy started the fundraising efforts, said the huge response “shows the beauty of humanity and the power we have when we all work together.”
In metro Detroit, other Muslim-American and Arab-American groups have been speaking out about the Pittsburgh shooting. The Arab American Civil Rights League in Dearborn, Imams Council of Michigan, and the Islamic Institute of America in Dearborn Heights, released statements condemning the attack.
“This unfathomable crime should be condemned by all people of faith and conscience,” said the Islamic Institute of America, led by Imam Hassan Qazwini. “United, we send a strong message that no such crime will be tolerated by any individual. Synagogues, churches, mosques and all places of worship are sacred grounds and their sanctities should be preserved.
“… We offer our heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims as our thoughts and prayers are with them during this trying time.”
The Imams Council of Michigan said in a statement on Monday that “Muslims are obliged to protect all houses of worship, as the holy Quran teaches. … Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, xenophobia, and racial discrimination are plaguing our country and they must stop.”

Dear Friend in Faith,

Since 2015, over 400 congregations have received more $500,000 worth of FREE energy efficiency upgrades through Light the Way, a program Michigan IPL offers with Consumers Energy. Until now, this program has only been available to Consumers Energy customers with electric service. Starting this week, houses of worship with Consumers gas service are eligible to sign up!
That’s why I’m reaching out to congregations in Oakland, Livingston, Macomb, Lapeer, Tuscola, Huron, and Van Buren counties, plus a few neighboring communities. So far, participating houses of worship have received an average of $1,300 worth of free upgrades and expect to save $650 each year on energy bills-savings that can go right back into their vital missions. Saving energy is a great way for congregations to put their faith into action-to become better stewards of God’s Creation, while also being better stewards of their own financial resources.
This program is available for a limited time and on a first come, first served basis. For more information and to sign-up, visit our website or contact me at (248) 463-8811 or projectmanager@miipl.org
Best regards,
Jennifer Young
Program Manager

A Muslim, a Jew, and a Christian
walk into a concert hall…
…and treat an audience to an
inspiring night of song, story, and laughter.
Watch the You Tube video by clicking below:
Interfaith Band “Abraham Jam” will be worth the trip to Kalamazoo 7 p.m. Nov. 18, @ congregation of Moses
Congregation of Moses, a member of United Synagogue of America, welcomes Abraham Jam to perform 7 p.m. Nov. 18 , 2501 Stadium Drive Kalamazoo, MI 49008.
Abraham Jam-composed of Billy Jonas, David LaMotte, and Dawud Wharnsby-features three “brothers” from the three Abrahamic faiths. Jonas, LaMotte and Wharnsby have performed extensively over the last few decades in their individual careers.
“Harmony is better than unity,” says David LaMotte, who helped create Abraham Jam. “We don’t have to be singing the same note to cultivate peace, we can sing different notes that are beautiful together.” LaMotte is a well-loved songwriter, with over 3000 concerts on five continents and every state in the U.S. on his musical resumé.
They don’t just take turns sharing songs, but create music together, contributing vocal harmonies, percussion, and instrumentation to each other’s songs.
These three seasoned songwriters, have teamed up to make a convincing case that harmony, where they sing different notes that are beautiful together, To them, this is even better than unity.

‘The church needs women for its salvation’:
One-woman play champions nun’s quest for social justice
Some 28 years ago, Teri Bays sent a letter to Benedictine nun Joan Chittister. “I wish your words were on my lips,” wrote Bays.
They are now…..with stunning and, at times, shocking, effect.
Joan Chittister: Her Story, My Story, Our Story, created by Bays, a singer, writer and actress from Sedona, AZ, was performed by Bays on Friday at St. Mark Lutheran Church in Harding.
The large and appreciative audience gave Ms. Bays a standing, sustained ovation at the conclusion of her performance.
Joan Chittister is a woman for all seasons. With 60 books, 12 honorary degrees, leadership positions too numerous to count, and a global following, this revered author and speaker has had a lot to say about peace, justice, women’s issues and the role of religious life in the modern world.  She certainly has created a presence.  And Teri Bays, her disciple, “becomes” her to demonstrate through Chittister’s words-and her own-the profound connection between them. She intensifies Chittister’s impact and makes it at once personal and universal. The performance is deeply affecting.
As Bays moves from left to right on the stage, we hear each woman in various times and places, and witness the strands of experience that connect them.  Bays’ mother was in elementary school with Chittister;  both women, as girls, sought refuge from terror in their households that were fueled by their fathers’ alcoholism and abuse.
Seeking freedom from fear, they found solace in books, in their diaries and journals, and in companionship and support in the homes of friends, in Bays’ case, and in Chittister’s, in the Benedictine convent which she joined as a novice in 1952. Their paths diverge and come together as certain themes emerge: Struggling for standing, engaging in protest, embracing non-denominational spirituality, seeking self-understanding in times of change, teaching to embrace social justice, and loving music.
 
Benedictine nun Joan Chittister.
They both experience and resist intolerance, racism and sexism in the church, and, confidently, distance themselves from it.
Seeking to advance morality over religiosity, they take stands for life-more than birth, living free from poverty and duress-they attack the “enemies of our time: Power and profit,” and they assert their equality, resist silencing, and answer the call to leadership, in different ways to be sure.
As Chittister says, “The church needs women for its salvation,” I heard a strong echo from her disciple and supportive murmurs from the audience. Bays’ performance is delivered with a heavy hand-Chittister’s compelling words-but also with a light touch-expressing the great good humor of both of these talented, courageous and resilient women.
Prophets and poets both, they are leading the new way, using public settings, churches, lecture halls and stages to have their voices heard, urging people, as Chittister says, “to live faithfully and to love radically, ” to be public thinkers so as to inspire openness to possibility, resisting retreat to past ways. Billed as “a one woman play for all women,” Joan Chittister: Her Story, is so much more.  It is a play for men too, and especially for those who wear clerical collars; it is for all those who work for change in the church and more, for those who share faith in humanity, peace, spirituality and common purpose.
Bays’ appearance was supported in part by the Sophia Inclusive Catholic Community, whose roots are solidly in the tradition of Vatican II.  Its mission was given a burst of energy and spirit tonight and Sister Joan Chittister and Teri Bays found themselves in good company.

Late in November 2016, people from all over the country gathered in Cambridge, Mass., for an experimental meeting in an austere room at Harvard Divinity School. It was deeply cold outside, and just weeks after the election, many of the participants were feeling shaken.
Around the table where they had gathered were two demographic groups that rarely encounter each other: millennials who describe themselves as having no single religious practice (better known as “nones”); and Catholic women religious, who mostly prefer to be called sisters but will settle for being called nuns.
They had gathered to share experiences of community, spirituality and activism. More quickly than anyone had anticipated, they discovered enough common ground to lead one of the sisters to tell the millennials, “I believe that we are more alike than we are different.”
Although the number of nones is growing, making up nearly 25 percent of the population, according to the Pew Research Center, they are far from apathetic about what religion can offer, and many are self-described spiritual seekers. At the same time, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, the number of sisters is shrinking and aging, with fewer than 50,000 sisters alive today, and nearly 90 percent of those sisters are over the age of 60. But women religious are often the first to tell you that they aren’t experiencing a narrative of decline, because they still have millennia of wisdom and experience to share.
The Nuns and Nones project seeks to bring these two groups together in order to explore new forms of community life, help millennials see models for sustainable activism and create an intergenerational network of connections, what the project’s website describes as “an unlikely alliance across communities of spirit.” Different people emphasized different turning points in the origin of the project, but the sisters and millennials I interviewed all agreed: It began with a gathering, a circle, and it began with conversation.
The Harvard Nuns and Nones gatherings were sponsored by How We Gather, a project led by Casper ter Kuile and Angie Thurston, two postgraduate fellows at Harvard Divinity School. How We Gather explores how millennials are building communities of meaning outside of institutional religious structures.
They were organized by the Rev. Wayne Muller, who is in his mid-60s and was ordained in the United Church of Christ, and Adam Horowitz, 31, who grew up in a secular Jewish family and now runs a nonprofit called the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture.
To read the rest of this interesting article please go to the following site:
https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2018/09/04/what-can-nuns-and-nones-learn-one-another

