WISDOM Newsletter – September 2013

Written by WISDOM on . Posted in Newsletters


Calendar for WISDOM and Other Interfaith Events


Sunday, September 8th


Acts of Kindness (AOK Detroit) coming to Alternatives For Girls organization

903 West Grand Blvd., in Southwest Detroit

Registration begins at noon.  Projects are from 1:00 PM – 4:00 PM

Go to  http://bit.ly/A-OK2013  to register!

See article below about AOK!

See article below for more information


Sunday, September 22

3:00 PM

Five Women Five Journeys

St. Paul’s Lutheran and Peace Coalition in Alpena, Michigan at the Alpena County Library Conference Room.

For further information contact Janice Boboltz,



Thursday, October 3rd


Face to Faith event for High School Teens – focus on Catholicism at the Manresa Jesuit Retreat house, Bloomfield Hills

6:00 – 9:00 PM

Contact Gail Katz for more information at gailkatz@comcast.net

Sunday, October 6th


Final Goodbyes: Death, Dying and Mourning Across the Faith Traditions

3:30PM to 6:00 PM

St. John’s Episcopal Church, 26998 Woodward Ave. in Royal Oak

We will have Jewish, Muslim, African American Baptist, Sikh, and Native American panelists

Contact Gail Katz for more information, gailkatz@comcast.net and to register!!

$8.00 admission charge can be sent to the Interfaith Leadership Council at 10821 Capital St., Oak Park, MI 48237

or you can pay through paypal on the IFLC website: http://www.detroitinterfaithcouncil.com

Click on the events button on the right side of the webpage –  a form will come up for registration and the paypal button

will be on the bottom of the page

See Flyer below!


Monday, October 7th


7:00 PM

Five Women Five Journeys, Troy Area Interfaith Group

Northminster Presbyterian Church

3633 Big Beaver Rd., Troy, MI 48084

For further info:  troy.interfaith@gmail.com

Monday, October 21

7:00 PM

WISDOM sponsors the one hour documentary on Michigan Native Americans entitled, “Our Fires Still Burn: The Native American Experience.”  Guest speaker is producer Audrey Geyer.

Birmingham Community House, 380 S. Bates, Birmingham, MI 48009


Wednesday, October 23


National Council of Jewish Women, Greater Detroit Section honors Gail Katz for her work with WISDOM.  See flyer below!!

Tuesday, October 29


7:00 PM

Five Women Five Journeys

Congregation Bnai Moshe, 6800 Drake Rd. W. Bloomfield. Contact is “Anne Rottman” annerottman@gmail.com

Thursday, November 7th

6:00 PM to 9:00 PM

Face to Faith event for High School Teens

at the Bharatiya (Hindu) Temple in Troy.

Discussion about Diwali.  Contact Gail Katz, gailkatz@comcast.net

for more information
















(380 S. Bates St. Birmingham)


Join Audrey Geyer, independent video producer, as she talks about the stories featured in this documentary about Native Americans in the Midwest, their past trauma and how they are initiating social change.


There is no charge, but please register

By sending an email to Sheri Schiff



               ACTS OF KINDNESS (A-OK) DETROIT                              A Weekend of Remembrance and RenewalComing Again to Detroit on September 8, 2013

                        By Gail Katz


As the President and Co-Founder of WISDOM (Women’s Interfaith Solutions for Dialogue and Outreach in MetroDetroit) and the Education Co-Chair of the InterFaith Leadership Council, I would like to reflect on this most incredible weekend that we called Acts of Kindness (A-OK) Detroit that is held on the Sunday closest to 9/11 in September. Acts of Kindness, a national community service weekend initiative that has been taking place in cities around the country, has been held here locally in Southwest Detroit and Dearborn. This initiative pulled organizations from across Metro Detroit to engage volunteers in a variety of community service events, helped us to remember what happened on 9/11/2001 and, in so remembering, gave us the vision to work toward the renewal of our own needy community.

The Acts of Kindness mission is to transform 9/11 from a day of mourning into a day for people to come together to work side by side to make their community a better place to live, a day to learn about each other’s interests, families, faith traditions, and a day in which we can find our commonality as human beings in order to reduce myths and stereotypes about the “other,” and increase respect and understanding.


