Calendar for WISDOM and Other Interfaith Events
Exploring Our Religious Landscapes – Fall 2018
Understanding Mysticism Across Faith Traditions
See the series below – Series begins September 12th!!
Wednesday, September 26th 10:00 AM – 1:00 PM
WISDOM at Zaman for a Voluntary Culinary Day
26091 Trowbridge St., Inkster, 48141
See Flyer Below
Ask A Jewish Person
Wednesday, October 3rd, 6:00 – 7:30 PM
Islamic Center of America
19600 Ford Rd., Dearborn, MI
See Flyer Below
Wednesday, October 10th 7:00 – 9:00 PM
WISDOM’s Five Women Five Journeys
Muslim Unity Center, 1830 W. Square Lake Rd. Bloomfield Hills
Thursday, October 11th, 6:00 – 10:00 PM
Learn about the Hindu holiday called Navratri
Bharatiya Temple, 6850 N. Adams Road, Troy
Questions? email Shama Mehta, email@example.com
Monday, November 5th 1:00 – 3:00 PM
WISDOM’s Five Women Five Journeys at SOAR
(Society of Active Retirees)
Birmingham Temple 28611 W. 12 Mile Road, Farmington HIlls
Sunday, November 11th 11:00 AM
Jewish Community Center Book Fair WISDOM presentation
of book Friendship and Faith
6600 W. Maple Rd., West Bloomfield
Sunday, November 11th, 3:00 PM – 6:00 PM
InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit
Panel on “Religious Sensitivities” at St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church, 2160 Maple Rd., Troy 48083
See Flyer Below!!
Tuesday, December 11th, 6:30 PM
Mosaic Art Workshop with Song and Spirit Institute for Peace
4300 Rochester Road, Royal Oak
Save the Date
Sunday, March 24th, 2019 (afternoon)
Celebration of International Women’s Day
Save the Date
Opinion | Learning a lesson in civility from
By Gail Katz
Chair of the IFLC Education Committee
Published in Bridge Michigan July 2018
To be an American today is to live in a world in which people who practice unfamiliar faiths are our next-door neighbors and our fellow classmates. Yet too often, people of different religions are afraid of each other and that fear can lead to prejudice, discrimination and sometimes violence. When we know little or nothing about the religious beliefs of our neighbors and we classify them as the OTHER, they become our enemies.
Our hope is that with Religious Diversity Journeys the OTHER will be replaced by our friend.
In these times of public incivility and intolerance, a Southeast Michigan program is helping seventh-graders learn about their neighbors’ religions by visiting their places of worship.
By learning about what is unfamiliar, our goal is that our seventh-graders will help build bridges among the diverse people of our community and make Metro Detroit a better place. The Religious Diversity Journeys program also helps to prevent the bullying that sometimes occurs in middle schools.
It’s a model that many adults could learn from.
About 700 seventh-graders from public and parochial schools across Metro Detroit study Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Sikhism at local houses of worship. The visits provide a base of knowledge about each faith, including their holidays and traditions, to dispel myths and stereotypes about them.
On each journey, students meet with clergy and congregational leaders who provide an overview of that religion’s beliefs and practices, and answer their questions ranging from marriage customs to religious symbols. They have an opportunity to see religious artifacts and try on some traditional garments-such as turbans worn by some Sikhs and head scarves worn by some women who follow Sikh and Muslim traditions. The young people usually work on a service project together and enjoy a lunch with the traditional food of that religion.
For many students, it is the first visit to a house of worship outside their own faith. Recently, one parent urged her daughter not to attend the session at a mosque but her daughter chose to participate and later reassured her mother that there was nothing to fear from Islam. What they learn provides a basis to stand up to religious stereotypes.
The concluding session each academic year is a visit to the Detroit Institute of Arts to look at religion and art, as well as a trip to the Holocaust Memorial Center to learn what can happen when hate and fear rule.
During the past 15 years, the program has received very positive reviews from students, parents and teachers. One parent said, “Thank you for guiding our daughter through a remarkable activity with the Religious Diversity Journeys experience. She had been very curious about the different religions and traditions. I’m grateful she had this exposure and will do my best to keep this going for our family.”
When participants were asked how they could use their new knowledge to promote greater tolerance at school, one student answered, “If someone is making fun of a religion or making bad comments, I can correct them and use what I know.” Another seventh-grader spoke of being able to “help those who criticize to better understand differences, rather than making fun of them.”
As the first coordinator of Religious Diversity Journeys, I was surprised and pleased several years ago when a young woman approached me and said, “I was in your Religious Diversity Journeys program a number of years ago, and it changed my life!!” She is now involved in diversity initiatives and is making a difference in our world.
