Calendar for WISDOM and Other Interfaith Events
Thursday, April 3rd
Showing of the film Besa: The Promise
At the Holocaust Memorial Center
Orchard Lake Road in Farmington Hills
See Flyer Below!
Sunday, May 4th
WISDOM Friends Reception
2:00 PM – 4:00 PM
Bloomfield Hills Public Library
Telegraph and Lone Pine in Bloomfield Hills
For more information contact Peggy Dahlberg
Sunday, May 18th
Dharmic Faiths: Buddism, Sikhism and Hinduism in America
4:00 PM – 7:00 PM
Islamic Organization of North America
28630 Ryan Road, Warren
See Flyer Below
Sunday August 10th through Wednesday August 13th
NAIN (North American Interfaith Network) Conference
Wayne State University
August 10th through 13th
See Flyer Below
My Interfaith Journey to India
By Gail Katz
My husband and I spent a delightful two weeks touring India with 30 other participants from all over the world with Tauck Tours, a tour company that I highly recommend. We visited Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Udaipur, Khajuraho, and Veranassi. We ate lots of wonderful Indian food, visited many temples and ancient sites, observed religious rituals, and stayed in beautiful hotels – this while observing the worst poverty that I have ever seen – and I have traveled a lot!
But the highlight of this trip to India came when the tour was over. I said goodbye to my newly made friends on the Tauck tour, and my husband and I got ready to be picked up to go to Ahmedabad! The three days I spent there was an interfaith journey that meant so much to me, as it was an incredible spiritual experience.
I have been involved in Interfaith initiatives for many years. As a teacher of English as a Second Language in the Berkley Schools, I worked with elementary and middle school students who were immigrants to our country – who had different faith traditions, ethnic backgrounds, and of course different languages. I also chaired many of my district’s diversity initiatives and ran the diversity club in my school. I was one of the founders of the Religious Diversity Journeys for Seventh Graders – a program that after 11 years, is still flourishing and impacting Oakland County middle school students. I am one of the Co-Founders of WISDOM (Women’s Interfaith Solutions for Dialogue and Outreach in MetroDetroit), the education co-chair of the Interfaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit, and the chair of the annual World Sabbath that brings our youth together to offer interfaith prayers for World Peace. As you can see, interfaith work is my passion!
Due to this interfaith activism, I got to know Bhavna and Jayeesh Mehta, members of the Jain Society of Greater Detroit. They came from India, but had been living in Farmington Hills for many years. Bhavna was my link to the Jain Temple, where I planned visits to educate adults and teens about the Jain faith tradition. And over the years, Bhavna and I bonded as really good friends. When the Mehtas moved back to India two years ago, I promised that I would come and visit one day. And I kept my promise this past February.
Bhavna sent her driver to pick us up at our last tour stop at the Udaipur hotel. Four and a half hours later, driving through traffic that left me tense and filled with disbelief that there were no traffic lights, stop signs, or traffic police, we arrived at Bhavna’s home in Ahmedabad. For three days and nights I experienced firsthand how a devout woman of the Jain faith lives her life.
Bhavna lives in a rather modern townhouse of three levels, complete with an elevator. But the top of the townhouse is very special. It is her Jain temple – her place to go and pray to her Guru, whose photograph adorns her living room downstairs. Meals with Bhavna were fascinating. The main tenet of Jainism is “Ahimsa” or non-violence. Devout Jains will make every effort not to kill any living thing – and that includes plants, animals, insects, and even bacteria. Bhavna is a vegetarian, but will eat no root vegetables (carrots, garlic, potatoes, onions) because that involves destroying the entire plant, and killing the insects living in the soil around the plant. When we went out to eat in a restaurant, Bhavna showed me the green symbol next to some of the food choices on the menu which verifies that the dishes are suitable for the Jains. Only restaurants in the state of Gujarat (where Ahmdabad is located) will do this, because the majority of the Jains in India live in Gujarat. When I brought my leftovers back to the Mehtas for lunch the next day, Bhavna explained to me that she will not eat any leftovers, because keeping the food longer only increases the levels of bacteria in the food – and she will not kill any living thing!
Bhavna brought me to her Jain Temple in Ahmedabad, and I got a firsthand look at the holiness of her place of worship.
