Interfaith event fosters new insights

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Of The Oakland Press

OAK PARK – Beheejah Shakoor learned from a rabbi that the yarmulke is worn as a reminder of a higher power, something she said she also believes. “You realize we have more in common than differences,” Shakoor, a Muslim nurse from South Lyon, said. Shakoor was among about 100 women of various faiths who attended Sunday’s “A Day of Learning: Women in Judaism” at Congregation Beth Shalom in Oak Park.

Organizers of the event aimed to foster a mutual understanding and trust among women of all faiths, said chairwoman Fran Hildebrandt, a member of the Sisterhood of Congregation Beth Shalom.
“We believe that if we get to know each other, if we become friends, friends don’t fight with friends. If we start in our own back yard and create peace here, it’s like a pebble thrown in the water,” she said.
The event was presented by the Sisterhood, or women’s group, of Congregation Beth Shalom and a group called WISDOM, which stands for Women’s Interfaith Solutions for Dialogue and Outreach in Metro Detroit. Last year, “A Day of Learning” was held at a mosque in Bloomfield Hills.

The participants heard from several speakers including Rabbi Dan Wolpe, who gave an overview of Judaism. The lunch menu included salads and traditional Jewish dishes such as kugel, a noodle pudding, and triangle-shaped cookies served during Purim called hamantaschen. Women took a facility tour, which included a stop in the sanctuary, where slim, stained-glass windows and wall panels are ornamented with Hebrew letters.

Six women from the Metro Detroit area representing the three main branches of Judaism – Orthodox, Conservative and Reform – led a panel discussion that ranged from religious practices to views on interfaith marriage.

Responses varied in a conversation on whether following religious laws concerning food is an integral part of keeping with the spirit of Judaism. Panelist Ellen Racusin, a member of Congregation Beth Shalom’s Sisterhood, said keeping a kosher kitchen means more to her than just separating milk and meat. “It helps me feel closer to Judaism,” she said.

The women also discussed traditional foods and how they observe Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, in light of the technology of the modern world. Panelist Pessie Novick said there’s no watching TV or answering the phone in her home, as Shabbat is a time for reflection and rest.

A question about interfaith marriage drew varied responses. Panel member Judy Lewis, whose mother was Jewish and father was not, said she didn’t marry a Jewish man, but has a child who practices the faith. “I am living proof that interfaith can end up positive,” she said.

Panelist Pam Goldberg-Danzig said she’s thrilled that her 18-year-old daughter has a Jewish boyfriend.
“I really think it’s important to be on the same page,” she said.

After the discussion, retired nurse Raheema Sabir of Detroit approached the panelists with a smile and said, “You ladies were so enlightening!” Sabir, a Muslim, said her eyes were opened to the common threads Islam and Judaism share.”I’m so happy I came out,” she said.

Sunday was the first time that Shakoor, the nurse from South Lyon, had ever set foot in a synagogue.
“I’ve got a new perspective, and a profound delight of the Jewish religion,” she said. Shakoor, a member of WISDOM and of the Muslim Center of Detroit, said she believes that women have a special role.
“I truly feel that it is going to be the women who move this world forward in becoming one human family,” she said. “We’re human beings under one God first.”

Contact staff writer Ann Zaniewski at (248) 745-4628 or

WISDOM Partners with Haven

Written by WISDOM on . Posted in Press


On Sunday, October 8, 2006, women from Christian, Jewish and Muslim faith traditions gathered to learn more about the problem of domestic violence and about each other.  The participants met at the Mulberry Square Condominium Clubhouse, and the event became WISDOM’s second initiative to bring together women of different faiths to engage in community service.

The WISDOM event was scheduled as part of a national effort to provide an opportunity for women to become familiar with the problem of domestic violence in our nation, and commemorate Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  Locally, HAVEN launched the “Weekend of Champions”, with the goal of educating people about the issue of domestic violence and spreading the word about HAVEN’s mission through one hundred private gatherings.

The WISDOM participants were asked to sit at tables with other women that they did not know, to give everyone an opportunity to meet, talk, and work with women of different faith traditions.  The first part of the afternoon program was spent learning about the problem and the “costs” of domestic violence and providing resource material on HAVEN to all present.  Ribbons were distributed, and participants were asked to wear them during the month of October to support the survivors of domestic violence.  The afternoon event gave the WISDOM volunteers the opportunity to support HAVEN through their hands-on efforts assembling information packets and items for sale, as well as through monetary donations and the collection of needed items for the women and children staying at the shelter for victims of domestic violence.  Over $1,300 was raised during the course of the afternoon.

The second half of the afternoon was spent sharing religious traditions. WISDOM women learned about the Jewish celebration of Sukkot and the Muslim celebration of Ramadan.  Beth Applebaum spoke about how her family and friends celebrated Sukkot; Dr. Ismat Khan spoke about the five pillars of Islam and the celebration of Ramadan.  Questions about prayers, rituals, family traditions, the involvement of children, and special foods followed and many of the women present shared their own experiences.  The similarities of the values being celebrated became clear to all.  There was a tradition at Sukkot of leaving part of the field unharvested for the poor to harvest for food, similar to the emphasis during Ramadan on sharing with others, especially those less fortunate.  Other women commented on the benefit of learning more about their own faith and traditions through their efforts to explain them to women who were unfamiliar with them.

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.