A Little Poland in India – an Amazing Human Interest from the Second World War Days
This is an amazing human interest story that is doing the rounds on the social media. A documentary produced by Aakar Films, directed by Anu Radha and Sumit Osmand Shaw, that deals with an extraordinary topic of a shipload of Polish refugees who landed in India during second world war. To provide a background: During the years preceding World War II, a huge number of Poles were taken away by the Red Army to work at the Soviet-run labour camps in remote parts of North-Eastern USSR and Siberia. When Hitler’s army invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, the USSR announced a general amnesty leading to the release of Polish exiles from labour camps. This was also done with a view to encourage forming a Polish Army unit to fight the German army that was fast advancing into the USSR.
Thus began a great exodus – from the cold parts of the Soviet Union to warmer southern regions of Central Asia. The long and arduous journey stretched over hundreds of kilometres. It was a test of human endurance and suffering in the most difficult situations. Many travellers lost their loved ones en route owing to the cold, hunger, malnutrition and dehydration. The journey stretched across many lands and transit points – Ashkhabad in Turkmenistan, Mashhad, Isfahan and Tehran in Iran, Afghanistan, Quetta, Zahedau and Karachi in present day Pakistan and to India’s western coast.
On 1st September 1939, German troops invaded Poland which marked the beginning of the Second World War. On 17th September 1939, the remaining territory of Poland was attacked by Stalin’s forces.
When Hitler invaded Poland and started World War II, the Polish soldiers left 500 women and 200 children in a ship and told Captain to take them to any country, where they can get shelter. “If we are alive or survive, then we will meet again”.
The ship, filled with five hundred refugees, police, women and two hundred children, reached the harbor port of Iran, there was no permission to shelter anyone not even allowed to land , then they could not get help even in Seychelles, there was no permission even in Aden. Finally, the ship wandering in the sea came to the coast of Jamnagar in Gujarat. Raja Digvijay Singhji of Jamnagar, Gujarat with the Polish refugees Malnourished and exhausted, the refugees had a surprise welcome, when they arrived in Nawanagar, from the Maharaja himself. “Don’t consider yourselves orphans. You are now Nawanagaris and I am Bapu, the father of all Nawanagaris, including yourselves,” he said. Digvijay Singh was the Chancellor of the Council of Princes and member of the Imperial War Cabinet in British India (1939-1945) who opened his province to Polish refugees threatened with annihilation. He knew the officials of the Polish government in exile that operated from London owing to his position in the Imperial War Cabinet. The Maharaja of Jamnagar, “Jham Sahab Digvijay Singh”, not only gave shelter to five hundred women but also gave their children free education in Balachiri an Army School. These refugees stayed in Jamnagar for nine years.
One of the children of those refugee children later became the Prime Minister of Poland, even presently, a few descendants of those refugees, come to Jamnagar every year in remembrance of their ancestors.
The board outside the main gate of a school in Warsaw mentioning the school named after the Maharaja Jam Saheb Digvijay Sinhji.
In Poland, many roads in capital Warsaw are named after Maharaja Jam Sahib; in his name there are many schemes in Poland. Every year Poland newspapers print articles about Maharaja Jam Saheb Digvijay Singh.
The film touches upon great emotional moments – of joy and exultation at the end of the war, ‘My mother, my brother is alive’ or humorous asides from Sainik School, Balachadi of spinach not being eaten by the Polish children or a deeply moving remark: “My father was murdered by the Soviets. In India, Maharaja Jam Saheb became our second father”.
All the refugees from that ship who were joined by others later on, neither had to change their faith or their identity – such is the all inclusive culture of India.
Nothing in my uber-Catholic background (weekly Mass and confession, memorizing the Baltimore Catechism, strict nun teachers) could have prepared me to participate in a zikr at which Muslim, Jewish and Christian people chanted the name of God, while the imam sang a melodic line over the chant.
Some of the women draped in scarves swayed back and forth, we all felt held by the chanting, and I began to understand why it is a component of much of the world’s worship. The dictionary definition of zikr is a form of remembrance “associated chiefly with Sufism, when the worshiper is absorbed in the rhythmic repetition of God’s name or attributes.”
Much of the imam’s initial talk resonated with what I already believed. “See the Beloved everywhere,” he encouraged. “Be so crazily in love you’re like the besotted 13-year-old who, asked about ice cream, sighs, ‘My favorite flavor is chocolate.’ “
His words about God’s spark within being the source of human dignity touched a familiar chord – as a Catholic, I’d heard that message, named Divine indwelling, often. Muhammad said, “Wherever you turn, there is the face of God.” In the Jewish kabbalah or mystical teaching, God hurled forth the holy in countless sparks at the beginning of time; it whispers to us from all created people and things. When we descend to the deepest underground stream, all religions echo similar truths.