She introduced me to some of the Jain nuns and monks. I was astonished to learn that these Jain clergy are ascetics, and do not have a home or any possessions. They wander barefoot from place to place, so they do not get attached to anything. They do not use basic services like telephones and electricity, and don’t prepare their own food. They live only on what people offer them. They will not take all their food from one place, but take only a little at one place and a little at another. The cooking process involves violence in the form of fire, chopping vegetables and water consumption, and they do not want to be part of any of this to meet their needs.
After learning so much about my dear friend’s faith and spirituality, I wanted to share my faith with her. The two of us felt so much spiritual energy in our friendship!
I knew that Ahmedabad currently had the second largest Jewish community in India after Mumbai. I wanted to learn more about this, and share it with Bhavna and Jayeesh. Little did I know that one morning, sitting in the Mehta’s living room with some of their Jain friends, the teenage daughter of their friends, after finding out that I was Jewish, told me that she had gone to the best school in the state of Gujarat, run by a Jewish family. She explained to me that the most popular and most respected junior high schools in Ahmedabad were administered by Bene Israel Jews. Muslim, Sikh, Hindu and Jain students attend, in addition to the Jewish students. This excited young guest of the Mehtas told me that she had the contact information for the Hebrew teacher who had the key to the Magen Abraham synagogue! Jayeesh immediately contacted this teacher, whose name was Johnny Pingle, and he agreed to meet us at the synagogue the very next day. And so the next day we all piled into the car with the driver, and we made our way through the chaos of the traffic and arrived at the synagogue – a building in the center of the Muslim neighborhood!
Johnny met us at the door and ushered us into the sanctuary. This synagogue of Bene Israel Jews follows the Sephardic tradition, and the pulpit is in the center of the sanctuary. Johnny is the main chazzan and leads the services by himself. He opened the ark, and I was so proud and got so emotional to be able to share the sacred Torah scrolls with my Jain friends.
I opened one of their prayer books, and found the prayers written in Hebrew on the right hand side, and Marathi (one of the Indian languages) on the left hand side. The Bene Israel Jews trace their history to 1840. Many arrived as employees of the British services, and worked in the railways, post offices, textile mills, factories and the army. Magen Abraham was built in 1933 when there were 800 Jews in Ahmedabad, and the numbers are more like 100 now. The Bene Israel Jews are one of three Jewish communities in India – which include the Jews of Cochin in Southern India and the Bagdadi Jews of Calcutta.
As we were about to take our leave of Magen Abraham, I noticed the words “Shalom” on the wall, and I gave Bhavna a hug – feeling the radiant peace of this moment that was highlighting our interfaith friendship.
As we turned to go, we looked through the locked fence outside the synagogue, and viewed many Muslim women in hijab selling their wares right in front of the only synagogue in the state of Gujarat! I made note of the fact that this is a country where the Jewish community has been welcomed, and there has been no anti-Semitism! Passing by on foot, in cars, rickshaws and motorcycles were many Hindu women in saris, and Sikh men wearing their turbans. I gave Bhavna a big hug, and with tears in my eyes, breathed in the interfaith aura of India, and mentally prepared to leave the next day to return to Detroit. My days in Ahmedabad and my dear friend Bhavna have such a special place in my heart and I am so fortunate to have been able to share in her Jainism and to experience my Judaism in her presence!
BESA: THE PROMISE – PHOTOGRAPHY EXHIBIT AND MOVIE
BY BRENDA ROSENBERG AND SAMIA BAHSOUN
We are two women from radically different professions, backgrounds,cultures,ideologies and beliefs who share a passion to bring our opposing communities together. When Stephen Goldman, executive director of the Holocaust Memorial Center Zekelman Family Campus in Farmington Hills called to say he secured the BESA exhibition from Yad Vashem (the Holocaust Memorial Center) in Jerusalem, we were elated! So few people in either of our communities know the story of BESA – Muslim Albanians who rescued Jews durning the Holocaust. “BESA literally means to keep the promise. A code of honor. One who acts according to BESA is someone who keeps his word,someone to whom one can trust ones life and the lives of ones family. The help afforded to the Jews and non Jews alike should be understood as a matter of national honor. The Albanians went out of their way to provide assistance, moreover they competed with each other for the privilege of saving Jews.These acts originated from compassion, loving-kindness and a desire to help those in need, even those of another faith or origin.Albania, the only European country with a Muslim majority, succeeded in the place where other European nations failed. Almost all Jews living within Albanian borders during the German occupation, those of Albanian origin and refugees alike, were saved, except members of a single family. Impressively, there were more Jews in Albania at the end of the war than beforehand.”