The rise of the imama: women-led mosques are growing
Negative stereotypes abound of how women are treated under Islam. But there’s a new movement of women-led mosques who are challenging this, and making both Muslims and non-Muslims think differently about the faith.
Sherin Khankan is Denmark’s first female imam, who opened the Mariam mosque in Copenhagen in 2016.
By Sara Miller Llana/The Christian Science Monitor
By Lin TaylorThomson Reuters Foundation
Copenhagen
From Copenhagen to Los Angeles, a handful of female mosques now cater to Muslim women who want their own place of worship, just as men have had through the ages.
“It is possible to change a narrative that has been patriarchal for centuries,” Sherin Khankan, founder of Europe’s first women’s mosque, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Her first-floor mosque – adjacent to a clothes shop – is invisible from the busy Danish shopping street below. But behind its anonymous, grey door, a quiet revolution is brewing.
For the past two years, women have been leading prayers, delivering sermons and running Copenhagen’s Mariam Mosque – though Ms. Khankan says she is not challenging the Koran, just rewriting a male-dominated way of worship.
“We can do that by promoting and disseminating new narratives, with a focus on gender equality. It’s not a reform. We’re going back to the essence of Islam,” she said, draping a red floral shawl across her shoulder. Although men and women are allowed to meet and pray during the week at Mariam Mosque, the mosque’s monthly, collective Friday prayers are for women only, said 43-year-old Khankan.
With a tiny prayer room and simple decor of candles, cushions and rugs, the mosque has about 150 worshippers. It was set up by Khankan with the support of Femimam, a group of female Muslim spiritual leaders in Denmark.
Muslim women’s groups and researchers say there is a lack of female Islamic leaders and dearth of worship spaces for women, since most mosques are gender-segregated and men dominate the main prayer rooms. So, after 15 years in the making, Mariam Mosque joined a handful of female-friendly mosques, including two in Los Angeles, another in the German city of Berlin – which welcomes men and women to Friday prayers – and a new build slated for the northern English city of Bradford, where there are plans to build Britain’s first women-led mosque by 2020.
Women-only mosques have existed for hundreds of years in China, where women have had a long tradition of leading prayers.
Director of Britain’s Muslim Women’s Council Bana Gora, who is spearheading the Bradford project, said mosques had overlooked women and girls for years. Ms. Gora said some women have had to pray in basements of mosques, or use back entrances where there are safety concerns such as a lack of lighting or security.
“Where do women congregate to talk about issues in society? You need a dedicated space where women can convene and talk to people who can help them, and we simply do not have those spaces anywhere,” she said in a telephone interview.
“It’s about women claiming their space in a mosque – there’s nothing wrong with that. I can see this catapulting across different faiths as well over time,” said Gora.
Khankan said the presence of fellow women in a mosque, as well as access to female spiritual leaders, meant women might feel comfortable seeking help for sensitive issues like inter-faith marriage or domestic violence. And for the 200 or so women in Denmark who wear a face veil, their world has grown smaller after a ban on niqab veils and body-length burqas in public spaces, said Khankan.
Denmark’s parliament enacted the ban in May, joining France and some other European Union countries to uphold what some politicians say are secular and democratic values. The justice ministry said the ban would focus on women forced by their families to wear veils.
“If a woman is isolated and forced to wear a burqa or the niqab, by criminalizing it, you will isolate her even more, because she might not be able to go out,” said Khankan, who also runs a domestic violence support group, Exit Circle. “It’s important to fight for any women’s right to wear the hijab or not, to wear the niqab or not – if it’s her own choice and her own free will,” she said.
Khankan said she hopes to see a new generation of female Islamic scholars and worship leaders, or ‘imam’ – a title normally given to men, which Khankan has proudly claimed.
“We are faced with patriarchal structures which we have normalized for decades. As long as they are alive and they are not challenged, we have a problem,” said Khankan.
“We have to state that women are the future of Islam. We have to make it possible for women to have the same possibilities as men,” she added.
The Koran does not directly address whether women can lead congregational prayer, according to many traditional Islamic scholars.
Some argue the Prophet Mohammad gave permission to women to lead any kind of prayer, while others say that he meant to restrict women to leading prayer at home.
Still, many traditionalists do not believe a man should hear a woman’s voice in prayer. But Giulia Liberatore, who is researching female Islamic scholars at the University of Edinburgh, said seeing women reach positions of power in Islam will have positive effects.
“If women see other women striving for the highest form of scholarship, they will start seeing themselves as someone who can do that as well,” she said.
This story was reported by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Global Hindu Gathering Draws Crowd, Protest in Chicago
By Emily McFarlan Miller on September 10th
LOMBARD, Ill. (RNS) – About 2,500 people from 60 countries attended the second World Hindu Congress last weekend near Chicago. The congress – which followed an inaugural gathering four years ago in India – opened Friday (Sept. 7) with a long blast from a conch shell to create good vibrations, a lamp lighting ceremony to dispel darkness, and a mantra calling for unity. There also were messages from world leaders like the Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists, who sent a video, and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who sent a letter.
The gathering, organized by the World Hindu Foundation, calls itself “a global platform for Hindus to connect, share ideas, inspire one another, and impact the common good.” And, like at many religious gatherings these days, a dispute broke out over religion and politics
A historic gathering The gathering was an historic event for Hindus, coming 125 years, nearly to the day, after a famed speech by Swami Vivekananda to the World’s Parliament of Religions in Chicago. That speech “put Hinduism on the global map,”according to Nitika Sharma, spokesperson for the World Hindu Congress.
A towering statue of Swami Vivekananda was unveiled to mark the occasion, and several speakers at the opening plenary referenced his speech, in which he said he was proud to belong to a “religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance.”
“That singular event, that singular act, changed the course of history and paved the way for Hindus to carry their traditions and values with confidence and pride as they traveled and settled in different corners of the world,” said Abhaya Asthana, president of Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America and coordinator of the 2018 congress. “Today, once again, we gather here in Chicago – this time, as a people, to echo and reaffirm the same old message of diversity, universal acceptance and cooperation.”
But not even a faith tradition that cherishes acceptance and cooperation is immune to political and cultural divides.
Panelists in a Friday afternoon session on cultivating political leadership in the United States and other Western democracies noted sponsors and speakers had been targeted with petitions asking them to withdraw from the event.
U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, the first Hindu elected to Congress, reportedlywithdrew months ago, citing “ethical reasons arising from participating in partisan politics of India in America.” Gabbard’s office did not return a call for comment, and organizers did not immediately answer how many panelists or sponsors had dropped out.
The Coalition for the Defense of the Constitution and Democracy also held a news conference in New York City prior to the congress, protesting the involvement of participants from VHPA, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and other groups. The coalition claimed in a press release that those groups are “promoting the agenda of Hindutva fascism under the cover of ‘Hindu resurgence.'”
Sunita Viswanath is co-founder of Sadhana, a group of progressive Hindus that joined other South Asian human rights, Hindu, Dalit, Muslim and secular activist organizations in the coalition. She said the coalition did not object to people gathering in general.
But they were protesting the ideology of some participating speakers and groups, which Viswanath described as “Hindu nationalist, Hindu supremacist.”
“A gathering like the World Hindu Congress seems to be celebrating Hinduism and India at a time when we think what’s urgent is speaking out for peace and nonviolence, for a feeling of brotherhood among people,” she said.
RSS is as an “ideological, nationalist Hindu group” that helped Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party rise to power in India in 2014, Reuters reports. The country’s Muslims and other religious and caste minorities since have pointed to incidents of religious violence and discrimination.
A panel discusses the collective efforts for Hindu resurgence during the World Hindu Congress on Sept. 7, 2018, near Chicago. RNS photo by Emily McFarlan Miller
The congress confirmed several people were arrested Friday after creating a disturbance during a panel discussion on collective efforts for Hindu resurgence that included Mohan Bhagwat, the head of RSS. Chicago South Asians for Justice posted a statement online saying they had staged the “peaceful disruption.” A video posted online showed people surrounding and shouting over protesters holding up a banner.
A ‘core value’ of Hinduism
Despite the protests, congress spokesperson Sharma defended RSS’ participation in the congress. It’s about “creating a proud Hindu identity,” she said, denying claims that made RSS or the congress a nationalist group: “I don’t think it is the correct way to describe us.”
Diversity of thought is “one of the core values of Hindu dharma,” or teaching, which includes a number of schools that can be contradictory but still are united in their fundamental beliefs, according to Sharma.
Because of that, she said, “We do believe that everyone should be free to choose what they believe in. Just like we’re proud to do this, if someone feels strongly against it, they’re free to express their views. … In some sense, some people are taking notice of what we’re doing, as well.”
Vindhya Adapa, a 28-year-old Hindu-American attorney for HIAS, a refugee resettlement agency, in Washington, D.C., said she only was “very, very vaguely” aware of the controversy before attending the event.
During the panel on cultivating political leadership, Adapa took the microphone to say she identified with the Democratic Party and to ask how to work together with other Hindus across party lines. She told Religion News Service she came to the congress “to learn more about my faith and learn more about service opportunities, political opportunities and network with people.”
“At the end of the day, this is a very diverse conference,” she said.
“I’m not going to agree with everyone who’s here, and I didn’t come here to find an echo chamber, so, yes, there may be certain politicians or certain leaders that not everyone agrees with, and perhaps that could be one reason why people thought it safe to avoid this conference. For me, personally speaking, this is an opportunity and a place to foster collaborative Hindu identity and thinking.”
The next World Hindu Congress is planned for 2022 in Bangkok.

October 2018

Written by WISDOM on . Posted in Newsletters

Calendar for WISDOM and Other Interfaith Events 
 
Ask A Jewish Person
Wednesday, October 3rd, 6:00 – 7:30 PM
Islamic Center of America
19600 Ford Rd., Dearborn MI
See Flyer Below

Wednesday, October 10th 7:00 – 9:00 PM
WISDOM’s Five Women Five Journeys
Muslim Unity Center, 1830 W. Square Lake Rd. Bloomfield Hills
See information below
Thursday, October 11th, Explore the Hindu Festival of Navaratri at the Bharatiya Temple in Troy. 6:00 PM to 10:00 PM
See information below!


Exploring Our Religious Landscapes Series
Sufism on October 18th at 7:00 PM
See Flyer Below
Sunday, October 21st, 2:00 PM
WISDOM Visit to the Hellenic Museum
67 E. Kirby, Detroit 48202
See Flyer Below
Thursday, November 1st, 6:30 PM at Thai Basil in Livonia
Sister Circle Get Together
Interested?  Contact Shama Mehta at shama.mehta7@gmail.com
Monday, November 5th 1:00 – 3:00 PM
WISDOM’s Five Women Five Journeys at SOAR
Society for Active Retirees
Birmingham Temple, 28611 W. 12 Mile Rd.,  Farmington HIlls


Sunday, November 11th 11:00 AM
Jewish Community Center Book Fair WISDOM presentation
of book Friendship and Faith
6600 W. Maple Rd., West Bloomfield
See information below
Sunday, November 11th, 3:00 PM – 6:00 PM
InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit
Panel on “Religious Sensitivities” at st George Antiochian Orthodox Church, 2160 Maple Rd., Troy 48083
See Flyer Below
Sunday, November 18th, 3:30 – 7:00 PM
Jewish Historical Society event at the
Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn.
See Flyer Below
Tuesday, December 11th, 6:30 PM
Mosaic Art Workshop with Song and Spirit Institute for Peace
4300 Rochester Road, Royal Oak
See information below!
Sunday, March 24th, 2019 (afternoon)
Celebration of International Women’s Day
Save the Date

Five-part program examines mysticism
in religious traditions

By Stephanie Preweda Special to Digital First Media

There are those of faith who worship only during holidays and those who worship weekly. Then there are those who take steps to deepen their faith so much it becomes a mystical experience.