I’ve learned this firsthand from my interfaith group of five Muslim, five Jewish and five Christian women who meet monthly, taking turns in their homes.
A typical gathering starts with a potluck of snacks and informal conversation. Then after prayer, a facilitator (a rotating role) lays groundwork for the theme of the evening. We’ve discussed threads common to all traditions, like various religious holidays, the importance of pilgrimages, communal and individual prayer, action for justice, and environmental protection. There’s strong consensus that we must, in whatever small ways we can, offset the current government’s antipathy to Islam and hostility to refugees. After both January Women’s Marches, we shared our experiences and chortled at our favorite signs.
The cornerstones of all three Abrahamic faiths – love God and neighbor – spill into practical action. When a Presbyterian and her family, sponsored by Catholic Charities, began to foster two Muslim teenaged refugees who escaped Myanmar and Somalia, Muslims helped with advice about diet, local mosques, and what hairpins best hold the hijab in place. When one young refugee encountered anti-Muslim graffiti at her high school, another member’s daughter, a senior at the same school, organized a welcome campaign to counter the hatred. We all asked Congress to halt U.S. funding of the Burmese army engaged in the genocide of Rohingya Muslims. Our “purse project” furnished hundreds of bags filled with donated toiletries and goodies to homeless women in the East Bay area.
We’ve learned not to minimize our differences, but also to celebrate our commonalities. We are all seekers, yearning to see with the eye of the soul and to find the face of God through our own faiths. We are keenly interested in the wisdom of the world’s perennial traditions, especially what we never learned during more narrow youths. We care deeply about our planet, the next generation, offsetting ignorance and fear through education, our sacred texts, and favorite poets like Rumi and Mary Oliver.
Jewish members of our group have explained how it’s vital to their tradition to wrestle with God, not accepting easy answers. Muslim members have taken a break from the meeting and adjourned to another room when it’s time to pray. Those of us from more hierarchical traditions with ordained clergy marvel at how easily one of the women in our group assumes the leadership role, transforming any living room into sacred space. Most of us attended Muslim-Christian retreats at San Damiano, a Franciscan friary, and the local mosque.
Once a year, we lead an Advent service at a Presbyterian church. As always, we’re impressed by the Muslim reverence for Mary (who is mentioned more times in the Quran than in the Gospel) and Jesus, whose name is always followed by the phrase, “Peace be upon him.”
Although Advent didn’t hold great meaning for Jews, they contributed the Tu B’Shvat prayer for creation and the Talmud teaching on repairing our own small pieces of the world. The service concluded with the prayer of an interfaith council that sponsors five circles like ours: “The task is not ours alone to complete. Neither are we free to walk away. O God of blessing, strengthen our hands and our hearts to do Your work.”
After more than two years of membership in this circle, I’m grateful to the women who’ve corrected the self-righteousness of my youth, when I was taught that only my religion possessed truth. What arrogance or insecurity implied that there wasn’t enough abundance in God to overflow onto all the world’s peoples? I’ve appreciated their revealing themselves not only as Muslim, Jewish or Christian, but as women with similar basic concerns: about a daughter going to college, a racist on the local school board, a father after a stroke, a divorce, a project to grow healthy food for children in “food deserts.” And thanks for that recipe of persimmons with goat cheese!
One of the most treasured ornaments on my Christmas tree is a tiny crèche made in Bethlehem that my Muslim friend Maram brought from her native country. Somehow she knew its profound meaning for Christians; somehow she tapped that deep underground stream that bathes us all.
Why Catholics and Jews dominate at the Supreme Court
Two days after he was nominated by President Trump to the Supreme Court, Judge Brett Kavanaugh ladled mac and cheese into takeout trays outside Catholic Charities in Washington, D.C. That the nominee for the country’s highest bench should pop up in photos volunteering for a Catholic aid group is no surprise at this point. When Trump announced his selection, Kavanaugh talked about being “part of the vibrant Catholic community in the D.C. area … united by a commitment to serve.” He also gave a nod to schooling: “The motto of my Jesuit high school was ‘Men for others.’ I’ve tried to live that creed.”
Kavanaugh’s inclusion on the court would preserve the Catholic majority, with six justices reared and formed in that tradition. (Neil Gorsuch attends an Episcopal Church but grew up Catholic and attended the same Catholic high school as Kavanaugh.) The remaining three justices are Jewish.
The Supreme Court that may yet rule on the current administration’s fractious immigration policies, in other words, is dominated by two religious minorities that came into this country as immigrants in the 19th and early 20th centuries and strained to gain a footing equal to that of the Protestant establishment.
“For a whole lot of Catholic and Jewish immigrants, law school was, in a very pressing way, a ticket to the middle class,” said Richard W. Garnett, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame. In addition, Catholics and Jews both struggled with religious prejudice and may have seen the legal profession as a way to ensure that their rights were protected.