BESA resonated with us. It mirrored one of the guiding principles of our Tectonic Leadership model – being committed to care equally about self and other. We began to think of ways it could be an effective tool to bring our communities together. Divine timing rang Brenda’s phone. She received a call from Sheryl Olitzky who lives in New Jersey. Sheryl had just finished reading Friendship and Faith: the WISDOM of women creating alliances for peace, the book Brenda inspired, and wrote with 29 women from WISDOM’S a women’s interfaith group. Sheryl was starting Sisterhood of Shalom Salaam, an organization to bring Jewish and Muslim women together and wanted Brenda’s insights. You can imagine Brenda’s delight and surprise when Sheryl shared she was presenting the BESA documentary at Rutgers with Norman Gershman, the photographer and writer of the BESA book, and Majlinda Myrto, one of the most renowned and important leaders of the Albanian-American community in United States.
We began emailing and talking with Norman and Majlinda. We learned Majlinda was born in Albania and has lived in the United States since 1993. She holds a Master Degree in Public Affairs (receiving the distinction award for “Recognition and Awareness of Human Rights”), and an MA in Political Science. She is the Director of the “Eye Contact Foundation” an organization that promotes religious, political, cultural and economic understanding and tolerance among people worldwide. Part of her work is dedicated to establishing school curricula for teaching tolerance through BESA as manifested in the saving of Jews by Muslim Families. Majlinda’s in laws Shyqyri and his Celebrating BESA: Muslims who rescued Jews during the Holocaust by Brenda Naomi Rosenberg and Samia Mustafa Bahsoun a Jew and an Arab Muslim – partners in building a new future parents Abdullah and Lje Myrto are honored by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among Nations. And we learned that “Norman Gershman spent four years photographing Muslim families who saved Jews during the Holocaust, converging between two seemingly opposed worlds.” His photographs are to be found in a variety of public collections, including the International Center of Photography, New York; the Brooklyn Museum; the Aspen Museum of Art and a number of galleries in Russia”
The four of us met last fall in New York City. We saw how the BESA exhibition and our TECTONIC LEADERSHIP model can work together to engage our communities. And we saw the power and the necessity of pairing. Their relationship is based on positive inter dependency just like ours. On March 9th we are co sponsoring with the Holocaust Memorial Center, the ADL, AJC Detroit, WISDOM, and VOICE VISION the BESA exhibition and we are presenting our Tectonic Leadership model for systemic change.
Join us and hear our story of how we chose to use the tension that once separated us to cement our relationship,seal our friendship,and develop a model for creating the next generation of leaders. Learn how our Tectonic Leadership model pairs leaders from across divides to face challenges together and find solutions that benefit both communities by building social and business enterprises and creating policies together.
At the Holocaust Memorial Center Zekelman Family Campus 28123 Orchard Lake Road Farmington Hills MI: BESA- a code of honor Muslim Albanians who rescued Jews during the Holocaust
The photographic exhibition: on view February 13th – May 11th ADMISSION: free with museum admission
TECTONIC LEADERSHIPA road map to systemic change. Presentation and round table discussion on March 9th from 3 pm to 5 pm. Discover how you can use Tectonic Leadership to transform conflict in your personal life, on campus, in the work place and in your community Admission: free – Light refreshments at Roundtable Discussion.
DOCUMENTARY FILM: BESA – THE PROMISE: showing: Thursday, April 3 at 7:00 p.m. Admission: Free with museum admission
The Potential Challenges of
Temple Visits as Teaching Tools
By Murali Balaji
Director of Education and Curriculum Reform
Hindu American Foundation
Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the honor of speaking to parent groups and educators at conferences in different parts of the country.
