Calendar for WISDOM and Other Interfaith Events
Wednesday, August 5th, Hate Has No Home Where Love Abides,
IFLC Community Annual Meeting, 11:15 – 12:30 PM. See Flyer Below.
Wednesday, August 19th 1:00 – 2:00 PM Black Jewish Coalition Conversation, featuring Rabbi Marla Hornsten from Temple Israel and Rev. Ken Flowers from Greater New Mt. Moriah Missionary Baptist Church who will be speaking about the Coalition for Black and Jewish Unity. See Flyer Below to RSVP.
Thursdays, Temple Kol Ami’s Community Food Project, 5085 Walnut Lake Rd, West Bloomfield, MI 48323, See Flyer Below.
Jewish and Muslim women join forces to remove antisemitic graffiti in Birmingham, England
A group of Jewish and Muslim women, including the city’s only female rabbi, have defiantly come together to remove antisemitic graffiti which appeared overnight on a wall in Billesley in Birmingham, transforming it into positive art depicting a rainbow. Determined to show they’re “stronger together,” the women joined forces after vile and abusive words of hate targeting the Jewish community were discovered daubed on a brick wall in the city ward, located in the Selly Oak constituency.
Upon discovering the words “Die Jewish” had been spray-painted onto the wall, local resident Benita Wishart contacted several other women from across the city and organized the removal of the offensive vandalism, opting to replace it with messages of peace alongside a brightly colored rainbow. Where the message of hate had been left, it now reads: “Standing Together Against Hate – Jewish and Muslim women together.” Before letting their creativity flow, the women got in touch with West Midlands Police who helped them remove the graffiti and praised their collaborative effort to make good of a bad situation.
Wishart, who called on close friends from different faiths to help, said they decided to counter hate with messages of hope.
“This is our message to those who seek to divide us. This is what being an ally looks like.” “We stand together in Birmingham. Hate crime has no place in our city. Our citizens value diversity and stand side by side.
“There must be zero tolerance of such hate against any group.”
Wishart thanked local police and residents for their assistance and the local community groups who came together to clean-up the racist graffiti.
Birmingham’s only female rabbi, Margaret Jacobi, was also on the scene to help do her bit. Heading the congregation at the city’s Progressive Synagogue since 1994, Jacobi is an active member of several initiatives promoting community cohesion and peace. Among them Citizens UK, an independent membership alliance of civil society institutions acting together for the common good of the city, and Nisa-Nisham, a national Jewish and Muslim Women’s Network set up to “build personal friendships” between faiths. Many of the women who helped remove the sickening graffiti are members of these organizations, which helped them facilitate the speedy and effective response. A spokesperson for the Birmingham branch of Citizens UK tweeted, “We are outraged and saddened by this act of hate” but praised the community response as “a powerful show of solidarity.”
Alongside the rainbow and positive messages, the women – from all faiths and none – also posed for photos, holding up posters stating ‘Active Allies’, ‘Standing Together’ and ‘We’re All Neighbours.”
Messages from The Great Get Together, which took place last month in memory of hate crime victim Jo Cox, were also attached to a tree nearby. These read: ‘We are all part of the human race’ and ‘I believe in the power of community.’
Birmingham Selly Oak MP Steve McCabe urged constituents to remain vigilant against hate crime, describing the incident as a “far-right” threat.
The number of antisemitic hate incidents recorded in the UK has reached a record high, according to Community Security Trust, a charity that monitors antisemitism in the country.
The trust recorded 767 hate crimes in the first six months of 2017 – a 30% rise in comparison to the same period last year. This is the highest level ever recorded since monitoring began 33 years ago.
The number of hate crimes recorded by West Midlands Police has also risen. Recent figures published by the Home Office show there were 5,715 hate crimes recorded in the West Midlands Police area in the 2018-19 financial year, up from 4,678 offenses the previous year – an increase of 22%, more than a fifth, in just one year.
Adam Yosef is editor-in-chief of I Am Birmingham
This article is reposted with permission from iambirmingham.co.uk.
We have a story to tell: Indigenous scholars, activists speak up amid toppling of Serra statues
Demonstrators prepare to pull down a Junipero Serra statue on June 20, 2020, in downtown Los Angeles at Father Serra Park.
LOS ANGELES (RNS) – Jessa Calderon initially felt numb watching the Junipero Serra statue topple to the ground as it was yanked from its platform with yellow rope tied around its neck. Within minutes, she was in tears. “I began to cry hysterically. It was like a sense of relief,” said Calderon, a descendant of Gabrielino-Tongva and Ventureño Chumash, who witnessed the toppling on June 20 in downtown Los Angeles.