The Rev. Charles Packer, lead minister of Pine Hill Congregational Church in West Bloomfield, taught an educational program, Mysticism in Christianity on Sept. 12.
The Rev. Charles Packer, lead minister of Pine Hill Congregational Church in West Bloomfield, hosted an educational program, Mysticism in Christianity, from 7-9 p.m. Sept. 12 at the church, 4160 Middlebelt Road in West Bloomfield Township. This was the first in a a five-part series about mysticism in five major faith-based traditions – Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism and Hinduism – presented by the InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit.
Each educational presentation will be at a different location over the course of four months.
“In each one of our religious traditions, there is a mystical movement,” said Packer. “The mystics, whether they be prophets, saints, gurus or Sufis, had something in common. The mystics tended to be experiential in nature.”
During the program, Parker touched on the earliest known Christian mystics dating from the Middle Ages, such as Saint Catherine of Sienna and Saint Theresa of Abila. Becoming a mystic is not something that can be attained through a series of steps; rather it describes a life-changing experience based on the deepening of one’s faith. People cannot choose to have a mystical experience, he said – rather they are chosen to experience mystical guidance.
Packer explained that those individuals would not have been labeled as a mystic during their time, but is something that was imposed on individuals at a later date.
“Those who we would say or think are mystics were very rooted in their tradition,” he says. “They weren’t necessarily seeking something new, they were simply trying to go deeper in their own various traditions.”
Through history, those who dove deeper in their faith tended to document experiences through their spiritual journeys. These experiences were collected in literature over hundreds of years, detailing phenomena of individuals who who we now call mystics.
These phenomena included visions or dreams so strong they are described as a physical encounter with the Divine. The repetition of dreams and visions guided the individual’s life in a mystical way, Packer says.
“(Mystics) do a lot of writing that is self disclosing, and so they end up sharing their experiences with faith and what we end up with is literature that reflects, for many of us, what would be an unusual expression of faith,” Parker says. “Throughout centuries, this literature has helped us understand how individuals express their faith in different time periods.”
The Kabbalistic Tree of Life with the names of the Sephiroth and paths in Hebrew.  Public Domain
In other traditions, mysticism may be studied as esoteric learnings and interpretations of the holy scriptures. One example that is well known in popular culture is the Kabbalah. Kabbalah has become a buzzword since pop singer Madonna announced that she was studying the ancient mysticism, which rose from Jewish tradition. Kabbalist teachings are said to explain hidden meanings of the Hebrew Bible, known as the Torah, and traditional rabbinic literature.
The Islamic mystical tradition called Sufism, which exists in both Sunni and Shia Islam, is characterized by ascetism and missionary work. It is not a sect, but a way of understanding the religion more deeply. Sufi teachers work to transmit divine light to the heart of the student, and to perfectly follow Divine Law.
* If You Go: Register for individual sessions or the series at at iflc.wufoo.com/forms/r1jo5m5516l79jn/.
Walk-in registration welcome. Suggested donation $20 per program.

October 10th Five Women Five Journeys
at the Muslim Unity Center
This program features personal stories of women of different faith traditions – how their childhood impacted their beliefs today, what challenges are for women in their faith tradition, what parts of their religion is misunderstood, how reaching out to someone from a different faith tradition has enriched their lives.

The program will begin at 7:00 PM and end at 9:00 AM. There will be an opportunity for questions and answers with the panel.  Any questions, please contact Paula Drewek at drewekpau@aol.com or 586-5589-7545

October 11th 6:00 – 10:00 PM, Come to the
Bharatiya Temple in Troy
and learn about the Hindu Festival of Navaratri. Navaratri is the festival of nine nights, when, through folk dance, the Feminine aspect of Divinity is worshiped. This festival is the celebration of the Shakti (The Primoridal Power), the female aspect of creation that gives birth to the entire universe and sustains it. You will meet Shama Mehta, a WISDOM Board Member and Interfaith Chaplain, at 6:00 PM in the prayer hall for a tour of the prayer hall with Q & A, followed by an introduction to Garba, worship through dance, and entry in the Garba Hall. The Garba celebration begins at 7:00 PM and runs until 10:00 PM, but you are free to depart as you schedule necessitates. There will be a nominal fee to enter the Garba Hall.  Bharatiya Temple is located at 6850 N. Adams Rd., Troy, MI 48098. Any questions, please contact Shama Mehta at shama.mehta7@gmail.com

November 11th WISDOM presents “Friendship and Faith,” the second edition at the
Jewish Community Center Bookfair.
Several WISDOM authors will read excerpts from their stories, discuss their story, answer questions and be aviloable to sign all boks that are purchased. The program will run from 11:00 AM until noon at the Jewish Community center, 6600 W. Maple Rd., West Bloomfield MI 48322.  Any questions, please contact Gail Katz at gailkatz@comcast.net or 248-978-6664
December 11th Mosaic workshop
Ever want to make a piece of Mosaic artwork? WISDOM and Song and Spirit Institute for Peace are partnering to give you a chance to create a piece of mosaic artwork for yourself or to give as a holiday gift. Song and Spirit Institute is located at 4300 Rochester Rd., Royal Oak, MI 48073. Check the WISDOM website, www.interfaithwisdom.org for more information as we get closer to December.

WISDOM Women will be presenting “Friendship and Faith” 2nd edition at the Jewish Community Center’s 2018 Book Fair, on November 11th at 11:00 AM. Come join us at the JCC, 6600 W. Maple Road, West Bloomfield, MI 48322.

Gail Katz will facilitate and introduce Rabbi Dorit Edut, Najah Bazzy, and Padma Kuppa, who will read excerpts from their stories and respond to questions from the audience.

Purchase our book at the JCC or find it online at Amazon, in both print and e-book formats.

Questions?  Contact Gail Katz at gailkatz@comcast.net

                             

Heaven on Earth
Hugh Beckman M.D. 1952 (revised 2014)
Jesus, Moses, Mohammed his name
And far and wide was known the fame,
Of this frail man, who lay half dead,
Some say with a halo around his head.
A holy man among holies was he,
The very essence of piety.
And every day you could always see,
Him standing with the Shofar to his lips,
Blowing the Angelus from the Minaret tips.
Chanting: Wa Mohammed, la ilaha il Allah, Sh’ma Yisrael, Ave Maria
To him these words all seemed the same,
For he loved one God who had no name.
Not the same he thought, for many around,
As hatred, greed, and war abound.
Chanting: Wa Mohammed, la ilaha il Allah, Sh’ma Yisrael, Ave Maria
These words of righteous piety,
Often act to tear apart society.
He thought, I”d change them if I can,
To bond man to God, and man to man.
Chanting: Wa Mohammed la ilaha il Allah, Sh’ma Yisrael, Ave Maria
As his eyes last beheld the setting sun,
A Voice above said that he was the one
To change the words, that all may say,
At last for I’ve seen the light of day.
And so , with the Shofar to his lips,
He climbed at the Angelus to the Minaret tips.
And as his failing life expired
He found the words to change; he was inspired
Shalom, Saalam, and Peace be With You;
I bequeath these words, I believe them True:
Now Chanting:
The culmination of One’s life,
The full measure of One’s worth;
Is not just making One’s way to Heaven,
But One’s helping to make Heaven on Earth.

(RNS) – For the collector who has almost everything, there’s a chance this week to claim ownership of a Bible that literally was out of this world.
A Los Angeles auction firm is taking bids on a microform, or photographically reduced, King James Bible that went to the moon on the 1971 Apollo 14 space flight. Similar in appearance to a piece of microfilm, the microform is certified as containing the entire biblical text. Its print is so small that one needs a microscope to read it.
The tiny, space-traveling Bible was one of 11 that left Earth’s atmosphere in the care of landing module commander Edgar Mitchell, who died in 2016 on the eve of the 45th anniversary of that lunar landing. He carried them in a container for personal items. A print Bible would have been too heavy for a space mission, but the lightweight versions posed no obstacle.
Minimum bid for the rarity is $50,000, according to the Nate D. Sanders auction firm, which will close bidding at 5 p.m. Pacific time on Thursday (July 26).
Apollo 14, carrying astronauts Alan Shepard Jr., Stuart Roosa and Edgar Mitchell, lifts off from the Kennedy Space Center on Jan. 31, 1971. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons
According to auction house spokesman Sam Heller, a similar lunar Bible flew along for the famously aborted Apollo 13 mission of 1970, in which mechanical malfunctions forced astronauts back to Earth under hardship conditions. That Bible sold for $62,500 last year despite never having reached the moon. Heller said the firm wouldn’t guess at a final bid for this latest item, which is being offered on consignment by an unnamed collector.
Mitchell’s lunar Bible was the creation of a group known as the Apollo Prayer League, according to the auction house. John Stout, a NASA information scientist and an ordained pastor, started the league after the 1967 launchpad deaths of Apollo 1 astronauts Gus Grissom, Edward White II and Roger Chaffee. Stout was close to White and they often prayed together. Knowing that White wanted to carry a Bible to the moon, Stout devised the microform version as a way to fulfill White’s vision.
Mitchell’s Bible-carrying mission wasn’t the first time religious paraphernalia had reached the lunar surface. Apollo 11 astronaut Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, an elder at Webster Presbyterian Church in Houston, brought with him a small piece of bread and miniature chalice. With holy elements in hand, he took Communion on the moon on Sunday, July 20, 1969.
The so-called lunar Bible measures 1.625 inches square. It is centered in a gold and enamel setting measuring 4 inches by 6 inches.
The chance to own it could be tempting for a Bible collector with deep pockets, according to R. Michael Kuykendall, a New Testament studies professor at Gateway Seminary in Vancouver, Wash., and chief editor of the International Society of Bible Collectors’ Bible Review Journal.
“It has a place in Bible collecting,” he said of the lunar Bible. “That’s publicity. That’s an interest.”
While many of his group’s members focus on finding the best-preserved editions of older volumes such as the 16th-century Geneva Bible, there are those interested in finding more “esoteric” editions, such as the moon-landed microform Bible.
“There’s nothing else that would compare to that,” Kuykendall said. However, the $50,000 price tag might put off some buyers.
“I build my own collection $50 at a time,” he said.
Heller suggested a museum might also be interested in the space-launched Bible. The recently opened Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., already has one of the Apollo 14 lunar Bibles. The museum tweetedout a video Tuesday documenting the historic item.

