Calendar for WISDOM and Other Interfaith Events
Sunday, October 15th, 2017, 5:00 PM – 8:30 PM
Tenth Anniversary Celebration of WISDOM
North Congregational Church
See Save the Date Below
August through November, 2017
Exploring Our Religious Landscapes
See Flyer Below
November 12, 2017 3:00 – 6:00 PM
IFLC interfaith panel on Creation
See flyer Below
WISDOM’S TENTH ANNIVERSARY YEAR
Sunday, October 15th
5:00 PM – 8:30 PM
AT NORTH CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH
Displays/Vendors, Dinner, and Delightful Entertainment
$50 per person
Register now on the WISDOM website!
$75 for a display/vendor table
First-ever Shabbat Salaam Focuses on Food, Faith and Friends
By Maayan Hoffman
Two women – one Sephardic Jewish, one Egyptian Muslim – sat together, sharing a dish of Arabic fattoush salad. They laughed together, excited by the discovery that despite their different religions they have much in common, including their favorite foods.
It sounds like a scene out of a fairy tale, given the recent unrest on and around the Temple Mount and the gruesome terror attack that struck a West Bank town over Shabbat. But according to those who spearheaded the first-ever Shabbat Salaam in San Francisco, this connection was neither contrived nor isolated.
More than 65 Muslims, Jews, Christians and atheists came together on Fridaynight, July 21, for a pop-up dinner experience at which attendees dined and conversed about the parallels that exist between all Abrahamic faiths, specifically Judaism and Islam.
“People were reminded they are far more similar than different,” said Mohammad Modarres, who planned the evening on behalf of Interfaith Ventures, in partnership with OneTable’s Bay area hub manager Analucia Lopezrevoredo. He said Reform, Conservative and Orthodox Jews attended, as well as Shia and Sunni Muslims.
The event began at 7 p.m. with a social hour and finger foods – Turkish dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), finger potato knishes, khraime (Moroccan salmon) – and drinks, which prepared attendees to ask questions about faith, community and all things humanity, according to Modarres.
OneTable’s Al Rosenberg, director of communications, said the organization decided to financially back Shabbat Salaam because OneTable saw the event as both “strategic and intentional,” and aligned with its mission of presenting Shabbat as a “beautiful, purposeful and intentional practice that can benefit everyone and can bring peace and rest.”
Rosenberg said, “We want [Shabbat meal] hosts to feel comfortable celebrating Shabbat with whoever – and to feel empowered to bring a little bit of their culture to their friends and community.”
This was the first time OneTable partnered directly with a non-Jewish organization.
Opening remarks were followed by a three-course meal, curated by a local Sephardic-Jewish chef. The highlight of the meal was the main course, Persian choresht e-sabzi (herb stew) and Lebanese kousa mahshi (stuffed squash), made with the first-ever Glatt kosher and halal “interfaith meat.”
“It was the very best meat – black belly lamb, grass fed, free range,” said Modarres, who worked for more than a year to make such a ritual slaughter take place. “It was a logistics nightmare.”
Modarres said the lamb was slaughtered the Monday before the event at an Oregon farm owned by a devout Christian. The first lamb they slaughtered did not turn out to meet Glatt standards and so it was distributed to people in need. The second one hit the mark.
“There we were, three farmers, me, the rabbi-shochet (ritual slaughterer) and the Muslim slaughterer. And the rabbi checks the animal. And when he tells us it passes as Glatt kosher, we were excited knowing that we had created interfaith meat and we all high-five each other,” Modarres said.
Aside from the meat, each dish – from tahini to challah to baklava – was steeped in tradition. The chef came out to explain each course and its significance to her and her family as Jewish, American, Iranian, Israeli Jews – as humans. The Interfaith Ventures website refers to how Muslim and Jewish food roots tango with one another for a multitude of reasons, including economic trade, environmental sacristy and social mobility, and these intertwined histories shape the cultural foods of today. Participants paid $45 per person.
Jewish ritual and Muslim culture was also factored into the experience. Lopezrevoredo, who worked directly with Modarres on the dinner since February 2017, provided ritual cards that explained candle lighting, Kiddush and the blessing over bread. She invited participants to join her in these rituals before the meal. After dinner, participants enjoyed a Muslim-led Sufi performance.
Lopezrevoredo, who grew up in an interfaith family, got involved because she was struck by the growth of Islamophobia since 9/11. During the last presidential election, she felt that those fears became more covert and “because of my personal convictions, history and relations with people that are part of the Islamic faith, I just cannot stand for it.”
Modarres grew up on an “interfaith street” in New Jersey, with Jewish, Christian and Buddhist neighbors, among others. As he grew older he realized that writing cards to Jewish friends on Yom Kippur and Chanukah, or sharing Ramadan dinner with a pastor’s son and daughter, was not commonplace. The negative experiences his family faced after 9/11, which he, too, felt came to the forefront during the last election “left a sour taste in my mouth.”
“You can either pick up a pitch fork and be angry or you can try to create a narrative and space for people to realize their similarities and how they outweigh any differences,” said Modarres.
Modarres and Lopezrevoredo were brought together by a mutual colleague and friend and then they started planning. OneTable’s Rosenberg said the organization braced for backlash. “Anytime you try to bring peace, there are people who want to fight that for some reason,” said Rosenberg.
But in the end, there wasn’t any push back. Rather, participants left the meal with ideas of local volunteer opportunities they could do with their new friends. And Rosenberg said she sees Shabbat Salaam as a prototype that could be replicated in other cities. There is already a Shabbat Salaam planned for Los Angeles and discussions are underway about dinners in Atlanta, Chicago, Washington, D.C., New York and Colorado.
“It really came together,” said Modarres. “I don’t know how else to describe it, except there were Higher Powers that really wanted this.”
A Narrow Bridge
By Rabbi Barry Block
Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav[i] taught: “All the world is a very narrow bridge; the key is not to be paralyzed by fear.”
I have been on a narrow bridge. The Capilano Suspension Bridge in Vancouver, Canada is only wide enough for single file, spanning its 230 feet, hanging 460 feet above a river gorge. Not afraid of heights, I wasn’t scared when I crossed, enjoying magnificent scenery. Trusting that engineering had permitted millions to cross before me, I never considered the possibility of not arriving safely on the other side.
Our world, though, is full of less secure, narrower bridges.
When a devastating hurricane drops four feet of rain or threatens deadly winds, a person’s world can suddenly become a frighteningly narrow bridge – from security to survival, from a roof over one’s head to the peril of homelessness.
When armed white supremacists march in the thousands, people of color rightly fear for their lives. Is America a safe home?
When we hear the phrase, “Muslim ban,” America may quickly become precarious foreign land, even for a citizen.
When thousands, perhaps millions, cheer a border wall, we may ask: Why is America narrowing its bridge to the world?
When Charlottesville marchers shout, “Jews will not replace it,” American Jews wonder: “Will we have to get on a narrow bridge again, hoping to arrive safely at our next land of refuge?”
When young immigrants – who know America as their only home; and who have lived honest, productive lives in this land of opportunity – nevertheless face the prospect of deportation, they need look no further than their parents to see the narrow bridge that life in this country can be.
When a Black-majority school board is replaced by one white man, sixty years after the hard-fought but minimal desegregation of Little Rock Central High School, we may be frightened by the answer to the question: What temporal power is keeping this bridge from collapsing?
When LGBTQ Americans in many states can legally lose their jobs solely because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, the supports on the bridge of LGBTQ life in this country, which seemed to be strengthening, may become wobblier yet again.
When the white working class sees industry change along with culture, they wonder if the sturdy highway of their lives has become a rickety bridge.
When millions upon millions of Americans, and billions around the globe, do not have access to adequate quantities of nutritious food or to excellent medical care, living paycheck to paycheck, if there’s a paycheck at all, then the slightest unexpected misfortune can destroy the bridge of life beneath one’s feet.
When climate change is denied, even as historically devastating storms rage, Rabbi Nachman’s words seem particularly prescient: The whole world is on a very narrow bridge, between a healthy environment and global self-destruction.
We who are on this bridge – and make no mistake, we are all on it – live in fear, and not because we are afraid of heights. We know about people who have crossed these bridges in the past. Too many did fall to their deaths. We cannot be secure about the engineering of the bridge we must walk to traverse oppression.
Tonight, we have come together to push the bridges’ boundaries, to make each one less narrow, and to shore up the infrastructure.
If an undocumented immigrant links arms with a Muslim, then the Muslim is not alone when her people are maligned, and the immigrant may imagine refuge rather than deportation.
If a cisgender woman of color brings a transgender woman with her into the restroom, then the transgender woman may feel more secure in her place of vulnerability, and the person of color will know she’s not the only target of white supremacists’ slogans.
If a white working class American and a descendant of slaves share their anxieties about our nation’s future, each may build a better future with the other.
If the wealthy nations of the world, beginning with our own, will take responsibility for reducing humanity’s carbon footprint, then we may all take responsibility for defeating the climate injustice whose victims are disproportionately the poorest people on Earth.
If the person of faith and the unbeliever share the diverse sources of their comfort, perhaps we can hearten one another.
We do not know what the months and the years ahead may require of us. Perhaps churches will need to transform parish halls into sanctuaries from deportation. Perhaps a synagogue will need to shelter threatened Muslims. Every single one of us will have to decide: Am I going to collaborate with oppression? Am I going to remain silent, imagining there’s nothing I can do? Or am I going to use my body and soul, my voice and any power I have, to stand in the way of injustice?
We do know this: All the world is a very narrow bridge, and the only way to conquer fear is to emulate the Children of Israel at the Red Sea, “joining hands, marching together,” to a Land of Promise.
We do know this: In order to fight injustice, we must be disturbed by it. If we are not personally suffering, then we are obligated to summon empathy for those who are. We must know the heart of the stranger, for all of us have been strangers in one Egypt or another.
Nearly two millennia ago, the rabbis of the Talmud made a decree about those who live in a community beset by suffering, a world like our own, on a very narrow bridge. Hear now the rabbis’ teaching: “When the community is immersed in suffering, a person may not say: I will go to my home and I will eat and drink, and peace be upon you, my soul. . . Rather, a person should be distressed together with the community. . . And anyone who is distressed together with the community will merit seeing the consolation of the community.”[ii]
A task lies before us. Let me suggest that each of us seek to sit down for a meal with a person different from ourselves, a person we may not know well, a person who may be afflicted during these difficult days in ways that we are not. May we enjoy one another’s company, but let us also hear each other’s pain. Let the bread we break together also be our bread of shared affliction. Then, may we build a bridge – a strong, broad bridge – and may we be consoled, together.
Rabbi Barry Block serves Congregation B’nai Israel in Little Rock, Arkansas.
They came to celebrate diversity, take a stand against hate and intolerance and strive for a safe, inclusive community. Residents from Canton and beyond gathered Tuesday evening in Heritage Park for a combined National Night Out and Not In Our Town event, both dedicated to building strong communities and making neighborhoods safer, better places to live. Representatives of the Muslim Community of Western Suburbs came from the Canton Mosque, serving up potato samosas and dates, providing henna art and a calligraphy station where visitors could see what their names look like spelled in Arabic.
