WISDOM Newsletter – May 2015

Written by WISDOM on . Posted in Newsletters

Calendar for WISDOM and Other Interfaith Events  

Thursday, May 14th

6:30 PM to 8:30 PM

Five Women Five Journeys at the Baldwin Public Library in Birmingham

Tuesday, August 11th

10:30 – Noon

Five Women Five Journeys with the Senior Women’s Club of The Birmingham Community House


WISDOM: Five Women, Five Journeys

Thurs., May. 14 at 6:30 p.m.

This unique WISDOM (Women’s Interfaith Solutions for Dialogue and Outreach in Metro-Detroit) program features personal stories of women of different faith traditions – how their childhood impacted their beliefs today, what the challenges are for women in their faith tradition, what parts of their religion are misunderstood, and how reaching out to someone from a different faith has enriched their lives. Panelists include:

Parwin Anwar (Muslim)

Paula Drewek (Baha’i)

Gail Katz (Jewish)

Jatinder Kaur (Sikh)

Amy Morgan (Christian)

Ellen Ehrlich (Moderator)

Baldwin Public Library

300 West Merrill, Birmingham, MI 48009

Save the Date for the 2015 Faith-Based Summit

The 2015 summit will highlight progress made by faith leaders on recruiting foster and adoptive parents and their success at providing supportive services to foster and adoptive children.

This event is also an opportunity to garner a commitment from faith leaders who are new to the Faith-Based Initiative on Foster Care and Adoption.

Additionally, it provides attendees with best practices and tools on how to build a coalition to recruit foster and adoptive parents and provide assistance to children in foster care.

May 19, 2015
8:30 a.m.4:00 p.m.
Radisson Hotel Lansing
111 N Grand Ave.
Lansing, MI 48933

Contact us if you have questions:

Trina D. Richardson at 231-398-8497 or richardsont12@michigan.gov 

Stephanie McCann at 517-373-2591 or mccanns5@michigan.gov

Hosted by the Department of Human Services in partnership with statewide faith community leaders.


A Coming Together of Temple Israel Sisterhood

 and Hartford Women United

At the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills, MI

on Sunday April 26th, 2015

By Gail Katz



About 25 women from Temple Israel in West Bloomfield and Hartford Memorial Baptist Church in Detroit came together on Sunday, April 26th for an interfaith experience at the Holocaust Memorial Center.  We were taken on a 90-minute tour of the center by our outstanding guide, Alan Eidelman.  He explained that the building we were in was not a museum but a memorial for the almost seven million Jews that were murdered by the Nazis, and to honor the Christians and Muslims who helped to save some members of Jewish communities during the 1930’s and 1940’s. As we stood in front of the eternal flame and the wall that lists the numbers of murdered Jews, Mr. Eidelman explained that we are here to honor dead people!

Mr. Eidelman took our group over to the boxcar which the Nazis used to transport millions of European Jews to concentration camps and their deaths during the Holocaust, and described the unbearable conditions of packing hundreds of people into this car.  People died standing up on route to the camps. Symbols in the Holocaust Memorial Center were pointed out – the red brick on the walls representing the chimneys where Jews were burned to death, the barbed wire along the walls representing the death camps, the train tracks representing the transports to the concentration camps.

We entered the Jewish Heritage Room where a damaged Torah scroll was on display. We went to a room with an artistic display with books only in the middle of the shelves. The top and the bottom of the display had empty shelves- symbolizing the 1.5 million Jewish children who were murdered, who would no longer read the books on the bottom shelves as children, and would never grow up to read the books at the top!

We talked about the banning of Jews in Europe from working as doctors and lawyers, and the banning of Jewish children from going to the public schools. We learned that November 9th and 10th, 1938 were the nights of broken glass, known as “Kirstallnacht” and was the official beginning of the Holocaust.  Not only Jews were sent off to the death camps, but also Romas, Sintis, Homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Poles.  Our group was horrified to hear Mr. Eidelman explain how the hair, skin, gold fillings and the saliva of the Jewish inmates in the camps were used by the Germans.