‘One God, One Community’ brings
faiths together in Evansville
In 2017, Bishop Charles Thompson, then of Evansville, Indiana, approached Benedictine Fr. Godfrey Mullen, pastor of St. Benedict Cathedral Parish, to ask the parish to spearhead Catholic participation in “One God, One Community” – Evansville’s interfaith community effort.
There was pushback from some parishioners.
The fear was that Catholic faith would be presented in a wishy-washy way, a milquetoast compendium of beliefs intended to be palatable to a wider community. Thompson was soon off to become archbishop of Indianapolis, and Mullen was left to deal with the anxiety.
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They needn’t have worried from the track record of the series of events sponsored by the group over the past year.
“It could not have been more powerful,” said Mullen. Among the four participating congregations – including Evansville’s First PresbyterianTemple Adath B’Nai Israel, a Reform Jewish congregation; and the Evansville Islamic Society – friendships have emerged and discussions, much of the time over ethnic food, have flourished as the diverse religious community of Indiana’s third-largest city gets to better know each other.
“One God, One Community” has offered programs on history, immigration, theology, the role of sacred space, rituals and holidays among the different faiths. While there is much pleasant community-building, the group has not shied away from sensitive issues. The group once sponsored a talk by Christian Picciolini, a former white supremacist. In the process, the congregations have discovered a common core of values, even if clothed in different cultural and historical terms by the three Abrahamic religions.
Rabbi Gary Mazo said his congregation has joined in support for projects – such as the local Habitat for Humanity – with members of the other congregations. “There’s a desire to be part of something bigger than ourselves,” he said.
“People find support. They are not alone. They feel validated,” he said, noting that the small Jewish community in Evansville, which has declined in number over the years, welcomes being part of the wider civic and charitable life in the city.
That affirmation is needed in a difficult time for interfaith relations, Mazo said. Evansville has had its nastier moments, including shots fired at the synagogue – no one was injured – and a car that rammed the Islamic Center soon after 9/11.
Evansville’s Muslims also see the interfaith group as a bridge to the rest of the city, said Mohammad Hussain, a physician and president of the Islamic Center. Each group sponsors particular events, and it was left to the Muslims to provide an Independence Day celebration. The Islamic Center responded with food and fireworks, after an interfaith discussion of the role of religious faith in patriotism.
“We understand we have different faiths but are walking on the same path,” said Hussain.
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Religious leaders said the group has reinforced their own beliefs while creating greater respect for others.
Some in the group cooperate beyond the regular gatherings. For example, Mazo and the Rev. Kevin Fleming, pastor of First Presbyterian, cover for each other on vacations. The church and the congregation have also exchanged pulpits.
While the Catholics are newcomers, the origins of the group grew out of a 2014 comedy tour that came to Evansville featuring a Jew, a Christian and a Muslim gently lampooning differences and commonalities. The Catholic parish’s 3,000 members are the largest of the congregations.
Evansville’s effort can be a model for other cities, the religious leaders said. Each tradition had a variation of the pushback of fear that beliefs would be watered down to accommodate a common denominator. But that hasn’t happened.
“As long as there is respect, and no one resorts to proselytizing, it’s an easy thing to do,” said Mullen.
He said that despite divergent traditions, other religious congregations face similar issues. The personalities in congregations may hold different beliefs, but they are remarkably similar, as religious organizations deal with internal conflicts, fundraising and other practical issues.
While each group is different, in many ways they are very much the same, said Mullen.
[Peter Feuerherd is a correspondent for NCR’s Field Hospital series on parish life and is a professor of journalism at St. John’s University, New York.]

Below is an interesting posting on Facebook about a Jewish woman’s experience in Istanbul!!
One of my friends is spending her summer in Istanbul, Turkey. She just told me about a really interesting experience she had… “A couple days ago we were wandering around the city and it was getting close to shkiah (sunset). I wanted to daven (pray) mincha (the afternoon prayer) and my friend suggested I find a mosque to daven in. I wasn’t so sure at first (mostly I was afraid the people running the mosque would have a problem with it), but he talked me into it (it’s actually preferable according to Jewish law to daven in a mosque rather than out in the street). They were totally fine with it. They gave me a head scarf to wear when I entered because even though I was dressed tznua (modestly) by Jewish standards I wasn’t according to Islam. And the coolest part of the story? From Istanbul, Jerusalem and Mecca are in the same direction, so both Jews and Muslims pray facing the same way. And the mosque was beautiful. I had much more kavanah (spiritual connection and intent) than I would have in the middle of a bustling sidewalk.”

Reinventing religion – with romance novels
By Kimberly Winston
Vanessa Zoltan (Courtesy of Harrison Becker)
Can novels where bodices rip and manhoods throb be considered sacred? The creator of a new podcast says the answer is an emphatic, “Yes! Oh, yes!” “For something to be sacred, the way we think about it, it has to teach you to be better at loving,” said Vanessa Zoltan, the 36-year-old who created the podcast, which will be called – ahem – “Hot and Bothered.” The show encourages listeners to write their own romance novels as a sacred practice.
“This will be a place where people can think out loud about what love is. Romantic love or friendship or hospitality – whatever. It will be a place of imagination, and I think that is a virtuous thing,” she said. Then she added: “And romance novels are more fun to talk about than Leviticus. I have done both and I stand by that.”
The podcast will premiere in October and appear weekly through the end of the year. And while some traditional believers may roll their eyes, Zoltan and the band of 20- and 30-something wannabe writers she has lined up to contribute to “Hot and Bothered” say it is another example of how their millennial generation is breaking with traditional religious practices to create meaning in new ways.

“The church for many people is a gift, but for others, it is a place of trauma, a place where they have been told that not all of their identity is welcome,” said Zoltan, a graduate of Harvard Divinity School. “Those people are leaving the church, and we need to come up with new spiritual technologies.”
Culturally Jewish and a self-identified atheist, Zoltan herself could be a poster child for the new millennial brand of spirituality.
At Harvard, she studied Charlotte Brontë’s “Jane Eyre” as a sacred text. Then she co-founded “Harry Potter and the Sacred Text,” a podcast exploring the meaning of friendship, power, grief, integrity and other themes through the J.K. Rowling novels. It is now one of iTunes’ most popular podcasts, with 9 million downloads a year.

Her new podcast project was born after the 2016 election, when she found herself obsessing over the news to the point of sleeplessness. The only thing that offered relief, she found, was reading romances – novels whose lurid, louche covers open upon worlds in which everyone is beautiful, the good always triumph, the bad are always punished and, above all, love always wins. She read 27 of them in 60 days.
Then she started writing one.
That led to deep conversations with friends about the nature of love, the value of fidelity, the power of sacrifice and more. It wasn’t long before she thought, “This would make a good podcast.”
But can writing a romance be a sacred practice? “In order for something to be sacred it needs three things,” Zoltan said. “It needs faith, rigor and community.” Faith that the act of writing can bring real blessings, rigor in the commitment to write regularly and community in the podcast’s listeners and team.

Brent Plate, who teaches courses on religion and popular culture at Hamilton College, says “Hot and Bothered” is a good example of how millennials are redefining religion for themselves. “Millennials are perhaps the first generation in which a broad swath of them grew up without traditional religious practices,” he said in an email. “This has allowed them to rethink and reimagine the need for a community of people to come together for a common activity and common interest, so they are making communal rituals out of going to music festivals, cosplay, and writing romance novels together. The content has changed, but the form hasn’t.”
Rethinking and reimagining does not mean replacing. Zoltan is not suggesting listeners write steamy scenes instead of going to church, temple or mosque. “I am definitely not saying this should take the place of any spiritual practice people already have,” she said. “But like St. Augustine said, anything that makes you better at loving is a good thing.”

Ariana Nedelman, a 26-year-old Harvard Divinity School graduate who produces the Harry Potter podcast, will produce “Hot and Bothered,” as well. “I think that the loneliness and lostness of my generation means we are looking for a communal life that makes sense of the big questions – where do we go when we die, etc.,” Nedelman said. “Asking questions in community is right for us in a spiritual sense.”
For the podcast, Zoltan will be joined by a team of writers – from bestseller Julia Quinn to novices – who discuss a common romance trope on each episode: love at first sight, marriage of convenience, enemies to lovers and so on. Listeners will be encouraged to write their own romances and to share their writing experience with others in small, local groups. “Our dream is people listen to the podcast and then find each other and partner up,” Zoltan said.
The goal is not to publish but to explore what is sacred about human relationships. “For me, being a spiritual person means being a good person,” said Sejah Patel, a San Francisco-based public interest lawyer who is one of the writers who will be featured in the podcast. She is Hindu, and she is 30,000 words into her novel. “So to me a spiritual practice is simply how am I putting what I consider to be good into the world. And I believe I am putting good in the world because the writing is bringing me joy, the joy is allowing me to do my job, and my job is helping people. I can only do that with enthusiasm and freshness if my soul feels full and happy and not depleted.”
Plate sees “Hot and Bothered” as evidence of the malaise afflicting traditional religious institutions. “The old-school, churchgoing Christians, I think they’re going to have to realize that their stories and rituals no longer meet the bodily and communal needs of people,” he said.
But can writing romance novels, even with faith, rigor and community, serve up the spiritual sustenance of traditional religions such as Christianity, Judaism and Islam? Only if it moves beyond individual fulfillment, Plate thinks. But perhaps it really can.

