Devotion to faith unites four women

Written by WISDOM on . Posted in Press

Metro interfaith group will feed people near, far

Gregg Krupa / The Detroit News

Monday, December 04, 2006


Brandy Baker / The Detroit News Peggy Kalis, back center, and Steve Brown pour a bag of soy meal into a tub as volunteers prepare food for hungry people in the Darfur region of Africa and Metro Detroit. Kalis is one of the organizers of WISDOM, Women’s Interfaith Solutions for Dialogue and Outreach in Metro Detroit.

Jena Raslan, right, who is Muslim, and Arielle Hines, a Christian, pack up a box of meals as Kareem Raslan helps. WISDOM packed 8,000 meals Sunday morning.

As politicians and religious leaders stumble in the face of conflicts in the world, four women say, God brought them together.

First, last spring, Peggy, who is a Christian, met Gail, who is Jewish. Then, the two of them met Shahina, who is a Muslim. The three then met Trish, who is a Catholic.

The four women say they quickly realized that their dedication to their faiths made them more similar than different. As they found one another at activities in churches, synagogues and mosques in Metro Detroit, they also realized that in addition to praying to the same God, they had been thinking the same thought: How do we bring women of diverse faiths together to benefit the community and to learn about different religions?

They united to establish WISDOM — Women’s Interfaith Solutions for Dialogue and Outreach in Metro Detroit. It is just one initiative to unite the local followers of diverse religions.

“We wanted to do something to foster peace and also do some services for the community,” said Shahina Begg, who attends the Unity Center of Bloomfield Hills, a mosque.

It’s ‘a women’s project’

“At that time, we don’t even have a name. We just said it would be a women’s project.”

Chats through the summer over coffee led to lunches. Lunches led to organizing events.

On Sunday, the group — now, with the name and some 100 members — gathered in a donated trucking warehouse in Wayne. About 250 women and children, including Jews, Catholics, other Christians, Muslims and Hindus, used the $4,000 WISDOM collected to purchase meals of rice, soy meal, chicken and vegetables.

They packed the meals and sent them to Darfur, the region of western Africa where hundreds of thousands have died and millions have been displaced in a brutal years-long conflict. Some of the meals also will benefit local shelters and kitchens for the homeless and hungry in Metro Detroit.

By participating in the food drive, the women of WISDOM say they are learning about one another’s faiths in ways that allow them to dispel ignorance and fear.

It is an endeavor to which all Christians, Jews and Muslims are obliged by their faiths — to serve and respect others, especially strangers.

“Maybe women can make a difference where men can’t,” said Gail Katz of West Bloomfield, who is a member of Congregation Beth Shalom in Oak Park and a vice president of the Jewish Community Council, an umbrella group of many Jewish organizations in Metro Detroit.

“This just seemed like a fresh approach,” Katz said.

“To get to know each other, each others’ backgrounds and what we believe and to work together on world peace and also to work on community events.”

Other local groups are making efforts to unite Muslims and Jews, specifically. The American Jewish Committee is sponsoring a conference Thursday at the Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills, where local Muslim leaders will answer questions.

Peggy Kalis, who helped organize WISDOM, says the women’s group is already planning another event in March in which women from Begg’s mosque and from Katz’s synagogue will gather for lunch and discuss Islam and issues of concern.

“It is just so very important to break down the walls and to get to the point that we all recognize that we are all human beings, we all feel the same things, and we want the same things for our families and our friends,” said Kalis, who attends the Church of Today West in Farmington Hills.

Kids get involved

The fourth founder of WISDOM, Trish Harris, who attends St. Hugo of the Hills in Bloomfield Hills, said Sunday that the volunteers organized by WISDOM packed 8,000 meals in the morning and expected to pack 10,000 in the afternoon.

“We had a lot of kids here today, and I think we started a tradition of them getting outside of themselves, doing things for someone else and enjoying the other children who were here,” Harris said.

“Interfaith work is very important. We are all in this together, and I think more and more people are seeing that.”

Detroit News Op Ed

Written by WISDOM on . Posted in Press

Letter to the Editor

This past summer has been a most difficult one for members of the Metropolitan Detroit community.  Tensions over the conflict in the Middle East have made channels of communication between people of the Muslim and Jewish faiths close down.  As we celebrate the Jewish New Year and the season of Ramadan, I would like to underscore how important it is for people of different religions to pull together and find ways to dialogue with each other to prevent our world from becoming a more and more hostile place.  Interfaith dialogue is the understanding that all of our faiths have the same supreme energy.  Respect and understanding for each other will never grow, if we do not reach out to get to know one another. Instead of working toward an interfaith tolerance, communities most often use religious beliefs as an excuse or a camouflage for political gain. Most recently, in order to combat religious misunderstanding in our community, one Jewish, and one Muslim, and two Christian women came together over the summer to form an interfaith conversation called WISDOM (Women’s Interfaith Solutions for Dialogue and Outreach in MetroDetroit) – a forum for women of all ages and all religions to share their diverse religious views and to participate in community service projects in the Metropolitan Detroit community.  While working together in August on a Habitat for Humanity house in Pontiac – putting up siding, windows and doors – 55 women shared prayers for World Peace and personal stories about their faith.  The spiritual energy generated was so powerful that this interfaith group already has plans for an event in October to help HAVEN, a refuge for victims of domestic abuse, and an event in December to package food to feed starving children throughout the globe.  WISDOM is one beautiful example of what people can do to bring together Christians, Jews, Muslims, Baha’is, Sikhs, and Buddhists, among others, to further interfaith understanding while helping to repair the world.  Religion is not about what we believe, but how we behave!  We all need to reach out to our neighbor, and to behave in a more compassionate way toward one another in order to dispel the ignorance and prejudice that divide us.