Calderon and other California Native people prayed and left offerings, including medicinal herbs, at a makeshift altar before activists took down the statue of Serra, the 18th-century Franciscan priest who, while credited with spreading the Catholic faith in the West Coast, is also seen as part of an imperial conquest that enslaved Native Americans.
The ceremony, Calderon said, was a way to help release painful energy their disrespected ancestors may be carrying in the afterlife.
As Californians once again reckon with their statues of Serra, the founder of what would become 21 missions along the California coast, Native people and Indigenous scholars say it’s time for their voices to be heard and their existence to be recognized.
Jessa Calderon, right, cries and embraces another demonstrator after the toppling of a Junipero Serra statue June 20, 2020, in downtown Los Angeles at Father Serra Park. Photo by Erick Iñiguez
This public scrutiny of Serra has reemerged in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests denouncing institutional racism and police brutality that led to the toppling of monuments honoring Confederate leaders.
In California, this has resulted in protesters overthrowing Serra statues in San Francisco, Los Angeles and most recently in Sacramentoon Saturday (July 4). Catholic parishes in Orange, Monterey and Los Angeles counties have removed statues of Serra in fear of potential vandalism.
Activists in the city of Ventura are demanding the Serra monument near City Hall be removed as soon as possible and on Tuesday will virtually gather with community stakeholders to discuss the statue, which the mayor, a pastor and a tribal leader recently pledged to remove.
To Calderon, this renewed attention on Serra can help enlighten the public who, she said, “believed Native Americans didn’t exist anymore.”
“Now that this moment is happening, we have a story to tell,” Calderon said.
The Catholic Church response to the toppling of the statues has been persistent. The California Catholic Conference of Bishops in a statement said protesters “failed the test” of history in toppling Serra statues.
Salvatore Joseph Cordileone and José Gomez, archbishops of San Francisco and Los Angeles, issued letters staunchly defending the image and history of Serra and criticizing those who defaced the statues.
Cordileone, in a June 20 statement, referred to protesters as embodying “mob rule.” He said Serra made heroic sacrifices to protect Indigenous people from Spanish soldiers. While Cordileone acknowledged “historical wrongs have occurred,” he said they cannot be “righted by re-writing history.” Healing is needed, he said.
A week later, Cordileone held an exorcism at Golden Gate Park, where the statue was taken down, because he said “evil has made itself present here.”
Gomez, in a June 29 letter, acknowledged that the image of Serra and the missions evoke “painful memories for some people.” However, he denounced activists for “revising” history to portray Serra as the “focus of all the abuses committed against California’s indigenous peoples.”
He said that crimes and abuses Serra is blamed for happened after his death. Gomez likened California missions to other communes and “communitarian” societies. He said Serra “did not impose Christianity, he proposed it.” And, he said, Serra wrote and advocated for a “bill of rights” for the Native peoples.
These responses have galvanized Indigenous scholars who want the Catholic Church to fully admit to a history of colonialism that led to the loss of culture and land among the Native community.
Through a project known as Critical Mission Studies, University of California researchers and Indigenous scholars are working to provide a more nuanced understanding of the state’s missions. The research highlights Native, Mexican and Mexican-American voices and “supports Indigenous perspectives on the California colonial missions and their aftermath.”
As part of this project, Native people and Indigenous scholars will virtually gather on July 15 for a Zoom event titled “Toppling Mission Monuments and Mythologies: California Indian Scholars and Allies Respond.”
To Indigenous scholars such as Jonathan Cordero, who is part of this project, the statements from the archbishops are factually wrong and misleading.
“They’re implying that we’re anti-Catholic. They’re accusing us of being uncivil by not following their purported rules for how to handle this,” said Cordero, a professor at California Lutheran University. “They’re accusing us of not knowing the actual historical record.” Cordero, who studies California Indians during the Spanish colonial and early American periods, takes issue with a number of their claims. He said Serra was both a colonist and an evangelist. “He was responsible for establishing self-governing colonies of Hispanicized and industrious Native citizens in service of the Spanish crown,” said Cordero.
Cordero criticizes the claim that Serra advocated for a “bill of rights” he wrote for the Native peoples. Serra, said Cordero, did not get any new rights for California Indians. And, Cordero said, missionaries worked with the Spanish military to control the Native population, which was confined to the mission grounds. Indigenous people, he said, were granted a two-week furlough but they had to come back. If they didn’t, they were sought, and in some instances, killed by the military, Cordero said.
