Calendar for WISDOM and Other Interfaith Events
Tuesday, December 1st, 6:00 – 7:00 PM, Let’s Art About It. See Flyer Below.
Tuesday, December 8, 7:00 PM Five Women Five Journeys
Insight Through Education, Inc.” Irma Blauner, V.P. for Programming, Palm Spring, FL.
Tuesday, December 15th 6:00 – 7:00 PM Virtual Tai Chi with your WISDOM sisters $10. Registration details coming soon.
Hello Dear WISDOM Sisters!
We are very excited to offer you a chance to connect together in a unique way! WISDOM is partnering with “Let’s Art About It” – an art therapy studio – to offer a session which can help us keep calm during stress by using the medium of art. The session will take place Tuesday, December 1st from 6-7pm on zoom. The cost of the session is $25/person, using a discount code, and a portion of the proceeds will go to support WISDOM and its programming. Details are included on the link.
Discount code: WISDOM10
Religious Diversity Journeys (RDJ) Continues completely virtually, reaching hundreds of Detroit-Area Seventh Graders for 2020-2021 school year
For nearly 20 years, RDJ has served as a unique experience for thousands of students and adults in Metropolitan Detroit. There is no other program that brings students from multiple communities together to educate young teenagers during a school day and within the context of Michigan’s statewide 7th grade Social Studies curriculum
In pre-pandemic times, RDJ was comprised of six field trips over six months. RDJ participants visited different faith communities and were introduced to a particular faith’s common terms, art, famous figures, holiday descriptions, origin history, prayer and ritual. Students also learned about the historical and contemporary sociology of SouthEast Michigan’s faith and cultural landscapes, practiced civil discourse and civic bridge building skills through peer to peer engagement with diverse student communities.
Due to the pandemic, RDJ’s diversity literacy curriculum is online this year. Remote Journeys are designed to offer engaging enrichment and meaningful activities representing the most important big concepts and essential elements of the RDJ experience. RDJ’s 2020-2021 curriculum is content rich, engaging and solidly rooted in SouthEast Michigan’s diverse faith communities. This year, these “roots” have found a home on the InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit website on password-protected pages designed to support this year’s unique needs.
Educational resources for each of RDJ’s five faiths will be presented as “clickable” modules. Enrolled teachers and students are issued a username/password that will allow for unlimited 24/7 access to all appropriate RDJ pages. Remote Journey resources are designed to work well as asynchronous enrichment. Also, a teacher can assign different modules as homework or classwork. This flexibility will allow teachers to direct students to RDJ remote Journey material in a way that supports every classroom community’s unique nature.
RDJ’s Sikhism Journey curriculum began in November. The Hinduism Journey will be available December 1st, Judaism in January 2021, Christianity in February and Islam in March. Remote Journeys will conclude in April with Journey resources from RDJ partners at the Detroit Institute of Arts and Holocaust Memorial Center.
Students will be encouraged to begin their Journey with each faith by clicking a module called “Test Your Knowledge”. This simple pre-assessment is a great way for students to begin thinking about what they might learn about each faith. Then, by following each clickable tile in the order presented, students will “journey” through a series of educational resources that will provide a foundation of basic information on each faith. Tiles further down from the top row offer additional experiences to extend a student’s learning, and then students are encouraged to conclude their Journey with a post-test that offers the prize of a randomly drawn amazon gift card!
What Will Students Experience and Learn on Remote Journeys? Students will learn about similarities in values and ethics that unite individuals of different faiths and will explore diverse cultural traditions that enrich our broader community. Through recorded visits to the local RDJ host communities, barriers of seeing those we do not know so well as “other” will begin to fall.
Each month RDJ will also host Zoom Q & A sessions with local clergy. Zoom Q & A experiences are an aspect of RDJ remote programming where we have already seen success. Spring 2020’s online RDJ programing called “RDJ Anywhere” used Zoom sessions with local clergy to offer an immediate resource in crisis conditions. Zoom RDJ sessions were held in April and May 2020 and attracted hundreds of students, teachers and parents. Program feedback included participant comments including “I liked that it filled me with a lot of information, even without actually being on a physical field trip.”, “Even though we can’t be together, we can still learn new things.” and “As a parent, I am glad this opportunity was offered for the kids. We loved the real field trips, and I’m appreciative that the kids can at least do them virtually now.” We are excited to continue these engaging sessions through the 2020-2021 year.
