Calendar for WISDOM and Other Interfaith Events
Exploring our Religious Landscapes
August through November
See Flyer Below
Kirk in the Hills Fall Seminar Series
October 7th through October 9th
Featuring Amy-Jill Levine, guest lecturer.
Friday, October 7th – Keys Lecture and Dinner 6:30 – 8:00 PM at Kirk in the Hills “How Jews and Christians Read Scriptures Differently”
Saturday October 8th at Congregation Shir Tikvah in Troy, 10:00 – 11:30 AM. Special sermon and service.
Saturday, October 8th 2:00 – 5:00 PM at Kirk in the Hills
Sunday, October 9th 10:00 AM – 1:00 PM Jesus in his Jewish Context at Kirk in the Hills
See Flyers below!!
Sunday, October 23 12:30 PM – 2:45 PM
Five Women Five Journeys
at First Presbyterian Church of Royal Oak
529 Hendrie Blvd, Royal Oak, MI 48067
Contact Maryann Schlie
Wednesday, October 26, 7:00 PM – 9:00 PM
Five Women Five Journeys
At St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church
5500 N. Adams Rd., Troy, MI 48098
Contact Paula Drewek for more information
Sunday, November 6th 4:00 PM
Jewish Community Center Book Fair
Till We Have Built Jerusalem:
Architects of a New City
By Adina Hoffman
See flyer below!
Sunday, November 20th 2:00 – 5:00 PM
Visit to the Holocaust Memorial Center
See information below
Beginning October 31st – December 14th
Multi-Religious Conflict Transformation Training
See flyer below
Holocaust Memorial Center Tour
Please join WISDOM on Sunday, November 20 for a docent led tour of the Holocaust Memorial Center.
Join us at 2pm or a little earlier for registration
and a brief look at the special exhibit
“Holocaust by Bullets” from Father Patrick Debois.
At 2:30, we will hear the testimony of a survivor of the Holocaust who lives in our community.
They are an aging population and their history makes us a witness to the act of genocide perpetrated by the Nazis and their collaborators.
After the survivor speaks,
we will take a docent led tour through the museum.
Join us after the tour,
for dinner next door
at the Chinese restaurant Hung Hua.
Email Sheri for further information.
Cost for touring the museum at the group rate is $6.
Holocaust Memorial Center
28123 Orchard Lake Road
Farmington Hills, MI 48334
(just north of 12 Mile Road on the
West side of Orchard Lake Road)
The Who What and Why of WISDOM
Part Three by Padma Kuppa
From Left to Right
Gigi Salka, Trish Harris, Rev. Mimi Biedron, Padma Kuppa
As explained in previous newsletter, three of us from WISDOM – a Catholic, a Hindu and a Muslim – came together with the NACCC organizers to present about this interfaith women’s organization here in Metro-Detroit. I, Padma Kuppa, of the Hindu faith, took the role of speaking to the reason why I continue to serve on WISDOM’s Advisory Board, amidst my often over-extended civic commitments. A Board member of both the Hindu American Foundation
, a national civil and human rights advocacy organization promoting pluralism and mutual understanding, and the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion
, a regional social justice organization building relationship and seeking equal opportunity for all, WISDOM gives me the space to explain why I do what I do and encourage others to do the same. Promoting pluralism is rooted in my understanding of being Hindu – a foundational concept of Hinduism explained byEkam Sat, Vipraha Bahuda Vadanti – as is working for social justice, built on the central pillar of a Hindu’s life: the concept of dharma.
WISDOM was especially important in the interfaith landscape here in Michigan, which I entered over a decade ago. The standard interfaith panel usually consisted of a Christian, a Jew and a Muslim – like the standard punchline about a priest, a rabbi and an imam. However, WISDOM was a space where one didn’t have to be part of the Abrahamic “Big Three” – what someone in the metro Detroit interfaith community called it a few years ago. Neither was it dominated by male faith leadership, or “people of the cloth” – it was lay leaders, women of deep faith, who were open to deep friendship and listening, an essential component of dialogue. The who and what of WISDOM was followed by the why, with a call to action: to engage the religious diversity of our region, our country and our planet. The third and final part of WISDOM’s presentation speaks of something that anyone interested in living out the American dream of religious freedom could take up – but specifically those among the audience at the NACCC conference themed “Who is your Neighbor?”