“A commune is not a place where you’re forced to go to church, where you’re forced to labor without fair compensation, where you’re punished for minor infractions,” he said. To Cordero, if the Catholic Church wants justice for California Indians, “it begins by telling the truth of what happened at the California missions.” “Until the Catholic Church owns up to the truth … there will be no justice for California Indians, and if there is no justice as the protest signs say, ‘There will be no peace.'”
Caroline Ward, center, of the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians, speaks during a June 27, 2020, ceremony next to the Junipero Serra statue in Mission Hills. She said the Catholic Church needs to acknowledge the mistreatment of Native people at the missions. RNS photo by Alejandra Molina
The truth is what Caroline Ward, of the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians, demanded at a June 27 ceremony next to the Serra statue across from the San Fernando Mission.
People knelt, burned sage and pounded the drums in front of the statue of Serra, who many in Spanish referred to as an “asesino,” a murderer.
Ward watched as a group of young activists covered the statue with a black plastic sheet and placed a chain around its neck. It felt liberating, she said.
“The church still refuses to acknowledge the treatment of our ancestors,” said Ward, addressing the dozens of people who were there.
While Ward demanded the statue be removed by Sept. 23, on the five-year anniversary of Serra’s sainthood, it has since been temporarily taken down by the city of Los Angeles to prevent violence, according to the San Fernando Valley Sun.
Ward applauds the statue removal, but said the Catholic Church still needs to acknowledge the complete stories of their ancestors within the mission system. That is half of the healing process, she said.
“If they put it back up, it’s going to come back down,” she said.
Now, Ward would like to see the missions transferred to Native people and be repurposed into cultural and healing centers.
“We are the first people of this land and nobody knows we’re here,” she said.
For UC Santa Cruz professor Yve Chavez, who is also part of the Critical Mission Studies Project, it’s crucial to recognize the different Serra viewpoints among the Native community. Some admonish the Catholic Church due to this history of mistreatment, while others try to balance their Catholic faith with knowing their ancestors were forced to live in the missions and “were sometimes doing what they had to do to survive,” she said. “If we completely dismiss the experience of these individuals, we lose sight of the bravery of our ancestors who managed to survive a very difficult situation,” said Chavez, a descendant of Tongva.
To Chavez, whose research focuses on Indigenous art of Southern California and the missions, Serra should not be seen as representative of the entire Catholic Church or even the mission system.
Removing Serra statues won’t make the missions any less Catholic, Chavez said. Instead, it can “help our Native communities feel a sense of recognition that these are not spaces that are strictly about Serra anymore,” said Chavez. Native people provided the labor that built the mission system and made up the majority of its population, said Chavez. The missions stand on ancestral homelands and some are located in preexisting Native villages.
“These are also spaces that we can claim as our own,” Chavez added.
Whether it’s through the removal of statues or through more public awareness of why these monuments are problematic, “now our communities have an opportunity to be heard on a public level,” Chavez said.
She hopes people can recognize that “Native people are still alive and these are their homelands.”
US Sikhs tirelessly travel their communities
to feed hungry Americans
When Gurpreet Singh and other members of the Sikh community in Riverside, California, started to organize efforts to provide food assistance in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, Singh figured it would simply be a variation on the work the Riverside Gurdwara had been doing for years. “When the pandemic came along,” Singh told CNN, “the Sikh temples were shutting down, and that didn’t seem right. At times of dire need, you don’t close down, you open up.
Worldwide, Sikh temples, also known as Gurdwaras, offer free meals to anyone who shows up. Known as Langar, it’s a tenet of faith and a key part of the Sikh religion, which emphasizes a concept of selfless service to the community at large. In the pre-pandemic days, the Riverside Gurdwara was used to providing 800 to 1,000 meals each Sunday, its busiest day, Singh said. So the community, unable to gather in large groups inside the temple because of pandemic restrictions, decided to serve food out front – Langar-by-drive-through. Gurpr
“We thought, ‘we’ll run it two or three days a week — good deed done, pat on the back,'” Singh said. Within the first week, however, “the lines got crazy.” Singh said he quickly realized the scope of the problem.
“Hunger has no days off,” he said, “so there’s no way we can serve less often than every day.” On the busiest days, Singh said, the line of cars can reach two or three miles long.
As an organized religion, Sikhism is relatively new.