September 2018

Written by WISDOM on . Posted in Newsletters

Calendar for WISDOM and Other Interfaith Events 
 
Exploring Our Religious Landscapes – Fall 2018
Understanding Mysticism Across Faith Traditions
See the series below – Series begins September 12th!!

Wednesday, September 26th 10:00 AM – 1:00 PM
WISDOM at Zaman for a Voluntary Culinary Day
26091 Trowbridge St., Inkster, 48141
See Flyer Below


Ask A Jewish Person
Wednesday, October 3rd, 6:00 – 7:30 PM
Islamic Center of America
19600 Ford Rd., Dearborn, MI
See Flyer Below
Wednesday, October 10th 7:00 – 9:00 PM
WISDOM’s Five Women Five Journeys
Muslim Unity Center, 1830 W. Square Lake Rd. Bloomfield Hills


Thursday, October 11th, 6:00 – 10:00 PM
Learn about the Hindu holiday called Navratri
Bharatiya Temple, 6850 N. Adams Road, Troy
Questions?  email Shama Mehta,  shama.mehta7@gmail.com
Monday, November 5th 1:00 – 3:00 PM
WISDOM’s Five Women Five Journeys at SOAR
(Society of Active Retirees)
Birmingham Temple 28611 W. 12 Mile Road,  Farmington HIlls


Sunday, November 11th 11:00 AM
Jewish Community Center Book Fair WISDOM presentation
of book Friendship and Faith
6600 W. Maple Rd., West Bloomfield
Sunday, November 11th, 3:00 PM – 6:00 PM
InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit
Panel on “Religious Sensitivities” at St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church, 2160 Maple Rd., Troy 48083
See Flyer Below!!
Tuesday, December 11th, 6:30 PM
Mosaic Art Workshop with Song and Spirit Institute for Peace
4300 Rochester Road, Royal Oak
Save the Date
Sunday, March 24th, 2019 (afternoon)
Celebration of International Women’s Day
Save the Date

Opinion | Learning a lesson in civility from
Michigan seventh-graders
By Gail Katz
WISDOM Co-Founder
Chair of the IFLC Education Committee
Published in Bridge Michigan July 2018
To be an American today is to live in a world in which people who practice unfamiliar faiths are our next-door neighbors and our fellow classmates. Yet too often, people of different religions are afraid of each other and that fear can lead to prejudice, discrimination and sometimes violence. When we know little or nothing about the religious beliefs of our neighbors and we classify them as the OTHER, they become our enemies.
Our hope is that with Religious Diversity Journeys the OTHER will be replaced by our friend.
In these times of public incivility and intolerance, a Southeast Michigan program is helping seventh-graders learn about their neighbors’ religions by visiting their places of worship.
By learning about what is unfamiliar, our goal is that our seventh-graders will help build bridges among the diverse people of our community and make Metro Detroit a better place. The Religious Diversity Journeys program also helps to prevent the bullying that sometimes occurs in middle schools.
It’s a model that many adults could learn from.
About 700 seventh-graders from public and parochial schools across Metro Detroit study Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Sikhism at local houses of worship. The visits provide a base of knowledge about each faith, including their holidays and traditions, to dispel myths and stereotypes about them.
On each journey, students meet with clergy and congregational leaders who provide an overview of that religion’s beliefs and practices, and answer their questions ranging from marriage customs to religious symbols. They have an opportunity to see religious artifacts and try on some traditional garments-such as turbans worn by some Sikhs and head scarves worn by some women who follow Sikh and Muslim traditions. The young people usually work on a service project together and enjoy a lunch with the traditional food of that religion.
For many students, it is the first visit to a house of worship outside their own faith. Recently, one parent urged her daughter not to attend the session at a mosque but her daughter chose to participate and later reassured her mother that there was nothing to fear from Islam. What they learn provides a basis to stand up to religious stereotypes.
The concluding session each academic year is a visit to the Detroit Institute of Arts to look at religion and art, as well as a trip to the Holocaust Memorial Center to learn what can happen when hate and fear rule.
During the past 15 years, the program has received very positive reviews from students, parents and teachers. One parent said, “Thank you for guiding our daughter through a remarkable activity with the Religious Diversity Journeys experience. She had been very curious about the different religions and traditions. I’m grateful she had this exposure and will do my best to keep this going for our family.”
When participants were asked how they could use their new knowledge to promote greater tolerance at school, one student answered, “If someone is making fun of a religion or making bad comments, I can correct them and use what I know.” Another seventh-grader spoke of being able to “help those who criticize to better understand differences, rather than making fun of them.”
 As the first coordinator of Religious Diversity Journeys, I was surprised and pleased several years ago when a young woman approached me and said, “I was in your Religious Diversity Journeys program a number of years ago, and it changed my life!!” She is now involved in diversity initiatives and is making a difference in our world.

A Little Poland in India – an Amazing Human Interest from the Second World War Days
This is an amazing human interest story that is doing the rounds on the social media. A documentary produced by Aakar Films, directed by Anu Radha and Sumit Osmand Shaw, that deals with an extraordinary topic of a shipload of Polish refugees who landed in India during second world war. To provide a background: During the years preceding World War II, a huge number of Poles were taken away by the Red Army to work at the Soviet-run labour camps in remote parts of North-Eastern USSR and Siberia. When Hitler’s army invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, the USSR announced a general amnesty leading to the release of Polish exiles from labour camps. This was also done with a view to encourage forming a Polish Army unit to fight the German army that was fast advancing into the USSR.
Thus began a great exodus – from the cold parts of the Soviet Union to warmer southern regions of Central Asia. The long and arduous journey stretched over hundreds of kilometres. It was a test of human endurance and suffering in the most difficult situations. Many travellers lost their loved ones en route owing to the cold, hunger, malnutrition and dehydration. The journey stretched across many lands and transit points – Ashkhabad in Turkmenistan, Mashhad, Isfahan and Tehran in Iran, Afghanistan, Quetta, Zahedau and Karachi in present day Pakistan and to India’s western coast.
On 1st September 1939, German troops invaded Poland which marked the beginning of the Second World War. On 17th September 1939, the remaining territory of Poland was attacked by Stalin’s forces.
When Hitler invaded Poland and started World War II, the Polish soldiers left 500 women and 200 children in a ship and told Captain to take them to any country, where they can get shelter. “If we are alive or survive, then we will meet again”.
The ship, filled with five hundred refugees, police, women and two hundred children, reached the harbor port of Iran, there was no permission to shelter anyone not even allowed to land , then they could not get help even in Seychelles, there was no permission even in Aden. Finally, the ship wandering in the sea came to the coast of Jamnagar in Gujarat. Raja Digvijay Singhji of Jamnagar, Gujarat with the Polish refugees Malnourished and exhausted, the refugees had a surprise welcome, when they arrived in Nawanagar, from the Maharaja himself. “Don’t consider yourselves orphans. You are now Nawanagaris and I am Bapu, the father of all Nawanagaris, including yourselves,” he said. Digvijay Singh was the Chancellor of the Council of Princes and member of the Imperial War Cabinet in British India (1939-1945) who opened his province to Polish refugees threatened with annihilation. He knew the officials of the Polish government in exile that operated from London owing to his position in the Imperial War Cabinet. The Maharaja of Jamnagar, “Jham Sahab Digvijay Singh”, not only gave shelter to five hundred women but also gave their children free education in Balachiri an Army School. These refugees stayed in Jamnagar for nine years.
One of the children of those refugee children later became the Prime Minister of Poland, even presently, a few descendants of those refugees, come to Jamnagar every year in remembrance of their ancestors.
The board outside the main gate of a school in Warsaw mentioning the school named after the Maharaja Jam Saheb Digvijay Sinhji.
In Poland, many roads in capital Warsaw are named after Maharaja Jam Sahib; in his name there are many schemes in Poland. Every year Poland newspapers print articles about Maharaja Jam Saheb Digvijay Singh.
The film touches upon great emotional moments – of joy and exultation at the end of the war, ‘My mother, my brother is alive’ or humorous asides from Sainik School, Balachadi of spinach not being eaten by the Polish children or a deeply moving remark: “My father was murdered by the Soviets. In India, Maharaja Jam Saheb became our second father”.
All the refugees from that ship who were joined by others later on, neither had to change their faith or their identity – such is the all inclusive culture of India.