I heard about this Acts of Kindness initiative from my interfaith sisters in Syracuse, New York. Women Transcending Boundaries (www.WTB.org), and I decided to spread the word about their plans for A-OK, and their enthusiasm lit a fire in my soul. I announced this idea to the Education Committee of the InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit, and it wasn’t long before we were connected with WISDOM, the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS), City Year, the Michigan Muslim Community Council, University of Michigan-Dearborn, FOCUS: Hope, Henry Ford Community College, Welcoming Michigan, First Congregational Church of Royal Oak, and J-Serve, as our main partners.  What was accomplished by working with such a dedicated committee – a very diverse committee made up of young and not so young – Muslims, Christians and Jews – men and women, retirees and employees – Black folks and White folks – was all of us plowing ahead to make A-OK Detroit a meaningful happening.


In the past we have deployed folks to sites in Detroit to mulch and weed, plant flowers, trim bushes, board up decaying buildings, pick up garbage, paint over graffiti, clean up playgrounds for children, and partner with Kids Against Hunger (who would distribute our packaged food to the hungry in Detroit as well as in Africa) and Care-A-Van, who would distribute our packages of non-perishable food in paper bags (which were decorated) to the homeless in Detroit!


We have made a difference in Detroit, but we must continue to bring our diverse population together to help our city!! We must maintain our relationships and move forward to break down our cultural and religious segregation. Diana Eck, Director of the Pluralism Project at Harvard University has stated “Diversity is a fact. Pluralism is an accomplishment!!” The A-OK committee is working to do just that – transform our diversity into pluralism by getting different people together to talk, break bread together, do community service together, and find out what we all have in common, to INTERACT!!


Here’s to a great weekend, to a great A-OK Committee, to great volunteers, and to a continuation of Acts of Kindness in cities all over our great country, and here in Detroit in the years to come!!


AOK Detroit will continue this fall on Sunday, September 8th at the Alternatives For Girls site in Southwest Detroit, 903 West Grand Blvd., Detroit 48208. Both outdoor projects and indoor projects!


Register at http://bit.ly/A-OK2013


 The Interfaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit




(Co-sponsored by WISDOM, Women’s Interfaith Solutions

For Dialogue and Outreach in MetroDetroit)


An interfaith panel will include:


Jewish – David Techner, Ira Kaufman Chapel, Southfield

Muslim – Imam Abdullah El-Amin, Detroit Muslim Center

Christian – Rev. Sandra K. Gordon, Greater New Mt. Moriah, Detroit

Sikh – Raman Singh from the Gurdwara Sahib Hidden Falls, Plymouth

Native American – Kay Givens McGowan, Choctaw-Cherokee heritage


Sunday, October 6     3:30 – 6:00 PM

St. John’s Episcopal Church

26998 Woodward Ave., Royal Oak, MI 48067

(corner of Woodward & 11 Mile Rd.)


$8.00 checks can be sent to the Interfaith Leadership Council at 10821 Capital St., Oak Park, MI 48237 or you can pay through paypal on the IFLC website – www.detroitinterfaithcouncil.com Click on the events button on the right side of the webpage – a form will come up for registration and the paypal button will be on the bottom of the page! Questions? Contact the Rev. Bob Hart at 248-546-1255


You can also pay at the door!! Light refreshments will be served! This discussion is the second part of a series about life cycle events across faith traditions.

The Song and Spirit Institute for Peace in Berkley

 is hosting a

Concert in Celebration

of the Spirit of Assisi

Sunday, October 6, 2013 at 1:30 p.m.

Our Lady of La Salette Church

2600 Harvard Road, Berkley

Musical Guests:

Song & Spirit, with
Brother Al Mascia, OFM
& Maggid Steve Klaper

Johnny Kash

Elizabeth Mahalo-Esqueda

Andy Langlands

Martin Ziporski
Singer and instrumentalist

Cost: $10

All proceeds benefit the Song and Spirit Institute for Peace

Song and Spirit promotes greater understanding among people of diverse religious, cultural and ethnic backgrounds through music, art, cultural programs, dialogue, study and compassionate acts of community service. The Song and Spirit Institute for Peace offers programming focused on faith-in-action and adult faith formation and is committed to fostering better understanding and appreciation of diverse faith traditions among our neighbors, the larger community and throughout the world.