Michigan Muslim woman fights
mug shot hijab policy with suit
She was a domestic abuse survivor, pleading for understanding. Please let me keep my hijab on, she begged the officers. But the police wouldn’t give in, she says, alleging they threatened to make her sleep on a cement jail cell floor with no blanket or pillow if she didn’t remove her headscarf for a mug shot. So the devout Muslim woman did as she was told. In a federal lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court this week, Zainab Chaaban detailed her ordeal and challenged a booking photo policy that she argues is unlawful and humiliating to Muslim women in Michigan. Not only is it unconstitutional for police to strip women of the religious headscarf, her lawsuit argues, but from a practical matter, it’s unnecessary: the hijab doesn’t cover any part of a woman’s face.
Chaaban’s lawsuit is against the city of Detroit, the Detroit Detention Center and the Michigan Department of Corrections. It stems from her arrest on various charges following a domestic dispute outside her ex-husband’s house in Detroit last year. (She was later acquitted on all charges by a jury.) Following her arrest, the 36-year-old Dearborn Heights woman was processed at the Detroit Detention Center, where state corrections officers allegedly forced her to remove her hijab while in full view of a male officer and a male janitor.
“Requiring a Muslim woman to remove her hijab in public is akin to demanding that a secular person strip naked in front of strangers,” the lawsuit states. For Chaaban, who pleaded with five different officers to let her keep on the hijab, the sacred scarf that she had worn since her teenage years, just like her mother and grandmother, the experience was horrifying. “I felt vulnerable. I felt exposed. I felt violated,” Chaaban said in a Friday interview with the Free Press.
After being processed at the jail, Chaaban also was required to wear a copy of her “hijabless” photo on a wristband, which she had to flash to male and female guards during meals and court hearings. Moreover, the suit argues, despite Chaaban being acquitted of all charges in the case, the booking photo she took without her hijab remains a public record and has been released at least twice by the city under Freedom of Information Act requests. Chaaban is not alone. Over the last decade, Muslim women nationwide have successfully challenged mug shot policies requiring hijab removals, in states including California, New York, Minnesota and Michigan, where a woman convinced Dearborn Heights to abandon its no-hijab booking policy in 2015 following a lawsuit. The Council on American Islamic Relations says it has repeatedly tried to convince the MDOC to modify its mug shot policy to align with other state and federal agencies that allow the hijab to be worn, but to no avail. Hijabs are allowed on U.S. passports, permanent residency cards for immigrants and Michigan driver’s licenses. So what’s the hangup with the MDOC?
“There’s a lack of awareness about the religious tenets of Islam and a lack of sensitivity,” argues CAIR-MI staff attorney Amy Doukoure, stressing the hijab is a sacred head covering that represents faith, devotion and modesty. “People need to understand. … It’s not just hair. It’s more than hair,” said Doukoure, stressing the hijab is part of a “deeply held religious belief.” And being stripped of it can be traumatizing, especially in a jail surrounded by men. “Forcing a Muslim woman to remove her hijab in such a public manner where men were present and could see her is not only a violation of Ms. Chaaban’s religious beliefs,” Doukoure argues. “It is tantamount to forcing a woman to walk around completely naked in front of strangers. It is a degrading and traumatizing experience.”
Doukoure argues that there is “no legitimate basis” to force women to take mug shots without their hijab when “every form of government at the state and federal level allow women to cover their hair in all identification photos including passports and driver’s licenses.”
In Chaaban’s case, CAIR said that it tried to discuss the matter with all the parties involved, but that no one at the jail, the MDOC or the city of Detroit would respond. Detroit police and the city of Detroit, however, say the booking photo policy at issue doesn’t involve them. “Neither the City of Detroit nor the Detroit Police Department take photographs of people entering the Detroit Detention Center,” Detroit Corporation Counsel Lawrence Garcia said in a statement. “The city does not belong in this lawsuit and we will seek to be dismissed from it.” A Detroit police spokesperson declined comment on the suit, beyond saying it doesn’t apply to the department because, she said, Detroit police don’t take the booking photos MDOC officials do. MDOC spokesman Chris Gautz declined comment, stating: “We have not been served with this lawsuit and we do not comment on pending litigation.”