At the end of our tour, we had the pleasure of hearing George Erdstein tell us about his personal family story.  His grandparents were born in Poland and emigrated to Vienna.  There were 200,000 Jews there at the time. In 1938 life changed for his family as the Nazi’s took over. His parents were able to get passports to New York, and escaped, but George’s grandparents were deported on the cattle cars to a concentration camp in Belarus in 1942 and perished.

It was a difficult and very painful journey through the Holocaust Memorial Center, seeing what hate can do if we don’t stand up and speak out!  It felt so powerful for Temple Israel and Hartford Memorial Baptist Church sisters to take this tour together and better understand history and its challenges.  We all need to grapple with our past in order to increase respect and understanding for each other.

We look forward to our joint venture at the Charles Wright African American Museum on Sunday, July 26th, and our social action and potluck event at Hartford Memorial Baptist Church on June 4th at 6:00 PM!!


Paula Drewek and friend, Jan Andrew, were guests of the Watpaknam, Buddhist Temple in Sterling Heights on Sunday, April 12 for their Songkran festival ushering in the New Year

During Thailand’s Buddhist Songkran Festival, which runs from 13 to 15 April each year, water guns, water bottles and even buckets of water are used to ring in the coming year. Traditionally, fragrant water was used to cleanse the image of the Buddha; it was thought to have been blessed and would bring good fortune to those it touched. Today, the pouring of water symbolises paying respect to others and washing away misfortune from the previous year.

The Temple has a largely Thai membership, one of whose members is Dr. Su McKeithen-Polish of the MISD, known to me from other events among Macomb County school districts. She served as MC, interpreting the rituals and chanting for a non-Thai-speaking audience.

Jan and I arrived at this public celebration for the indoor ceremony of chanting and offerings attended by a couple hundred Buddhists. Of course, we left our shoes outside, as is the custom. The celebration room was set up like many Buddhist temples with a front altar devoted to statues of the Buddha, the order’s founder, and offerings of flowers and fruits.  But, because this is in the Theravada Buddhist tradition of SE Asia, the far right side is reserved for seated monks on a dais.  Water seemed to be a main feature of this occasion and those who had brought offerings of water were blessed as the rest of us linked hands or shoulders with one of them.  The result was a chain of human connections all around the sangha room.  We were spared the buckets and water pistols mentioned above, but these had been part of celebration earlier in the day.

I was surprised when one of the monks, Dharmananda (whom I know from the Interfaith Odyssey TV show) called me up to greet the congregation and say a few words.  We then participated in the procession to rinse the monks hands with water.  There were about six of them on the dais resting on cushions and as we filed past we poured water provided over their hands into a bowl.  Oh, I should mention that this was the ceremony for elders (both Jan and I counted ourselves in this group).  So as elders we filed past and then took seats at a table at the back of the room where everyone else processed to rinse the monks’ hands with water and then ours.  So Jan and I were treated to fragrant sandlewood-scented water rinsing our hands from the whole congregation. It certainly made us feel a part of the celebration as did the gracious manners of the Thai people.  We had a wonderful time and then went outside to participate in some Thai dancing with elaborately dressed young women whose hand movements we struggled to copy.  We each received a copy of their calendar so that we could attend future events at the Temple.  We’re looking forward to that!


My Passover seder (meal) on Friday, April 3rd, which celebrates the Israelites coming out of Egypt from slavery to freedom was a very inclusive one.  Along with my family, I invited some Muslim friends – Fatima Cekic (shown in the photo above) from Bosnia, her husband Arif from Turkey, and their adorable 5-year-old daughter Ella.  I also invited my interfaith buddy who works at the InterFaith Leadership Council, Meredith Skowronski, and her husband Mike (who is Catholic) and their remarkable 4-year-old son, Logan.  It was great fun to talk about the meaning and the order of the seder, and share commentaries about today’s world and the lack of freedom in many places around this earth.  It was also great fun to watch the two kids search my house for the Afikoman (the piece of matzah that is hidden that is reserved for “dessert” that you must find after the festive meal before you can continue the seder.)  The kids found it of course and bargained for a bag of goodies that hopefully will keep them entertained in the week to come.  It was great fun and we all enjoyed being together!! I hope all my Jewish and Christian friends had a great Passover and Easter celebration!
Gail Katz

