July 2018

Written by WISDOM on . Posted in Newsletters

8th Annual Suburban-Urban Interfaith Unity
     PICNIC AT BELLE ISLE STATE PARK
       Sunday, Aug. 5, 2018
      Noon – 5pm
AREA 6B        (note new site – off Central Ave and Inselruhe)
Sponsored by DION, IONA, Metro Family Church, IFLC, CrimeStoppers, UMC’s Commission on Inter-religious Relationships, CWA, Bridging 8 Mile, and others.
Potluck Lunch ( we supply the kosher hot dogs, halal chicken, veggie burgers, hamburgers and water). Please bring a dish to share and label ingredients on a note card and NO PEANUTS:          LAST NAMES:
A- L = Salads or Veggies         M-Z = Fruit or Desserts
Singing – Dancing -Drumming     GAMES FOR KIDS AND ADULTS
 New Friends
More info: 248-556-6316 or mutzim@aol.com

Five Women, Five Journeys
Sharing the Wisdom of Friendship & Faith
Vivian Henoch, Editor myJewishDetroit
They started as three women of different faiths with a singular belief: that they could come together to share their stories and traditions, listen to one another and then build bridges among faith communities. They were Gail Katz, a Jew; Shahina Begg, a Muslim; and Trish Harris, a Catholic; and together they brought other women into their circle and, out of those first connections, WISDOM was born.
“Friendship is richer when we discover it on the other side of a barrier we did not expect to cross.”
Now in its 11th year, WISDOM (Women’s Interfaith Solutions for Dialogue and Outreach in MetroDetroit) is a 501(c) non-profit corporation comprised of women from eight different religions on its Board of Directors and more than 800 subscribers to their newsletter. Over the years, women of WISDOM have grown together and touched thousands of lives in Metro Detroit through their social action and educational programs, their interfaith work and their shared stories published in two editions of their book, Friendship & Faith: The Wisdom of Women Creating Alliances for Peace.
Welcome to the Journey
WISDOM maintains a robust calendar of interfaith activities
and events including its signature program, Five Women, Five Journeys – a panel discussion format presented to dozens of schools, houses of worship and organizations each year. In April, five panelists drawn from WISDOM’s diverse roster of members were the guests at the Temple Israel’s Sisterhood Board Installation Luncheon hosted at Temple Israel in West Bloomfield. The panel included:
Gail Katz (Jewish): Co-Founder and President of WISDOM; retired ESL teacher and Diversity Club Sponsor in the Berkley School District, Education Chair of the InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit, and Social Action Committee member of the Temple Israel Sisterhood Board.
Paula Drewek (Bahá’í): Past President, WISDOM, retired Professor of Humanities and Comparative Religion, Macomb Community College; Fulbright scholar, now devoting much of her time to interfaith work.
Parwin Anwar (Muslim): Multilingual educator in the Macomb Intermediate School District and lecturer with more than 22 years of experience specializing in international relations. A graduate of Kabul University, Parwin emigrated from Afghanistan to Pakistan having survived a harrowing escape from her war-torn homeland.
Raj Chehl (Sikh): Psychotherapist and Founder of WiseLife LLC, Raj is a mom, yoga instructor, speaker, author, entrepreneur and co-host of the online radio show “Living Life Powerfully.”
Maryann Schlie (Unity): Wisdom Board Member, consultant to business and houses of worship in areas of leadership and systems thinking. Certified in programs including Lombard to train trainers.
Moderator: Teri Weingarden (Jewish) WISDOM Board Treasurer, what follows are brief excerpts from a fascinating discussion.
Women of WISDOM at Temple Israel: standing from left, moderator Teri Weingarden  and immediate Past President, Peggy Dahlberg. Panel, seated from the left, Gail Katz, Paul Drewek, Parwin Anwar, Raj Chehl and Maryann Schlie.
On Traditions and Religious Upbringing
Teri: How did your childhood experiences impact where you are today in understanding and practicing your faith?