Today, Catholics make up a declining share of Americans – just 20 percent, according to Pew Research (down from 23.9 percent a decade earlier). Jews are a far smaller number – barely 2 percent. The United States has elected only one Catholic president (John F. Kennedy) and one Catholic vice president (Joseph Biden). It has had no Jewish presidents or vice presidents.
So, why their dominance on the court? It may have something to do with the value the two minority faiths place on higher education and the religions’ openness to intellectual inquiry, said John Fea, professor of American history at Messiah College. “Unlike evangelicals who base their entire worldview on the teachings of the Bible, Catholics and Jews seem much more open to engaging in larger principles that will affect not only their own community, but the common good of the republic or of a nation beyond the needs of their particular religious tradition,” Fea said.
For most of America’s history, the court was composed almost entirely of Protestants. The first Catholic to win a seat on the court was Roger Taney in 1836 – nearly 50 years after the court was created. It would take another 58 years for the second Catholic to be elevated to the Supreme Court. It took 127 years for the first Jew to take a seat on the court. Louis Brandeis, the son of Jewish immigrants from what is now the Czech Republic, was elevated to the position in 1916. There was blatant anti-Semitism during confirmation hearings that lasted six months. Afterward, some justices refused to sit next to him for the official court photo.
“There were all sorts of smears against his character,” said Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, Brandeis’ great-grandson and a senior vice president at Auburn Seminary. “It was an overt anti-Semitism paired with this concern for nativist ideas.”
Seven other Jewish justices followed Brandeis, who was later hailed by President Franklin Roosevelt as his “Isaiah.” There have been 13 Catholics – not counting Gorsuch. During the 20th century, it was assumed there would be a “Catholic seat” and a “Jewish seat” on the court, so that when one retired, or died, another of the same faith would be appointed. But that desire to keep a certain religious diversity on the court is no longer in play.
Ideology and politics seem to play a larger role. Consider that Democratic presidents appointed seven of the eight Jewish justices. (Benjamin Cardozo, the second Jewish justice, was nominated by Herbert Hoover, a Republican.) “Partly that’s reflective of the American Jewish community and its relationship with more liberal or progressive political parties,” said Lauren B. Strauss, professor of Jewish history at American University.
Republican presidents have selected the recent crop of Catholic justices – with the exception of Sonia Sotomayor, an Obama appointee. Those Republican presidents have wanted to shape the judiciary in a more conservative direction. “Part of the story may also be the rise in significance of the abortion question on the court,” said Garnett. “It’s not the whole thing, but part of it.” Many have speculated that if Kavanaugh is confirmed by the Senate, Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling that allowed women the right to an abortion, may be overturned.
Those political or ideological headwinds may partly explain the court’s Catholic-Jewish makeup. Experts say that as more evangelicals gain entry to elite law schools and start clerking for top judges, they too will begin getting nominated to the top court. But the nation’s religious makeup is also changing. Soon the number of religiously unaffiliated Americans is expected to overtake the number of evangelicals in the country. Nearly 23 percent of Americans are now unaffiliated, almost as many as those who are evangelical (25.4 percent).
“We’d like to see a court that’s more reflective of the country and of people who do not hold religious beliefs,” said Alison Gill, legal and policy director for American Atheists. “There are a growing numbers of young people identifying as atheist or agnostic. It’s just a matter of time.”
Jewish Community Relations Council/AJC has it’s annual Interfaith Health Fair on Sunday, August 12th
at Munger Elementary School in Detroit
By Naomi Levine
(Community Relations Associate)
While the scheduling of dates couldn’t have been planned, the juxtaposition of the Jewish Community Relations Council/AJC’s annual Interfaith Health Fair with the anniversary of Charlottesville’s Unite the Right rally didn’t go unnoticed. At the health fair, medical professionals from the Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh faiths volunteered their time and expertise to provide health care for underserved members of the Detroit community. During slower times, they chatted together and bonded over their shared values and ideals. Emails were shared and plans to get together in the future were made. The volunteers never stopped smiling.
Those who participated at the health fair are aware that the anxiety over the perceived loss of white power and influence, as well as fear of the “other” that is rampant in our country can’t be eliminated overnight. Yet the atmosphere of humanity and generosity to each other and those less fortunate provided much needed hope. Reflecting on what took place last year and comparing it to the big-heartedness of those in our community was so comforting. By sharing this story may the comfort be also shared.