Winter’s chill did nothing to deter the congregants of Berkley’s Song and Spirit Institute for Peace, who gathered on Saturday, Feb. 21, to honor Steve Klaper for his ordination as a chazzan (cantor) through the training program offered by ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal. In recognition of his completion of intensive study in December 2014, a group of congregants surprised Klaper, who serves as a maggid (storyteller) at Song and Spirit, with a handmade tallis (prayer shawl) during the evening’s Havdalah/Lord’s Day service.
“This is overwhelming,” Klaper of Oak Park said, as he thanked the congregation and proudly displayed the colorful tallis, illustrated by local artist Michael Phillips.  “It took six years of study, involving online learning and traveling once a year to Denver and to other places in the U.S. to complete the course.  I studied texts, music forms, the lifecycle – all with an eye toward modern interpretation of Halachah.”  The Renewal movement, of which Song and Spirit is a part, honors Jewish tradition while bringing it into the 21st Century.
Klaper’s wife, Mary Gilhuly, recalled with a smile how she encouraged him.  ” I told Steve, ‘Don’t give up,” she said.  “I kept telling him, ‘think how happy you’ll feel that you kept going.’ I’m proud and excited about all his hard work.”
Song and Spirit lay leader Judy Lewis, who along with Klaper’s wife acted as organizer of the celebration, said the work that went into creating the 5-foot-by-7-foot tallis represented a labor of love by the more than 30 people involved in its creation.  The unique design includes the Song and Spirit logo, and a musical staff with the notes of the Shema.  Southfield resident Lewis noted that time, talent and funds were generously contributed. She expressed special thanks to Michael Daitch of Farmington for helping knot the tzitzit (fringes) on the tallis, and to Southfield resident Faith Robinson-Renner, who assembled the tallis.
“This gift is really incredible,” Kalper kvelled. “I’ll bet it’s the only tallis in the world with a Jewish star, a San Damiano cross and a crescent moon on it!”


Song and Spirit began as a sharing of music, a sharing of intention and tradition. It has blossomed because of the many, many friends and supporters who have chosen to join this grand interfaith adventure, who share a willingness to take a spiritual walk on the “wild” side.

In many ways, we are the heirs of a daring and dramatic process begun 50 years ago, an anniversary we celebrate this year.

In 1965, the Second Vatican Council made historic changes to church policy and theology. Among them was Nostra Aetate – Latin for “In Our Time” – a document that revolutionized the Catholic Church’s approach to Jews and Judaism after nearly 2,000 years of pain and sorrow. Section four of Nostra Aetate repudiates the centuries-old “deicide” charge against all Jews, stresses the religious bond shared by Jews and Catholics, reaffirms the eternal covenant between God and the People of Israel, and dismisses church interest in trying to baptize Jews.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and the American Jewish Committee (AJC)
submitted a paper to the Vatican on the relationship between Christianity and the Jews – titled “On Improving Catholic-Jewish Relations” – which proved instrumental in the development of this groundbreaking document. For the first time in history, Catholics and Jews were encouraged to engage in friendly dialogue and biblical and theological discussions to better understand one another’s faith.

As this relationship continues to evolve and the understanding of the meaning of Nostra Aetate continues to unfold, the distinct imprint of Rabbi Heschel can still be felt.



Every month at the Song and Spirit Institute for Peace, we hold a unique service we call From Sabbath to Sabbath – an Interfaith Havdalah. Hazzan Steve leads the assembly in closing the Jewish Sabbath and then Bro. Al ushers in a Christian observance of the Lord’s Day. This March, those in attendance marked the 50th anniversary of this historic event with conversation… and a little cake!

Although the actual anniversary date of this document is not until later this Fall, we chose to celebrate the anniversary now, at the beginning of Spring, so close to Holy Week and Passover, as a reminder of the historical pain and prejudice associated with this time of year, and with the hope that, as others have begun, so may we continue. Today, we carry on the work begun 50 years ago, even more convinced that there will be no peace in this world until there is peace among the world’s religions. We wish for all of you, your friends and families — Chag Sameach, a sweet, joyous Passover, and a blessed Easter.