According to CAIR, here is how the defendants wronged Chaaban: MDOC officers took her booking photo; a Detroit police department policy mandated that she wear the wristband with her photo on it, and the city of Detroit released her mug shots under FOIA requests.
Chaaban acquitted, then husband flees country with daughter
Chaaban’s mug shot ordeal started with a dispute on the front porch of her ex-husband’s house. According to her lawsuit, lawyer and Chaaban, here’s what happened: It was April 30, 2019, and she had gone to her ex-husband’s home to pick up her daughter, but he wouldn’t release the child unless she went back to her house to retrieve a pair of pants and a top for his daughter, and brought the clothing back to his house.
According to the suit, Chaaban is a domestic violence survivor whose ex-husband continuously tried to control her.
On the night in question, she had a restraining order against him and the two argued after he allegedly ordered her to go back to her house – something he allegedly often did. Things escalated.
According to the lawsuit, her ex-husband pushed her backward and in an attempt to steady herself, she grabbed him on the arm and they both tumbled off the porch. After they fell off the porch, they both called the police. No one was arrested at the scene. A couple of weeks later, while Chaaban was driving her car a couple of blocks away from her home, she was arrested and taken into custody. Her husband had accused her of assaulting him and trying to break into his house – allegations she calls “outlandish.”
“I kept asking, ‘Why isn’t he the one being arrested?’ ” said Chaaban, alleging the only thing that happened that night was that they both fell off the porch. “The police chastised Ms. Chaaban for being at the ex-husband’s house when she had a restraining order against him. But there was a clear purpose for Ms. Chaaban’s presence at the ex-husband’s house and the restraining order was issued based on her ex-husband’s behavior, not because of (her) ” the lawsuit states.
Following her arrest, Chaaban was transported to the Detroit Detention Center, where she was held in a jail cell for several hours waiting to be processed. Multiple officers kept coming in and telling her that she had to remove her hijab for her booking photo. Chaaban protested repeatedly. “I was just so angry. They were not listening … they kept saying, ‘How are we going to identify you? Don’t you want to get out of here?’ ” she recalled. Exasperated and scared, she gave in, removing the headscarf while a janitor mopped a floor behind her and another man in front of her watched. “I took it off because we weren’t going to get out of there,” she recalled. “Oh my God, it was very strange to me … I felt violated.” Chaaban was charged with malicious destruction of a building, assault with a dangerous weapon and domestic violence for her alleged actions on her ex-husband’s porch. Her case went to trial and a jury acquitted her of all charges. And then her world blew up again.
Following the jury trial, her husband fled the country with her daughter, Chaaban said. On Sept. 27, 2019, she went to the 6th Precinct in Detroit to pick up her daughter – the former couple was doing exchanges at the police station by then – and he wasn’t there. She waited for hours and he never showed.
“I’m sorry. It’s been an emotional year,” she said, her voice cracking.
The last Chaaban learned from authorities is that her now-7-year-old daughter and exhusband are somewhere in India. She said she has been working with the FBI and Missing Children advocates, and clings to hope that she will one day reunite with her daughter. “I’m motivated”, she said, “It’s going to happen.”
Hijab is about faith, modesty, devotion For many observant Muslim women, wearing the hijab is a mandatory aspect of identity and faith. It entails wearing a hijab at all times, whether at home or in public, when the woman is in the presence of men who are not part of her immediate family. While women choose to wear the hijab for a number of reasons, many believe that the headscarf fulfills the commandments of modesty and devotion. Those commandments stem from, among other things, the Quran which is the primary holy book of the Muslim faith – and the hadith, which are the oral traditions carried down from the age of the Prophet Muhammad.
Chaaban, according to her lawsuit, wears the hijab because her faith dictates that no man outside of a woman’s immediately family should see her uncovered hair, head, and neck. For years, she has worn the headscarf every day and believes that her religious faith requires her to do so. “Chaaban’s hijab is core to her identity, and it is an essential part of who she is,” the suit states.
So when police officials ordered her to remove the covering, the lawsuit states, it defiled her personally and violated her religious practice. And the fact that her mug shot can be viewed again and again by men who are not members of her family “is haunting.” “This practice alienates and oppresses faith communities throughout the City of Detroit,” the lawsuit states. ” It lacks justification and must be changed.” The right to wear a hijab is protected under the Fourteenth Amendment and numerous federal civil rights laws, which prohibit the discrimination against women who wear the religious headscarf. Currently, hijabs are allowed to be worn in numerous settings, including:
A passport and most state driver’s licenses, including in Michigan.