The Annual Association of Baha’i Studies in Atlanta
By Paula Drewek
The Annual Association of Baha’i Studies was held this year in Atlanta. Since I had friends there I found it attractive to submit a proposal: “Friendship and Faith: Women’s Experiences of Reaching Out to the Other.” Trish Harris, one of the founders of WISDOM, and I co-wrote the presentation which was essentially on the 2nd edition of Wisdom’s book, Friendship and Faith: The Wisdom of Women Creating Alliances for Peace. We thought it deserved inclusion in the conference theme of “Building a Spiritualized Civilization.” The theme was taken from a statement by Abdul’-Baha, son of the founder of the Baha’i Faith:
“Material civilization is like unto the lamp, while spiritual civilization is the light of that lamp. If the material and spiritual civilizations become united, then we will have the light and the lamp together, and the outcome will be perfect.” (The Promulgation of Universal Peace).
The Association sees intellectual advancement as central to the renewal of civilization and encourages both young and old to learn to read the social reality of their time, analyze the assumptions and concepts in their fields, and correlate them with Baha’i teachings. Since its establishment in 1975, the Association of Baha’i Studies has endeavored to strengthen the intellectual life of the Baha’i community and provide spaces for learning and collaboration. It has maintained a strong focus on the arts as part of their annual conferences. It also maintains several “working groups” along themes of interest to Baha’i scholars: and provides a youth program for teens and young adults.
Plenary sessions this year were: “Neuroscience, Ethics, and Religion: Moving Beyond Coexistence” which included a group of faculty from Atlanta area universities; “An American Story: Race Amity and the Other Tradition;” Navigating discourse on Race within the Politicized Landscape of Journalism;” with Jesse Washington; and “Building Community with Refugee Populations in Atlanta.” The latter was a panel of participants in “boots on the ground” programs in Clarkston, Ga., a town with the largest number of refugees in the USA, 45% of a population of around 13,000. I also learned that Michigan is one of the top 10 resettlement places in the US with about 2,500 per year. Most refugees come from Syria (more than all others combined), then Columbia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria and Sudan. The panelists spoke of the receptivity of refugee populations including their willingness to participate in a community-building program. Emphasis was on friendship, giving and receiving hospitality, gathering together to pray and the power of the holy word and music . Connecting on a spiritual level often led to social connection even between hostile country immigrants. One of the panelists was a physician who collaborated with other physicians to form a clinic for those without insurance. They found that the 20-40 patients seen during a day often developed an oasis of support while in the waiting room. Netflix will be producing a documentary on Clarkston.
The Neuroscience panel was of special interest to me since I had learned of the importance of neuroscientific studies of the brain in previous ABS conferences. Questions of how and why we do what we do were posed to panelists. Panelists acknowledged they could explain HOW but not why; religion was better at discerning why. The moderator sought to find common concerns between brain scientists and the teachings of the Baha’i Faith which acknowledge that “science and religion must go hand in hand” to discover truth.
As neuroscience addresses mental health, it’s possible that religion can play a role since it often provides coherence to life. Lack of coherence is often a factor in suicide and addiction. Questions from the audience were the brain’s relation to consciousness. Panelists acknowledged that the brain is the single most complex thing in the universe. You cannot use the same organ (the brain) to understand itself. What would you be trying to measure with consciousness? The answer bridges on ethics. Can we grow parts of the human brain in a dish? How many parts constitute a human subject? Legal brain death is not the same as biological death.
Other questions touched upon justice and trauma. Neuroscientists are often called upon to testify in trials. They use scientific information to confirm already-held beliefs. For instance, brains deprived of nutrition in childhood have fewer resources to cope with everyday stresses. Can we fault brain dysfunction in cases before the courts? Or is personal will always the culprit?
You can see that the plenary sessions provided much food for thought. I was happy to share the value of friendships in reaching across usual boundaries of faith, ethnicity and culture through several stores from our book , Friendship and Faith. Input from the audience was plentiful, as half a dozen attendees also shared their experiences of building connection with those who were very different. That’s what “building community” is all about I think. I was happy to have attended the annual Association of Baha’i Studies in Atlanta.
Being Single In A Marriage-Obsessed Community Is Tough – Whether You’re Jewish, Muslim Or Mormon
In religious communities, the pitied are often easily noticeable.
In some communities, it is distinct to where they live and what positions they hold. In others, what they are allowed to wear. In all, it’s as obvious as a naked finger. “No wedding band,” someone whispers in performative sympathy, fondling her own glittery ring. “Poor dear, single.”
Often, in the Orthodox Jewish community, the term ‘shidduch crisis’ is used to describe a surplus of single community members.
“I find that term deeply offensive,” said Dr. Sharon Weiss-Greenberg, executive director of JOFA, whose Facebook post on the subject garnered hundreds of comments about the hurt and shame singles in religious communities experience, prompting her to devote JOFA resources to initiate conversations about the stigma. In a panel event organized by JOFA this month, experts from across American religious communities gathered to reflect on the stigmas of singlehood in their circles – something common across theological differences.