After my talks, several teachers have approached me to say that they give their kids a sense of Hinduism by taking them to a local temple, and in some cases, field trips to both Hindu temples and Sikh Gurdwaras. One teacher even admitted that she would prefer a temple visit in lieu of classroom instruction because of her lack of understanding about Hinduism. While the cultural immersion is admirable and can be valuable in helping students — and teachers — see religions in practice, it’s also often just the tip of the iceberg and can pose several challenges for public schools.
For starters, a field trip to a Hindu temple can be helpful in illuminating the way Hindus worship, especially since many textbooks continue to depict Hinduism as a religion confined strictly to the Indian subcontinent. In the United States, the diversity of Hinduism is reflected in the plethora of temples representing numerous worship traditions as well as cultural beliefs. Temples in many parts of the country now serve immigrants — and their children — from India, the Caribbean, South Africa, and Malaysia, as well as people who weren’t born into Hinduism, but have become Hindus.
The diversity of temples is both a blessing and a potential obstacle, because cultural customs often become conflated with religious values, and even the most well-meaning of temple tour guides can often present a perspective limited to just one sect or worship tradition. For schoolteachers, taking students to an ISKCON temple (Krishna devotees) would present one view of Hinduism, while going to a Shiva temple might present another. It would be in some ways akin to the challenges posed by taking school children to a Catholic Church or Presbyterian house of worship and representing either as the epitome of Christianity.
Another problem with temple tours is that they don’t always fit neatly with a curriculum about Hinduism. A temple visit can thoroughly articulate ways that Hindus worship, but might not explain Hindu beliefs of dharma, karma, moksha and the four paths to the Divine. A temple representative might be able to explain these concepts to students, but not in the way that teachers might find helpful to classroom instruction. Sometimes, parents of Hindu American children, frustrated by inaccurate depictions of Hinduism in textbooks and other instructional materials, organize the visits in a way where students are exposed to more of a Sunday School atmosphere than a public school one, which is a big no-no for advocates of keeping church and state separate (including the Hindu American Foundation).
Temple visits as the primary source for learning about Hinduism present additional Constitutional and community concerns. The ability of public schools to take students to religious institutions has been challenged in court with claims that it violates separation of church and state. While these assertions might have validity, the increase of parent protests in these cases seems to reflect fears among some that religions such as Hinduism, Islam, and Sikhism might have an undue influence on their children. In fact, some of the teachers I’ve spoken with say that their biggest challenge is convincing parents that teaching about other religious traditions outside of Christianity (and sometimes Judaism) is not preaching in the classrooms. Temple visits, particularly in areas that are still adjusting to diversity, can become a source of tension between schools and community members.
Community concerns, however, are likely to vary depending on demographics. A visit to the Ganesha temple in Flushing, N.Y., is unlikely to cause much of a stir because of New York City’s diversity. Moreover, the push by a diverse coalition of secular and faith-based groups to recognize Diwali – which Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs observe – as a New York public school holiday demonstrates the progress made to integrate diverse views. The same sort of recognition of Hinduism – or any minority faith tradition, for that matter – is unlikely to happen anytime in places such as Murfreesboro, Tennessee, however.
With that being said, schools that are able to nuance the separation of church and state do have a tremendous opportunity to use temple visits to supplement what students are learning about Hinduism. Any religious or cultural practice becomes more tangible to students when they are able to experience it in person instead of just reading about it. Doing so not only increases a student’s cultural fluency, but makes them better prepared for the global society that we have rapidly become.
An Article from the Interfaith Leadership Council about their Religious Diversity Journeys for Seventh Graders at the Islamic Center of America!
Recent world events have inspired many misconceptions about Islam. Last Wednesday, our friends at the Islamic Center of America opened the doors of their beautiful mosque and said “As-salamu alaykum,” peace be upon you, to 150 seventh grade students from six school districts (West Bloomfield, Walled Lake, Clarkston, Birmingham, Berkley, and Bloomfield Hills), 30 staff members, 25 parents, and 25 students from the Maya school (Muslim American Youth Academy) in Dearborn.
We were happy to be able to showcase the program to school superintendents Dennis McDavid from Berkley, Dr. Gerald Hill from West Bloomfield, Dr. Daniel Nerad from Birmingham, Dr. Barbara Fowler from Troy, and administrators from Southfield, Troy, Walled Lake and Birmingham school districts.