Wednesday, August 21st was the day that WISDOM partnered with Greater New Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in Detroit to stuff backpacks for the needy children, whose families attend the church .  WISDOM members Paula Drewek, Trish Harris, Sheri Schiff, Gigi Salka and Rev. Sandra Gordon, also a minister in this church, collaborated with 7 women from the church, all members of the Ruth Circle. Greater New Mount Moriah has about 10 of these circles in their Mission Division.  Each circle has 6 to 20 women with similar interests and/or of similar age, and they do volunteer projects – helping out their fellow church members in need. The backpacks will be given to the children in the church after services are over on September 8th!!



                   A Chorus Line, Arab-Jewish style
Performing an original, trilingual musical production, Muslim and Jewish teenagers from the Haifa area imparted the message — locally and in European countries — that “through direct experience of one another on an equal basis, we can overturn traditional fears and stereotypes and live in peace together.”
 Step By Step, Sauwa Sauwa is loosely based on A Chorus Line, giving glimpses into the lives of youthful performers auditioning for a musical starring Arab and Jewish teens. Each candidate walks to the front of the stage to answer questions about his or her aspirations, dreams and national identity. The play opened the 2012 Haifa Young Artists Festival in March, and was performed in Zurich and in London in April before premiering back home in Haifa on June 13. The teen troupe toured Germany in December 2012, winning praise and a monetary prize from Chancellor Angela Merkel. Foreign subtitles were electronically displayed on large screens along with images to enhance the characters’ personal stories. The mixed cast has performed so far in London as well as in Zurich.
Israeli director Yuval Ben Yehuda filmed a documentary about the making of the show, intended for use in schools, discussion groups and special events in Israel and abroad. The documentary was shown at an international youth conference in LA and at private screenings.
“Step by Step was inspired by Friends Forever: World Peace Grown Locally, a Rotary-supported project started many years ago for conflict resolution in Northern Ireland,” explains Carol Brauner, past director of international relations at Haifa’s Leo Baeck Education Center, a progressive campus covering pre-K through high school. “It was so successful in bringing Catholic and Protestant youth together that Rotary decided to see if it could have a similar impact on Muslim and Jewish Israeli youth, and in the summer of 2011 Leo Baeck was invited to participate.”


New Shoah Book Is Hit Among Non-Jewish Iranians

The first-ever Farsi-language history book about the Holocaust comes out just as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad leaves office

                                                      By Karmel Melamed


Dr. Ari Babaknia, an Iranian Jewish doctor based in Southern California, spent 15 years working on what some viewed as a quixotic project: the first-ever history book about the Holocaust in Farsi. But now the four-volume work-which details the facts of the Holocaust from the rise of Nazism in Germany to the final days of World War II and eventually chronicles the other genocides of the 20th century that occurred in Armenia, Bosnia, Cambodia, Rwanda, and Sudan-is becoming a hit among the very audience Babaknia intended to reach: Iranian Muslims.

“There are about 120 million-plus people in the world who speak Farsi, but there has never been a book written in their mother language about the Holocaust,” said Babaknia, an obstetrician-gynecologist by profession who said he wrote the first draft of the work by hand.

Priced at $200 each, more than 2,000 copies have been sold-the vast majority within the United States, according to booksellers, Babaknia said, and online to non-Jewish Farsi readers. He has been invited to speak at more than a dozen Iranian mosques and Iranian Muslim community organizations across the United States. In addition, he has been interviewed by countless Farsi-language radio and satellite TV news outlets based in the Los Angeles area that broadcast worldwide. He has also spoken to Jewish groups and garnered the attention of a wide variety of press.

It is perhaps fitting that Babaknia’s book should appear at the end of the term of office of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who earned himself worldwide notoriety by repeatedly denying the Holocaust and hosting several Holocaust-denial conferences featuring known neo-Nazis and Holocaust revisionists. As a result of Ahmadinejad’s statements about the Holocaust, Babaknia said his friends who travel to Iran frequently have informed him that his book has been very popular among average Iranians who bought the book through a Swedish book distributor.

“What Dr. Babaknia has done with this book is no easy task and nothing short of remarkable,” said Massoud Sadr, an Iranian Muslim TV host of the Farsi-language Pars TV program based in Southern California. “He has chronicled every detail of the Holocaust in Farsi with such accuracy and raw emotion that the reader truly obtains a real sense of this human calamity.”

Iranian-Americans of the Muslim, Baha’I, and Christian faiths said the history of the Holocaust written in Farsi by Babaknia resonated with them, especially since many of them have encountered suffering at the hands of Iran’s current radical Islamic regime over the years.