Gail Katz
WISDOM Co-Founder
InterFaith Partner
National Conference for Community and Justice of Michigan

From the TWIST supplement to the Detroit FreePress

Written by WISDOM on . Posted in Press

WISDOM woman

Leaders of WISDOM from let, Trish Harris, of Bloomfield Hills, Gail Katz of West Bloomfield, Shahina Begg, of Bloomfield Hills, and Peggy Kalis, of Livonia, all in their 50’s, have resolved to put their faith into action.

December 24, 2006


Trish Harris, who is Catholic; Gail Katz, who is Jewish; Shahina Begg, who converted to Islam from Hinduism, and Peggy Kalis, who belongs to the Unity church, met last year. Within months, over informal lunches, they formed the Women’s Interfaith Solutions for Dialogue and Outreach in Metro Detroit (WISDOM). Here’s what the four said were some of their guiding principles, which helped them put faith into action.

  1. Remember the Golden Rule and that it’s universal across faiths. When the WISDOM group packed aid packages for children affected by war in the Sudan’s Darfur region earlier this month, they asked participants to recite a tenet from more than a dozen represented faiths about how to love your neighbor as yourself.
  2. If you’ve got a project in mind, start small. Pick something meaningful that you can manage
  3. As important as what people believe is how they behave.
  4. Don’t be afraid to shine a light on what you believe and have accomplished. WISDOM is going online at month’s end with
  5. Pray for renewal. Feel the doubt and the fear … and do it anyway!

Something great happened when volunteers discussed religion online

Written by WISDOM on . Posted in Press

June 9, 2007



For six weeks, 40 volunteers from across the country met in a special online forum to talk about their deepest beliefs. Along the way, their respectful curiosity wound up defying the old warning about never discussing religion with strangers.

The volunteers ranged from atheists to evangelicals, Methodists to Muslims, young students to aging scholars. As their e-mails crisscrossed the continent, the forum members moved from exploring their own spiritual yearnings to talking honestly about their anxieties over religious conflict in the world.

“As the e-mails started coming from all these different participants, it was so exciting to see all the different viewpoints. I had never been involved in anything like this forum and I really appreciated it,” said Gail Katz, a vice president of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Metropolitan Detroit.

Katz now plans to extend a similar opportunity to local women. Last year, she cofounded a group called Women’s Interfaith Solutions for Dialogue and Outreach in Metro Detroit, better known as WISDOM.

The cofounders were Christian, Muslim and Jewish women who share her desire for friendship across religious boundaries. On July 8 in Farmington, WISDOM is hosting an informational meeting for women who want to join international e-mail networks of women promoting peace (details in box above).

“My Jewish faith is very important to me, but what gives me the most spiritual energy these days is connecting people across religious and cultural boundaries,” Katz said.

That’s the universal motive that drew the 40 volunteers to the national forum that wrapped up this week.

The forum on religion was part of an online project to investigate the future of crowdsourcing, a movement in business and media that encourages crowds of volunteers to work on projects such as developing software in online groups. The six-week forum was intended to find out how much farther the crowdsourcing idea might extend into other areas of business and culture.

The online forum was cosponsored by Wired magazine editors and the staff of New York University’s School of Journalism, who invited me as Free Press religion writer to oversee the e-mailed conversation on faith.

Dozens of volunteers joined the forum from invitations through Wired and other online sources. In addition, a handful of Michiganders were invited to take part.

One of the Michigan voices belongs to David Myers, an author and professor of psychology at Hope College in Holland. Myers participates in several nationwide efforts to break down religious barriers, including new efforts to open dialogue between evangelicals and atheists.

In the forum over the past six weeks, Myers offered some wise advice for grassroots activism: Keep it simple, so more people can participate.

Myers has a severe hearing loss and is an activist in encouraging churches to upgrade their audio systems. His strategy is innovative, because he doesn’t ask congregations to buy the most expensive systems. Activists will see more widespread change, he argues, if they recommend cheaper, more durable systems.

In one of his forum e-mails, Myers told the group, “This is a grassroots initiative because it comes not top-down from the hearing industry or hearing professionals, but bottom up. It is an advocacy by people with hearing loss … and it is gaining traction.”

In the end, Katz said, if there’s any hope for reducing religious conflict, it lies in these kinds of grassroots spiritual networks in which people share their best insights.

“Now, we’ve just got to convince more people to expand their connections,” Katz said.

WISDOM Mission Statement

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