Interfaith event fosters new insights

Written by WISDOM on . Posted in Press

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 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.


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WISDOM’s challenge is to bring together people from different faith traditions, ethnicities, races, and cultures in an atmosphere of safety and respect to engage in educational and community service projects. Let’s change our world through the positive power of building relationships!