Jew, Christian, Muslim: ‘See the Beloved everywhere’
Nothing in my uber-Catholic background (weekly Mass and confession, memorizing the Baltimore Catechism, strict nun teachers) could have prepared me to participate in a zikr at which Muslim, Jewish and Christian people chanted the name of God, while the imam sang a melodic line over the chant.
Some of the women draped in scarves swayed back and forth, we all felt held by the chanting, and I began to understand why it is a component of much of the world’s worship. The dictionary definition of zikr is a form of remembrance “associated chiefly with Sufism, when the worshiper is absorbed in the rhythmic repetition of God’s name or attributes.”
Much of the imam’s initial talk resonated with what I already believed. “See the Beloved everywhere,” he encouraged. “Be so crazily in love you’re like the besotted 13-year-old who, asked about ice cream, sighs, ‘My favorite flavor is chocolate.’ “
His words about God’s spark within being the source of human dignity touched a familiar chord – as a Catholic, I’d heard that message, named Divine indwelling, often. Muhammad said, “Wherever you turn, there is the face of God.” In the Jewish kabbalah or mystical teaching, God hurled forth the holy in countless sparks at the beginning of time; it whispers to us from all created people and things. When we descend to the deepest underground stream, all religions echo similar truths.
I’ve learned this firsthand from my interfaith group of five Muslim, five Jewish and five Christian women who meet monthly, taking turns in their homes.
A typical gathering starts with a potluck of snacks and informal conversation. Then after prayer, a facilitator (a rotating role) lays groundwork for the theme of the evening. We’ve discussed threads common to all traditions, like various religious holidays, the importance of pilgrimages, communal and individual prayer, action for justice, and environmental protection. There’s strong consensus that we must, in whatever small ways we can, offset the current government’s antipathy to Islam and hostility to refugees. After both January Women’s Marches, we shared our experiences and chortled at our favorite signs.
The cornerstones of all three Abrahamic faiths – love God and neighbor – spill into practical action. When a Presbyterian and her family, sponsored by Catholic Charities, began to foster two Muslim teenaged refugees who escaped Myanmar and Somalia, Muslims helped with advice about diet, local mosques, and what hairpins best hold the hijab in place. When one young refugee encountered anti-Muslim graffiti at her high school, another member’s daughter, a senior at the same school, organized a welcome campaign to counter the hatred. We all asked Congress to halt U.S. funding of the Burmese army engaged in the genocide of Rohingya Muslims. Our “purse project” furnished hundreds of bags filled with donated toiletries and goodies to homeless women in the East Bay area.
We’ve learned not to minimize our differences, but also to celebrate our commonalities. We are all seekers, yearning to see with the eye of the soul and to find the face of God through our own faiths. We are keenly interested in the wisdom of the world’s perennial traditions, especially what we never learned during more narrow youths. We care deeply about our planet, the next generation, offsetting ignorance and fear through education, our sacred texts, and favorite poets like Rumi and Mary Oliver.
Jewish members of our group have explained how it’s vital to their tradition to wrestle with God, not accepting easy answers. Muslim members have taken a break from the meeting and adjourned to another room when it’s time to pray. Those of us from more hierarchical traditions with ordained clergy marvel at how easily one of the women in our group assumes the leadership role, transforming any living room into sacred space. Most of us attended Muslim-Christian retreats at San Damiano, a Franciscan friary, and the local mosque.
Once a year, we lead an Advent service at a Presbyterian church. As always, we’re impressed by the Muslim reverence for Mary (who is mentioned more times in the Quran than in the Gospel) and Jesus, whose name is always followed by the phrase, “Peace be upon him.”
Although Advent didn’t hold great meaning for Jews, they contributed the Tu B’Shvat prayer for creation and the Talmud teaching on repairing our own small pieces of the world. The service concluded with the prayer of an interfaith council that sponsors five circles like ours: “The task is not ours alone to complete. Neither are we free to walk away. O God of blessing, strengthen our hands and our hearts to do Your work.”
After more than two years of membership in this circle, I’m grateful to the women who’ve corrected the self-righteousness of my youth, when I was taught that only my religion possessed truth. What arrogance or insecurity implied that there wasn’t enough abundance in God to overflow onto all the world’s peoples? I’ve appreciated their revealing themselves not only as Muslim, Jewish or Christian, but as women with similar basic concerns: about a daughter going to college, a racist on the local school board, a father after a stroke, a divorce, a project to grow healthy food for children in “food deserts.” And thanks for that recipe of persimmons with goat cheese!
One of the most treasured ornaments on my Christmas tree is a tiny crèche made in Bethlehem that my Muslim friend Maram brought from her native country. Somehow she knew its profound meaning for Christians; somehow she tapped that deep underground stream that bathes us all.

 Why Catholics and Jews dominate at the Supreme Court
Two days after he was nominated by President Trump to the Supreme Court, Judge Brett Kavanaugh ladled mac and cheese into takeout trays outside Catholic Charities in Washington, D.C. That the nominee for the country’s highest bench should pop up in photos volunteering for a Catholic aid group is no surprise at this point. When Trump announced his selection, Kavanaugh talked about being “part of the vibrant Catholic community in the D.C. area … united by a commitment to serve.” He also gave a nod to schooling: “The motto of my Jesuit high school was ‘Men for others.’ I’ve tried to live that creed.”
Kavanaugh’s inclusion on the court would preserve the Catholic majority, with six justices reared and formed in that tradition. (Neil Gorsuch attends an Episcopal Church but grew up Catholic and attended the same Catholic high school as Kavanaugh.) The remaining three justices are Jewish.
The Supreme Court that may yet rule on the current administration’s fractious immigration policies, in other words, is dominated by two religious minorities that came into this country as immigrants in the 19th and early 20th centuries and strained to gain a footing equal to that of the Protestant establishment.
“For a whole lot of Catholic and Jewish immigrants, law school was, in a very pressing way, a ticket to the middle class,” said Richard W. Garnett, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame. In addition, Catholics and Jews both struggled with religious prejudice and may have seen the legal profession as a way to ensure that their rights were protected.
Today, Catholics make up a declining share of Americans – just 20 percent, according to Pew Research (down from 23.9 percent a decade earlier). Jews are a far smaller number – barely 2 percent. The United States has elected only one Catholic president (John F. Kennedy) and one Catholic vice president (Joseph Biden). It has had no Jewish presidents or vice presidents.
So, why their dominance on the court? It may have something to do with the value the two minority faiths place on higher education and the religions’ openness to intellectual inquiry, said John Fea, professor of American history at Messiah College. “Unlike evangelicals who base their entire worldview on the teachings of the Bible, Catholics and Jews seem much more open to engaging in larger principles that will affect not only their own community, but the common good of the republic or of a nation beyond the needs of their particular religious tradition,” Fea said.
For most of America’s history, the court was composed almost entirely of Protestants. The first Catholic to win a seat on the court was Roger Taney in 1836 – nearly 50 years after the court was created. It would take another 58 years for the second Catholic to be elevated to the Supreme Court.  It took 127 years for the first Jew to take a seat on the court. Louis Brandeis, the son of Jewish immigrants from what is now the Czech Republic, was elevated to the position in 1916. There was blatant anti-Semitism during confirmation hearings that lasted six months. Afterward, some justices refused to sit next to him for the official court photo.
“There were all sorts of smears against his character,” said Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, Brandeis’ great-grandson and a senior vice president at Auburn Seminary. “It was an overt anti-Semitism paired with this concern for nativist ideas.”
Seven other Jewish justices followed Brandeis, who was later hailed by President Franklin Roosevelt as his “Isaiah.” There have been 13 Catholics – not counting Gorsuch. During the 20th century, it was assumed there would be a “Catholic seat” and a “Jewish seat” on the court, so that when one retired, or died, another of the same faith would be appointed. But that desire to keep a certain religious diversity on the court is no longer in play.
Ideology and politics seem to play a larger role. Consider that Democratic presidents appointed seven of the eight Jewish justices. (Benjamin Cardozo, the second Jewish justice, was nominated by Herbert Hoover, a Republican.) “Partly that’s reflective of the American Jewish community and its relationship with more liberal or progressive political parties,” said Lauren B. Strauss, professor of Jewish history at American University.
Republican presidents have selected the recent crop of Catholic justices – with the exception of Sonia Sotomayor, an Obama appointee. Those Republican presidents have wanted to shape the judiciary in a more conservative direction. “Part of the story may also be the rise in significance of the abortion question on the court,” said Garnett. “It’s not the whole thing, but part of it.” Many have speculated that if Kavanaugh is confirmed by the Senate, Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling that allowed women the right to an abortion, may be overturned.
Those political or ideological headwinds may partly explain the court’s Catholic-Jewish makeup. Experts say that as more evangelicals gain entry to elite law schools and start clerking for top judges, they too will begin getting nominated to the top court. But the nation’s religious makeup is also changing. Soon the number of religiously unaffiliated Americans is expected to overtake the number of evangelicals in the country. Nearly 23 percent of Americans are now unaffiliated, almost as many as those who are evangelical (25.4 percent).
“We’d like to see a court that’s more reflective of the country and of people who do not hold religious beliefs,” said Alison Gill, legal and policy director for American Atheists. “There are a growing numbers of young people identifying as atheist or agnostic. It’s just a matter of time.”

Jewish Community Relations Council/AJC has it’s annual Interfaith Health Fair on Sunday, August 12th
at Munger Elementary School in Detroit
By Naomi Levine
(Community Relations Associate)
While the scheduling of dates couldn’t have been planned, the juxtaposition of the Jewish Community Relations Council/AJC’s annual Interfaith Health Fair with the anniversary of Charlottesville’s Unite the Right rally didn’t go unnoticed. At the health fair, medical professionals from the Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh faiths volunteered their time and expertise to provide health care for underserved members of the Detroit community. During slower times, they chatted together and bonded over their shared values and ideals. Emails were shared and plans to get together in the future were made. The volunteers never stopped smiling.
Those who participated at the health fair are aware that the anxiety over the perceived loss of white power and influence, as well as fear of the “other” that is rampant in our country can’t be eliminated overnight. Yet the atmosphere of humanity and generosity to each other and those less fortunate provided much needed hope. Reflecting on what took place last year and comparing it to the big-heartedness of those in our community was so comforting. By sharing this story may the comfort be also shared.