What’s so important about having an interfaith institute for peace? We allow everyday people the opportunity to see with eyes of enchantment, to see that we are all on this planet and within this mystery together – so that we can all become people who make a difference in the world!

Woman Breaks Through Chains of Forced Marriage,

and Helps Others Do the Same


One day in March 2011, Fraidy Reiss went to her lawyer’s office to close on a house. The prosaic routine of paperwork somehow diminished her sense of accomplishment. Not even the seller was present to hear what she yearned to say.

She was only buying a Cape Cod on a small patch of lawn in a blue-collar neighborhood in New Jersey. Yet she and her two daughters had already named the place “Palais de Triomphe,” palace of triumph. The house symbolized her liberation from an arranged marriage, threats of violence at the hands of her estranged husband, and indeed the entire insular community of stringently Orthodox Jews

among whom she had spent her entire life.

In that moment of emancipation, Ms. Reiss also felt the sudden, unbidden summons of obligation. “The house meant that I’ve gotten to the other side,” she recalled. “I wanted to do something to give back. I wanted to use my pain to help others in the same situation. And, selfishly, I thought that would help me heal.”

Four years later, on a blustery morning early this month, Ms. Reiss, 40, stood in a classroom at Rutgers University in Newark telling her story to three dozen lawyers. She spoke with well-practiced pacing and emphasis – childhood in Brooklyn, coerced betrothal in her teens to a man she barely knew, and then the harassment and stalking and death threats, all of it documented in court papers. Finally, there was college and therapy and, after 15 years of marriage, divorce.

Ms. Reiss spoke with a very specific purpose. The lawyers were attending a continuing education course sponsored by Unchained at Last, the nonprofit group that she founded four years ago to help women extricate themselves from arranged marriages. Her hope was that some of the lawyers would be moved to represent Unchained at Last’s clients without charge.

“It’s a moral imperative,” said Katherine Francis, a corporate lawyer from the Trenton area, after Ms. Reiss’s presentation. “I hadn’t even planned to be here, but you know how you start a Google search and wander? And all of a sudden I saw this class and thought, ‘Hmm, there’s the universe talking.’ ”

Unchained at Last operates in the contested crossroad between the modern secular concept of marriage for love between consenting adults and longstanding ethnic or communal customs of arranged marriage. Religion does not require such marriage, but is very often invoked to provide moral justification for it. And the laws of certain faiths, Orthodox Judaism in particular, give a husband the sole right to grant a divorce.

A reliable estimate of arranged marriages is difficult because the definition is inexact. But the Tahirih Justice Center, an advocacy group for immigrant women, reported that about 3,000 cases of “forced marriage” took place in the United States from 2009 through 2011.

Almost all of the 90 women whom Unchained at Last has helped had been pressured into marriage by their religious community: Orthodox Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Mormon, Unification Church. Most lived in the New York area, though one was in Arizona. The women’s nations of origin stretch through Africa, the Middle East and South Asia.

On a basic level, Unchained at Last provides legal services because most of the women’s cases involve divorce and child custody litigation, and some extend into immigration status and restraining orders against a violent spouse. Because the clients’ situations can be so catastrophic – forced at gunpoint to accept a marriage, raped by a husband, essentially imprisoned within the home as a domestic servant – Unchained at Last also provides mentoring, access to therapy and cash stipends for everything from basic clothing to English as a second language class.

Ms. Reiss’s earliest collaborator was Shehnaz Abdeljaber, a Rutgers classmate ofPalestinian Muslim ancestry. In their barrier-crossing friendship, the women discovered a common bond. Ms. Abdeljaber had been pushed by her parents into an engagement to a young man from her extended family whom she had never met. Though she managed to break off the engagement, the broader issue intrigued her.

“From the day I met Fraidy, I knew she was going to be part of my life,” Ms. Abdeljaber wrote in an email. “Little did I know that we weren’t going to be just friends. We became sisters, family and partners with her vision.”