Sana Soubani, a teacher at Crescent Academy International at the mosque, brought son Ammar Nusier, 9, to the event and, like other Muslims, she talked with visitors.
“Islam teaches us that all people are created equal. There is no difference between race and gender and background,” Soubani said. “All people are the same. We are here (at the event) because we like to put our faith in action. We are proactive. This is rooted in our religion from the beginning of time.”
Not far away, the Hindu youth group Yuva Bharathi welcomed visitors while, in a separate booth, Crime Stoppers of Michigan volunteer Mary Groat explained how witnesses can report crimes anonymously by calling 800-SPEAK-UP or by logging onto http://www.1800speakup.
Crime Stoppers has what Groat called “a fantastic partnership” with the Canton Public Safety Department, which also had police and fire representatives at the event. As a child took his turn getting on a police motorcycle, Deputy Police Chief Craig Wilsher said the gathering was a good way to interact with residents in a non-emergency situation and build community relations.
Police canine Hoss, accompanied by Officer Bryan Szostak, sure commanded his share of attention, with several children petting him simultaneously at times and others waiting their turn. “They love the dog, especially kids who don’t have pets at home,” Szostak said. Kristine Wiley brought children Curtis, 9, and Kaidyn, 8, to the event. She wanted Curtis, in particular, to have positive interactions with police officers, saying he is fearful of them. With face painting, arts and crafts, a bounce house, live musicians and other offerings, Curtis wasn’t sure when asked what he liked most about National Night Out. “I want to see everything,” he said.
Mohammed Rahman, 22, came from Detroit as a community organizer of Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote-Michigan. He hoped to bring attention to the group and encourage more people within the Asian-American community to get involved in efforts such as voting. “Our goal is to get Asian Americans more civically engaged,” Rahman said, whether by voting, organizing candidate forums, contacting elected officials or other activities.
“It’s really important for us to tell our elected officials what is important to us,” he added.
The two-hour National Night Out and Not In Our Town gathering was organized by the Canton Police Department, Canton Public Library, Canton Response to Hate Crimes Coalition and Canton Leisure Services. Library Director Eva Davis worked at a booth where passersby stopped to sign a banner to promote tolerance. “They are pledging to support a safe, inclusive community,” she said.
Organizers said the event was coordinated by the Canton Response To Hate Crimes Coalition, which is a group of law enforcement officials, faith-based organizations, public schools and community representatives committed to raising awareness of hate crimes, bias incidents and bullying. The coalition also offers support to victims and works to restore a sense of community when incidents do occur.
National Night Out is part of a nationwide effort that involves thousands communities in the United States, U.S. territories, Canadian cities and military bases. It is in its 33rd year. For more, go to https://natw.org/.
Not In Our Town is nationwide effort to stop hate and bullying while building safe, inclusive communities. For more, go to https://www.niot.org/
A peaceful, persistent response to injustice
BIC GENEVA – Thirty years ago, the Baha’i community of Iran embarked on a remarkable endeavor. Denied access to formal education by the country’s authorities after their numerous appeals, they set up an informal program of higher education in basements and living rooms throughout the country with the help of Baha’i professors and academics that had been fired from their posts because of their faith. This gradually came to be known as the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE).
Since its inception, BIHE has helped educate thousands of individuals, many of whom have been accepted into nearly 100 universities around the world to pursue graduate studies. Many BIHE graduates that complete their post-graduate studies abroad will return to Iran to serve their communities. Thanks to advances in technology, BIHE’s students are now taught by professors from across the globe. Those who offer their expertise and knowledge to the education of Baha’i youth in Iran, have witnessed first-hand the students’ high ideals and commitment to the pursuit of knowledge.
“The Baha’i response to injustice is neither to succumb in resignation nor to take on the characteristics of the oppressor,” explained Diane Ala’i, representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations in Geneva, quoting a letter from the Universal House of Justice.
“This,” she said, “is the fundamental definition of constructive resilience.”
“Of course, the Baha’is are not the only ones that have responded non-violently and positively to oppression, but they are finding a different way of doing that, which is more focused on their role in serving the community around them together with others,” said Ms. Ala’i.
Despite efforts by the Iranian authorities to disrupt BIHE’s operation by raiding hundreds of Baha’i homes and offices associated with it, confiscating study materials, and arresting and imprisoning dozens of lecturers, it has grown significantly over the past three decades. It relies on a variety of knowledgeable individuals both in and outside of Iran to enable youth to study a growing number of topics in the sciences, social sciences, and arts. Overall, not only has BIHE survived thirty years, it has thrived. Studying at BIHE is not easy. Because it’s not a public university, there is no funding available, and many students hold down full-time jobs. It is common to travel across the country to go to monthly classes in Tehran. Sometimes, students will have to commute from a home on one side of the city to the other in the middle of the day, because these are the only spaces available to hold classes. Despite these logistical challenges, students meet high academic standards.
“I have talked to BIHE students who said when their teacher was arrested and put in jail and all their materials were confiscated, they would get together for class just the same,” said Saleem Vaillancourt, the coordinator of the Education is Not a Crime campaign, which brings attention to the issue of denial of education to the Baha’is in Iran. “These students continued studying together, despite the fact that they didn’t have a teacher. This was their attitude, it didn’t seem remarkable to them. They just said this is what we have to do, because they had a commitment to the process.”
Universal education is a core belief of the Baha’i Faith, and when the authorities in Iran sought to deny Baha’i students this critical and fundamental right, the Baha’i community pursued a peaceful solution-never for a moment conceding their ideals, never surrendering to their oppressor, and never opposing the government. Instead, for decades, it has been seeking constructive solutions, a show of its longstanding resilience. In Iran, persecution of the Baha’is is official state policy. A 1991 memorandum approved by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei states clearly that Baha’is “must be expelled from universities, either in the admission process or during the course of their studies, once it becomes known that they are Baha’is.” Other forms of persecution torment the Baha’is in Iran as well. An open letter dated 6 September 2016 to Iran’s President from the BIC draws his attention to the economic oppression faced by the Baha’is there. The letter highlights the stark contradiction between statements espoused by the Iranian government regarding economic justice, equality for all, and reducing unemployment on the one hand, and the unrelenting efforts to impoverish a section of its own citizens on the other. “The Baha’i community in Iran wasn’t going to let itself go quietly into the night. It wasn’t going to allow itself to be suffocated in this way,” said Mr. Vaillancourt.
A distinctly non-adversarial approach to oppression fundamentally characterizes the Baha’i attitude towards social change. The Baha’i response to oppression draws on a conviction in the oneness of humanity. It recognizes the need for coherence between the spiritual and material dimensions of life. It is based on a long-term perspective characterized by faith, patience, and perseverance. It at once calls for obedience to the law and a commitment to meet hatred and persecution with love and kindness. And, ultimately, this posture has at its very center an emphasis on service to the welfare of one’s fellow human beings. “I think we see in the world today the breakdown of communities that people would not have thought could happen so easily. We’ve come to realize that living side by side is not enough. We need to live together and know one another, and the best way to know one another is to start working for the betterment of society,” said Ms. Ala’i.
“As the Baha’is in Iran have begun to do this in a more conscious way, other Iranians have come to know their Baha’i neighbors and understand that much of what they had heard about the Baha’is from the government and clergy were lies. As they have become more involved in the life of the communities where they live, the Baha’is have witnessed an immense change in the attitude of other Iranians towards them.”
The Baha’i response to oppression is not oppositional and ultimately strives toward higher degrees of unity. Its emphasis is not only on collective action, but on inner transformation.
This strategy is a conscious one employed by the Baha’i community. Going beyond the tendency to react to oppression, war, or natural disaster with apathy or anger, the Baha’i response counters inhumanity with patience, deception with truthfulness, cruelty with good will, and keeps its attention on long-term, beneficial, and productive action.
The Baha’i Institute for Higher Education embodies all of these elements.
“BIHE is an extraordinary achievement,” commented Mr. Vaillancourt. “Perhaps the least known, longest-running, and most successful form of peacefully answering oppression that history has ever seen. It sets the best example I know of for this particular Baha’i attitude to answering persecution or answering the challenging forces of our time, where we try to have an attitude, posture, and response of constructive resilience.”
All The Swastikas And Broken Glass
In the two weeks since white supremacists marched
on Charlottesville, more than two dozen anti-Semitic incidents have occurred across the U.S.
By Christopher Mathias
On Aug. 14 – two days after the nation watched in horror as hundreds of well-armed neo-Nazis and other white supremacists held a violent rally in Charlottesville, Virginia – a 17-year-old boy in downtown Boston allegedly picked up a rock and threw it through one of the six tall glass towers that make up the New England Holocaust Memorial. Each tower is made of 22 glass panels and engraved with thousands of numbers representing the 6 million Jews murdered by Nazis during World War II. The rock reduced one of those panels to tiny glass shards strewn across the sidewalk, later swept into dustpans by city workers.
A day later, an unknown person shattered the glass doors at the K’hal Adas Yereim synagogue in Queens, New York – just hours after the nation watched in disbelief as the president of the United States described the white supremacists in Charlottesville as “fine people.” The synagogue is less than 3 miles from the president’s childhood home.
A K’hal Adas Yereim member sent a photo of the shattered doors to the Documenting Hate project, a partnership between ProPublica and numerous news outlets, including HuffPost. A New York City Police Department spokesperson says the department is investigating the incident, but won’t say whether a suspect has been identified.
Across the country in Alameda, California, on Aug. 17, a security camera captured another unidentified vandal throwing rocks at Temple Israel, shattering multiple windows. Since the rally in Charlottesville, the Anti-Defamation League has tracked dozens of anti-Semitic incidents across the United States. It’s the sight of shattered glass at places of Jewish remembrance and worship, though, that is fraught with a terrifying poignance.
On the night of Nov. 9, 1938, and into the next day, mobs in Germany massacred nearly 100 Jews and smashed the windows of Jewish businesses and synagogues. The night became known as Kristallnacht, “The Night of Broken Glass”, and was a preview of the Nazi effort to exterminate Jews from the Earth. At the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville two weeks ago, HuffPost witnessed Americans celebrating this Nazi legacy, proudly waving swastika flags and wearing T-shirts quoting Adolf Hitler. They chanted “Jews will not replace us!” and the Third Reich slogan “Blood and soil!” They carried signs with messages like “The Jewish Media Is Going Down” and “The Goyim Know.”
Worshippers at Charlottesville’s Congregation Beth Israel watched in terror as neo-Nazis paraded by screaming “There’s the synagogue!” and “Sieg Heil!” Online threats to burn down the synagogue forced congregants to remove Torahs, including a Holocaust scroll, from the building as a precaution.
“This is 2017 in the United States of America,” the congregation’s president, Alan Zimmerman, later wrote on ReformJudaism.org.