At the airport and the border
In public schools and public facilities
In the workplace.
If asked, an employer must provide a reasonable accommodation for you to wear your hijab or headscarf. An accommodation is not reasonable if it causes an employer an undue hardship, such as compromising safety.
In Los Angeles last month, CAIR and the CAIR National Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit on behalf of a Muslim woman who had her hijab forcibly removed by Los Angeles police officers. In New York, a similar lawsuit was filed in April, though that one is a class action case that seeks to block the city of Yonkers from removing hijabs for booking photos and while Muslim women are in custody. If court records are any indication, lawsuits appear to be the driving force behind protecting the rights of Muslim women to wear a hijab wherever and whenever they deem fit. In Long Beach, California, the city council approved a 2017 settlement between a woman who was required to remove her hijab for a post-arrest photograph. The Long Beach Police Department is no longer permitted to forcibly remove the hijabs of female arrestees at any point while they are in custody. San Bernardino County and Orange County also adopted similar policies following lawsuits that settled in 2008 and 2013 respectively. In Hennepin County, Minnesota – which includes Minneapolis – the sheriff’s office implemented a new policy in 2014 allowing female arrestees to keep their hijabs on for booking photos.
In Portland, Maine, a local sheriff publicly apologized after releasing the booking photographs of two Muslim women who had been arrested at a Black Lives Matter protest. The photographs showed each woman without her hijab, which led to the Cumberland County sheriff offering his “sincerest apologies … to the Muslim community for the appearance that we are disrespecting their religious beliefs and practices.”
The Cumberland County Jail procedures require a woman to remove her hijab only in private, without men present, and provide that two booking photographs will be taken, one with the woman’s hijab and another without.
For the lawyers in the new Michigan case, these examples serve as a message to Detroit and Michigan corrections officials: “There is no basis to require the removal of religious head coverings for official government photographs.” “Like many Muslim women whose religious beliefs dictate that they wear a hijab,” the lawsuit states, “Ms. Chaaban felt exposed and violated without hers. It is as if (she) was naked in a public space.”
Black skeptics find meaning in uplifting their community through social justice
Sikivu Hutchinson, left, founder of Black Skeptics Los Angeles, and Liz Ross at the Women of Color Beyond Belief Conference in October 2019. Courtesy photo
Black nonbelievers have for years been working to redefine what it means to be atheist, a word too often linked to white spaces mostly concerned with creationism and the separation of church and state.
LOS ANGELES (RNS) – Darrin Johnson would like nothing better than to rid the Black community of organized religion. The way Johnson sees it, Black people “don’t need outside beliefs or higher powers.”
“We have power,” Johnson said. “We are powerful entities. We just need to use that power.” As an organizer with his local Black Lives Matter chapter, Johnson, an atheist, has sometimes felt a bit uneasy meeting in churches and working alongside pastors, who, like him, are calling for Black liberation. For Johnson, Christianity has been the source of homophobia that shunned LGBTQ members in his family and has been used to “protect people that don’t deserve to be protected.”
But, he doesn’t let that deter him.
“My atheism is not a thing of ‘I know better than you and so I’m better than you.’ I love my people be they religious or not,” said Johnson, of Moreno Valley in Riverside County. “I’d rather work with a Black religious person working for Black liberation, than a Black atheist who’s in it for social climbing.”
Black nonbelievers like Johnson have for years been working to redefine what it means to be atheist, a word too often linked to white spaces mostly concerned with creationism and the separation of church and state. Many Black nonbelievers identify as humanists and challenge Christianity for being linked to racism, capitalism and sexism. That can make Johnson and other Black nonbelievers feel out of place. About 80% of Black Americans identify as Christian, according to the Pew Research Center, and the church has played a key role in Black life since the Civil War. Johnson learned of a Black atheist community about eight years ago as a graduate journalism student at Cal State Northridge. He was a self-described “baby atheist” back then, and for a documentary project, sought to interview other Black secular people. That’s how he found Black Skeptics Los Angeles. The first time he visited, Johnson recalls approaching the South LA home of a group member and hearing voices of people having a good time.
“You would think you were going to a church function,” he said.
“They were welcoming and willing to answer my questions. They gave me their time,” Johnson said. “It made me start to realize there are different kinds of atheism.”