In early 2011, Unchained at Last incorporated in New Jersey. Ms. Abdeljaber became the first president of the group’s board, which also included a Hindu woman, Kavitha Rajagopalan.

The annual budget back then came to barely $20,000, most of it from Ms. Reiss’s pocket. By now, Unchained at Last has a $3.4 million budget, with about $200,000 in donations from individuals and foundations and $3.2 million in free services from participating lawyers. In her own life, Ms. Reiss has become an atheist, and, after several years as a journalist, she became a private investigator.

Most clients find the group through word-of-mouth. At the outset, Ms. Reiss said, the organization struggled to find enough volunteer lawyers. Child-custody litigation is particularly difficult. Religious communities have been successful at times in turning out large numbers to paint Unchained’s client as an “unfit mother” because she has left the theological corral.

That has not deterred Ms. Reiss. Unchained at Last successfully lobbied in the New Jersey State Legislature last year for a law easing crime victims’ access to court records. This week, Ms. Reiss took part in an initial planning session held by the White House Council on Women and Girls to develop a national policy on forced marriage.

Even in its more sophisticated form, though, Unchained at Last has retained the personal touch of what the Rev. Henri Nouwen, writing about ministry, called the “wounded healer.” Ditty Weiss, for one, experienced it.

After 10 years in an abusive marriage, Ms. Weiss decided to risk leaving both her husband and their fervently Orthodox community. The only problem was that she had no idea who could help her. In a sort of desperate whim, Ms. Weiss sent an email to Deborah Feldman, the author of an acclaimed memoir, “Unorthodox,” about her rejection of the Satmar Hasidic sect in which she had grown up.

Ms. Feldman steered Ms. Weiss to Ms. Reiss, who soon lined up two volunteer lawyers from a prominent Manhattan firm. When Ms. Weiss needed cancer surgery, Ms. Reiss babysat for her children. And as Ms. Weiss underwent chemotherapy, Unchained at Last gave her money to hire an au pair and a buy a used car.

“I cannot even describe,” Ms. Weiss recalled, “what it’s like to have an angel sweep down and kiss you on the forehead and then hold your hand and tell you, ‘I’m not letting go until you’re O.K.’ “

The future map of religions reveals a world of change for Christians, Muslims and Jews

Muslims will overtake Christians by the end of this century.

India, now mostly Hindu, will become the world’s largest Muslim country.

The numbers of people with no religious identity will soar in the United States and Europe, but the unaffiliated will lose worldwide market share as Christians maintain a steady growth. All these changes are drawn from the Pew Research Center’s new projections, released Thursday, that map global faith traditions and how they’re likely to shift by 2050. The report says nothing about the transcendent message of any religion. It makes no claims about believers’ level of devotion or practice. Instead, it’s a story of nitty-gritty statistics: Which group is having babies (lots of babies or just a few)? Which ones have many young people, and which are slowly graying out? Whose followers are on the move — from one nation to another, or switching religions?


“Demographics are an underappreciated force that is shifting the contours of faith,” said Conrad Hackett, the Pew demographer who led the six-year study. Hackett analyzed projected changes for Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, folk religions, other minority religions and the unaffiliated.

Those contours matter. The Pew Research Center doesn’t delve into political forecasting, but readers of the report’s projections from 2010 to 2050 might feel a thumb press down on many sore spots and raise questions beyond the scope of Pew’s data:

  • Will prejudice against Muslims rise as the percentage of people in Europe who are Muslim climbs to 10.2 percent, up from today’s 5.9 percent? “The projected growth rate is only about 1 percentage point a decade,” Hackett said. “But it’s a very visible change: More people wearing veils, more behaving in culturally distinct ways.”
  • Who will assume the minority voice in the U.S. public square as Muslims outpace Jews as the country’s third-largest group, after Christians and the unaffiliated?
  • Will religious tensions flare as India becomes the world’s most populous Muslim nation, supplanting Indonesia? “The quality of interfaith relations in such a country (about to pass China as the world’s most populous) will be of global importance,” said Alan Cooperman, Pew’s director of religion research.
  • How will more secular regions such as Europe and the U.S. relate to deeply religious regions, such as sub-Saharan Africa, divided among Christians and Muslims?