The anti-Semitic aims of the rally – which the Anti-Defamation League has called the largest of its kind in over a decade – were apparent the day before it started, when organizer and white nationalist leader Richard Spencer published his “Charlottesville statement.” This malevolent manifesto described Jews as an “ethno-religious people distinct from Europeans” who are resistant to assimilation and are hostile to non-Jews.
Now, the Anti-Defamation League is concerned that the large display of hatred in Charlottesville “could inspire copycat incidents or acts of hate against Jews or Jewish institutions in other parts of the country,” the group said in a statement.
The ADL provided a lengthy list to HuffPost of anti-Semitic incidents over the past two weeks. A spokesman for the group says the number of incidents is “higher than usual” when compared with other recent two-week periods.
The ADL cautions that it is impossible to directly link these anti-Semitic incidents to what happened in Charlottesville “without knowing the full motives of the perpetrators behind the attacks.”
Still, the past two weeks have brought rising American anti-Semitism into focus. The ADL says anti-Semitic incidents surged by 34 percent in 2016 compared with the previous year. In the first quarter of 2017, the number of incidents jumped 86 percent compared with the same period in 2016.
The FBI also maintains data on hate crimes and, while its figures are incomplete, they show that Jews were the most-targeted religious minority in the U.S. between 2010 and 2015.
And Jonathan Greenblatt, head of the ADL, told HuffPost this week that his organization has also tracked a rise in recruitment and membership among white supremacist organizations.
“One of the most significant things about Charlottesville is that it showed there’s a young generation of white supremacists willing to openly display their hate and anti-Semitism in public and in full view,” he said.
“It’s alarming to see a younger generation that’s not aged Klansmen hiding behind white hoods,” he continued, adding that “the majority of attendees appeared to be young, in their 20s and unafraid to show their faces.”
These young white supremacists, he said, have been “emboldened by this climate in the country, in an environment where the president essentially validated them and the ‘fine people’ among their ranks.”
Donald Trump won the presidency despite racist comments throughout his campaign. As a candidate and now as president, he has routinely signaled his support of white nationalism and been slow to condemn terror committed by white, right-wing extremists. The Charlottesville rally also concluded with a terror attack. Twenty-year-old James Alex Fields Jr., a member of the white supremacist group Vanguard America, is accused of driving a car through a crowd of counterprotesters. The attack killed 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injured 19 others. In an interview with ABC News in the following days, two of Fields’ former classmates recalled visiting a Nazi concentration camp in Dachau, Germany, with him in 2015. Standing in a place where Nazis had systematically murdered at least 28,000 people, most of them Jews, Fields’ friends recalled him issuing a chilling statement: “This is where the magic happened.”
Clergy march in Washington against white supremacy
WASHINGTON (RNS) – From Protestant preachers to Jewish cantors to Catholic nuns, religious leaders of a range of faiths demonstrated in the nation’s capital for racial justice, criticizing the silence of some within their own ranks on the subject of white supremacy and questioning the morality of Trump administration policies.
Wearing stoles, robes and yarmulkes, the participants proceeded Monday (Aug. 28) on a 1.7-mile route from the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial to the Justice Department. Organizers estimated close to 3,000 ministers took part, a larger turnout than suggested by the title of the event: “One Thousand Ministers March for Justice.”
“We wanted to say this nation is in moral trouble,” the Rev. Al Sharpton told those assembled at the King memorial.
One protester carried a sign saying “Repeal and Replace Trump Pence,” a reference to the efforts to halt the Affordable Care Act signed into law during the Obama administration. Another’s sign said “Black Lives Matter To This Rabbi.”
The march was originally planned to protest increased hate crimes, mass incarceration and discrimination and to call on the Trump administration and Attorney General Jeff Sessions to address those issues.
But the recent violence in Charlottesville, Va., where neo-Nazi, white supremacist and white nationalist protesters clashed with anti-racism activists, prompted increased interest in the gathering.
Sister Patricia Chappell, executive director of Pax Christi USA, decried white supremacy but said, as a black Catholic nun, she believes “even our institutional church is racist” and needs to address some of its policies and practices.
Sharpton’s National Action Network spearheaded the march on the 54th anniversary of the March on Washington. Many of the people – from Buddhists to Baptists- had planned to be at the march before the Charlottesville events spurred more to join them. Some speakers ticked off a number of other issues that concern them, such as criminal justice, voter suppression and health care reform.
“You’re going to see the victims of Nazism, the victims of white supremacy march today to the Justice Department,” Sharpton said just before leading the march through downtown Washington. “And say we don’t care what party’s in. We are not going to be out.”
Sharpton said many of the people – from Buddhists to Baptists- had planned to be at the march before the Charlottesville events spurred more to join them.
The Rev. Jamal-Harrison Bryant, an African Methodist Episcopal pastor from Baltimore, criticized evangelical ministers who support and advise the president “and declare erroneously an outright lie – that Donald Trump is a man of God.” “He is not God’s man,” Bryant said. “They do not reflect the body of Christ at large.”
The Rev. Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners magazine and social justice organization, said the demonstration was “theological” because “the soul of the nation and the integrity of faith” were at stake. He called on clergy to speak out against white supremacy.
“We have to preach from every pulpit in America that racism is America’s original sin,” he said.
Wallis added that Trump should repent for pardoning former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was convicted of criminal contempt for his treatment of undocumented immigrants.
The interfaith crowd took part in a call-and-response conversation with speakers who urged them to sing, recite Scripture and high-five each other in shows of unity.
“Let me tell all the white supremacists and KKK and everybody that America is a multifaith country – Do you all agree?” said Sikh leader Rajwant Singh, who was greeted by cheers. “America belongs to all of us.”
Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, recalled that Jews marched 5,000 years ago “out of Pharaoh’s slavery and bondage in Egypt.”
“And we know today that we do have the power to break the bondage of the modern pharaoh,” he said.
The National Action Network, a predominantly black, Christian organization, also was an organizer of a 50th anniversary commemoration of the March on Washington that was held in 2013 and drew throngs to the National Mall to remember the event that featured King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Monday’s march originally focused on clergy but some groups encouraged all people of faith to attend.
Some clergy who have supported or advised Trump gathered at the National Press Club instead of at the King Memorial and issued a statement about the need for the government and religious officials to do more to bridge racial divides.
“Naturally, we need government, business, law enforcement, and community stakeholders to partner with us,” their statement read. “The glue that will keep our nation together, though, is the Church and faith leaders.”
Calendar for WISDOM and Other Interfaith Events
Sunday, October 15th, 2017, 5:00 PM – 8:30 PM
Tenth Anniversary Celebration of WISDOM
North Congregational Church
36520 W. 12 Mile Road, Farmington Hills, 48331
See Save the Date Below
Sunday, October 14th, 2017
Farmington Public Library Auditorium
See Flyer Below
August through November, 2017
Exploring Our Religious Landscapes
See Flyer Below
SAVE THE DATE!!
WISDOM’S TENTH ANNIVERSARY YEAR
Sunday, October 15th
5:00 PM – 8:30 PM
AT NORTH CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH
36520 W. 12 Mile Road
Farmington Hills, MI 48331
Displays/Vendors, Dinner, and Delightful Entertainment
$50 per person
$75 for a display/vendor table
Please register online for this event!
Zoroastrian Association of Michigan
2017 Society of Scholars
of Zoroastrianism (SSZ) Conference
Federation of Zoroastrian Associations of North America (FEZANA)
at the Farmington Public Library Auditorium,
32737 W 12 Mile Rd, Farmington Hills, MI 48331
Saturday October 14, 2017 from 1015 AM till 530 PM.
“The Legacy Of Zarathushtra and His Vision For The Modern World”
The topics we will be covering will be
1) Zarathushtra’s birth, his early life, his enlightenment and his early teachings
2) the Gathas,
3) Prophet Zarathushtra’s contributions as a philosopher, scientist, astronomer and ecologist,
4) his influence on world religion and philosophy,
5) how his teachings are valuable in today’s modern world.
The Society of Scholars of Zoroastrianism (SSZ) is an initiative to promote study and scholarship of the Religion of Zarathushtra, formalized during the Eighth World Zoroastrian Congress in London in 2005. The mission of the Society is to revive the tradition of scholarship within our community among athornans and behdins alike, and to promote interaction among academicians, theologians (priests), educationists, lay scholars and practitioners of Zoroastrianism, through roundtable discussions, conferences and publications. The aim is to make SSZ a prestigious organization on par with scholarly organizations of other faith communities, and merit affiliation with international bodies such as the American Academy of Religions.
All community members, students, scholars and members of interfaith communities are invited and encouraged to participate. You will no doubt be enriched, your presence gives support to the speakers, and your feedback is invaluable so that future research efforts may be directed in a constructive manner for the benefit of both the academicians as well as the community.
Top religious leaders urge followers to ‘make friends’ across faithsPope, rabbis, Muslim clerics and the Dalai Lama among those championing personal acquaintance as a cure for prejudice and distrust
Go to the following link to view the video!!
In an extraordinary appeal, top religious leaders from across the world called for inter-religious friendships “to counter misperceptions, prejudices and distrust” between peoples.
In a three-minute video made in partnership with Twitter, the petitioners – including Pope Francis, Former UK Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the Dalai Lama and Egyptian Grand Mufti Shawki Allam – disseminated their message in 16 different languages.
The initiative, organized by the Elijah Interfaith Institute under the slogan #MakeFriends, seeks to “reduce social tension around the world by stimulating interpersonal contact between people of different faiths,” according to a statement from the institute.
The video was released during a London conference organized by the institute to launch the effort.
In it, Sacks says: “One of the wonderful things about spending time with people completely unlike you is that you discover how much you have in common. The same fears, hopes and concerns.”
Pope Francis and Rabbi Abraham Skorka speak of how their religious experiences have been enriched by their interfaith friendship.
The Dalai Lama says “personal contact, personal friendship” would lead people to the exchange of “a deeper level of experience.” Bartholomew I, Archbishop of Constantinople, adds: “We are called… to look into one another’s eyes in order to see more deeply and in order to recognize the beauty of God in every living human being.”
American Shia cleric Ayatollah Hassan Al-Qazwini encourages knowing one another “to discover and explore thos commonalities,” while the Archbishop of the Church of Sweden Antje Jackelén explains “This should start a process that will take prejudices away and where new insights and hope is born.”
Israeli Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau also contributed a video, in which he says people of all religions should share common values of acceptance and mutual respect.
A second, longer video from the summit issued by the institute included statements by citizens from around the world on religious prejudice.
The initiative hopes to counter the “hazardous and widespread misperception that followers of religions other than our own view us with distrust and disdain.”
Elijah Institute director Rabbi Dr. Alon Goshen-Gottstein acknowledged that religious texts were not always helpful in allaying this concern.
“We cannot deny that in the books of many religions you can find texts that are not very open, even hostile, to people of other faiths. Therefore, when the world’s most important leaders call for friendship, they are in fact affirming a particular way of practicing religion and rejecting another,” he said.