“It doesn’t matter what you do, how much you accomplish,” said Reverend Khristi Lauren Adams, a Baptist pastor and chaplain, who is the author of The Misinterpreted Gospel of Singleness: A Cultural Critique of Myths Surrounding Singleness in the Christian Community. “You’re lacking completeness without a spouse in tow.”
Tayyaba Bukhari, the CDO of MALIKAH, an organization that works to empower Muslim women leaders, echoed that thought. “Getting married [in Islam] is completing half of your religion…you attain more closeness to God…so it’s very highly encouraged and a very attractive thing to do,” said Bukhari. Bukhari explained that there is often tension between communal expectations and individual’s choice, which is especially fraught for first-generation American Muslims, as they navigate the values with which they were raised by conservative immigrants parents and the American culture that emphasizes personal desire.
And Mormons are no different, explained Dr. Sharon Harris, an assistant professor at Brigham Young University (BYU) who has lived in and studied in the Mormon community. In Mormon doctrine, only married individuals attain the highest level of Heaven. For unmarried individuals, there are “singles wards;” communities for single individuals. “It’s supposed to be optional, and it is technically,” Harris told the crowd. “Except that means most singles move there [to singles wards], so you run the risk of feeling even more on the outskirts if you stay in a conventional congregation. So, I was in singles wards for many years, and there was a period where I was a middle school teacher…and I had the summers off….And I knew they were putting together youth camps, and I thought well, I’ve got some time that could be used to help. I went to the organizer and said, ‘I’m available, I’d be happy to help out.’ Not everyone volunteers to spend a week at youth camp! I thought they’d be excited about it. And she said, ‘Oh you know what? We’re fine. You just stay in the singles ward and date.’ I couldn’t give to the community. It was more important I do whatever they do in the singles ward…[instead of ] the opportunity for the youth to see somebody who’s participating, [who’s] accomplishing, [who’s] professional.”
Rabbi Abigail Sosland, Morah Ruchanit [Spiritual Advisor] of Schechter Westchester High School is recently married, but reflected on her years of being single in the panel discussion. “I have this deep, internalized shame I carried for decades.” She, too, was lectured with the same maxim of “You have free time? Date.” “It took me so long to realize that this wasn’t okay,” she said. Sosland said that she would not be invited for Shabbos meals, the hallmark of Jewish communal life, because hosts feared her presence would make things awkward. At social gatherings, friends would coo over engagements and grandchildren, without any acknowledgment of personal or professional accomplishments of those in the room. Sosland said there is a certain hypocrisy in how singles are treated: “More is demanded of them to give to the community, be it money or time, but they are given less from the community, be it appreciation for their contributions of even acknowledgement.”
Single women, in particular, experience a double standard, over single men. As Sosland described it, it’s the George Clooney versus Jennifer Aniston paradox: The single man breaks hearts while the single woman has her heart broken. For men, taking their time can be admirable: Building up a nest egg, climbing up the career ladder, and all sorts of accomplishments outside the home. Women are still defined so domestically, with marriage presumed to be not only a natural but an inevitable step early in life, preferably as soon as after she completes her schooling. When asked about how to change the conversation, panelists agreed there is a collective responsibility to reexamine faith communities’ mindsets towards singleness. Communities ought to celebrate personal and professional accomplishments beyond marriage and children. Sosland noted how grateful she had been to certain married friends who, when she was single, would make sure to include her in their events and sit alongside her so she would not be alone.
Bukhari said that part of dismantling stigma means empowering women to know their worth: “[Let] a girl, a woman, at any age, know her value does not come from a relationship with a man, but the relationship with herself and her God.”
Harris invoked the Mormon ritual of sealing, which is bonding individuals together eternally. While it most common between couples and between parents and children, Harris pointed out it has been used for friendships and close platonic bonds, emphasizing the importance of valuing non-familial relationships as just as enriching and valuable. Rachel, a member of the LDS Church, was drawn to the panel because she admired Harris and her work in singles wards. “I love all of the research that [Dr. Harris] has done and all she has to say. And I think it’s fascinating to hear about the effect across various religions.” Mohammad, who described himself as an “older single,” said that he found comfort in how the panel addressed the issue. “You can find these niche communities that have these small conversations, but they’re really meaningful and heartwarming.” Another audience member, a young Jewish woman described the panel as reassuring, adding wryly, “I’m only 23 but I’m already starting to feel the pressure.”
“It’s a relief,” said an older single, who asked to not be identified.
“We hope that people will take the lessons and practical suggestions the panelists presented and make change in their communities,” said Rivka Cohen, program manager at JOFA. “As an organization dedicated to the mission of Orthodox feminism, we believe and know firsthand that no change is too small – even just being mindful of how we act and what we say and who we invite to our Shabbat tables can make a world of a difference. Most importantly, we hope that everyone will continue these conversations, both in their own communities and across faith divides.”