Gail: I spent my elementary school years in Silver Spring, Maryland, in a secular Jewish household, in a relatively non-Jewish neighborhood. Until 6th grade, I was the only Jew in my class. Every morning, we’d bow our heads and say the Lord’s Prayer, Our Father who art in heaven hallowed be thy name – I could say it in my sleep.
There was always the December dilemma, the Christmas pageants, the carols that I knew were not my songs. I was part of the assembly, but always asked to bring in a menorah to talk about that “Jewish Christmas” called Chanukah.
In the 60s, my life changed when my father got a job at Ford Motor and bang, we moved to Oak Park. Now my classroom was about 85% Jewish.  As the new kid, I was really nerdy, got all A’s.  I was bullied by the girls for not being cool. This underscored the foundation for my teaching career working with immigrant children who were the other. My grandfather, an Orthodox Russian Jew-moved in with us when I was about 14. Suddenly from a secular household we became Kosher and observant.
So I spent my teens hearing about the Eastern European Jews, the family he left behind, and those who were murdered in the Holocaust. I yearned to be as connected to my Judaism as my grandfather. And that started my journey . . .
Parwin:  As a child, I was always in love with nature – I would spend hours outdoors, thinking about the beauty of nature. I remember standing out on the balcony of our home, watching the sunset behind the mountain. I was filled with so many thoughts, I got dizzy, wondering why are we here and then gone, what is our purpose. Those thoughts brought me closer to God, made me a writer, an observer of life . . . and an observant Muslim. That is who I am today – knowing that we are here to worship God and delight in the task . . . and beyond that, to do good deeds.
Paula: I was raised in Kokomo, Indiana, and had an upbringing in both the Bahá’í faith and Christianity. I remember learning my religion mostly through prayers and songs. My mother would play on the piano and we three kids would sing. And then we had the prayers before bedtime, always with this recitation: Oh God, guide me – followed by several aphorisms like “As ye have faith, so shall your powers and blessings be.” So, I think these influences in my first five or seven years were very important because they implanted the seed of spiritual growth which I think is the heart of all religions.
A strong influence in my religious education was the simple fact that we were a Bahá’í home in Kokomo – and a rarity at that time – and traveling teachers from around the world would come and stay at our house. That included visits from my great aunt Josephine, who was considered a Bahá’í pioneer to Cuba and Finland. Together, all their teachings brought the world closer and religion alive to me.
Another important influence was the practice, itself – we call it consultation. Bahá’ís don’t have clergy, so we do things in groups and we need some kind of process for that.   There’s a Bahá’í song for children that teaches the concept well and it goes like this (sings): “Consultation means finding out  what everybody is thinking about-you listen to them and they listen to you, then you all do what most of you want to do.”
Bahá’í is a group thing. One that prepared me for working in groups as an adult. And this WISDOM group is a very dear one to my heart.
Raj: I want to share a story about what really stands out for me in my childhood as an influence in who I am today. . . I was born in India – in the northern state of Punjab, and I remember coming home from school one day, and I was crying. So, my grandmother asked, “Why are you crying?” I told her that the children were making fun of my name, saying that “Bryvinder” was actually a boy’s name.  “Why did you name me that,” I asked, “I don’t like my name!” And then my grandmother sat down with me and she explained that our names are interchangeable, because we’re all the same. Boy or girl, we’re all the same. And that was such a powerful message for me, because it’s like wow, I’m equal to everyone.
Another message that has followed me through life is to learn how to see the light in people. As a child, I always wondered, why, why, why was there so much pain and suffering in the world – why was there a war going on, why was life so hard? And my grandmother would say, “You know, you’ll live as an owl, and will never have more wisdom than a bird, unless you learn to see the light in whatever is there to see.”
Those two lessons have always stayed with me: number one, we are all one. And two:  to seek the light wherever I go and find the wisdom to see how we are all connected.
Maryann: We are indeed one. My mom did the absolute unpardonable when she married my dad: not only did she marry a divorced man; she married someone who was not Catholic. So, Mom was excommunicated, we had to find another faith and the answer became Episcopalian. I grew up Episcopalian, but I pushed the limits, asking questions where I should have been silent. Like Raj, I too wanted to know why, or even why not?  I was baptized too young to know the difference, learned by rote what was expected of me, and by the time I was confirmed, I could rattle off all the requirements.  I could check all the boxes, but I was not grounded in what was underneath there.