“I believe Iranians living in the U.S. sympathize with the story of the Jews and others who were ‘undesirables’ by the Nazis,” said Ali Massoudi, a 77-year-old Iranian Muslim journalist and former Farsi-language TV show host living in Irvine, Calif. “These Iranians fled their homes in Iran more than three decades ago and experienced similar executions, tortures, and imprisonments at the hands of Iran’s current regime.” Babaknia added that non-Jewish Iranians have welcomed him and his book because he has not presented the Holocaust as a tragedy only for the Jewish people, but rather a tragedy for all mankind.

“Jews were the victims Holocaust, but I don’t believe it was exclusively a Jewish thing, and I do not think it belongs to the Jewish people-it belongs to all humanity, it was the death and failure of Western civilization and democracy,” he said. “If you present the Holocaust as a tragedy for all of mankind, people tend to drop their guard and are able to better understand or relate to this massive tragedy.”

Ironically, one group that has decidedly not embraced Babakina’s Holocaust education project is Iranian Jews. Despite the praise and interest Babaknia has received from non-Jewish Iranians, the leadership of Southern California’s 40,000-strong Iranian Jewish community has not been as receptive. He’s upset they have not invited him to their events and engaged in the same type of community dialogues and education about the Shoah that Muslims and other non-Jewish Iranians have done.

“I am baffled and disappointed at the lack of interest from Iranian Jews about the Holocaust,” Babaknia said. “I am sick and tired of hearing people in the community saying that they don’t want to get sad from reading this book-it’s a story about more than a million children being killed. You’re supposed to get sad! And what I said is, ‘Shame on those Iranian Jews who don’t want to know about Auschwitz and what happened to their brothers and sisters at the hands of the Nazis.’ ”

Leaders at Southern California’s Iranian Jewish Federation and Beverly Hills-based Iranian Jewish Nessah Synagogue did not return calls for comment on Babaknia’s book. But individual Iranian Jewish activists praised his efforts to educate all Iranians about the Holocaust.

“For Farsi-speaking Jews, it is a must for them to connect and learn more intimately and closely about how our fellow Jews perished during the Holocaust,” said Dariush Fakheri, a Los Angeles-based Iranian Jewish activist. “Dr. Babaknia has unselfishly and honestly presented this unique and vital opportunity to all Farsi-speaking communities, and his book encourages us to deal with the biggest human failure in the face of evil.”

Proceeds from the sale of book will go directly to Babaknia’s newly formed Memorah Foundation, a nonprofit organization that is geared toward educating Farsi speakers worldwide about the Holocaust. And Babaknia said he will continue to pursue his passion of speaking to and educating Iranians and other groups about the Holocaust.

“Education is key but not enough,” he said. “You need to have passion, understanding, and sensitivity to the suffering of others. Otherwise, another Holocaust could happen.”

Read more at http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/138564/holocaust-book-farsi-iranians#tw9BE0SrM3OQs36h.99

  Pope Sends Message of Respect for Muslims


Printed in the New York Times


In a demonstration of what the Vatican spokesman called Pope Francis’ “particular attention to relations with the Muslim world,” the pope on Friday personally signed the Holy See message for Muslims at the end of Ramadan, calling for “mutual respect through education” between Christianity and Islam.

“We are called to respect the religion of the other, its teachings, its symbols, its values,” Francis wrote in a statement distributed by the Holy See.

“We have to bring up our young people to think and speak respectfully of other religions and their followers,” said the message, which stressed the enhanced role that education must play in building respect for different religions and the need “to avoid ridiculing or denigrating their convictions and practices.”

“As an expression of esteem and friendship for all Muslims,” Francis decided to personally sign his good wishes to Muslims worldwide on the feast of Id al-Fitr, which celebrates the end of Ramadan, a month of prayer and fasting.


Historically, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue has delivered the message on behalf of the Holy See. The last pope to send a personal message to Muslims was John Paul II in the aftermath of the Persian Gulf war in 1991.

“It’s not the first time that a pontiff has signed the message by his own hand,” the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said. “But it certainly shows Francis’ particular attention to relations with the Muslim world.”

In 2006, Francis’ predecessor as pope, Benedict XVI, upset Muslims when he quoted a Byzantine emperor who called Islam “evil and inhuman.” Muslims in many countries took to the streets in protest, and an Italian nun was killed in Somalia. Benedict later apologized, and the Holy See was very careful in avoiding any similar remarks.