Founded some 500 years ago in the Punjab region of India, the faith has some 30 million adherents, making it the fifth largest religion worldwide. Conservative estimates place the number of Sikhs in the United States at just over half a million. “Hunger has no days off, so there’s no way we can serve less often than every day.”
Among the principles of the Sikh faith is Seva — “basically, ‘selfless service,'” explained Vaneet Singh, a member of the Sikh community in Memphis, Tennessee. “It’s so engrained in our faith, it’s everywhere.” (The Singh surname is a traditional and common one for Sikh men.)
Among the principles of the Sikh faith is Seva — selfless service, essentially. “We believe that to serve others, to help others, is a key to who we are,” he said. Perhaps the most visible example of Seva to a non-Sikh, is Langar – the practice of a free community kitchen based in a Sikh temple and open to all. “The concept of the common kitchen is you sit together on the floor and eat together – you are all equal in God’s place,” Singh said. But as the coronavirus pandemic sweeps the nation and a jumble of restrictions, shutdowns and distancing precautions has kept the Sikhs from inviting their neighbors in, several communities have found new ways to break bread. It’s an act of service that, in the face of massive need and fear of infection, has required commitment, devotion and careful planning.
The Mid-South Sikh Sabha, on the outskirts of Memphis, is the only Gurdwara for 100 miles in any direction, Singh said. The community is small, no more than 300 people at its most active, by his estimate. At the beginning of 2020, Singh said he was focused on interfaith outreach, connecting with Christian and Jewish communities in the greater Memphis area. “Then – boom – coronavirus came along,” he said.
“As a community, we thought, ‘OK, how can we contribute?'” he said. It was a question made all the more difficult by the fact that the pandemic meant services in the Gurdwara were suspended. Together with a small team of volunteers, Singh coordinated food donations to local hospitals and aid organizations.
Initially they provided meals to healthcare workers in Memphis hospitals. Working long shifts in a city mostly devoid of restaurants, the city’s essential workers were having a hard time finding food, Singh said.
The University of Memphis reached out as well, Singh said, and asked for food for their international students stranded by the pandemic.
Volunteers took food around Memphis in masks and gloves, and a small group of volunteers took precautions working in the Gurdwara’s kitchen.
In all, Singh said, his small community distributed 1,700 meals before pausing to reassess.
“I hope and pray that this goes away,” he said, but he expressed concern about another rise in coronavirus cases. “I don’t know how long we have to continue this.”
Up the Mississippi River, Deb Bhatia and the volunteers of his non-profit, the Sikhs of STL, had organized similar efforts in St. Louis, Missouri.
When the state started to shut down, Bhatia said, he reached out to his local Gurdwara to ask about using its kitchen.
“When we started, it was for two shelter homes,” he said.
Before the pandemic, Bhatia organized volunteers from the Sikh community to go volunteer at local shelters. As fear of the coronavirus spread, Bhatia said shelters told him they weren’t getting enough volunteers to run their own kitchens. So with four volunteers, Bhatia set the modest goal of making and donating 150 hot meals. But as he started making deliveries, he said he noticed more and more people in need.
“We started driving for hours downtown, bringing people food,” he said. A large group of homeless St. Louis residents had set up tents in front of City Hall, and Bhatia began making weekly visits to deliver meals.
Before long, the Gurdwara’s kitchen wasn’t large enough, Bhatia said. The demand had grown to 1,500 meals a week.
Bhatia said 85 families have volunteered to make meals in their kitchens at home. Bhatia himself does all the shopping. On Wednesday, volunteers come to get groceries from his home. By the weekend, they bring him meals to deliver by van to a dozen shelters across St. Louis.
The idea is to minimize his volunteers’ exposure, he said. “A lot of elderly and kids — I didn’t want them to go out. It’s my responsibility.”
Funding has been a team effort, too, Bhatia said. A GoFundMe he setup was fulfilled in two weeks’ time. “It’s not only the Sikh community,” he said when asked who donated, “it’s the whole community.”
In recent weeks, as the state of Missouri has reopened, Bhatia said that requests for food had gone down slightly. But he said he was prepared to keep offering support. “The fear is still there in people,” he said.
Across the country, Japjot Sethi, a software engineer in San Jose, California, turned an idea for a new way to serve the community into a large-scale operation.
Sethi said he’d had a crazy idea back in 2019. He’d been volunteering his time at homeless shelters since he came to America 20 years ago, but he wanted to do more.
“I started this last year with the crazy idea that there should be food trucks with free food on street corners,” Sethi said.
He was in the middle of starting a nonprofit and shopping for his first truck when the pandemic hit.