Religious leaders launch interfaith rainforest initiative
The Amazonas River on the coast of Amapa state
(credit – Reuters/Ricardo Moraes)
Setting aside their religious differences, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist and Daoist leaders have launched a global effort to end deforestation. Launching the Interfaith Rainforest Initiative at a conference in Oslo on June 19-21, religious and indigenous leaders from 21 countries spoke with forest advocates, climate scientists and human rights experts to develop goals and actions, along with milestones to mark their progress. They expect to follow up with an action plan and a global interfaith rainforest summit in 2018. Rainforests are pivotal for life on earth, provisioning people’s needs, promoting biodiversity and protecting the climate”, said World Council of Churches general-secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit. “Today when the rainforests are threatened by deforestation driven by a shortsighted, profit-oriented economy, we must use the knowledge of what is good and our faith-driven action to protect and care for the rainforests and therefore the Earth and all life.”
The leaders said the initiative will bring needed moral attention and spiritual commitment to bear on global efforts to end deforestation and protect the tropical rainforests – forests that are fundamental to human life, the planet’s health and reducing the emissions fueling climate change. This marks the first time religious leaders from a broad spectrum of faiths are working hand-in-hand with indigenous peoples, the world’s leading rainforest guardians, to call upon and activate billions of people of faith worldwide to stand up for rainforests. The gathering was attended by His Majesty King Harald V of Norway.
Tropical rainforests in South America, sub-Saharan Africa and Asia are falling rapidly due to a range of forces, including palm oil plantations, cattle, soy and crop production, and rapacious and often illegal mining and logging operations. The losses amount to an area the size of Austria each year. With their capacity to store billions of tons of carbon, the preservation of tropical rainforests is widely viewed as fundamental to halting climate change. Many climate experts note that forests are the only proven approach for capturing and storing large amounts of carbon. Thus, staving off their destruction could keep carbon emissions at bay, buying time for the world to transition to a low carbon energy future, and also playing an indispensable role in reaching global carbon neutrality in the second half of this century.
Tropical rainforests also provide food, water and income to 1.6 billion people. They contain most of the planet’s land-borne biodiversity and help regulate rainfall and temperature globally, regionally and locally.
The group was convened by Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative, Rainforest Foundation Norway and the United Nations Development Program, in cooperation with the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale University, GreenFaith, the Parliament of the World’s Religions, Religions for Peace, REIL Network and the WCC. “Our goal – working in concert with the spiritual and indigenous leaders gathered here – is to define a shared action plan to create a popular movement for expanded political will and on-the-ground action to protect rainforests,” said Bishop Emeritus Gunnar Stålsett, honorary president of Religions for Peace. “The scope of this initiative is global. But we are also putting special focus on religious and indigenous leaders, networks and institutions in countries with the most significant tropical rainforests.”
The initiative is linked to a surge of recent grassroots action in which environmental, climate and indigenous rights issues are being embraced as spiritual imperatives that strike a chord with multiple faiths and traditions. Other leaders of Evangelical Christian and Muslim organizations, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, have stressed the shared human responsibility to protect the planet. Lending crucial leadership and indispensable momentum to these efforts was the official letter issued in 2015 by Pope Francis that called on all people of the world to quickly bring, “the whole human family together to protect our common home.” The pope also noted the unbreakable link between indigenous peoples and the environment. “For them land is not a commodity, but rather a gift from God and from their ancestors who rest there, a sacred space with which they need to interact if they are to maintain their identity and values.”
Check out Song and Spirits beautiful interfaiith
mosaic tile project, led by
Mary Gilhuly! Click on YouTube link below.
To get involved or
have a community service project
with mosaic tiles
contact Mary at
Charlottesville Happened On Shabbat.
Here’s What The Rabbis Did That Day.
By Erica Snow August 17
In the days leading up to the Unite the Right rally, the Jews of Charlottesville sensed that the march might put worshippers gathered to celebrate the Jewish Sabbath in danger. They asked the police to provide them with an officer during morning services and were refused, so they hired an armed security guard. They also reached out to their friends among Charlotteville’s other religious communities, so for some of the rabbis of the Reform Congregation Beth Israel, the day started with a sunrise interfaith service. After that, as anticipated, things got scary. Here’s how the rabbis and their congregation experienced the day.
9 a.m. Charlottesville’s only synagogue began services an hour earlier than usual to try to avoid any clashes with the rally, slated to start at noon. It didn’t work. Several neo-Nazis walked by Congregation Beth Israel, shouting “There’s the synagogue!” and “Sieg Heil,” a Nazi cheer meaning “Hail Victory.” For thirty minutes, three men with semi-automatic rifles stood across the street from the synagogue, wrote synagogue president Alan Zimmerman for ReformJudaism.org.
The rabbi stayed outside to keep watch, and so did a 30-year Navy veteran, John Aguilar, because he “just felt he should.” Several non-Jews came to services to show solidarity, Zimmerman wrote, and at least a dozen strangers stopped by to ask if Aguilar and Zimmerman wanted company.
Shabbat services – “It just really felt like we were in our own place,” said Geoff Schmelkin, husband of the synagogue’s Rabbi Rachel Schmelkin, in an interview with the Forward. “Prayers strengthened us and gave us the kind of comfort that we needed. It really felt good to be with the community and to be praying together. … We were just doing our thing and being resilient in the way that we want to be in the face of a crisis like this.” Congregation Beth Israel’s stained glass windows blocked the sight and sounds of the rally outside. For two and a half hours, congregants prayed despite the chaos just across the street.
Services conclude, about 11:00 a.m.
The service ended and people filed out of the synagogue into the main hall for kiddush, the ritual blessing over wine and bread usually combined with snacks and a period of schmoozing. Geoff Schmelkin looked out of the second floor windows to see “gangs of skinheads” marching past the synagogue. The sight was “evocative of the atmosphere of a pogrom,” he said. Rabbi Thomas Gutherz, Congregation Beth Israel’s senior rabbi, said he had not experienced such blatant anti-Semitism from “white supremacist gangs” after living in the South for more than two decades.
“It’s just not part of the ordinary experience of Jews,” he told the Forward.
Zimmerman’s “heart broke” as he asked congregants to leave in groups through the back, he wrote. The rabbis had realized an attack on the synagogue was a real possibility and removed the Torahs, including a Holocaust scroll.
An interfaith safe space, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Several congregants walked two minutes down the street to First United Methodist Church, which served as a “safe space” for counter-protesters during the day, Rachel Schmelkin told the Forward. Among them was her husband, wearing a yarmulke. The short walk was “tense,” he said.
The rabbi and her husband reconnected. She’d been at the church since 8:30 a.m., playing guitar and singing songs of “love and kindness” on the steps. She frequently stopped and hurried inside when a lockdown was announced after reports of violence nearby. “It was really important for people to have their spirits lifted as they were looking at this hatred,” she said. “I wanted to drown out their noise with something beautiful.”
She said her Christian colleagues would take extra care to usher her inside the church out of view of the white supremacists and neo-Nazis just across the street and in the park. “To be at the church knowing that my husband was at the shul was very terrifying,” Rachel Schmelkin said. “I was very relieved to see him when he showed up at the church after services and all was OK.”
2:30 p.m.: the hospital – The Schmelkins left the church to rush an injured woman to the hospital. They returned to the church briefly before going home, worried that police could block off the downtown area and restrict their access to their home if protests became too violent.
Later that evening, the rabbis cancelled the havdalah service, consisting of a braided candle, wine, spices and song, that marks the end of Shabbat, citing safety concerns.
Rabbi Emeritus Daniel Alexander wasn’t in town that Shabbat and instead returned to the community on Sunday. He said Charlottesville, thanks to the University of Virginia, is a progressive town that’s been home to prominent Jewish families since the 19th century.
He said the protests on Saturday felt like an invasion. “Charlottesville (has) now become a buzzword with associations that are not really characteristic of the place,” Alexander said to the Forward. “It feels like a violation that doesn’t feel good right now. In a certain way it’s a kind of a loss.” For Gutherz, the senior rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel, the violence and bigotry of the day do not characterize Charlottesville. He said the community needs to take time to process the weekend to figure out how to best move forward. “The community was turning to the faith community for leadership, and we tried to provide it as best we could,” Gutherz said. “The war on hate is also a spiritual war … and we need to stand by our principles of love and acceptance and justice.”
Contact Erica Snow at firstname.lastname@example.org
Amid Muslim anxiety, woman
welcomes strangers to dinner
“Welcome to Our Muslim Table”
Detroit Free Press
by Susan Selasky
Every ring of the doorbell signaled another guest or two, arriving for dinner at the Saab home in New Boston. Once inside, the strangers introduced themselves and immediately noted the amazing aromas coming from the kitchen. Fragrant saffron rice warmed, and a pot of lentil soup with carrots and turmeric simmered on the stove.
Amanda Saab was also tending to cumin-and-cinnamon seasoned kefta (ground beef) patties sizzling in oil. And the smell of rosemary roasted potatoes chimed in. While Amanda cut up melon, tended to the salmon and began caramelizing onions, her husband, Hussein, 30, filled hinged glass bottles with water, ironed napkins and set the table.
Amanda, 28, had been prepping most of the day for this dinner with people she’s met only through friends of friends or on social media. There would be nine guests for her Dinner with Your Muslim Neighbor event, her fourth such event held in Michigan.
On this particular Sunday, the Saab family’s personal and loving attempt to facilitate cross-cultural communication happens at a time of heightened anxiety for Muslims, as terrorism by extremists conjure bigotry. The Saabs entertained strangers from Berkley, Chesterfield Twp., Detroit, Eastpointe, Plymouth and Roseville.
Amanda, a Muslim-American, came up with these dinners as a forum designed to build bonds across cultures, demystify and dispel untruths about Islam and Muslims, while also providing insight. Amanda, a social worker at Zaman International in Inkster, believes that sharing a meal can make a difference.
“There is something about breaking bread and sharing a meal that opens a path so people have a better understanding,” she says.
During the presidential campaign, Amanda says, she was overwhelmed while watching the news, listening to the candidates’ messages and all of the anti-Muslim rhetoric. “It was how people were reacting and that it was OK to spew hate and bigotry,” she says. “Specifically, hearing Donald Trump say he was calling for a complete and total shutdown of Muslims coming into this country.” Instead of sitting at home and feeling helpless, she wanted to do something about it. She put her culinary know-how to work. An amazing self-taught cook, Amanda says she got her first Easy-Bake Oven when she was 5 years old. She learned cooking techniques by watching the Food Network and reading cookbooks. You might recognize her, as some of her recent guests did, from Gordon Ramsey’s “MasterChef” reality show on Fox. In 2015, Amanda was the first Muslim woman on the show. More than a year ago, when the couple still lived in Seattle, Amanda approached her husband about hosting monthly dinner parties in their home.
“Sure, everyone enjoys your food,” Hussein recalls telling Amanda. “Let’s go shopping, here’s a check, 100%, whatever you want to do.”
There was a catch, however. Amanda wanted to invite strangers to their home, not just friends and colleagues. She would cook for them. She would invite them to sit at their dinner table and eat with them. It would be an open dialogue for guests to ask the Saabs about anything about their lives, their Muslim culture, their Islamic faith.