And so, I am thrilled to now be part of what’s called “practical Christianity” – Unity principles.   I’m just going to share that there are five, very simple concepts that will give you context for the rest:
#1: God is all good, active in everything everywhere. #2:  I am naturally good, because God’s divinity is in me – and in everyone. #3: I create my own experience by virtue of my thinking. #4: Affirmative I am, and affirmative prayer and meditation is connecting with God of my understanding. #5: Most important of all is living the truth that we know.  What good is it to be grounded in your faith tradition, if you are not living it from the inside out? That’s Unity in a nutshell.
On Common Misunderstandings
Teri: What do you think is the most misunderstood part of your religion and how have you personally dealt with that?
Gail: People are still spreading the myth that there’s a Jewish conspiracy – a Jewish monolith – that we are in cahoots with one another and that we are trying to take over the world, the banks, the media – Hollywood.
The fact that the Torah says Jews are the chosen people is frequently misunderstood and we all know the message doesn’t mean that Jews are better or smarter; it  simply means Jews are expected to set an example –  as “a light unto the nations,” of the world, about  how to behave to our fellow man. We are commanded by God to take care of one another. In other words, Jews are judged by their actions, more than their beliefs.
So, I like to think of Judaism not as a noun, but as an action verb.
Paula: I don’t know that the Bahá’í faith is old enough to have a lot of misunderstandings. We’re 174 years old, so if any group is going to know about the faith, it’s Jewish people, because we share a holy land. Our world center is in Haifa, Israel.
I think when people ask you about your religion, they really want to know how it relates to their own religion. I have a very simple explanation – the elevator speech:  The Bahá’í faith is religion renewed.  It’s not altogether different from any other faith. Because we accept the validity of all the world religions. They are all part of the process of God’s connection with humanity. For a Bahá’í, that connection never ends. And so the Baha’u’llah, the founder of Bahá’í, is but the latest stage in that growth and development.
We celebrate our oneness – the oneness of God, the oneness of religion and the oneness of humanity.
Parwin: Most of the misunderstanding of Islam comes from Islamic extremism – what many associate now with terrorism.  Islam means peace. And I don’t believe there is any religion in the world that originated from violence. The words that we hear today – “Islamic terrorists” or extremist Islam . . . those are wrong.  Islam is our religion – not a nation.
I’m sure you’ve heard that women in Islam are not allowed to be educated. If that were true, I would not be here. Education is encouraged for both genders, especially for a woman because they are the first teachers of the children.
Raj: “Sikh.” Most people are unfamiliar with the word. People ask what religion are you, and I say “I’m Sikh,” they respond, “You’re sick?”   No, Sikh… S.I.K.H.   So that’s the first misunderstanding, I almost always have to deal with that.
Often people think that Sikhism is either a sect of Hinduism or Islam. It’s not. It is its own revealed religion. We have ten gurus – people that led us from the darkness to the light- and we have our own scriptures and holidays.
Then there’s the turban myth; the turban is misunderstood to be Muslim. In the US, 99% of the men wearing turbans are Sikh, not Muslim. The turban is worn to cover the unshorn hair men maintain as an article of faith and is regarded as sacred and a revered part of Sikh identity – much like the kippah in Judaism.
Maryann: Most misunderstood about Unity – it’s a cult.  And since we don’t proselytize, we know that what you say about us is none of our business.  My business, your business, God’s business.
On Religious Stereotyping
Teri: What stereotypes of your faith have you encountered?
Paula:  Stereotypes for Bahá’ís? There aren’t too many circulating.  One I heard of is that Bahá’ís are synchronistic – that we must be a “put-together” religion. I think that comes out of the fact that we accept the foundations and basic teachings of all world religions.  We have our own founder – Bahá’u’lláh – our own scriptures, our own dramatic history. Bahá’ís not a particular ethnic group.  Bahá’ís are found in just about every country in the world.  We don’t dress in any particular way.  I would say the Bahá’ís in your midst are fairly invisible.