The group started by simply offering space for Black and secular people of color to meet and later expanded to resources for nonbelievers. It now offers scholarships for graduating seniors and aid for secular people of color – especially during COVID-19 – as an alternative to religious and faith-based institutions. Funding has come from secular organizations like the Freedom From Religion Foundation. “What’s been a constant is our focus on social and gender justice,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson said Black atheists have made strides over the last six or seven years in regard to the overall perspective of the secular movement. People of color appear in more humanist and secular publications and are present in conferences that are sponsored by white-dominated organizations. And, she said, there’s now greater recognition of the specific struggles that Black, Latino and other secular people of color experience around accessing equitable housing and education and public spaces without being profiled by policies such as stop and frisk.
“There’s no longer the presumption that the white atheist movement can just float by without considering their white supremacy, their white privilege and entitlement,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson’s recently released book “Humanists in the Hood: Unapologetically Black, Feminist and Heretical” highlights the group’s mentorship of middle- and high-school-age women of color, helping them think critically about feminism, rape culture and sexual harassment.
“You just do not see those kind of lived experiences being integrated into secular humanist discourse and representation,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson, who grew up in a secular household, recognizes she’s somewhat of an outlier in the Black Skeptics group. Her parents were freethinkers who protested during the Black Power and civil rights movement in the ’60s. Her atheism, she said, is a reflection of her upbringing.
That’s not true for many group members. “Most folks are coming from a religious family upbringing,” she said. “There’s a lot more trauma with rejecting organized religions, those networks and the dogma and ideology.” Liz Ross, a secular humanist who grew up Catholic, agrees.
Born and raised in the Caribbean, Ross attended a Catholic boarding school and was in the church choir. “We had a sense of community,” she said. Things changed after college when she moved to the Bay Area, where she met a UC Berkeley professor and students who exposed her to issues surrounding social justice, white supremacy, patriarchy and LGBTQ issues. “My movement into becoming a secular humanist was trying to reconcile the conflict between the claim that there was an omnipotent, omniscient God while at the same time the reality showed there was senseless suffering,” said Ross, who is a member of Black Skeptics Los Angeles.
Sikivu Hutchinson, left, founder of Black Skeptics Los Angeles, and Liz Ross at the Women of Color Beyond Belief Conference in October 2019. Courtesy photo
Ross is also bisexual, and with the church deeming homosexuality a sin, that was something she had to work through. “I realized that the church itself was not a space that helped me empower myself, particularly as a Black woman and someone in the LGBTQ community,” she added.
To Ross, the mainstream image of atheism and whiteness can alienate people of color who need “people who look like them to feel a sense of community,” she said. “This is why we try to be vocal through social justice work,” Ross added. “What resonates with the community is ‘How am I going to deal with police violence? How am I going to deal with racism on the job? How am I going to deal with sexual assault?'”
Johnson believes that creating a secular space can be a boon for Black nonbelievers, who often feel they don’t fit in among atheists.
A 2019 study from Pew Research found that among Americans who identify as atheist, 81% are white, while only 3% are Black.
“I’d like to uplift us and show that you can be Black and atheist because there’s still this idea that being atheist means that you are not Black or that you are trying to work your way into the good graces of white folks,” Johnson said. “My goal overall is just for us to realize how much power we have and how we do matter,” he added.
‘Nostra Aetate’ anniversary statements
spotlight rising anti-Semitism
Oct 28, 2020
Marking the 55th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, Vatican II’s landmark document that redefined the Catholic Church’s relationship with other religions, two major Jewish-Christian interfaith partners have exchanged statements hailing the progress between the two religions and calling attention to rising anti-Semitism around the globe. The two messages were released on Oct. 28 by the heads of the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews and the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations.
Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, referred to Nostra Aetate as the ” ‘Magna Carta’ of Catholic-Jewish relations” in his statement, adding that “in pondering the mystery of the Church itself … the Second Vatican Council was drawn to exploring its relationship with the descendants of Abraham.”
“We are inseparably linked in the essential foundation of faith in the God of Israel, and we are united by a rich common spiritual heritage and the legacy of a longstanding shared past. Christianity has its roots in Judaism; the latter constitutes the nucleus of its identity,” wrote Koch.
Rabbi Noam Marans, chair of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations, said, “Jews have welcomed the Church’s outstretched hand and created the religious, communal, and academic structures and responses necessary to partner with Catholics in an era that transformed two millennia of enmity into a blessing of amity.”