There would be no barriers. Hussein had doubts. “I like to socialize, but not that much and with total strangers,” he says. But, he felt the same way as his wife, frustrated, and isolated. The dinners made sense.
Hussein says he was nervous mostly about the questions that might be asked. “I love Amanda’s creativity with doing this, because cooking is her outlet. And she wanted to combine that with conversation and see what that does.” Hussein says many of the questions are targeted toward Amanda. “They want to know why does Amanda wear the scarf? Did you make her to wear it? Why can’t you eat certain things?”
“It clearly shows many want to ask, but many haven’t met a Muslim in some cases,” Hussein says. “It made it very easy once they got to understand us and why we do what we do.”
The Saabs, now back in metro Detroit after living in Seattle for 5 years, brought their concept here. Their most recent Dinner with Your Muslim Neighbor took place during the holy month of Ramadan, which lasts 30 days. There is no fee for the event, the Saabs pay for everything.
Because their most recent dinner was during Ramadan, Amanda decided the menu would be more traditional to show what the family eats to break the fast; during Ramadan, Muslims fast during the daylight hours. The dinner was set to take place at 9:15 p.m. Now pregnant with the couple’s first child, due in August, Amanda is not expected to fast. Islam allows people for whom fasting may harm their health to refrain from fasting during Ramadan.
Once the guests were assembled, Amanda described what’s on menu. The meal would be served buffet-style from the kitchen island. It included baked wild Copper River salmon topped with a mustard sauce and caramelized onions, a vibrant green fattoush salad studded with pomegranate, spinach pies from Dearborn’s New Yasem bakery and, of course, hummus. Amanda’s famous hummus is beautifully garnished with fresh mint, oregano and parsley, thinly sliced watermelon radish and a sprinkling of sumac. The hummus, she says, is a two-day process that starts with soaking the chickpeas at least overnight.
Before they eat, Amanda explained that she and Hussein needed to pray. While they pray, and since Ramadan is a time for reflection about others who are less fortunate or sick, Amanda had gave her guests a task. She had set out cards, crayons and markers and asked each guest to make a greeting card to be mailed to Cards for Hospitalized Kids.
When the cards were complete, Hussein started the meal with a prayer in Arabic, which he translated to English. The dinner started out with everyone formally introducing themselves. They ate and chatted, talking about how amazing the food was and about Amanda’s stint on “MasterChef.” Armed with conversation-prompt cards, Amanda steered the conversation by asking a question: “What is something you wished someone knew about you?”
She then said, “I wish people knew I choose to wear the hijab on my own. It was my choice to wear it.” Through tears, she explained to her guests: “I asked God for strength to wear the hijab.”
Roberta Mack of Roseville asked: “Is there a certain age that you begin to wear it?” Amanda explained that some say it’s the age of maturity. Amanda was 16. She said when she first wore the hijab to school, her Spanish teacher didn’t recognize her and asked if she was a new student. Hussein talked about how he came to Islam. “I didn’t inherit my religion, I found it,” he said. He also stressed to the group that “with Islam you are not supposed to impose anything on people.”
Aimee Twarek, 36, of Berkley found out about the dinner through a friend of friend. Recently, Twarek participated in a study at her church about Muslims, Christians and Jews. “It was about bridging the gap and finding common ground and about opening up and talking to people of Islam.”
Twarek says she was nervous about going to a stranger’s home. But, she thought it was a great idea, saying “it takes a great amount of bravery to bring strangers in their home. “I thought (the dinner) would be a good way to introduce us to true Middle Eastern cuisine and have an open conversation,” Twarek says. The food, Twarek says, was amazing. A favorite was Amanda’s salmon. Twarek thought the open and honest dialogue was a good fit because “you could see how misconceptions and how misinformed people can be about Islam.”
A plus? It was relaxed, she says. “It was just like having dinner with Muslim friends,” Twarek says. “And nothing beat her hummus.”
The Saabs have partnered with Michael Hebb of Death Over Dinner, another dining initiative that seeks to address pressing social issues like death, addictions (Chasing Addiction over Dinner) and the environment (Earth to Dinner).
“When we met, I got incredibly inspired by the work she had done and wanted to do,” Hebb says by phone from Seattle. “I saw the opportunity for thousands of people, if not hundreds of thousand people.”
Hebb says the two have started to work together to scale the projects, developing guidelines on how the events should be organized and what questions should be asked. He’s worked with Amanda on a few of her dinners and finds her remarkable.
“She’s brave in the larger sense, but her vulnerability and emotional vulnerability is what is so striking as well. She’s willing to talk about an emotional depth of experiences that few people are. As soon as somebody takes a conversation to that depth and other people feel comfortable going there. It’s a real gift.”
The ultimate goal, Amanda says, is to develop downloadable tool kits from her website, www.muslimneighbor.
“I think even just extending that hand and that invitation to reach out to someone and making the invitation and our home available to other people is a success,” she says.
A Newly Minted Rabbi in Morocco
By The Times of Israel
On Thursday, May 18th, I was ordained as a rabbi by the Jewish Theological Seminary. Three days later (and nearly a year after our wedding), my wife Ariel and I departed on a belated honeymoon to Morocco. Ariel is pursuing a doctorate in Byzantine and Islamic art history, so Morocco was the perfect choice for us. As a rabbi, it was exhilarating to walk the streets once frequented by Rabbi Isaac al-Fasi and Maimonides, while Ariel was thrilled to visit some of the most significant sites in the history of Islamic art. In that sense, the trip was everything we thought it would be. What we did not anticipate was the incredibly warm welcome we received as Jews in a North African, Muslim country. Although we were initially wary to divulge that we were Jewish, once we did, we were lovingly embraced like long-lost family. On one of the last days of our trip, we did a seven-mile hike with a Berber guide through the foothills of the Atlas Mountains. While taking a short breather to admire a magnificent mountain scene, our guide, Abdul, began to tell us about the history of the Atlas Mountains and the pivotal role that Jews played in the development of the region. Without knowing our backgrounds, he waxed rhapsodically about the significant contributions that Jews made to the growth and cultivation of the area. And most significantly, he spoke about the deep love that Muslim Berbers have for their Jewish brethren.
“The only difference between Jews and Muslims,” Abdul said, “is that Jews drink alcohol and Muslims don’t.” “Well,” I replied, “You pray five times a day, while we only pray three.” At this, Abdul’s eyes nearly popped out of his head. “You’re Jewish?” Almost shockingly, tears began to stream down his cheeks as he gripped me in a genuine, loving bear-hug. Until the 1940s, roughly 250,000 Jews lived in Morocco. They began to leave in droves following the establishment of the State of Israel; sadly, the vast majority left for Israel in the 1960s, in the midst of a period of economic downturn. Now, there are only about 3,000 Jews left in Morocco, almost all of whom live in Casablanca. Before meeting us, Abdul hadn’t seen a Jewish person in quite some time. He was profoundly moved to see us in his country.
Jews have been in Morocco for at least 2,500 years, dating back to the Carthaginian and Roman periods of North African history. For most of that time, they were major contributors to Moroccan agriculture and trade. Prior to the spread of Islam to North Africa in the 7th century, many Berbers converted to Judaism. On our trip, we learned that a substantial number of Jews living in Morocco today still consider themselves to be ethnically Berber.
For long stretches under Arab rule in Morocco, Jews were classified as “dhimmi,” or a protected class. As long as they paid a special tax, they were permitted to continue observing Jewish law. But ultimately, Moroccan Jews became far more than a mere protected class-they became an indispensable part of Moroccan culture and society. When we visited the 15th century Mellah (Jewish quarter) in Fez, we discovered that it was built in the shadow of the royal palace; the king wanted Jews in close proximity. Significantly, this trend continues today. The primary advisor to the current king, Mohammed VI, is a Jewish Berber.
While visiting the Jewish quarters in Marrakesh and Fez, we had the unique opportunity to daven with the communities there. In Marrakesh, we connected with the community at the Lazama (or “Al Azma”) synagogue, which was founded in the late 15th century by Jews fleeing the Spanish inquisition. Sitting in the beautiful synagogue on a Fridaymorning, we joined with a group of Israelis to hear a captivating talk from a member of the community about his pride in his Berber lineage, and how rankled he gets when he is labeled as Sephardic. He is not Spanish, but very proudly Berber. And moreover, he said, most Moroccan Jews follow Ashkenazic, not Sephardic, religious practices.
We had a similar experience in Fez, where we visited the Ibn Danan and al Fassayine Synagogues in the Mellah, and the Roben Bensadoun synagogue in the new city. We were in Fez over Shavuot, so we davened at the Roben Bensadoun synagogue and then had dinner at their small Jewish community center. It was a fascinating experience; the members of the community spoke to each other (and us) in a blend of Hebrew, Arabic and French and regaled us with tales of Moroccan Jewish life.
The community in Fez told us about Mohammed V, the king of Morocco who protected the country’s 250,000 Jews during the Holocaust. Significantly, following the establishment of the State of Israel, he also reminded his Muslim subjects of the key role Jews had historically played in their country, and implored them not to lash out at the Moroccan Jewish community. This was deeply moving for us to learn, and encapsulated how we felt about our time in Morocco as a whole: we were able to fully experience the culture and history of a beautiful Muslim country and be embraced and welcomed as Jews.
Students Take the Lead Teenagers
for a More Tolerant Future
by Ryan Polsky
“World Religions” is being taken to a whole new level in high schools across the country. Young interfaith activists are bringing it beyond the classroom to engage not only mind, but heart as well. These young grassroots activists are inspiring their peers to learn about different religions through clubs that promote dialogue and service.
In 2014, Jaxon Washburn found himself with a diverse group of friends at Arizona College Prep School in Chandler, AZ. At lunchtime they discussed each other’s cultures, backgrounds, and beliefs. These conversations created a desire to start a formal interfaith club, and soon the World Religion and Tolerance Society (WRTS) was born. In Washburn’s words, WRTS is “a grassroots, student-led, high school interfaith group for students of all different religious and nonreligious backgrounds to come together and have discussions with one another in friendship and relationships based on our shared values.”
When he transferred to Williamsfield High School in Gilbert, AZ he started another WRTS. Today, students meet weekly at both WRTS chapters, and the Williamsfield group has become a Cooperation Circle of the United Religions Initiative. “We bring in guest speakers from around Arizona Valley representing different faith communities. They’re able to come after school and present their faith background to us, hand out materials, and answer questions,” Jaxon says. “Most of all, they are firsthand representatives of these different worldviews. It’s a neat opportunity for high school students to be exposed to cultures and belief systems that they might not have learned as much about, giving them an opportunity to empower themselves and advance their understanding of religion.”
He believes interfaith work is crucial for a better tomorrow: “We live in a pluralistic society, one that, at its core, welcomes people of different faiths and allows them to worship freely. With that, we need to cultivate and cherish the values of interfaith work. Even more than that, being able to communicate with one another in a civil, respectful way, being able to collaborate, work together, and build relationships based on the shared values we have, makes our society a better place.”