Parwin: One thing we often hear:  All Muslims are Arabs.  No: Fewer than 20% of Muslims live in the Arab World.  And nearly half of all Muslims live in South and Southeast Asia.   The largest population of Islam is in Indonesia. Another stereotype: Muslim women have to wear black.  No, we wear every color.  In fact, so we love colors. On holidays, you’ll see how we dress up in every color imaginable.
Gail:  “Jews are rich or greedy” – that’s a common anti-Semitic stereotype that runs through history and it’s surprising how it still comes up.  At an interfaith event downtown, I was seated with a woman who  told me, “You know, my mother taught me never to talk to a Jew because all they were concerned about was money.”  She was surprised when I told her I was Jewish and then told me that I was actually the first Jew she said she had ever met. We connected, we talked and by the end of the evening, I actually gave her a big hug and I told her, I was so glad to be the first Jew she ever met. I still believe we can make a difference, one person at a time.
Raj:  Stereotyping is the first line of defense for someone who is unaware and fearful.  I haven’t personally experienced stereotyping, but I would say I’ve experienced micro aggressions.  At work, for example, I had a boss who wanted to convert me to his religion.
Unfortunately, after 9-11, many Sikhs, along with Muslims, have experienced profiling and stereotyping. In reality, the Sikh community is a small minority, here in the US, as well as in India where we are only about 2% of the population.
Maryann: Personally, I have never experienced stereotyping around my faith tradition.  The only stereotyping would have to do when I was 213 pounds.  (But that’s a different story!)  It makes me happy to know that we are a house of worship open to all and all are welcome.
Questions?  To learn more about WISDOM or to inquire about a Five Women Five Journeys Program for your organization, contact Paula Drewek at Drewekpau@aol.com.

Najah Bazzy
WINNER: ALLIED PRACTITIONER

Crain’s Detroit Business

For more than 20 years, Najah Bazzy – the CEO of Zaman International, an Inkster-based nonprofit that helps single women and children pull themselves out of poverty and despair – has been helping families struggling to raise kids, take care of dying parents, family members or simply join the workforce to lift themselves out of poverty and find hope.
Back in 1996, Bazzy, a registered nurse specializing in transcultural issues, was working at the old Oakwood Hospital and Medical Center in Dearborn, now Beaumont Dearborn.
There was an Iraqi family who had already lost one of their two baby twins in the hospital’s neonatal ICU. Administrators and doctors had determined the second twin could not be saved and wanted to withdraw ventilator and feeding support. The family objected.
Bazzy became their de facto advocate. In a subsequent medical ethics hearing, she was able to negotiate a way for the baby to go home with a ventilator and feeding tubes. But when she went to the home for a visit she was shocked at what she encountered.
“The home was bare. There was only carpet on the floor, where all the family members slept. They brought the baby to me in a laundry basket for a crib,” said Bazzy.
“I was shocked. I had not seen such poverty in the community,” said Bazzy, who grew up in the lower income area of South Dearborn, the daughter of a U.S. Army Korean War veteran. “We didn’t have much but we didn’t know it at the time. This was different.”
Bazzy went home and told her mother to gather up all of the extra furniture, pots, pans and appliances they could spare to bring to the family. They loaded everything into a truck and delivered it to the family. “They were overwhelmed with gratitude,” she said. “We started it out that way.”
Such was the beginning of what is now Zaman International.
“We give people their dignity back. We call it ‘one-stop hope,'” said Bazzy, who is CEO, chief fundraiser and traveling minister for preventive care and medical education.
From 1996 to 2010, Bazzy and her family worked out of their home, rented out trucks, picked up donated furniture, housing items, food and clothing and delivered it to needy families with income less than $12,000 in metro Detroit. Originally founded as Bayt Al Zahra, which is Arabic for house of hope and light, Bazzy changed the name to Zaman in 2004 when it became an non-governmental organization and 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization.
“We couldn’t keep up with demand and needed to expand,” she said.