Francis, who chose the name of the saint known as the “universal brother,” with strong ties to Islam, has always been quite attentive to interreligious dialogue. Meeting religious leaders from all over the world in March, the pope promised friendship, respect and dialogue among men and women of different religious traditions, and expressed special gratitude to the Muslim leaders who had come to salute him at the beginning of his papacy.


In his first address to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, Francis stressed the importance of intensifying dialogue among the various faiths, “particularly dialogue with Islam.”

A Church That Embraces All Religions

 and Rejects ‘Us’ vs. ‘Them’



LYNNWOOD, Wash. – Clad in proper Pacific Northwest flannel, toting a flask of “rocket fuel” coffee typical of Starbucks’ home turf, Steven Greenebaum rolled his Prius into a middle school parking lot one Sunday morning last month. Then he set about transforming its cafeteria into a sanctuary and himself into a minister. He donned vestments adorned with the symbols of nearly a dozen religions. He unfolded a portable bookshelf and set the Koran beside the Hebrew Bible, with both of them near two volumes of the “Humanist Manifesto” and the Sioux wisdom of “Black Elk Speaks.” Candles, stones, bells and flowers adorned the improvised altar. Some of the congregants began arriving to help. There was Steve Crawford, who had spent his youth in Campus Crusade for Christ, and Gloria Parker, raised Lutheran and married to a Catholic, and Patrick McKenna, who had been brought up as a Jehovah’s Witness and now called himself a pagan. They had come together with about 20 other members to celebrate the end of their third year as the congregation of the Living Interfaith Church, the holy mash-up that Mr. Greenebaum had created. Yearning for decades to find a religion that embraced all religions, and secular ethical teachings as well, he had finally followed the mantra of Seattle’s indie music scene: “D.I.Y.,” meaning “do it yourself.” So as the service progressed, the liturgy moved from a poem by the Sufi mystic Rumi to the “passing of the peace” greeting that traced back to early Christianity to a Buddhist responsive reading to an African-American spiritual to a rabbinical song. In other weeks, the service has drawn from Bahai, Shinto, Sikh, Hindu and Wiccan traditions, and from various humanist sources.
If the Living Interfaith Church could appear hippie-dippy, as if scented with sage and patchouli, that impression proved deceptive. Mr. Greenebaum’s goals were serious, and they exemplified a movement in American religion toward dissolving denominational lines. “Many of our most intractable ills may be laid on the altar of our divisions into ‘them’ and ‘us,’ ” Mr. Greenebaum, 65, said during his sermon. “Such a mind-set allows us to judge others and find them lesser beings. Now, I’m not here to try to convince anyone that there is no such thing as right or wrong. But I am here to say that there is no ‘them.’ And there is no ‘us’ who are somehow superior to them.” From the lectern, Mr. Greenebaum pointed to the concrete ways that his congregation had put virtue into action.
Members had collected 700 pounds of food for a local food bank and donated money to survivors of Hurricane Sandy. He had been an advocate for gay marriage. And 60,000 online visitors had clicked onto the church’s Web site, intrigued by its radically inclusive model. Indeed, fully one-quarter of Americans attend worship services outside their own faiths, according to a 2009 survey by the Pew Research Center. The report attributed that trend to the growth of interfaith marriage and to the influence of Eastern religions and New Age spirituality. Stephen Prothero, a professor of religion at Boston University, placed the experiment of the Living Interfaith Church within the larger “idea of religion as compassion.” Its exponents, he said, include the Dalai Lama and the author Karen Armstrong. Americans can readily connect such theology to the national civic values of neighborliness and tolerance. As for himself, Dr. Prothero expressed admiration and reservations. “This strikes me as a kind of institutionalization of a very strong trend,” he said of Mr. Greenebaum’s start-up. “It’s the idea that all religions are different paths up the mountain, and when you get to the top of the mountain you find compassion. “But one reason we have different religions is that we have different rituals and different beliefs. Those are not insignificant. “So for all religions to be one religion, you need to elide all the elements that were central to religion in the past: the hajj to Mecca, Jesus dying on the cross, whatever it might be. You’ve got to turn these first principles into last principles.” In Mr. Greenebaum’s case, he grew up as a Reform Jew in suburban Los Angeles and does not consider that he ever left that faith. But from the time he began being exposed to other religious traditions as a member of his college choir, he found himself rejecting Judaic exceptionalism.
“I believed that God spoke to Moses,” he put it. “But I don’t believe he spoke only to Moses. So it never made sense to me to worship separately.”
Over the course of his professional life – teaching, writing for television, directing choirs – he searched futilely for a spiritual home. Many ecumenical efforts involved mutual respect but not shared worship. The rhetoric extolling “Judeo-Christian tradition” or the “Abrahamic faiths” excluded other religions and humanism.
Then the Sept. 11 attacks, with their “holy war” justification, hit Mr. Greenebaum as a “depressing and saddening reinforcement that we need to pray together – or else we’ll keep slaughtering each other in the name of God.”
He firmed up his theological foundation by earning a master’s degree in divinity from Seattle University, a Jesuit institution. He put forward his case for interfaith as a capital-I religion in “The Interfaith Alternative,” his 2012 book.
Now his church has bylaws, a written covenant with “Six Fundamental Assumptions,” tax-exempt status, regular tithing and 30 regular worshipers.
He remains, however, a decidedly humble shepherd. “I wanted to join something like this, not start it,” he said. “I kept thinking someone more holy, more knowledgeable would’ve done this. But I do what I need to do.”