Washburn’s leadership and passion has landed him many opportunities, among them visiting the United Nations in New York City and speaking at the 2016 Parliament of World Religions in Salt Lake City, UT. When he speaks, he encourages fellow high school students to start their own interfaith groups: “One of our missions is to establish a stepping stone for high school students to continue interfaith work and get a head start. We feel as though high school students are just as capable of being interfaith activists as the college youth. We’re just trying to bring the interfaith movement to even younger levels.”
Washburn’s work with WRTS has inspired high school students across the country. When Bany Crisp heard about the WRTS from a friend, she immediately seized the opportunity. In fall 2016, she founded a chapter at Midlothian High School in Richmond, VA. Crisp’s interest in interfaith work stems from her curiosity and desire to dive deep. “I read books about world religions and then realized I wanted to meet people from these religions and get to know them,” she said. By doing so, she realized the similarities among world religions.
“There are so many things people of different religions don’t realize we have in common, so I think it’s important to focus on the similarities. And to also learn about the differences, because that can be beautiful, too. It’s important for people to be educated on these issues.”
Interfaith conflict and violence around the world inspire her to be an agent of change. She believes interfaith dialogue and collaboration are key to addressing these larger issues. “You see things that are happening all over the world, conflicts between different religions, and you just want to learn more and help with that in the future.”
Like the Arizona chapters, Crisp’s WRTS club hosts guest speakers and participates in local interfaith service projects. Some of the most notable projects have been partnering with a local church to feed the homeless and organizing a clothing drive for Syrian refugees.
Crisp and Washburn are both members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and it’s their Mormon faith that drives them. Washburn explained, “As a faithful and practicing Mormon, I feel my faith is very open and inclusive, which drives me to learn more about different faiths, encourages me to find the best in everyone, and to on all the good in the world.”
A semester prior to Crisp starting the Richmond chapter of WRTS, Sana Shareef felt called to start an interfaith club at Saint Edward’s School in Vero Beach, FL. After witnessing and being a target of religious bigotry, she wanted a club that met hate with knowledge.
“I had the idea of starting this club during the beginning of the spring semester of my 10th grade. I wanted to start it because at the time, intolerance was becoming too familiar for a lot people I knew. It became my goal to address that religious intolerance with religious literacy. The reason why I had that goal was because I’m a Muslim, and I have experienced and seen first-hand this religious intolerance that goes on.”
While believing interfaith clubs are important for people at any stage in life, Shareef feels especially strong about the need for them at the high school level: “In high school, not a lot of students are expressive or tend to talk about religion. It’s not something that you would do as a teenager; religion is not a big part of your life. But because of the intolerance I was seeing in the outside world, I wanted to do something about that in my school. While I didn’t see this intolerance inside my school, I thought maybe it was there, but not as explicit as in the outside world.”
Her passion led her to establish the Breaking Barriers Club. Its mission is to help dismantle stereotypes and bring about a greater collective awareness of all religions through discussions and debates on common religious preconceptions and practices, lectures by area religious figures, volunteer opportunities at local religious institutions, and a culminating year-end event that consists of an interfaith panel discussion for the benefit of the school and community at large.
The end-of-year interfaith panel was part of “Finding Common Ground: An Interfaith Conversation.” This first installment was extremely successful, with over 300 people attending the panel of seven speakers. The Muslim panelist Imam Khalid Latif, who shared his experiences as a chaplain at NYU and for the NYPD, impacted Shareef the most.
When he spoke, it was incredible. He started the speech with his experiences as a Muslim in this country and the bigotry he’s seen. For example, when he was in his police uniform at the 9/11 Memorial, he was insulted by a fellow American because he looked Muslim and had the cap on that Muslims wear. He said that the woman next to him, who lost her son on 9/11, had stopped the other man and let him know what an insult that was.” She was also struck by Imam Latif’s discussion of the intersection of intolerance and bigotry. “Even though he’s Muslim, he said he doesn’t know how it feels to be a black person in this country. That was quite eye opening; he’s saying that religion is not the only problem, but race is also a huge problem. It’s not just religious intolerance, but a host of other issues that need to be discussed as well.”
“Bigotry is a huge problem in the world, especially in the United States, even though we are one of the biggest cultural melting pots in the world. Unfortunately, even though you often see it among adults, teenagers and students aren’t immune to bigotry.”
These speakers and experiences have propelled Shareef to the next level of leadership and to interfaith activism. As she focuses on finishing high school next year, she is ready to take on the challenge of standing up to hate. “It’s really important that we, as young people, who will be the future leaders of the world, acquaint ourselves with these issues at this time – now – so that we can know the issues and deal with them correctly. Knowledge and education of religious intolerance will be the solution to the bigotry you see in the community. With the recent Manchester attack and terrorist attacks around the world, this issue is at the forefront of society.”
A new wave of grassroots activists is sprouting up. These youth are breaking barriers, building tolerance from the ground up amidst the chaos that often accompanies high school life.
This piece was originally published by URI North America.
Calendar for WISDOM and Other Interfaith Events
Sunday, August 6th, noon to 5:00 PM
DION Interfaith picnic at Belle Isle
See flyer below
Sunday, October 15th, 2017, 5:00 PM – 8:30 PM
Tenth Anniversary Celebration of WISDOM
North Congregational Church
36520 W. 12 Mile Road, Farmington Hills, 48331
See Save the Date Below
August through November, 2017
Exploring Our Religious Landscapes
See Flyer Below
SAVE THE DATE!!
WISDOM’S TENTH ANNIVERSARY YEAR
Sunday, October 15th
5:00 PM – 8:30 PM
AT NORTH CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH
36520 W. 12 Mile Road
Farmington Hills, MI 48331
Displays/Vendors, Dinner, and Delightful Entertainment
$50 per person
$75 for a display/vendor table
Learning about religions face to face
BY JESSICA STEELEY
Clarkston News Staff Writer
From left, Gail Katz, Judaism; April Cook, Christianity; Ranya Shbeib, Islam.
Top Photo: From left, Emily McPhersen, Hinduism; Hwa Son Josh Plucinski, Buddhism; Raman and Kabeer Singh, Sikhism. Photos by Jessica Steeley
Sashabaw Middle School (SMS) seventh graders learned about religious diversity from worshipers of six different religions during their world religion unit. The Interfaith Leadership Council paired with seventh grade classes to bring in speakers from the three Abrahamic religions and three of the world’s eastern religions. They discussed their scriptures, holidays, beliefs and practices.
“We do lots of panels and interfaith educational events, but we haven’t brought it into the schools yet. This is our kick-off trial to see how it goes,” Interfaith Leadership Council Program Director Meredith Skowronski said.
For many years, SMS has paired with the council to do religious diversity journeys, but only 25 students are able to go on them, said World History Teacher Sue Wilson.
“They spend a whole day at these houses of worship just eating traditional food, asking questions, learning from the religious leaders, interacting with members of the community, just as a way to immerse them in a faith,” Skowronski said. Wilson wanted more students to be given this chance so she contacted Skowronski about bringing speakers in as part of project based learning to teach kids about world religions.
The six religions presented were Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Sikhism, which were also taught in the students’ world history classes, Wilson said.
“I think it’s important kids are exposed to different religions and have a better understanding of it so they can speak more intelligently about it,” she said.
Seventh grader Abby Nellis said the focus of the journeys and presentations was to understand different religions and how they work.
“If you see somebody walking around with a turban or walking around with a head covering, it’s okay to ask questions,” Nellis said. “If you have background knowledge, you don’t have to automatically just jump to conclusions.”
Student Faith Kroll said she learned all the religions believe in treating everyone equally and helping people.
“It’s important because you need to learn how other people feel and how they see things, not just how you see it,” Kroll said.
Skowronski thinks there’s a lot of misunderstandings among different faiths and allowing young students to experience members of other faiths helps break barriers and stereotypes.
“What we do really is try to spread interfaith education and conciliation,” Skowronski said. “We try to teach people about other faiths, we try to teach faiths about themselves and provide resources.”
Emily Walters went on the religious diversity journeys and said the presentations helped clarify questions she had about the different religions.
“Nowadays, especially in the U.S., we are such a diverse population,” Walters said. “We need to be able to be open to other people and know about what they might believe in.”
New Islamic Institute Prioritizes Outreach
By Jeff Karoub, Associated Press
DEARBORN HEIGHTS, Mich. (AP) – When the Islamic Institute of America bought a Baptist church, the plan initially was to remove the pews – until the mosque’s leader objected, in part because he saw keeping the benches as a way of showing Islam’s compatibility with its sister faith.
“We’re sending a message to non-Muslim visitors and friends – particularly our interfaith community and Christians,” Iman Hassan Qazwini, one of the top Shiite Muslim leaders in the U.S., said from what’s now the institute’s lecture hall.
“We use the same benches you sat on. We’re using the same stage your pastor used to disseminate our message, which is not too different from your message,” he added. “The gap that exists between us is not that huge.”
Qazwini said reaching out to Christians, Jews and others has never been more important, with a U.S. president who has said Islam hates the U.S. and polls finding most Americans holding negative views of the faith. He sees education and outreach as the primary missions of the Islamic Institute of America in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn Heights, which has one of the largest and oldest Arab-Muslim communities outside the Middle East. Qazwini, who comes from a family of prominent American Shiite scholars and is of Iraqi descent, said he hopes to quell fears and misunderstandings through regular interfaith gatherings and a media division that will produce short videos and other internet-based programming.
Next year, the center plans to launch a seminary aimed at equipping a new generation of Muslim leaders who can help forge a better understanding of Islam in the West. He said the seminary would not only help produce well-rounded scholars who can engage with the wider world, but also better serve their U.S.-born congregants.
“One of the issues we Muslims face in the country is … the huge gap that exists between leaders coming from the Middle East to lead our Islamic institutions and their congregations. For most of those leaders, including myself, it takes years to adapt with the environment, with the American psyche, mentality and even lifestyle,” he said.
Qazwini’s new institute is just a few miles from the Islamic Center of America, one of North America’s largest mosques and where he served for 18 years before leaving in 2015.
Liyakat Takim, a professor of global Islam at McMaster University in the Canadian city of Hamilton, Ontario, said the U.S. has one or two Islamic educational institutions, but “none with the same vision” offered by Qazwini. “For the longest time, the Muslim community has imported scholars from abroad or sent them abroad to study,” said Takim, who knows Qazwini. “They’re not always conducive to the environment we have in America. This can create a younger generation that can preach a message which is amendable to the American environment.”
Takim said Qazwini is “a man of great vision,” and delivering on his plans for the institute will be “an exceptional feat and a great challenge,” given rising anti-Muslim sentiment.
A Pew Research Center survey conducted in 2014 found Americans view Islam less favorably than other major religions and atheism. Another Pew survey found 38 percent of Americans think Islam is more likely than others to encourage violence among its followers, while 50 percent think it is not more likely.
President Donald Trump’s campaign was marked by anti-Muslim rhetoric and, since being inaugurated, he’s sought to enact a travel ban from several Muslim-majority countries.
Qazwini said perceptions of Islam are hurt by acts of violence or terror committed by people who call themselves Muslim. He criticizes the media for rushing to associate someone’s crime with his religion if that person is or appears to be Muslim. Just because somebody acts “in the name of religion,” it “doesn’t mean the religion is acting,” he said.