In 2016, Zaman moved to a new 40,500 square-foot building at 26091 Trowbridge St. The Hope For Humanity Center building has eight times more space as its previous locations. Supported by donors, more than 450 community partner organizations and 6,000 volunteers, Zaman serves more than 25,000 people in metro Detroit and 22 communities. The agency started out serving Iraqi refugees, but now serves Syrian and many needy single women and children. Zaman’s outreach initiatives now include crisis assistance, infant burial, literacy and job skills training, international and domestic orphan sponsorship, a summer meals program for members, disaster relief partnerships, a resale shop and a Gleaners-affiliated food pantry.
In December, Zaman opened its Culinary Arts Training Center two years ahead of schedule because of donations from the community. The center is offering nutrition and culinary classes as well as meals for client families and members. Zaman also offers vocational training and tutoring to show clients they can do more if they try.
“Some women have adjusted to this life. They shouldn’t settle. We are focusing on women with children who really have a dream. We can help them manage the goals they set. It takes a lot of energy to set goals, but we see them improving and we encourage them. We restore hope,” Bazzy said.
While Zaman has no exact statistics, Bazzy estimated that about 45 percent of the women who seek help at the agency use the vocational and educational services. This year, Bazzy wants to begin raising funds to open a preventive health clinic by 2021. She hopes to work with medical partners to support having two medical students and possibly residents and professional medical volunteers to staff the two- or three-day-a-week clinic.
“Prevention is very important because poverty really affects your health – obesity, depression,” she said. “We hope to get the program started this year and maybe open in three years.”
Over the next two years, Bazzy said she wants to add child care and transportation programs. “Child care will be easier to do. Transportation is so complicated, but it is important because when they miss an appointment it is because of a lack of transportation,” she said. Bazzy said she started out with dreams of becoming a doctor, as her brother had muscular dystrophy and she learned at an early age about disabilities. She took the nursing career path but still views her work with Zaman as preventive health. In keeping with her teaching passion, Bazzy travels around Detroit and the country to give speeches and offer training on how to integrate culturally competent and spiritually sensitive care. She works with medical and nursing students, social workers, chaplains, hospices and executives at hospitals around the country.

Bay View Shouldn’t Be For Christians Only

The Jewish News By Rebecca Guterman
The community of Bay View, Mich., sits along the shores of Lake Michigan, a picturesque summer resort destination for families across the country. Full of historic buildings and Victorian cottages, Bay View boasts that it is one of the “prettiest painted places” in the United States.
Yet behind its pristine facade, Bay View hides a shameful past of discrimination that continues today. Around 1942, Bay View started to limit renters and owners to those “of the white race” and Christian faith, later restricting Roman Catholic membership to 10 percent or less. The race restriction faded out by 1959, but the religious one persists. Today, Bay View home buyers must not only be Christian, they must also have a minister’s letter to prove it. In other words: Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, atheists and many others – including Christians who don’t attend or belong to a church – need not apply.
Fifty years after the passage of the federal Fair Housing Act, Bay View’s policies seem stuck in the past, harkening back to an era where blatant and discriminatory restrictions on homeownership were commonplace. Luckily, some in Bay View object to this practice – and sued to stop it.
The ADL filed a brief supporting them, arguing that Bay View’s policy cannot stand under fair housing principles enshrined in federal and state law. Moreover, under state law, Bay View has significant authority akin to a governmental body – like appointing a marshal to arrest and imprison those who violate its bylaws – and so must honor the Constitution as cities and towns do. It cannot put the government stamp of approval on practicing Christians over all others.
Bay View’s policy does not exist in a void. Rather it operates alongside decades of religious and racial discrimination in housing, both in Michigan and across the nation, where Catholics, Jews and other minorities were kept out to maintain a neighborhood’s image.
In Grosse Pointe, for instance, real estate agents in the late 1940s and ’50s used a rigged points system to exclude those who were not considered “American” enough because of their country of origin, occupation, friends, appearance, accent, education, religion or a number of other factors. While most buyers needed only 50 points to make the cut, those of Polish descent needed 55, southern Europeans needed 75 and Jews needed 85 (later raised to 90). Blacks, Asians, and Mexicans were flat-out denied.