“The question is: ‘How will we understand each other?’ ” Cooperman said. “Sub-Saharan Africa is 12 percent of the world population now, and it will be 20 percent by 2050. That’s huge growth for people to get their heads around.”

The report, sponsored by the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures project, offers many more head-spinning numbers and a religion-by-religion, region-by-region analysis of data from 198 countries and territories, representing nearly all the world’s population. “No one has done anything like this before, so we had no idea about the big picture,” Hackett said.


Among the major findings:

“As of 2010, Christianity was by far the world’s largest religion, with an estimated 2.2 billion adherents, nearly a third of the Earth’s 6.9 billion people. Islam came in second, with 1.6 billion adherents, or 23 percent of the global population.” Four in 10 of all the world’s Christians will live in sub-Saharan Africa by 2050.

While Christian numbers will continue to grow, Muslims, who are younger and have a higher birth rate, will outpace them. By 2050, “there will be near parity between Muslims (2.8 billion, or 30 percent of the population) and Christians (2.9 billion, or 31 percent), possibly for the first time in history.” Barring unforeseen events — war, famine, disease, political upheaval and more — Muslim numbers will surpass Christians after 2070.  Worldwide, the unaffiliated will fall from 16 percent to 13 percent. Christians, Muslims and Hindus live in areas with “bulging youth populations,” high birthrates and falling levels of infant morality, the report said. Even the global tally for Jews is expected to rise, based on the high birthrate of Orthodox Jews in Israel. Meanwhile, the unaffiliated are “heavily concentrated in places with low fertility and aging populations, such as Europe, North America, China and Japan,” the report said.  Nearly two-thirds of all the unaffiliated worldwide live in China, the research found. “If Chinese authorities allow greater freedom of religion, the share of unaffiliated in the world population could shrink even more dramatically than the report predicts,” said Ariela Keysar, associate director of the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture, who consulted on the project.


While religious switching has a significant impact in North America and Europe, in many countries, changing one’s religion is difficult — if not illegal. There’s no data on religious switching among China’s 1.3 billion people, with nearly 50 percent of them in the unaffiliated ranks, for example. But in the 70 countries where survey data was available, the report found that Buddhists and Jews are the primary losers on the switch-in/switch-out balance sheet, Hackett said. “In the USA, there are famous converts like Richard Gere, but there’s a lot of disaffiliation among those who grew up Buddhist.”


In the U.S., Christians will decline, from more than three-quarters of the population (78.3 percent) in 2010 to two-thirds (66.4 percent) in 2050. Religious “churn” — people leaving their childhood faith for a different faith or none at all — is the primary driver of change. The Muslim share of the U.S. population is projected to climb to 2.1 percent, up from less than 1 percent today. Jews will fall from 1.8 percent to 1.4 percent. In 2010, there were 159 countries with a Christian majority, but that will fall by eight countries, including France, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. By 2050, Muslims will hold the majority in 51 countries, up by two from 2010, including Nigeria, which just elected a Muslim president, and the Republic of Macedonia.


“In many ways the value of projects like this is not to say what the world will look like in 2050. The world could change,” said Cooperman. “But they tell us about the world today and the recent path. Peering into the future greatly illuminates what is happening today and its consequences.”

Five Women Five Journeys: How Different Are We?
 WISDOM Women together

This unique WISDOM program features personal stories of women of different faith traditions – how their childhood impacted their beliefs today, what the challenges are for women in their faith tradition, what parts of their religion are misunderstood, how reaching out to someone from a different faith has enriched their lives.
To inquire about a Five Women Five Journeys Program for your organization, contact Paula Drewek at Drewekpau@aol.com .

Check out the latest story about a friendship that crosses religion, race, or ethnic boundaries at www.friendshipandfaith.com.

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.


WISDOM is a Non-Profit Organization. Get involved with WISDOM!

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