Still, he can understand the fears.
“If I put myself in a non-Muslim’s shoes, I fully understand how they feel,” he said. “There’s a massive, massive bombardment of anti-Islamic literature, imagery that leads viewers and readers to believe Islam is not compatible with the 21st century. It is our job as Muslims to change that and to contribute. … Maybe we can’t do it all, but at least we try.”
Qazwini said his institute seeks to educate Muslims and non-Muslims alike, and make them feel comfortable in each other’s company.
“We’re not your enemy,” he said.
Australian Christian school defends Sikh turban whilst another Christian school banned the turban
When I reached my son’s school, I saw the principal and a teacher watching a YouTube video whilst trying to re-tie my son’s patka, which had come off. My heart melted to see so much love for the Sikh turban” – Amarpreet Singh, whose 5-year-old son studies at a Christian school in a Melbourne suburb.
MELBOURNE (Australia): United Sikhs organization and the Sri Guru Singh Sabha Gurdwara Craigeburn honoured on Sunday the principal and a teacher from the Mother of God Christian school in the Ardeer suburb of Melbourne. They were honoured for showing their Christian spirit on March 24 when they re-tied five-year-old Mansage Singh’s patka, a head wear worn by Sikh children.
This was in sharp contrast to the experience of another five-year-old Sikh student, Sidhak Singh, who was refused admission last year by the Melton Christian College of Melbourne, because he wore a patka. Sidhak Singh’s father, Sagardeep Singh, has filed a complaint, with the Human Rights Division of the Victoria Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT), which is listed for a three-day hearing from July 24. United Sikhs has arranged for legal representation for Sagardeep Singh through the prestigious international law firm of Herbert Smith Freehills LLP. You may read about the patka ban faced by Sidhak Singh here.
“Hello Amar, I am sorry that your son’s turban came off this morning. I did my best re-tying it back by watching many YouTube videos but am missing on the finishing touch. I am just wondering if you can come and tie his turban accordingly. We are really sorry. The boy who took his turban off is autistic. We explained to him why he must not touch the turban again, but he did it by accident,” the principal of the Mother of God School said in a telephone call to Mansage Singh’s father, Amapreet Singh.
The school principal, Gerard Broadfoot, and teacher, Michelle Buckley, received a siropa, a cloth of honour, from the gurdwara in a ceremony on Sunday. They also received a ‘Defender of the Sikh Dastaar’ award from United Sikhs. Mansage Singh was also honoured by United Sikhs and the gurdwara for helping his principal and teacher to re-tie his patka.
“What we did at school with Mansage was to look after him and make him feel safe. We look after each other. We are very honoured to be given this award today,” said Broadfoot.
“I feel very humbled to be here in front of so many people for doing such a small thing. It is something we would do every day with all the children to provide them with respect and care because we are a Catholic school for all people,” said Buckley.
“Sikhs are often in the news for turban removal or discrimination but this school principal and teacher has set an example and showed that humanity is alive, when they re-tied a Sikh student’s patka. The Australian Sikh community is very honoured by their action,” said Gurdeep Singh, President of the Craigeburn Gurdwara, one of the largest gurdwaras in Melbourne.
“The Mother of God School has set the standard for all schools to follow and shown that a child’s education at a school should not be at the expense of a right to practice his or her faith,” said Gurvinder Singh, United Sikhs Director, Melbourne.
“We are very humbled and very proud to know that our son is being educated in a school that respects the beliefs of every culture and religion and it takes care to protect the belief of all students,” said Amarpreet Singh.
“All the school kids have to wear sun hats when they go outside to play but since my son ties a patka he was given an option to not wear the hat. The principal asked our permission for the school logo to be printed on Mansage’s patka,” he added.
Why Interfaith Relations Are in the
DNA of Reform Judaism
By Aron Hirt-Manheimer , 6/08/2017
A conversation with Rabbi A. James Rudin, former head of the American Jewish Committee’s Department of Interreligious Affairs and author of seven books, most recently, Pillar of Fire: A Biography of Stephen S. Wise.
ReformJudaism.org: When did interfaith relations first become a priority of Reform Judaism?
It was in Reform Judaism’s “DNA” from the very beginning. In 1801, Israel Jacobson established an innovative religious school in Sessen, Germany that included 40 Jewish and 20 Christian students. His “mixed” student policy reflected his hopes, at the dawn of the so-called “Age of Enlightenment,” of a radiant future between Jews and Christians.
Did Reform Jewish leaders who immigrated to the United States in the mid-19th century share Jacobson’s optimism?
Yes. Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, who would emerge as the acknowledged leader of Reform Judaism, published a series of public lectures in 1883 entitled “Judaism and Christianity: Their Agreements and Disagreements.” While forcefully defending the fundamental authenticity and eternal validity of Judaism, Wise never denigrated Christianity in any of its myriad forms of belief or practice; rather, he focused on the centrality of the biblical Sinai revelation that he believed linked the two religions in an inextricable theological and human bond. Two years later, Wise participated in promulgating the Pittsburgh Platform, which would guide Reform Judaism for more than 50 years. Section six includes the words: “…Christianity and Islam, being daughter religions of Judaism, we appreciate their providential mission to aid in the spreading of monotheistic and moral truth.”
How did Reform Jewish clergy talk about Jesus in their interfaith dialogues with Christians? The subject became a flashpoint, when on December 20, 1925, Rabbi Stephen S. Wise (no relation to Isaac Mayer Wise), preached a sermon in Carnegie Hall on the book, Jesus of Nazareth: His Life, Times, and Teaching, by Joseph Klausner of the Hebrew University.
Wise made four points that remain relevant for many Jewish participants in interreligious relations today:
Many Orthodox rabbis publicly attacked Wise, but he retained the public support of most Reform rabbis.
In 1963, nearly 40 years after Wise’s controversial sermon, Rabbi Maurice N. Eisendrath, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (now Union for Reform Judaism), told a UAHC Biennial convention audience:
Needless to say, Jews never can and never will accept Jesus as the Messiah or as the Son of God, but, despite this constant reality, there is room for improved understanding and openness to change in interpreting Jesus as a positive and prophetic spirit in the stream of the Jewish tradition….
Do you recall any significant rifts separating Jewish and Christian clergy?
One in particular comes to mind. In 1945, Rabbi Roland Gittelsohn, a U.S. Navy chaplain who served with the Marines during the battle of Iwo Jima, was asked to deliver the main memorial address at an interreligious dedication of the military cemetery on the island. Several Christian chaplains objected to a Jew delivering a eulogy over Christian graves, though at least 150 Jewish soldiers died in battle.
As a result, Rabbi Gittelsohn spoke at a Jewish service. In a show of solidarity several of his Christian clergy colleagues attended. Ironically, the powerful eulogy he had originally written for the aborted interreligious service became the best-known sermon of World War II, and is still recited at Memorial and Veterans Day events. An excerpt:
Here lie officers and men, Negroes and Whites, rich men and poor, together. Here are Protestants, Catholics, and Jews together. Here no man prefers another because of his faith or despises him because of his color. Here there are no quotas of how many from each group are admitted or allowed. Among these men there is no discrimination. No prejudices. No hatred. Theirs is the highest and purest democracy…
Whosoever of us lifts his hand in hate against a brother, or who thinks himself superior to those who happen to be in the minority, makes of this ceremony and the bloody sacrifice it commemorates, an empty, hollow mockery….
How has interreligious relations changed in recent decades?
Once limited to Christians and Jews, it now includes Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and members of other faith communities. What has remained constant is the Reform Movement’s commitment to positive engagement across religious lines.
Peace event aimed to bring community together
in Alpena, MI
When it comes to relationships, Janice Boboltz and Leslie Kirchoff would far prefer to see bridges built between people instead of letting differences divide. Troubled by today’s super-charged negative political climate, the two decided to do something positive for the community – hold a modern-day peace event.
With help from a sizable core group, they put together an event called Who Is My Neighbor? It was Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Fletcher Street Depot, and promoted peace, tolerance and community primarily through the arts.
“I think everybody’s clamoring for some positive peaceful interaction,”said Kirchoff. “Everyone is tired of the negativity we’ve been bombarded with these last two years.”
Initially, the organizers were concerned about finding enough activities to engage people for the six-hour time frame of the event. Their worry, however, proved unfounded.
“It just keeps getting bigger and bigger,” Kirchoff said. “When we first started talking about this we were worried about filling up the time slots. Now we’re worried we have too much.”
It’s a good problem to have since so many have expressed a willingness to participate. There was everything from crafts for children, yoga for adults, entertainment by local musicians and dancers from the 4-D 2nd Street Dance Company to informational booths, food truck refreshments and even a chance to purchase peace-themed t-shirts.
Thunder Bay Theatre Artistic Director Jeffrey Mindock served as master of ceremonies for the day. Art in the Loft Gallery Coordinator Justin Christensen-Cooper provided a peace mural that visitors can add their own special touch to with paint and a brush. A visual representation of peace, tolerance and community came through the photographs by Bev Suszek.
“This is not a political event at all,” said Boboltz. “It doesn’t matter who was elected or not. This is just about our shared humanity and celebrating our differences.”
In planning Who Is My Neighbor?, Boboltz and Kirchoff took their cue from previous events held in Alpena and sponsored by Building Bridges, a local group that focuses on bringing programs to Northeast Michigan to educate and inform others about diversity. One such program held in September 2016 revolved around the Interfaith Amigos, who include a Christian pastor, a Jewish rabbi and an iman from the Islamic faith tradition.
“The message the Interfaith Amigos left us with was that of realizing our ‘oneness’ central to Judaism, showing ‘compassion’ essential to the Islamic faith and that of ‘unconditional love’ central to Christianity,”Boboltz said. “In light of all of the hateful rhetoric going on in our world from both political parties during the campaign for presidency of the United States and continuing to the present time, we wanted to promote the message of the Interfaith Amigos.”
As a result of getting to know the Interfaith Amigos and connecting with an interfaith group in Detroit, Boboltz and Kirchoff learned about a new event there called Flip the Script. It’s purpose, they said, also was to focus on love rather than hate.
After kicking around the concept, the two women along with the rest of their committee, decided to hold an event in Alpena.
“Although we do not live in a very diverse community, we do have a wealth of talented people to have a similar event in our area,” Boboltz said. “Thus, the wheels were set in motion to have such a celebration of our oneness, compassion and unconditional love through music, art, dance, speakers, drama, poetry and art- a celebration of our humanity that is nonpartisan and nondenominational.”
Don’t miss this fun article that
appeared during Ramadan
by the Forward Magazine
Muslim-Owned Jewish Deli To Host
Muslim-Jewish Fundraising Dinner
June 1, 2017
by Liza Schoenfein
There is a Jewish Deli in Brooklyn that closes for Ramadan. The reason is simple, if somewhat surprising: The owner of David’s Brisket House and Deli on Nostrand Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant is Riyadh Gazali, a Muslim of Yemini descent.