When Congress passed the Fair Housing Act in 1968, followed promptly by the Michigan Legislature’s fair housing law, lawmakers formally recognized what was already common sense – that these discriminatory practices should have no place in our society. Fifty years later, the United States is more religiously diverse than ever before. According to the Pew Research Center’s Religious Landscape Study, a growing portion of the population (22.8 percent) identifies as unaffiliated or as a member of a non-Christian faith (5.9 percent). Michigan’s population, in particular, has set milestones in religious diversity. Congressman Sander Levin, who represents suburban Detroit, is the longest-serving Jewish member of Congress, and Hamtramck became the first known city in the United States to have a majority-Muslim city council.
But with this diversity has come increased targeting of people based on their religion, national origin or other protected characteristics. Hate crimes against Muslims and Jews increased in 2016, according to FBI data, as did hate crimes overall. There is evidence suggesting that such bias has spilled over into the housing realm, with Muslims significantly more likely to experience housing discrimination than their non-Muslim counterparts. In light of this data, it is ever more important to eradicate discriminatory practices like Bay View’s and ensure that the Fair Housing Act and the Constitution remain bulwarks against them. As the Michigan Legislature said upon celebrating the Fair Housing Act anniversary, “[d]iversity creates stronger communities and provides Michigan[ders] the best opportunity to achieve the American dream[.]”
We hope Bay View will soon live up to these ideals and realize that religious diversity will strengthen, not harm, the beauty of their community.

B’nai Brith Condemns Antisemitic
 Posters in Midtown Toronto
TORONTO – B’nai Brith Canada is deeply concerned by the spread of neo-Nazi and antisemitic posters in midtown Toronto over the past week.
On Monday morning, a local resident alerted B’nai Brith to neo-Nazi propaganda posted on public property in Wells Hill Park, located in the Forest Hill neighbourhood. The stickers claim that “The Nazi youth are here” and present the Jewish Star of David as a symbol of “degeneracy.” Some of the stickers also contain links to neo-Nazi websites.
The owner of Dave’s on St. Clair, a local restaurant, told B’nai Brith that a similar poster was placed in the establishment’s bathroom on Saturday night. She added that she suspected a group of four men who she did not recognize were responsible, and that the restaurant’s management and customer base were resolutely opposed to the message behind the poster.
Last week, B’nai Brith received numerous complaints from the nearby Davisville area about posters urging residents to boycott the Aroma coffee chain, which is based in Israel. The anonymous posters go on to provide false statistics about the Jewish State, and call for a boycott of other Israeli products.
In both cases, local residents have complained to police about the posters.
“The public promotion of antisemitic messages in the heart of this country’s biggest city is totally unacceptable,” said Michael Mostyn, Chief Executive Officer of B’nai Brith Canada. “These posters are part of a perverse attempt to target Jewish and Israeli Canadians and ostracize them in their own neighbourhoods.
“We expect the police to treat this matter with the seriousness that it deserves, and for local residents to reject this antisemitic propaganda.”
B’nai Brith’s 2017 Audit of Antisemitic Incidents observed that antisemitic vandalism tends to increase during elections, with prominent examples from B.C. and Nova Scotia last year. Ontarians go the polls in a provincial election on June 7.

 Interfaith Koololam Event
(Mass Singing) at the Tower of David
In Jerusalem
The Elijah Interfaith Institute was proud to collaborate in promoting an extraordinary interfaith event that took place on June 14, 2018, the last day of the month of Ramadan, between midnight and 3:00 am, at the Tower of David in Jerusalem: Koololam – the social project for mass singing.
The event was being held in honor of the Jerusalem visit of Kyai Haji Yahya Cholil Staquf, the Secretary-General of the world’s largest Muslim organization-Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama with more than 60 million members-some of whom attended along with other faith leaders. It was held in cooperation with the Tower of David Museum, Jerusalem.com, The Interfaith Encounter Association, Coexistence in the Middle East Program, Tiyul-Rihla and others.