Sara G. Marcus is a journalism student in Yeshiva University. She has written for the Forward and the Commercial Observer.
Fighting Discrimination Electronically Digital Storytelling to Advance Peace in Pakistan
by Ruth Broyde Sharone
from The Interfaith Observer
The iconic image of a male storyteller addressing an enraptured audience pressed shoulder to shoulder around a glowing campfire may soon be replaced by hijab and sari-clad young women holding their smart phones.
A group of ambitious and empowered young women in Lahore, Pakistan are primed and eager to tell the stories of their time, their place, and their gender. Their instructor is Naveed Hameed, an accomplished filmmaker, journalist, and peace-builder, named one of 15 emerging young leaders in Pakistan by the U.S. State Department in 2016 and recently selected by the United States Institute of Peace (USIPS) as a Generation Change Fellow.
Naveed formed his own organization, Faiz Resource Foundation, in 2014 to teach young men and women visual storytelling through a variety of information and communication technology (ICT) tools. His long-range goal is to use digital storytelling to build peace in Pakistan, a country where in recent years, as he describes it, “people have witnessed an environment of growing intolerance, vigilantism, and violence against weaker groups.” Hameed is working conscientiously to counter the violence by promoting pluralism, harmony, and diversity among people of very varied heritage, background, ethnicity, faithand language.
The most vulnerable, he says, are young adults, women, transgenders, religious minorities, and human rights defenders “who are terrorized by state institutions and non-state actors, including extremist groups.” Naveed believes the iPhone has the potential to become one the most potent weapons in the struggle against discrimination. His short-term goal is to teach the use of the smartphones and iPhones to provide a voice for minorities and the oppressed, especially women.
Naveed himself is no stranger to discrimination. He was born in a small village to a poor Christian family in a predominantly Muslim country. None of his family could read or write. Naveed’s father worked a low-income job, and he was dead set against Naveed obtaining an advanced education. He believed that – regardless of his son’s future educational achievements – because he was Christian, he was destined to suffer religious discrimination. Even with a college diploma, he thought Naveed could at most only land a janitorial job. In the end, Naveed’s mother took a courageous step – in opposition to her husband’s wishes – to allow her son a chance to continue his studies.
At the age of seven, Naveed moved into a boarding hostel to pursue his studies. Naveed’s mother continued cleaning homes in order to cover his educational expenses until he successfully completed his education. Although in retrospect he understands and appreciates the sacrifice she made on his behalf, at the time he felt cut off from his family “at the very age when I needed them the most.”
In 2009, while Naveed was studying in university, a horrific incident happened in the Christian colony of Gojra, a pivotal incident that would determine his life’s path. More than 75 houses were set on fire in, and eight people were burnt alive. Naveed arrived at the scene of destruction, and while he was recording video interviews of the aftermath, suddenly he heard a young girl cry out: “They are coming! They destroyed my toys and now they’re going to kill me!” The little girl’s grief and consternation had a profound impact on him. He thought back to the pain he himself had faced during his childhood when he was separated from his family and when his Muslim friends refused to play with him unless he agreed to convert.
It was at that moment Naveed made up his mind to do everything in his power to eradicate the religious violence and misunderstandings he had witnessed and experienced. To that end he hoped to bring together – in a collaborative endeavor – Pakistan’s diverse religious communities. And, especially, he wanted to help empower young women.
He launched his digital storytelling initiative named SOCH (in English: THINK) in 2016 and began to recruit young people from the Muslim, Christian, Hindu, and Sikh communities to teach them the skills necessary to create their own peacebuilding media and startups. Pakistan is a third-world country with more than 140 million cellular subscribers, 67 percent of them youth. He knew smartphones and iPhones with Android and ISO technology were destined to play an integral role in the country’s development, replacing traditional desktops, laptops, and cameras. “It’s time to seize future technology as a means to create crucial and innovative alternative media to help shape public opinion,” Naveed emphasized. The digital storytelling intensive training workshop he designed for young people included three modules:
The project was funded and a total of eight short stories were produced on different issues, each using cell phones. Ultimately, the SOCH program directly benefited 80 diverse youth – particularly marginalized youth and women. Indirectly the program benefitted upwards of 5000 people. More than 2000 were reached through screening events and some 3000 through social media.
The video ‘Women on Wheels’ was produced for SOCH by two participants, Mariam Shahzad and Amir Hameed, and sponsored by the U.S. embassy in Pakistan. Mariam, 20, researched the idea and was involved in all aspects of the film’s production. Her feedback, as a SOCH alumna, provides an illuminating look into the future of digital storytelling used purposefully to empower women in Pakistan and world-wide. She writes …
Naveed believes technology can encourage and prepare anyone to become a storyteller for good, with a built-in global audience. By learning to create compelling digital stories, he predicts the young people of Pakistan will spark social change, transforming the atmosphere of intolerance into respect and, in the process, create an opportunity to celebrate Pakistan’s colorful array of distinctive communities.