Next week, Gazali will host a dinner party at David’s along with Breaking Bread NYC, which describes itself as “a project from food tour guides and food lovers aimed at connecting communities through cuisine.” (“It’s always easier to understand the unfamiliar when you sit down and break bread together,” the description on Facebook says.)
The Muslim-Jewish Deli Dinner Party will raise money for the HIASorganization, which was founded in 1881 to assist Jews emigrating from Russia and Eastern Europe, and which helped resettle over 150,000 Jewish refugees after World War II. HIAS now helps place Muslim refugees.
David’s Brisket House, which serves classic (though not kosher) Jewish fare, was opened in the 1930s and sold in 1970s to two Yemini men who owned a bagel shop across the street. One of them was Jewish; the other Muslim. Eventually, the Jewish owner left the picture and the other, Gazali’s uncle, became the sole proprietor. He didn’t change the menu, which consists of classics such as Reubens and pastrami sandwiches.
For the fundraising dinner, a set menu costs $45 per person and consists of pickles, half a pastrami on rye (with mustard on the side); half a brisket on rye (with gravy on the side); half an order of fries; half an order of potato salad; a soda and a slice of cake.
Meanwhile, on June 15, The NYC Muslim-Jewish Solidarity Committee is holding its 3rd-annual Iftar-in-a-Synagogue celebration to break the Ramadan fast, at Temple Emanu-El in Manhattan. There will be food and live music. Tickets cost $20 and proceeds will be used to help fight hunger in New York City. Ramadan runs from May 26-June 24.
Liza Schoenfein is food editor of the Forward. Contact her at email@example.com or on Twitter, @LifeDeathDinner
Pope, Rabbi Skorka join effort
to promote friendship across faiths
Reaching out to people of other religions can be both challenging and enriching for individuals and is the only hope for true peace in the world, said a variety of religious leaders, including Pope Francis.
The pope and his friend Rabbi Abraham Skorka appear in a video montage and together in their own video as part of the “Make Friends” initiative coordinated by the Elijah Interfaith Institute, which has offices in Israel and in Dallas.
The video series, posted on YouTube June 14, also includes Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran leaders, Jewish rabbis, Sunni and Shiite Muslim clerics, Buddhist monks and nuns, and Hindu and Sikh leaders.
In their video, Francis and Skorka talk about how their own religious convictions led them into conversations with each other, and how those conversations not only increased their understanding of God and formed the basis of a television series and book, but also led to true friendship.
When sending emails back and forth, “because we still have projects going on,” Skorka said, they address each other as “‘Dear brother,’ and it’s not just a saying. We have such open, deep and affectionate conversations. We understand each other.” As they met and held discussions in Buenos Aires, Argentina, “the friendship grew, always retaining our respective identities,” the pope said. “‘Brother and friend’ – those are my feelings for him.”
Explaining the “Make Friends” initiative, the Elijah Interfaith Institute said, “Friendship and getting to know one another are the antidotes to negativity and divisions in society, enhancing understanding and unity.”
Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein is the founder and director of the institute.
To learn more about the Elijah Interfaith Institute and the “Make Friends” initiative, visit http://elijah-interfaith.org/.
A rabbi, a reverend and an imam have a
plan for peace in middle America
By Dan Simon, CNN
Omaha, Nebraska (CNN)
When most people think of Omaha, they imagine sizzling steaks, billionaire Warren Buffet or even former NFL quarterback Peyton Manning calling out before the snap. (Remember “Omaha-Omaha”?).
But if a group of clergymen have their way, Nebraska’s largest city will soon also be known as the home of interfaith dialogue and peacebuilding. A rabbi, a reverend and an imam (no, it’s not a setup joke) are partners in a decade long quest to bring together the three Abrahamic faiths — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — to share and worship on the same property. It’s called Tri-Faith Initiative.
The $65 million project, launched in 2006 and funded through donations, may be the first time in US history that the three faiths intentionally build their houses of worship side by side,
The three clergymen leading congregations participating in the Tri-Faith Initiative are (L-R) Temple Israel Rabbi Emeritus Aryeh Azriel, Countryside Community Church Senior Minister Eric Elnes, and American Muslim Institute Imam Mohamad Jamal Daoudi.
“We didn’t create this (project) to tolerate each other. We didn’t create this just to have a dialogue,” explained Rabbi Aryeh Azriel, the former senior rabbi at Omaha’s Temple Israel, whose vision helped drive the project. “We have done all this stuff already. It’s about what are we going to do together. What are we going to do for the betterment of humanity?” The location chosen for the sacred endeavor is the old golf course of Highland Country Club, a “Jewish Club” developed in the 1920s when Jews were excluded from other clubs in the city and around the country. Today, a new synagogue and mosque stand tall on the abandoned greens and fairways, and construction crews are readying to build a new church. Further plans include a Tri-Faith Center, which will be completed in 2019 and serve as a shared community space for interfaith classes and activities.
“The Tri-Faith Center will be a place to act, learn and gather,” says a project brochure. “We will promote policies protecting religions and democracies, and unite our diverse voices to challenge extremism.”
The developers say they’re excited for what the future holds. They’re also proud that a land once formed out of division, has now become a symbol of religious tolerance.
Temple Israel’s new synagogue opened in 2013 and cost more than $21 million to complete. The first of the Tri-Faith project, it’s a modern, 58,000-square foot building that features hand-cut stone imported from Jerusalem, a symbol of the Reform congregation’s connection to the Holy Land. “If you can’t create peace in the Middle East — what about Omaha?” quipped Rabbi Azriel, 67, a polio survivor from Israel.
He likes to share a story from one of his congregants who was initially apprehensive about sharing land with Muslims. The man, who would later become a donor, privately expressed fears about Islamic extremists attacking the synagogue. “What if there’s a live hand grenade rolled in the middle of the aisle during the high holidays,” the man asked. The rabbi answered there were two options. “One is to run away. But as a polio survivor, I can’t run far away,” he said with a mix of sarcasm. “The other one is for me to fall on it.” The answer, Azriel said, brought tears to the man’s eyes. Azriel believes that fear isn’t a strong enough reason to cease the project. In fact, he said the idea was born out of the tragedies of 9/11, when fear was at its highest level and he and some congregants went to defend a local mosque from vandalism.
The gesture, he said, led to new friendships and a dialogue between members of the two faith communities. Years later, when Temple Israel began making plans to relocate its aging synagogue, the rabbi and a handful of others formed Tri-Faith Initiative, and articulated their vision to have three faiths occupy the same 35-acre space.
“It will be a little taste of paradise,” said Azriel.
The American Muslim Institute is a stunning $7 million mosque that opened in June, just in time for Ramadan, Islam’s holiest month. The 15,000-square foot building has all the comforts of a modern-day mosque, including state-of-the-art feet washing stations, classrooms and recreation areas, counting a basketball court.
The centerpiece is the cavernous prayer room, where about 50 people attended on a recent evening. The tranquil sounds of the Imam’s chants echoed throughout the room, which has separate spaces for men and women. Yearning for a new opportunity, Imam Mohamad Jamal Daoudi agreed to lead the congregation after a stint with another mosque in Augusta, Georgia. “Refreshment for my soul. I was very enthusiastic to join the group,” said Daoudi, 52. Imam Mohamad Jamal Daoudi peers out the window of Temple Israel and sees his new mosque.
A Syrian native, Daoudi has been in the United States for 22 years and says it’s the first time he’s seen such an ambitious idea materialize.
The conflict between Jews and Muslims in the Mideast should not be an impediment in making peace in the Midwest, he said.
There are “so many good things as human beings to enjoy and embrace, rather than just focusing on one issue,” Daoudi said.
He concedes, however, that his enthusiasm for the project is not universal among Omaha’s Muslim community, some of whom feel anxious about the mixing of faiths. “Right now they are suspicious, they are hesitant, but very soon they will find out that it’s a good idea,” said Daoudi. He believes some of the apprehension is due to confusion — a perception that people of all faiths will be worshipping in the same sanctuary, shoulder to shoulder. “Our mission is not about compromising anybody’s faith,” he said. “We are here to learn about each other and to live as neighbors with each other.”
Countryside Community Church, part of the United Church of Christ, has a perfectly fine building less than 15 minutes away from the Tri-Faith site. It has served the congregation well for 60 years and could easily have remained for another several decades.
“Almost no congregation in America moves without some outside pressure, like the roof caving in,” said Rev. Eric Elnes, the head pastor.
“We are moving simply because we fell in love with the vision of Tri-Faith.” Elnes, 53, said the vast majority of his congregation voted for the move, despite the inherent challenges in raising the $26 million required to fund the construction of a new church.
Children playfully shovel the dirt after a groundbreaking ceremony for the new Countryside Community Church earlier this month.
The church is designed to provide congregants with a view of the synagogue and mosque. Measuring 65,000 square feet, it will include a traditional narthex, courtyard and numerous shared spaces intended to maximize interaction.
“Tri-Faith would have made sense throughout any of our religious histories, but in this time, it makes more sense than ever,” Elnes said, alluding to recent terrorist attacks in London and elsewhere.
“If you’re risk averse, you are really peace averse at the same time.”
‘A movement that changed the world’ While each of the three congregations will go about their normal worship and activities, campus landscaping will be designed to facilitate interaction. For instance, a bridge running over “hell creek” will connect the entire campus. There’s been chatter about changing the creek’s name, but appropriately the structure will be called “heaven’s bridge.”
The hiring of an executive director will help turn the interfaith vision into practice, the clergymen say.
Omaha, while not as conservative as the rest of deep-red Nebraska, has not been historically progressive or taken bold steps to promote inclusiveness. But the state’s monikers — originally “Nebraska Nice,” but recently changed to “Nebraska. Good Life. Great Opportunity” — capture the state and broader Midwest’s easygoing nature.
That doesn’t mean Tri-Faith Initiative has eluded controversy.
Locally, the most outspoken opponent has been Dr. Mark Christian, executive director of Global Faith Institute. Christian, who converted from Islam to Christianity, believes that the Quran forbids Muslims from becoming friends with Christians and Jews. It’s a controversial and widely admonished assertion that’s commonly propagated by Islamophobes. Christian has also raised alarm by proclaiming that the Tri-Faith partners could become targets of violence. “I can see it trigger those militant Muslims,” he told CNN. The fearful rhetoric recently spilled over into a city councilman’s election race. Candidate Paul Anderson criticized the mosque’s construction. The Omaha World Herald reported that his website said there should be no mosques in the city. Anderson exited the race in April after being widely rebuked.
Mostly, though, the feedback has been positive, say the clergymen. They’re also hopeful that the initiative will influence other communities to launch similar projects across the United States and beyond.
It’s a sentiment that the Rev. John Dorhauer, general minister and president of the United Church of Christ, shared during this month’s ceremonial ground breaking for the new church.
“Let this be the story we tell our children” — proclaimed Dorhauer — “that once upon a time in a land called Omaha, the Jew, the Muslim and the Christian started a movement that changed the world.”
Dan Simon attended Temple Israel as a child while growing up in Omaha, Nebraska.