West Bloomfield Grad Helps Organize Sikh Day of Service

Posted by Joni Hubred-Golden (Editor) on 8/07

The Aug. 3 event commemorated the one-year anniversary

of a deadly attack at a Sikh house of worship in Wisconsin. 

West Bloomfield High alum Balbir Singh was working in California last year when he learned that half a dozen Sikh worshippers had been killed in an attack near Milwaukee, WI. The 2008 graduate helped coordinate a special day of service Saturday to commemorate the tragedy’s one-year anniversary. Sikhs from around metro Detroit gathered at the Sikh Society of Michigan, a gurdwara in Sterling Heights, to pack 20,000 meals that will feed families through Kids Against Hunger, an Oak Park-based nonprofit. The event was one among many that took place across the country, including a 6K Memorial Walk and Run held by the Oak Creek, WI Sikh community. Singh, who works as operations manager for New York-based The Sikh Coalition, said the 2012 attack was “a pretty big shock”. The response of his brothers and sisters in the Sikh community, he said, also left him inspired.

“We were able to get a Senate hearing about domestic terrorism,” Singh said. “There hadn’t been a hearing in more than five years.” The Coalition also started tracking hate crimes and advocating for issues like the right to wear religious headgear, which also affects people of other cultures and religions, he said.
“These are not only issues for Sikhs … Whenever we take on issues, we always approach them as human rights issues,” Singh said. He said the spirit of inclusion also extended to the day of service; several interfaith groups participated.  Harnoor Singh, 15, student at Northville High School, was among the Sikh volunteers. He said they packed small bags of dried rice, soy and vegetables that needy families can use to make soup or porridge. The volunteers worked in the gurdwara’s langar hall, he said. “In the langar hall, every time there is a gathering for service, we give out langar. Basically, it’s a free meal we put out for the community,” Singh said.
The langar hall, a staple in gurdwaras, speaks to the generosity encouraged in Sikhism. “We chose this kind of service because essentially it’s a main tenet of Sikhism. We’re always supposed to serve,” he said.

Parvinder Mehta writes a poem in Memory of the Wisconsin Attack on the Sikh Gurdwara

Marathons …


A year passed by since
their voices were hushed.
We remember them amidst
mementos of remembrance
manifestos of recognition
mirrors of reflection
memorials of reminiscences
even marathons of reconciliation.
No wallowing wailing to subsume
rueful actions nor eulogies to yearn
those unheard voices, only strong wishes
will affirm our humanity. A chorus of
melodious optimism percolates
immaculate insights in seekers
of a better loving world
devoid of rancid revulsion
insular xenophobia
and vacuous fears.
No words of vandalism
smeared in blind hatred
can drown this soaring spirit.
Moving on with resilience,
beyond comatose inabilities,
the resonant refrain of
compassion, service, and oneness
will echo and be heard.
Hoping those eyes blinking in
passive silence today will soon gleam and
pronounce “chardi kala”  and bring
peace for all.