Padma Kuppa on the Why of WISDOM: Deepening Wisdom in Challenging Times
So my story of why I came to WISDOM might explain the why of interfaith – why is it important to engage the diversity we live amidst. I grew up in the suburbs of NY before the internet, before social media, before our religious landscape in America became as multi-faith as it is now. After the 1965 changes to immigration law, United States has become home to many immigrants and refugees from all over the world. Today, we are constantly coming into contact, both virtually and in person, with people who are different from us. You will find a mosque, a mandir or a gurudwara in most metro areas where immigrants have settled.
In fact, one of the reasons I moved to Troy was because there was a Hindu temple there. Troy is a microcosm of the world, with 28% pf our residents born in another country, more than 80 languages spoken in the homes of students in the Troy School District, and home to a synagogue, and one of Michigan’s largest and oldest Hindu temples. I was always involved in something, so when I came to Troy, I volunteered in the temple, the school, and the city. I was part of a city of Troy Board when I met with exclusion from a city sponsored religious event because I was a Hindu. Because I was not included in this event, I found ways to connect with others in my community and the Troy-area Interfaith Group
was formed to “Gather, Give and Grow.” The WISDOM book, Friendship and Faith
, has that story, so I won’t spill the beans here.
In 2006, I was invited to be part of the Interfaith Partners, a loosely knit interfaith arm of the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion, because there was no other Hindu at the table – in fact there was no one outside an Abrahamic faith. I, a typical suburban mini-van mom, felt somewhat out of place there: it was mostly men who were about 15-20 years older than me – Christian priests, ministers and pastors, imams, rabbis. During the group’s quarterly meetings, a few Jewish women befriended me and I plodded on, trying to explain misconceptions about Hinduism and breakdown stereotypes they had of Hindus. And then one of them, [WISDOM co-founder] Gail Katz invited me in mid 2007 to be part of this new women’s organization that she had started with a few friends, called WISDOM. My first meeting was to review the 501(c)3 paperwork with the WISDOM Board members – and if you’ve done that before, gone through the minutiae of non-profit paperwork, you can really understand how the foundation was laid for what would become a strong friendship amongst a VERY diverse group of women.
We are not just from different religious paths, we are in different stages of our lives, different ethnic, social and economic backgrounds and so on. A daughter of holocaust survivors, an immigrant, a daughter of immigrants, a lawyer, a real estate agent, social worker, a teacher, a homemaker. But we had a common purpose, we had the interest in not isolating the Other, and we wanted to practice pluralism – critical need in our current political climate.
So, what is pluralism? Prof Diana Eck of Harvard University, who started the Pluralism Project 25 years ago, defines pluralism as follows.
First, pluralism is not diversity alone, but the energetic engagement with diversity. Diversity can and has meant the creation of religious ghettoes with little traffic between or among them. Today, religious diversity is a given, but pluralism is not a given; it is an achievement. Mere diversity without real encounter and relationship will yield increasing tensions in our societies.
Second, pluralism is not just tolerance, but the active seeking of understanding across lines of difference. Tolerance is a necessary public virtue, but it does not require Christians and Muslims, Hindus, Jews, and ardent secularists to know anything about one another. Tolerance is too thin a foundation for a world of religious difference and proximity. It does nothing to remove our ignorance of one another, and leaves in place the stereotype, the half-truth, the fears that underlie old patterns of division and violence. In the world in which we live today, our ignorance of one another will be increasingly costly.
Third, pluralism is not relativism, but the encounter of commitments. The new paradigm of pluralism does not require us to leave our identities and our commitments behind, for pluralism is the encounter of commitments. It means holding our deepest differences, even our religious differences, not in isolation, but in relationship to one another.
Fourth, pluralism is based on dialogue. The language of pluralism is that of dialogue and encounter, give and take, criticism and self-criticism. Dialogue means both speaking and listening, and that process reveals both common understandings and real differences. Dialogue does not mean everyone at the “table” will agree with one another. Pluralism involves the commitment to being at the table – with one’s commitments.
WISDOM has survived and succeeded because we model pluralism in our friendship with each other. We have heard each other as we share our stories at the 5 Women 5 Journeys programs, as fellow panelists and fellow-bridge builders. Answering the questions when I participate in a 5W5J panel often helps me to clarify my own faith practices, or has me seeking “what does my tradition say” when I hear someone else’s answer. I’ve had conversations with both Christian and Muslim WISDOM sisters, on conversion – a touchy topic with many members of the Hindu, Sikh and Jain community for whom actively sharing their faith is not a pillar of their practice. I’ve heard from a Muslims sister about her fears for her children because of Islamophobia, and the challenges faced over decades, from an LGBT friend who was finally able to get married to her partner.