The Annual Association of Baha’i Studies in Atlanta
By Paula Drewek
The Annual Association of Baha’i Studies was held this year in Atlanta. Since I had friends there I found it attractive to submit a proposal: “Friendship and Faith: Women’s Experiences of Reaching Out to the Other.” Trish Harris, one of the founders of WISDOM, and I co-wrote the presentation which was essentially on the 2nd edition of Wisdom’s book, Friendship and Faith: The Wisdom of Women Creating Alliances for Peace. We thought it deserved inclusion in the conference theme of “Building a Spiritualized Civilization.” The theme was taken from a statement by Abdul’-Baha, son of the founder of the Baha’i Faith:
“Material civilization is like unto the lamp, while spiritual civilization is the light of that lamp. If the material and spiritual civilizations become united, then we will have the light and the lamp together, and the outcome will be perfect.” (The Promulgation of Universal Peace).
The Association sees intellectual advancement as central to the renewal of civilization and encourages both young and old to learn to read the social reality of their time, analyze the assumptions and concepts in their fields, and correlate them with Baha’i teachings. Since its establishment in 1975, the Association of Baha’i Studies has endeavored to strengthen the intellectual life of the Baha’i community and provide spaces for learning and collaboration. It has maintained a strong focus on the arts as part of their annual conferences. It also maintains several “working groups” along themes of interest to Baha’i scholars: and provides a youth program for teens and young adults.
Plenary sessions this year were: “Neuroscience, Ethics, and Religion: Moving Beyond Coexistence” which included a group of faculty from Atlanta area universities; “An American Story: Race Amity and the Other Tradition;” Navigating discourse on Race within the Politicized Landscape of Journalism;” with Jesse Washington; and “Building Community with Refugee Populations in Atlanta.” The latter was a panel of participants in “boots on the ground” programs in Clarkston, Ga., a town with the largest number of refugees in the USA, 45% of a population of around 13,000. I also learned that Michigan is one of the top 10 resettlement places in the US with about 2,500 per year. Most refugees come from Syria (more than all others combined), then Columbia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria and Sudan. The panelists spoke of the receptivity of refugee populations including their willingness to participate in a community-building program. Emphasis was on friendship, giving and receiving hospitality, gathering together to pray and the power of the holy word and music . Connecting on a spiritual level often led to social connection even between hostile country immigrants.   One of the panelists was a physician who collaborated with other physicians to form a clinic for those without insurance. They found that the 20-40 patients seen during a day often developed an oasis of support while in the waiting room. Netflix will be producing a documentary on Clarkston.
The Neuroscience panel was of special interest to me since I had learned of the importance of neuroscientific studies of the brain in previous ABS conferences. Questions of how and why we do what we do were posed to panelists. Panelists acknowledged they could explain HOW but not why; religion was better at discerning why. The moderator sought to find common concerns between brain scientists and the teachings of the Baha’i Faith which acknowledge that “science and religion must go hand in hand” to discover truth.
As neuroscience addresses mental health, it’s possible that religion can play a role since it often provides coherence to life. Lack of coherence is often a factor in suicide and addiction. Questions from the audience were the brain’s relation to consciousness. Panelists acknowledged that the brain is the single most complex thing in the universe. You cannot use the same organ (the brain) to understand itself. What would you be trying to measure with consciousness? The answer bridges on ethics. Can we grow parts of the human brain in a dish? How many parts constitute a human subject? Legal brain death is not the same as biological death.
Other questions touched upon justice and trauma. Neuroscientists are often called upon to testify in trials. They use scientific information to confirm already-held beliefs. For instance, brains deprived of nutrition in childhood have fewer resources to cope with everyday stresses. Can we fault brain dysfunction in cases before the courts? Or is personal will always the culprit?
You can see that the plenary sessions provided much food for thought. I was happy to share the value of friendships in reaching across usual boundaries of faith, ethnicity and culture through several stores from our book , Friendship and Faith. Input from the audience was plentiful, as half a dozen attendees also shared their experiences of building connection with those who were very different. That’s what “building community” is all about I think. I was happy to have attended the annual Association of Baha’i Studies in Atlanta.

Being Single In A Marriage-Obsessed Community Is Tough – Whether You’re Jewish, Muslim Or Mormon
In religious communities, the pitied are often easily noticeable.
In some communities, it is distinct to where they live and what positions they hold. In others, what they are allowed to wear. In all, it’s as obvious as a naked finger. “No wedding band,” someone whispers in performative sympathy, fondling her own glittery ring. “Poor dear, single.”
Often, in the Orthodox Jewish community, the term ‘shidduch crisis’ is used to describe a surplus of single community members.
“I find that term deeply offensive,” said Dr. Sharon Weiss-Greenberg, executive director of JOFA, whose Facebook post on the subject garnered hundreds of comments about the hurt and shame singles in religious communities experience, prompting her to devote JOFA resources to initiate conversations about the stigma. In a panel event organized by JOFA this month, experts from across American religious communities gathered to reflect on the stigmas of singlehood in their circles – something common across theological differences.
“It doesn’t matter what you do, how much you accomplish,” said Reverend Khristi Lauren Adams, a Baptist pastor and chaplain, who is the author of The Misinterpreted Gospel of Singleness: A Cultural Critique of Myths Surrounding Singleness in the Christian Community. “You’re lacking completeness without a spouse in tow.”
Tayyaba Bukhari, the CDO of MALIKAH, an organization that works to empower Muslim women leaders, echoed that thought. “Getting married [in Islam] is completing half of your religion…you attain more closeness to God…so it’s very highly encouraged and a very attractive thing to do,” said Bukhari. Bukhari explained that there is often tension between communal expectations and individual’s choice, which is especially fraught for first-generation American Muslims, as they navigate the values with which they were raised by conservative immigrants parents and the American culture that emphasizes personal desire.
And Mormons are no different, explained Dr. Sharon Harris, an assistant professor at Brigham Young University (BYU) who has lived in and studied in the Mormon community. In Mormon doctrine, only married individuals attain the highest level of Heaven. For unmarried individuals, there are “singles wards;” communities for single individuals. “It’s supposed to be optional, and it is technically,” Harris told the crowd. “Except that means most singles move there [to singles wards], so you run the risk of feeling even more on the outskirts if you stay in a conventional congregation. So, I was in singles wards for many years, and there was a period where I was a middle school teacher…and I had the summers off….And I knew they were putting together youth camps, and I thought well, I’ve got some time that could be used to help. I went to the organizer and said, ‘I’m available, I’d be happy to help out.’ Not everyone volunteers to spend a week at youth camp! I thought they’d be excited about it. And she said, ‘Oh you know what? We’re fine. You just stay in the singles ward and date.’ I couldn’t give to the community. It was more important I do whatever they do in the singles ward…[instead of ] the opportunity for the youth to see somebody who’s participating, [who’s] accomplishing, [who’s] professional.”
Rabbi Abigail Sosland, Morah Ruchanit [Spiritual Advisor] of Schechter Westchester High School is recently married, but reflected on her years of being single in the panel discussion. “I have this deep, internalized shame I carried for decades.” She, too, was lectured with the same maxim of “You have free time? Date.” “It took me so long to realize that this wasn’t okay,” she said. Sosland said that she would not be invited for Shabbos meals, the hallmark of Jewish communal life, because hosts feared her presence would make things awkward. At social gatherings, friends would coo over engagements and grandchildren, without any acknowledgment of personal or professional accomplishments of those in the room. Sosland said there is a certain hypocrisy in how singles are treated: “More is demanded of them to give to the community, be it money or time, but they are given less from the community, be it appreciation for their contributions of even acknowledgement.”
Single women, in particular, experience a double standard, over single men. As Sosland described it, it’s the George Clooney versus Jennifer Aniston paradox: The single man breaks hearts while the single woman has her heart broken. For men, taking their time can be admirable: Building up a nest egg, climbing up the career ladder, and all sorts of accomplishments outside the home. Women are still defined so domestically, with marriage presumed to be not only a natural but an inevitable step early in life, preferably as soon as after she completes her schooling. When asked about how to change the conversation, panelists agreed there is a collective responsibility to reexamine faith communities’ mindsets towards singleness. Communities ought to celebrate personal and professional accomplishments beyond marriage and children. Sosland noted how grateful she had been to certain married friends who, when she was single, would make sure to include her in their events and sit alongside her so she would not be alone.
Bukhari said that part of dismantling stigma means empowering women to know their worth: “[Let] a girl, a woman, at any age, know her value does not come from a relationship with a man, but the relationship with herself and her God.”
Harris invoked the Mormon ritual of sealing, which is bonding individuals together eternally. While it most common between couples and between parents and children, Harris pointed out it has been used for friendships and close platonic bonds, emphasizing the importance of valuing non-familial relationships as just as enriching and valuable. Rachel, a member of the LDS Church, was drawn to the panel because she admired Harris and her work in singles wards. “I love all of the research that [Dr. Harris] has done and all she has to say. And I think it’s fascinating to hear about the effect across various religions.” Mohammad, who described himself as an “older single,” said that he found comfort in how the panel addressed the issue. “You can find these niche communities that have these small conversations, but they’re really meaningful and heartwarming.” Another audience member, a young Jewish woman described the panel as reassuring, adding wryly, “I’m only 23 but I’m already starting to feel the pressure.”
“It’s a relief,” said an older single, who asked to not be identified.
“We hope that people will take the lessons and practical suggestions the panelists presented and make change in their communities,” said Rivka Cohen, program manager at JOFA. “As an organization dedicated to the mission of Orthodox feminism, we believe and know firsthand that no change is too small – even just being mindful of how we act and what we say and who we invite to our Shabbat tables can make a world of a difference. Most importantly, we hope that everyone will continue these conversations, both in their own communities and across faith divides.”
Sara G. Marcus is a journalism student in Yeshiva University. She has written for the Forward and the Commercial Observer.