Koololam is a social musical project created to bring together people from all walks of life in the Israeli social spectrum through a joint musical creation. For each event a well-known song is chosen, which is given new musical processing in vocal harmonies.
At midnight, with the breathtaking view of the Old City, hundreds of strangers from various religions and sectors gathered in the Tower of David, the Museum of the History of Jerusalem, symbolizing Jerusalem and its charm and a gateway to the Old City, its cultures, and traditions. The participants took part in the inspiring activity of Koololam when they learned an innovative musical processing for a song in three languages and three voices.

Hindu invocation delivered
 for first time in Mich. Legislature
Niraj Warikoo, Detroit Free Press
Fred Stella, 63, of Grand Rapids (on the left), spoke Nov. 30 at the Bharatiya Temple in Troy. Stella is with the national leadership council of the Hindu American Foundation and is outreach minister at the West Michigan Hindu Temple in Ada, Michigan. To his right is Padma Kuppa of Hindu American Foundation, Alicia Chandler, president of the Jewish Community Relations Council of metro Detroit/American Jewish Committee, David Kurzmann, executive director of the Jewish Community Council of metro Detroit/American Jewish Committee. (Photo: Niraj Warikoo)
The first ever Hindu invocation in the Michigan Legislature was delivered Tuesday afternoon by a Grand Rapids minister who hopes his message of peace can help encourage civility and collaboration.
Fred Stella, 63, the pracharak, or outreach minister, at the West Michigan Hindu Temple in Ada, opened the State House this afternoon by quoting from Hindu scriptures.
“I’m excited to be able to do this because it’s just one more way the Hindu community is being represented in a mainstream context,” Stella said. “We identify as people who are patriotic, who appreciate our democratic systems, and feel that we need to be part of the scene, and so this is one way of doing it.”
Stella said he’s “someone who believes in a separation of church and state,” but since there’s a tradition of clergy giving an invocation in the State House, he says “it should be be as broad and diverse as possible.”
There have been Christian, Jewish, and Muslim invocations before in the Michigan State House. And there have been Hindu invocations in the U.S. House of Representatives, but none in the State House until Tuesday.
Stella’s invocation came about after he contacted the representative of his district, State Rep. David LaGrand (D-Grand Rapids), about delivering an invocation. Each State Reps. is allowed to invite one clergyman per year to give an invocation.
Stella said his invocation quoted from the Bhagavad Gita, citing a verse about restoring virtue as righteousness declines. In his invocation, Stella said the verse is “a call to each of us individually, to be expressions of integrity and high mindedness.  It is in this spirit that we gather today, knowing all of us, whether elected officials or ordinary citizens, should be inspired to act for the greater good.
“So we appeal to that One beloved source of all that is holy to let  us feel its Divine Presence today in this august chamber, where daily men and women of good faith are called upon to exercise compassion, discipline, honesty, loyalty and restraint,” Stella said, according to a transcript he provided. “May they all be inspired to act in the noblest way; in a spirit of mutual collaboration and civility.”
“Oh Spirit, lead us from darkness to light, from ignorance to wisdom, from that which is temporary to that which is eternal,” Stella recited. “Om. Peace. Amen.”
Tuesday’s invocation comes as the Hindu population increases in Michigan, with about 30 Hindu temples and centers in the state. According to the U.S. Census, there are more than 112,000 Indian-Americans in Michigan, many of them Hindu. There are also Hindus in Michigan rooted in Bangladesh, Pakistan, and other countries. And there are those like Stella, raised Catholic, who came into Hinduism later in their lives.
Stella today is with the national leadership council of the Hindu American Foundation and often speaks about Hinduism.
“I embraced the dharma later in life,” said Stella, referring to Hindu teachings and practices. “I’ve self-identified as Hindu for over 30 years.”
After the invocation, Stella told the Free Press: “It was such an honor and privilege. It’s more opportunity for Hindus to really become part of the mainstream in such a public way.”
Contact Niraj Warikoo: nwarikoo@freepress.com or 313-223-4792. Follow him on Twitter @nwarikoo

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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