I’ve been honored as WISDOM sisters celebrated along with me, when four cities in MI first issued Diwali proclamations in 2013, to honor this “Festival of Lights,” important to over a billion Hindus, Jains and Sikhs around the world. They also learned why my Christmas lights go up a month or so early – for the no-moon night of Diwali. I’ve invited WISDOM sisters to come to my home during the Hindu festival of Sankranti. The celebration of this holiday involves a mother and her daughter setting up steps with different dolls and religious icons that one collects over the years and inviting other women and girls to come see. Rehana, one of my WISDOM sisters, an immigrant from Pakistan, on seeing the things that were on display, later brought me bride and groom figurines from the South Asian Muslim tradition which are now included in this Hindu household’s annual display. While we WISDOM sisters focus on building friendship across multiple ethnicities and faiths at the local level, my interactions with them help shape my understanding and advocacy on the national stage, as a Board member of the Hindu American Foundation, which seeks to build mutual understanding and promote pluralism. You will find in your conference materials links and resources that encourage this as well: a frequently asked questions booklet about Hinduism, a book about Ramadan by an interfaith partner, Najah Bazzy, who helped arrange a visit for conference attendees to the largest mosque in the US, right here in Dearborn. There is a panel on Tuesday on how Christians can engage in pluralism in a multi-faith world, how you can know who is your neighbor.
When the three of us got together to discuss this presentation, Trish reminded me of something I said early in our WISDOM years ago, It’s my quote from the book that still holds true: When we are our best as people, we are able to see our communities and our world as a loving family. Interfaith interactions with my WISDOM sisters are part of making me a better person. That’s why WISDOM, that’s why interfaith.
Victory! Diwali Honored by New USPS Stamp
Article written by the Hindu American Foundation
Washington DC (8/23/2016) – Today we’re celebrating! The United States Postal Service (USPS) just announced that it would issue a Diwali stamp
for 2016. The Forever stamp will be released on October 5, 2016, twenty five days ahead of the Hindu holiday. Advocacy efforts over the past year by HAF, Indiaspora
and other community organizations, and community members were instrumental in USPS creating a Diwali stamp.
Year-long Advocacy Campaign Shows Strength of Community
Prompted by a letter co-led by HAF
, more than 100 community organizations petitioned the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee. This was followed by an advocacy day organized by HAF and a community hosted Congressional Diwali celebration
at the Library of Congress. In turn, this galvanized support from members of the House and Senate for bipartisan resolutions in their respective chambers in honor of a long standing community request for an official Diwali stamp.
Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), in particular, championed this cause for many years. Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and John Cornyn (R-TX) and House members Joe Crowley (D-NY), Ed Royce (R-CA) Ami Bera (D-CA), and George Holding (R-NC), all past or present co-chairs of their chamber’s India Caucuses, also led significant campaigns to assure Congressional support for this measure. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), the only Hindu member of Congress, led the most recent write in campaign to the USPS with hundreds of signatories.
“HAF is proud to have been a part of what truly was a grassroots community effort,” said Suhag A. Shukla, Esq., HAF Executive Director and Legal Counsel. “The issuance of the Diwali stamp symbolizes several important things: it displays the strength of the Hindu American community when we unite behind a cause; it celebrates the contributions of our community to America; and most importantly, it acknowledges the strength our country draws from its diversity. This year and for many more, diyas and spirits will shine brighter, as will greetings cards and gift packages sent donning the Diwali stamp.”
Caught in Conversation is the brainchild, or maybe I should say heartchild, of Mary Gilhuly. Because I don’t know that the brain could come up with, and keep advocating five years for, a gathering of Jews, Christians and Muslims to come together for dinner and conversation. The brain would serve up a heap of reasons not to – it could get heated; who would show up?; why bother? where ?
I’m one of Mary’s tiling volunteers at Song and Spirit
. For the purposes of this post however, Mary was the force behind this week’s Caught in Conversation held at the Muslim Unity Center here in Bloomfield Township. Over one hundred people signed up.
Envision the setting – twenty tables covered with white cloths, each one set for six. I know, it sounds like the set up for a joke – two Christians, two Muslims and two Jews show up for dinner conversation. We began with blessings led in turn by Hazzan Steve Klaper
, Imam Elturk of IONA
and finally Brother Al Mascia
. Whispers in Hebrew, Arabic and English rolled through the room, three quiet waves of gratitude for the meal before us.