He’d already gathered a few volunteers and had started renting space in a commercial kitchen, so he and his partners decided to put the truck on the backburner and help get food to area homeless shelters.
“The shelters were in a dilemma,” Sethi said. “They get the food from restaurants, and the restaurants were shut down.”
Sethi, like many of the Sikhs who spoke to CNN, referenced the concept of Dasvandh – a religious obligation to give 10% of your income to good causes.
With the work he had already done in preparing for his nonprofit, Sethi said he could start cooking meals at a cost of no more than $2 each. He gathered together seven volunteers and got to work.
Langar food is typically vegetarian in an effort to meet the dietary requirements of anyone who might attend. Asked whether he followed the same guidelines in his commercial kitchen, Sethi said that for him, it’s also a logistical concern.
“I have a very strict chef. He says vegetarian food will last longer than any meat,” he said. “We’re keeping all food hazards in mind.”
To date, Sethi said, he and a group of no more than 10 volunteers have made about 20,000 hot meals and distributed them to shelters in San Jose and surrounding communities. Once a week, Sethi also distributes food in Richmond, California, where his family owns a gas station.
“My goal is to make sure our resources really go to the people in need,” he said, noting that the relatively affluent city of San Jose has resources that nearby Richmond and Oakland do not.
“Richmond is hourly wage employees, and many of them lost their jobs,” he said.
On a recent Thursday morning, Sethi said he distributed meals to 1,000 families in Richmond in three hours.
“Next week, we’ll have enough for 1,500,” said Sethi.
While Sethi’s efforts were originally self-funded, they’ve grown to a level where he’s started accepting donations. He’s also begun to take advantage of a coronavirus relief package through the US Department of Agriculture, which distributes food from farmers and distributors to food banks nationwide. Known as the Farmers to Families Food Box Program, Sethi said it’s been a boon to his ability to serve the surrounding communities.
“The need for food is going to keep going on,” he said. “School is shut for the summer – they’re not going to be able to provide meals for the kids. We are prepared to go on until the end of the year.”
Gurpreet Singh estimates that they distribute between 3,000 and 5,000 meals a day.
Gurpreet Singh/United Sikh Mission
Back in Riverside, California, Gurpreet Singh has built his large-scale Langar for the long haul.
Singh said he comes from an engineering and project-management background, and that he’s approached his support efforts accordingly.
He’s split his volunteers into four teams. Four volunteers are dedicated to logistics, he said. Their job is to keep tabs on inventory, figure out where to get more food and how to transport it to the Gurdwara.
“We’re fortunate our Gurdwara’s got a lot of truckers,” Singh said.
A team of six to eight people handles the cooking each morning. “We have very large pots,” Singh said.
They keep the menu simple — rice and beans, pasta dishes and the like.
When the cooking team is done, another team packs meals into boxes to keep them warm and make them easy to distribute.
Then the food is handed off to a team that distributes the food to a line of waiting cars in front of the temple.
“There’s no overlap,” Singh said of the work the teams do. In addition to giving everyone a clearly focused task, Singh said he also sought to limit each volunteer’s exposure to three hours a day.
“This is not just food, it’s getting everyone to feel a sense of community, a sense of support … It’s a way of being American- we’re all in this together.”
The operation has become so efficient that the volunteers store surplus in two donated refrigerator trucks to send to other communities in need.
But the real success, Singh said, has been watching the greater Riverside community coalesce around his temple.
“I’ve always felt conflicted,” Singh said, “that if someone is hungry somewhere within five miles of a Sikh temple, we are not doing our job.”
Now, he says, the Gurdwara has become a hub for the community. Families that came early on but have since had to isolate because of a positive COVID-19 test call the temple. Other families – strangers, says Singh – offer to drop their meals off on their doorsteps.
A villager uses a net to catch offerings thrown into the crater of Mount Bromo by Hindu devotees during Yadnya Kasada festival in Probolinggo, East Java, Indonesia, Tuesday, July 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Trisnadi)
A Jewish man prays outside his house, as synagogues are limited to 20 people following the government’s measures to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, in Bnei Brak, Israel, Thursday, July 9, 2020. Israel is going through a new coronavirus outbreak that is hammering both the economy and public health. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty
Vendors arrive with their decorated camels at a market set up for the upcoming Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha on the outskirts of Karachi, Pakistan, Thursday, July 16, 2020. Eid al-Adha, or Feast of Sacrifice, commemorates the willingness of the Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham to Christians and Jews) to sacrifice his son. (AP Photo/Fareed Khan)