The group gathered for a very special introduction to Islam conducted by Najah Bazzy, an Arab-American registered nurse and nurse consultant who conducts workshops to promote cross-cultural understanding between hospital staff and immigrant patients.
For most of the attendees, it was the first time they had been inside a mosque, and they had lots of questions.
“We need to know about each other,” started Bazzy, as students from the Maya school demonstrated traditional Muslim greetings, including the “heart to heart” greeting of touching hands to hearts instead of shaking hands, which is the proper greeting between a male and female.
Bazzy talked about the history of Muslims in America, explaining that Muslims have been here for 400 years, coming over as slaves and contributing to the ideals that form the basis of our American way of life through the Quran, which was read, known and consulted by the founding fathers. She talked about the contributions of the Muslim culture, including algebra, heart transplants, coffee, maps, chess, Arabic numbers, and alphabets.
She also talked about Muslim beliefs, particularly about the inclusion of the prophets of Judaism and Christianity in Islam, and how removing one’s shoes in the mosque derived from the story of Moses removing his shoes at the burning bush, and that the Hajj, the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, is to honor the prophet Abraham, Ibrahim in Muslim tradition. The students learned about the role of an Imam from Imam Masmari of the Muslim Unity Center in Bloomfield Hills.
The most powerful part of the program for many was the opportunity for students to ask questions directly of their peers from the Maya school. There were a lot of questions about hijab, traditional female head covering, and other issues of dress, such as what the girls wear to swim (something like a loose wetsuit with a head covering attached).
As the questions were asked and answered, the line between the groups blurred, and it became clear that a dialogue had been opened between Muslim and non-Muslim kids, American kids. As is the intent of the program, what they learned was as much about what they have in common as human beings as about that which is unique to their different religious traditions.
The Journey program, created by IFLC Board Member Gail Katz, is in its eleventh year. The next journey will be Wed, April 16 at the Bharatiya Hindu Temple in Troy where students will learn about Hinduism and Buddhism.
|A survey of Detroit area Jews and Muslims reveals high levels of interest to learn more about the other, find ways to experience each community’s practices and customs, and engage in joint activities.
“Both groups express willingness to engage with each other,” concludes the survey, Building a Shared Future: Understanding the Muslim and Jewish Communities of Southeast Michigan. “Those who have already experienced an activity with the other group are likely to do it again.”
The American Jewish Committee (AJC) — Michigan Muslim Community Council (MMCC) survey will be released at a conference, “A Shared Future: Jews and Muslims in Metro Detroit,” co-sponsored by AJC Detroit and MMCC, on Sunday.
The University of Michigan-Dearborn conducted the survey during July and August, 2013. Of the 600 survey respondents, 41 percent were Jewish and 59 percent were Muslim. The survey and the conference were generously supported by a grant from the Ravitz Foundation.
The survey found substantial commonality among Detroit area Jews and Muslims, a good basis for a variety of social interactions. Ninety percent of all respondents are “willing to consider activities with the other community,” such as working or eating together, visiting someone’s home, or being friends. Forty-nine percent reported they already are friends with someone in the other community, and 78 percent have shared a meal with someone in the other community.
Asked whether they would do something with someone from the other community, 43 percent of Jewish respondents said they already have visited a Muslim home, and 74 percent have eaten with a Muslim.
Nearly 60 percent of Muslim respondents indicated they have visited a Jewish home, and 86 percent said they have Jewish work colleagues.
Muslims respondents tended be more observant than Jewish respondents. Ninety percent of Muslims and 35 percent of Jews observe dietary laws. Ninety percent of Muslims and 32 percent of Jews agree that prayer is part of daily life. Asked if they take religious advice into consideration for serious personal problems, 83 percent of Muslims and 34 percent of Jews said they “almost always” or “usually” do.
“While there are differences between the communities in the role religion plays in daily life, they share similarities in the ways they engage in observing and practicing religion,” the survey concludes.
The survey also explored interest within each community in engaging in joint activities, including education, distributing food to the homeless, protecting women and children from violence, and visiting a Jewish or Islamic museum.
The survey found that “individuals who regularly apply their religious teachings and who are regularly influenced by their religion, regardless of community re more interested in a wide range of activities and program possibilities to build a shared future.”
The survey and the conference were generously supported by a grant from the Ravitz Foundation.