I was a bit trepidatious. How would I, a pro-Zionist Jew feel in a Muslim community center? Would the conversations be stilted? How was this really going to work? The most contact I’ve had with women wearing a hijab has been a casual wave around town. But I believe in the power of conversation; how could I miss this?
Over felafel sandwiches, chicken rollups, and salad we introduced ourselves. At our table was a Catholic man who serves on Song & Spirit’s Board of Directors; a young man who is making his initial vows to become a Franciscan friar; two Muslim women, one a doctor, the other an attorney; a Jewish woman I know from tiles and me. It was an evening of learning; a night of uncovering similarities; a meal over which assumptions were set right and customs were shared.
The doctor at our table recalled her surprise upon realizing the parallels between Muslim and Jewish burial customs. The board member assumed that rabbis, like Catholic priests, do not marry or have families. Not true, but without an evening like this, how might he have ever known? The young man beside me, a postulant in the Franciscan order, told of us his plans to become a friar – pursuing a divinity degree, taking vows of poverty and celibacy. It was quite moving hear a young person filled with such dedication to his faith eagerly on a path so different from that of his peers. Adjacent to our table, six mothers discussed the challenges of keeping their teens connected to church, mosque and synagogue.
The six of us discussed Original Sin and how something that is expunged by baptism in the Catholic faith doesn’t exist for Jews or Muslims. We learned of a moving Muslim birth custom – whispering the call to prayer into the ear of a newborn so that the first words the infant hears are sweet words of tradition and not the whisperings of any evil spirits that might be hovering near by. It made me wish that I had whispered the Shema to Elliot and Emma at their moments of birth.
Granted, we were a self-selected group open to learning and new experiences. The night’s purpose wasn’t to solve global crises, but to engage in positive religious dialogues that the world beyond our dinner tables rarely notices or envisions. I think we all felt a sense of safety from the pundits and politics. The briquets of today’s rhetoric-soaked sound bites fuel little that brings harmony within or without. Our goal was to lay down a few hefty logs of community and kindle them with hope and conversation, not ignoring our religious traditions but because of them. I wondered if such a gathering could happen anywhere else in the world but America. Likely in Israel. And Canada. But France? Lebanon? Egypt? Last night was about being ourselves and bringing ourselves to the table precisely because we are Americans of different religions.
As I was leaving, one of the women from the Center called out to me that she hoped we would do this again. I said I hoped so. In Sh’Allah, she said. I nodded, which prompted her to ask if I knew what it meant. “Of course,” I replied. “It means Baruch HaShem. May it be God’s will.”
I’m not so Pollyanna-ish to think that an evening’s program will change the world. But you have to start somewhere and a civil, engaging and heartfelt conversation is a pretty good place to start.
What Can You Do to Broaden Your Worldview?
Have Dinner with Your Muslim Neighbor
With Courageousness and Humility, Amanda Saab and Her Husband Are Changing the Conversation About Islam
Everything you probably think about me is false,” says Amanda Saab, when asked what she’d most like to tell the public. The Renton social worker, MasterChef contestant, and food blogger sees the stares she gets on the street and hears from haters through social media. Rather than having people fixate on her hijab and imagine what Islam means to her, she wants them to ask her about it. So Saab created a safe, inviting space for people to do just that: Dinner with Your Muslim Neighbor. When Saab and her husband, Hussein, moved to Seattle almost five years ago, she brought a Midwestern accent full of flat vowels and a naïveté about being Muslim in the Northwest. Growing up in diverse Dearborn, Michigan, where her extended family of more than 50 people still gathers every weekend, Saab hadn’t thought about what wearing a head scarf in Seattle would be like. Her first reaction was surprise: “Whoa, there are a lot of white people here.” She felt she stood out-and not in a good way. She could sense the stares fixated on her hijab as she walked down the street. “I felt so ‘other-ized’!”
But Saab got into social work for a reason: She likes to figure out how to fix things. One night, watching Donald Trump spew vitriol from the television, she felt a wave of emotion. She asked herself what she was doing, why was she just sitting there, letting it happen, when she could do something. So she and Hussein hatched the idea of Dinner with Your Muslim Neighbor and started planning right away, beginning by putting out an invitation to Saab’s nearly 9,000 Facebook followers. More than 200 people responded. They were on to something. For many people, this method of invitation might yield only people who already know about you and your faith, but Saab’s food blog and MasterChef appearance brought in a diverse group. Like so many others, Saab began her food blog, Amanda’s Plate, as a hobby to take her mind off work and share her recipes with friends. Less than a year into it, on a whim, she tried out for MasterChef. Through the 10-plus rounds of auditions, she thought little of her head scarf: To her, it’s a part of her everyday outfit. Now, looking back at the questions the producers asked, she admits it might have been part of their motivation in bringing her on. But to her, it was all about the cooking-at least until the show aired.