Fighting Discrimination Electronically Digital Storytelling to Advance Peace in Pakistan
by Ruth Broyde Sharone
from The Interfaith Observer
Naveed Hameed
The iconic image of a male storyteller addressing an enraptured audience pressed shoulder to shoulder around a glowing campfire may soon be replaced by hijab and sari-clad young women holding their smart phones.
A group of ambitious and empowered young women in Lahore, Pakistan are primed and eager to tell the stories of their time, their place, and their gender. Their instructor is Naveed Hameed, an accomplished filmmaker, journalist, and peace-builder, named one of 15 emerging young leaders in Pakistan by the U.S. State Department in 2016 and recently selected by the United States Institute of Peace (USIPS) as a Generation Change Fellow.
Naveed formed his own organization, Faiz Resource Foundation, in 2014 to teach young men and women visual storytelling through a variety of information and communication technology (ICT) tools. His long-range goal is to use digital storytelling to build peace in Pakistan, a country where in recent years, as he describes it, “people have witnessed an environment of growing intolerance, vigilantism, and violence against weaker groups.” Hameed is working conscientiously to counter the violence by promoting pluralism, harmony, and diversity among people of very varied heritage, background, ethnicity, faithand language.
The most vulnerable, he says, are young adults, women, transgenders, religious minorities, and human rights defenders “who are terrorized by state institutions and non-state actors, including extremist groups.” Naveed believes the iPhone has the potential to become one the most potent weapons in the struggle against discrimination. His short-term goal is to teach the use of the smartphones and iPhones to provide a voice for minorities and the oppressed, especially women.
Naveed himself is no stranger to discrimination. He was born in a small village to a poor Christian family in a predominantly Muslim country. None of his family could read or write. Naveed’s father worked a low-income job, and he was dead set against Naveed obtaining an advanced education. He believed that – regardless of his son’s future educational achievements – because he was Christian, he was destined to suffer religious discrimination. Even with a college diploma, he thought Naveed could at most only land a janitorial job. In the end, Naveed’s mother took a courageous step – in opposition to her husband’s wishes – to allow her son a chance to continue his studies.
At the age of seven, Naveed moved into a boarding hostel to pursue his studies. Naveed’s mother continued cleaning homes in order to cover his educational expenses until he successfully completed his education. Although in retrospect he understands and appreciates the sacrifice she made on his behalf, at the time he felt cut off from his family “at the very age when I needed them the most.”
In 2009, while Naveed was studying in university, a horrific incident happened in the Christian colony of Gojra, a pivotal incident that would determine his life’s path. More than 75 houses were set on fire in, and eight people were burnt alive. Naveed arrived at the scene of destruction, and while he was recording video interviews of the aftermath, suddenly he heard a young girl cry out: “They are coming! They destroyed my toys and now they’re going to kill me!” The little girl’s grief and consternation had a profound impact on him. He thought back to the pain he himself had faced during his childhood when he was separated from his family and when his Muslim friends refused to play with him unless he agreed to convert.
It was at that moment Naveed made up his mind to do everything in his power to eradicate the religious violence and misunderstandings he had witnessed and experienced. To that end he hoped to bring together – in a collaborative endeavor – Pakistan’s diverse religious communities. And, especially, he wanted to help empower young women.
He launched his digital storytelling initiative named SOCH (in English: THINK) in 2016 and began to recruit young people from the Muslim, Christian, Hindu, and Sikh communities to teach them the skills necessary to create their own peacebuilding media and startups. Pakistan is a third-world country with more than 140 million cellular subscribers, 67 percent of them youth. He knew smartphones and iPhones with Android and ISO technology were destined to play an integral role in the country’s development, replacing traditional desktops, laptops, and cameras. “It’s time to seize future technology as a means to create crucial and innovative alternative media to help shape public opinion,” Naveed emphasized. The digital storytelling intensive training workshop he designed for young people included three modules:
  1. Youth would learn hands-on pre-production basic skills of scripting, still photography and videography by using the smartphone/iPhone Android/ISO technology.
  2. Youth would participate in an in-depth focus group discussion and content development for production. Youth would then go back to their communities to record stories and they would return to the workshop to learn the basics about post production and editing.
  3. A final screening and diversity celebration event would be organized to give the youth an opportunity to present their work. The screenings would be held at different educational institutes and communities around the city. This would also be a golden opportunity to invite policy makers, academia, media, civil society, and politicians to become involved in this “collective journey to peace.”
The project was funded and a total of eight short stories were produced on different issues, each using cell phones. Ultimately, the SOCH program directly benefited 80 diverse youth – particularly marginalized youth and women. Indirectly the program benefitted upwards of 5000 people. More than 2000 were reached through screening events and some 3000 through social media.
The video ‘Women on Wheels’ was produced for SOCH by two participants, Mariam Shahzad and Amir Hameed, and sponsored by the U.S. embassy in Pakistan. Mariam, 20, researched the idea and was involved in all aspects of the film’s production. Her feedback, as a SOCH alumna, provides an illuminating look into the future of digital storytelling used purposefully to empower women in Pakistan and world-wide. She writes …

“Before applying to this peaceful initiative, I had never been a part of a startup that used technological tools in promoting peace and empathy in our community. Coming from a marginalized society, I have always looked for ways in which I can build bridges of peace between different communities. Through the proficient training provided by SOCH for capacity building and use of technology for visual storytelling, I successfully completed a short video called “Women on Wheels.” It highlights women using public modes of transport (as taxi drivers) to create financial means for their families. Thus, the program not only empowered me but also allowed me to empower others through these remarkable inspirational stories of change – all documented with cell phones!”

Naveed believes technology can encourage and prepare anyone to become a storyteller for good, with a built-in global audience. By learning to create compelling digital stories, he predicts the young people of Pakistan will spark social change, transforming the atmosphere of intolerance into respect and, in the process, create an opportunity to celebrate Pakistan’s colorful array of distinctive communities.

Rabbi of Temple Kol Ami Meets with Jews and Muslims promoting Israeli/Palestinian co-existence in ancient Arab village
Published by Stacy Gittleman
Last month on a rabbinical conference in Israel conducted by the pluralistic Shalom Hartman Institute, Rabbi Brent Gutmann of Temple Kol Ami in West Bloomfield, along with a delegation of rabbis from Israel and around the globe visited the Arab village of Husan, located in the Gush Etziyon region of Judea and Samaria (West Bank).
There, they met with grassroots organization of Palestinians and Israelis who are taking up practical causes of co-existence such as protesting against Israel from continuing a section of the security barrier that would bisect the village and potentially harm the Wadi Fakhim, as well as learn about how Israelis and Palestinians can work together to expand medical facilities and services in the area.
A UNESCO world heritage 10 kilometers west of Bethlehem, Husan contains ancient remains dating back to the Iron Age. Other remains date from the post-Babylonian Exile Period and the Middle Ages.[5] The original inhabitants came from the Arabian Peninsula and Yemen in the 3rd century.[4] Ceramics from the Byzantine era have been found.[6].
The Arab villagers there still use agricultural practices of tabled terracing for their farming that date back to ancient times, watered by an ancient wadi.
On his trip, Gutmann learned the Arabs and Jews protesting there also fear that the growing Jewish communities around Husan are putting pressures on this wadi and other natural resources. They also fear a strain on existing infrastructure such as sewerage and drainage systems.
These grassroots organizations over the last 25 years have gone through several changes and names. But at the center has been Zaid Sabateen, a resident of Hasan who as a teen was arrested and imprisoned for five years in Israel after his involvement in the first intifada in the mid 1980’s. After his release following the Oslo accords, Sabateen realized the path to a two-state solution cannot be won through violence but through conversation and peaceful work towards co-exisistence.
He founded the group Path of Hope and Peace with the late Rabbi Menachem Froman, who served as the chief rabbi in the Jewish community of Tekoa in the Judean Hills who believed in working towards peace with the Palestinians even when both sides faced violence, death and terror and extremism.
“It was an unlikely alliance – a settler rabbi – and a former Palestinian terrorist,” said Gutmann, who befriended Sabateen through Facebook before meeting in person this summer. “But the two were willing to talk and engage with anyone who were willing to work for a peaceful solution. “
From this trip, Guttmann saw first-hand how activities as ordinary as cleaning up trash from the side of a road or showing concern for the natural resources of the region are ways Jews and Muslims, Israelis and Palestinians can come together for a common good.”
Another issue that this grassroots organization of Muslims and Jews in the region is taking up is the disparity of healthcare in the region. The life expectancy of Palestinians is on average 10 years less than Israelis.
To improve these statistics, Path to Hope and Peace has worked to bring in more healthcare facilities to improve the lives of the Palestinians. For example, Rabbi Froman before his death worked to build a local health facility near Husan to increase availability of more doctors and specialists. Because of his work with Israelis, Sabatin is able to work through some of the complexities that come with Israel’s tight security measures on Palestinians, such as attaining travel permits to leave the West Bank and enter Israel so that they can visit with sick loved ones who are being treated in Israeli hospitals or even have a visit to swim and play in the ocean.
“The notion of the two-state solution is becoming more and more challenging,” Gutmann said. “But this special trip out to this village made me come to the realization that people on both sides of the conflict can share and find commonalities in everyday interactions. It is possible to come together to talk and try to solve the most immediate and local problems. It is these real person-to-person interactions that bring out each other’s humanity and rarely make the news.”
In a written Facebook message, Sabatin said while the current situation can seem grim as Israeli and Palestinian politicians fight for political survival, it is the everyday people who get lost in the mix.
“The land is holy to Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike, and we must learn to live and share it together. We hiked the land together, sat in joint prayers, and arranged many activities to bring all of our families and friends to meet each other as neighbors and friends. ….The Path of Hope and Peace brings families together in our area of coexistence next to the Green Line, with a special focus on the young Israelis and Palestinians, who are our collective future.

Muslim pilgrims pray on the Jabal al-Rahmah, or the mountain of forgiveness, at Arafat for the annual hajj pilgrimage outside Mecca, Saudi Arabia, on Aug. 20, 2018. More than 2 million Muslims have begun the annual hajj. The five-day pilgrimage represents one of the five pillars of Islam and is required for all able-bodied Muslims once in their lifetime. (AP Photo/Dar Yasin)

WISDOM Mission Statement

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