Rabbi of Temple Kol Ami Meets with Jews and Muslims promoting Israeli/Palestinian co-existence in ancient Arab village
Published by Stacy Gittleman
Last month on a rabbinical conference in Israel conducted by the pluralistic Shalom Hartman Institute, Rabbi Brent Gutmann of Temple Kol Ami in West Bloomfield, along with a delegation of rabbis from Israel and around the globe visited the Arab village of Husan, located in the Gush Etziyon region of Judea and Samaria (West Bank).
There, they met with grassroots organization of Palestinians and Israelis who are taking up practical causes of co-existence such as protesting against Israel from continuing a section of the security barrier that would bisect the village and potentially harm the Wadi Fakhim, as well as learn about how Israelis and Palestinians can work together to expand medical facilities and services in the area.
A UNESCO world heritage 10 kilometers west of Bethlehem, Husan contains ancient remains dating back to the Iron Age. Other remains date from the post-Babylonian Exile Period and the Middle Ages. The original inhabitants came from the Arabian Peninsula and Yemen in the 3rd century. Ceramics from the Byzantine era have been found..
The Arab villagers there still use agricultural practices of tabled terracing for their farming that date back to ancient times, watered by an ancient wadi.
On his trip, Gutmann learned the Arabs and Jews protesting there also fear that the growing Jewish communities around Husan are putting pressures on this wadi and other natural resources. They also fear a strain on existing infrastructure such as sewerage and drainage systems.
These grassroots organizations over the last 25 years have gone through several changes and names. But at the center has been Zaid Sabateen, a resident of Hasan who as a teen was arrested and imprisoned for five years in Israel after his involvement in the first intifada in the mid 1980’s. After his release following the Oslo accords, Sabateen realized the path to a two-state solution cannot be won through violence but through conversation and peaceful work towards co-exisistence.
He founded the group Path of Hope and Peace with the late Rabbi Menachem Froman, who served as the chief rabbi in the Jewish community of Tekoa in the Judean Hills who believed in working towards peace with the Palestinians even when both sides faced violence, death and terror and extremism.
“It was an unlikely alliance – a settler rabbi – and a former Palestinian terrorist,” said Gutmann, who befriended Sabateen through Facebook before meeting in person this summer. “But the two were willing to talk and engage with anyone who were willing to work for a peaceful solution. “
From this trip, Guttmann saw first-hand how activities as ordinary as cleaning up trash from the side of a road or showing concern for the natural resources of the region are ways Jews and Muslims, Israelis and Palestinians can come together for a common good.”
Another issue that this grassroots organization of Muslims and Jews in the region is taking up is the disparity of healthcare in the region. The life expectancy of Palestinians is on average 10 years less than Israelis.
To improve these statistics, Path to Hope and Peace has worked to bring in more healthcare facilities to improve the lives of the Palestinians. For example, Rabbi Froman before his death worked to build a local health facility near Husan to increase availability of more doctors and specialists. Because of his work with Israelis, Sabatin is able to work through some of the complexities that come with Israel’s tight security measures on Palestinians, such as attaining travel permits to leave the West Bank and enter Israel so that they can visit with sick loved ones who are being treated in Israeli hospitals or even have a visit to swim and play in the ocean.
“The notion of the two-state solution is becoming more and more challenging,” Gutmann said. “But this special trip out to this village made me come to the realization that people on both sides of the conflict can share and find commonalities in everyday interactions. It is possible to come together to talk and try to solve the most immediate and local problems. It is these real person-to-person interactions that bring out each other’s humanity and rarely make the news.”
In a written Facebook message, Sabatin said while the current situation can seem grim as Israeli and Palestinian politicians fight for political survival, it is the everyday people who get lost in the mix.
“The land is holy to Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike, and we must learn to live and share it together. We hiked the land together, sat in joint prayers, and arranged many activities to bring all of our families and friends to meet each other as neighbors and friends. ….The Path of Hope and Peace brings families together in our area of coexistence next to the Green Line, with a special focus on the young Israelis and Palestinians, who are our collective future.
Muslim pilgrims pray on the Jabal al-Rahmah, or the mountain of forgiveness, at Arafat for the annual hajj pilgrimage outside Mecca, Saudi Arabia, on Aug. 20, 2018. More than 2 million Muslims have begun the annual hajj. The five-day pilgrimage represents one of the five pillars of Islam and is required for all able-bodied Muslims once in their lifetime. (AP Photo/Dar Yasin)