“I didn’t realize how impactful it would be for a Muslim woman who wears the hijab to just do what she loves.” As soon as it aired, she started to receive excited e-mails and calls for interviews-as well as the inevitable negative comments. “Let’s hope her hijab doesn’t light on fire,” one woman tweeted sarcastically while Saab cooked, before implying that, also, if it did, we should be concerned about “her intentions.”
Those “intentions” that so many Americans assume of Muslims are part of why the Saabs began the dinners. At a recent one, a Maple Valley woman who had heard about the meal after her pastor had attended one, asked how she should respond to her neighbor who told her: “Be very careful. If you say the wrong thing, you’ll go on a hit list.”
Much fear comes from ignorance, Hussein responded. And it’s true: Sitting in the sunny cabana of the Saabs’ Renton housing complex, eating a refreshingly parsley-heavy tabbouleh salad, tender chicken sandwiches, and a fig cake with goat-cheese icing that was both more beautiful and better-tasting than anything any bakery in town sells, it was hard to imagine someone capable of accusing the Saabs of malicious thoughts.
He suggested that the woman ask the neighbor if she’s met a Muslim and to talk about the many facets of Islam. He offered resources for online information, like IslamFactCheck.org
. Another participant expanded the question by asking how people can best be an ally. Hussein encouraged everyone to challenge assumptions, which led into the Saabs telling their stories of how they came to Islam-incidentally, by asking questions and challenging assumptions.
Growing up in a fairly lax Muslim family, most of the women in Amanda Saab’s life-her mother, sisters, and cousins-didn’t wear a hijab. After exploring her faith by attending church with her Catholic best friend, talking to a Buddhist classmate, and asking questions about what Islam was, Saab made the decision at 16 to wear it. Like any parents whose teenager makes a big decision, Saab’s parents were concerned but allowed her to make her own choice. It wasn’t an uncommon sight at her school, though her Spanish teacher thought she was a new student and a friend exclaimed, “But you had such great hair.” (I still have great hair, Saab reminded her.)
Her husband’s story is similar. “We found our faith; we didn’t inherit it,” he explains.
Saab admits that one of the most nerve-racking parts of running these dinners is that she and her husband aren’t experts in Islam, just practicing Muslims. But that’s some of what makes the pair so approachable: They come armed with relatable facts (did you know Jesus is mentioned in the Koran more than the prophet Muhammad?), but mostly they talk about their own experience rather than scholarly interpretations. Hussein is quick to tell the story of how they met (through mutual friends at a youth camp) and dispel any thoughts a diner might have about arranged marriages. Saab focuses on her feminism, especially in regard to the hijab.
“This is my feminist statement,” Saab told the group, explaining her decision to reject Western beauty standards. Instead, she chooses to wear the symbol of her religion, which, she points out, has the second highest level of education for women in the United States. “I think women in America are oppressed,” she continued, talking about inequality in pay and the current legislative battles over reproductive rights.
But it’s a statement she wishes she didn’t always have to make: “I don’t want to be the token Muslim woman.” One participant at the dinner suggested that it shouldn’t be the duty of the oppressed to educate the oppressors, but Saab dismissed that, explaining that it is one of the pillars of Islam to stand up for all people and to advocate for any marginalized people. For her, that’s why she does the dinners, supports the Black Lives Matter movement, and feels strongly about equality for LGBTQ people.
For all the success her dinner series has had, her next challenge is how to make this into a model for anyone to replicate. She directs hopeful hosts toward her website (amandasplate.com
), where she’s posted tips on creating your own dinner with your Muslim neighbor, and she will be partnering with Michael Hebb of Death Over Dinner to create a repeatable model.
The most important thing, Saab says, is to be okay with feeling vulnerable. In order to build relationships and create community, to try to educate away some of the hate in America, she has had to allow herself to be exposed: by wearing a hijab on television, by cooking for a room full of strangers, by answering every question. And so, she has one final piece of advice for everyone, for Muslims in America and for those who make assumptions about them: “It’s okay to be challenged.”