   US-born Jains make ascetic faith fit modern life

The ancient Indian religion of Jainism, a close cousin of Buddhism, has often been a hard sell in the U.S. with a strict adherence to nonviolence that forbids eating meat, encourages days of fasting and places value on even the smallest of insects. Now younger Jains who resist the elaborate rituals of their parents, which include meditating 48 minutes a day and presenting statues of idols with flowers, rice and a saffron-and-sandalwood paste, are trying to reinterpret the traditions of their religion for 21st-century American life. They are expanding the definition of nonviolence to encompass environmentalism, animal rights and corporate business ethics, flocking to veganism, volunteering alongside other faiths and learning to lobby through political internships and youth groups.

“Youth are a lot more interested in learning the why of things instead of just blindly following it,” said Priyal Gandhi, an 18-year-old from northern Virginia. “I don’t think we’ve lost the faith. I think it’s about finding new ways to adapt to it.” The evolution, which is being examined in a series of conferences at a new center for Jain studies, comes as many Jains who immigrated to the West are grappling with how to mesh the belief in nonviolence, which inspired Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., with modern life and its excesses.

Jains believe, for example, that even microbes in the air and water are sacred life and any action that impacts other living things – such as driving or using electricity – can add to bad karma. Yet Jains, many of them top doctors, lawyers and businesspeople, use computers and cellphones and drive cars – and so they are increasingly seeking a compromise between their faith and practicality, said Whitny Braun, a bioethics and religion professor at Loma Linda University who has studied Jainism. The faith’s most recent idol lived 2,500 years ago but Jainism is much older. “Jains are a critical part of the Indian fabric so there’s ways to be a fully practicing Jain in India but here it’s very, very difficult so a lot of Jains adopt the attitude of, ‘Well, I’m going to do the best I can,'” she said. “I’ll be vegetarian or vegan, and if I can buy a Prius, I will.”


Priyal Gandhi, for example, lives the life of a normal American teenager: She drives, uses a cellphone and is enrolled as a freshman at the University of Virginia this fall. She goes to temple when she can, but for her, being Jain means the simpler things: Taking the long way to avoid trampling the grass, praying quietly at home before bed and avoiding onions, potatoes and garlic in addition to meat because root vegetables are the life source for an entire plant.

Veganism – a step beyond the vegetarianism that the faith requires – is also on the rise among young U.S.-born Jains who find it otherwise difficult to follow traditional rituals. For the most part, elder Jains support the modified approach, but some worry their children will miss a deeper understanding without completing rituals that are so detailed that some Jains carry a small booklet with illustrated instructions. Worshippers must shower, remove their shoes and change into loose-fitting, clean garments before approaching statues of 24 idols and must don a white mask to avoid breathing or spitting on the marble figures.

“All of the rituals have a real meaning that we’re supposed to bear in mind when we’re doing it. When I’m doing the cleansing with the water for the idol, my thought process is I’m also cleansing my soul that way,” said Hamendra Doshi, vice president of the Jain Center of Southern California.

“The religion is much deeper than that,” said Doshi, 62. “Community service is really only a very baby step.” Changes in how younger worshippers act out the faith may have a big impact on Jainism’s fate here. In India, Jains account for about 1 percent of the population and the community in the U.S. counts about 150,000 followers. The faith’s Western evolution is being talked about openly and with greater urgency now that the tiny ex-pat community that arrived in the 1960s has established itself with a national umbrella organization, youth groups and more than 100 temples, including an enormous one south of Los Angeles.

This weekend, the new Center for Jain Studies at Claremont Lincoln University in Claremont hosts a two-day conference on women and gender issues that will include a presentation on sexism in Jain teachings. Another session on how to apply Jain principles in corporate ethics is planned for next year.

And in a sign that Jainism is also beginning to reach non-Indians, one of the speakers at this weekend’s conference will be Sadhvi Siddhali Shree, who calls herself the faith’s first non-Indian ordained Jain nun. Shree, 29, grew up in a Catholic household and said she became a Jain nun in 2008 after seeing horrible violence as a U.S. Army combat medic in Iraq. Shree, who credits Jainism with helping her conquer post-traumatic stress disorder, is challenging Jain tradition that she feels place a monk’s status above a nun’s.

“If they want Jainism to spread, they need to raise women’s status,” she said. “There are things that need to evolve.” Shree would not be considered a true Jain nun by many more traditional worshippers, but her voice – and the other new voices – can help the faith become more relevant in today’s America, said Sulekh C. Jain, of Houston, who for nearly five decades has been a leading force among U.S. Jains. “The Dalai Lama said tradition over time, if it does not change, needs to be scrapped,” Jain said. “It’s really a part of growing up.”

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