The International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations is the largest representative body of world Jewry in dialogue with the Vatican, the Ecumenical Patriarchate and other ecumenical initiatives.
Marans went on to highlight the “amplified” friendship between the two faiths, as evidenced by “papal visits to synagogues, to the horrific yet sacred sites of the crimes of the Holocaust, and to the State of Israel following the establishment of Vatican-Israel diplomatic relations in 1993.”
Last year marked the 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Israel. In a speech June 14, 2019, at the Great Synagogue of Rome, the Vatican’s Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said the two states are partners in combating anti-Semitism.
“The Holy See and the State of Israel are called to join forces to promote religious freedom, religion and conscience, as an indispensable condition for protecting the dignity of every human being, and to work together to combat anti-Semitism,” he said. On Wednesday, that call was repeated again.
“At a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise and the physical threat to Jewish communities and individuals is very real, we are grateful for the steadfastness of Pope Francis, who has forcefully and repeatedly spoken out against this scourge,” wrote Marans. He recalled Francis’ words in 2013: “Due to our common roots, a Christian cannot be anti-Semitic!”
“Likewise,” Marans said, “we stand in solidarity with our Christian brothers and sisters as they face serious religious freedom infringements.” Originally the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews and the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations had planned to commemorate the 55th anniversary of Nostra Aetate in São Paolo at the end of this month, however the global pandemic forced a cancellation of the joint meeting.
Effecting Change Through Interfaith Interconnectedness
By Marcia Bronstein
Relationships require forging ties with others and bridging differences. Relationship building is the most challenging part of advocacy, the work I cherish the most. It requires communication, trust and the ability to work together on each other’s issues. And advocacy work also requires compassion.
With the beginning of each New Year, Jews start reading the Torah from the beginning with the book of Genesis. This is the biblical story of creation and it is marked with sin and mistakes. Just after God finishes creating the Earth and everything in it, God makes humans. Adam and Eve were given one rule – eat whatever you like from this world, except for one tree. But they eat from that tree and fail. The next generation fails even worse when one of their sons murders the other. The world seems to have a depressing start, as we appear doomed to harm one another and disappoint our creator.
A prime example is the American Jewish Committee’s relationship with Germany after World War II. When others in the Jewish community wished to abandon Germany, AJC engaged, seeing the beginnings of change, and wanting to be a part of the process of growth after the tragedy of the Holocaust. AJC rejected the idea of collective German guilt, choosing instead to emphasize policies that encouraged democracy. In 1945, AJC became the first American Jewish organization to begin working in Germany, and AJC has remained resolute to strive for a better future, while never forgetting or minimizing the crimes of the past. In 1988, AJC opened its Berlin office.
Another example is when the Catholic Church began to consider profound new teachings about Jews and other faith traditions in the Second Vatican Council. Many Jews were skeptical. How could a document make up for a millennium of anti-Jewish teaching? But that is what “Nostra Aetate” did, and AJC engaged with church leadership at every level. Our director of interreligious relations at the time, Rabbi Marc Tannenbaum, was the only rabbi to attend the Second Vatican Council. AJC was criticized by some factions of American Jews, who wished to wait and see before engaging. AJC saw the signs of a genuine desire to change and we engaged, we wanted to be a part of the shift. It takes hard work and courage to fix relationships. Our beliefs call us to do better and be better.
The final example of forging ahead came in January 2020. To mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, AJC partnered with the Muslim World League to bring a delegation of 60 Muslim and Jewish leaders from 28 countries together in Poland, to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust in that Nazi death camp and to honor Jewish life with the Jewish community in Warsaw.
Until relatively recently, the Muslim World League, based in Mecca, promoted an ultra-conservative vision of Islam that fed into negative views about Jews, Christians and even about other Muslims with differing views. However, here too, we have seen change and a genuine desire to reach out in recent years. Again, AJC refuses to sit on the sidelines; we want to be a part of effecting change.
This is not simple. It is not without politics, risks and even acceptance of deep disagreement, but our belief that the world can evolve compels us to take risks to help shape the world for the better. Our tradition teaches that in the fall holiday season God plans the fate of the world for the year ahead. The period is built on the notion of repentance, growth and change. It means we are not free to simply accept our own shortcomings, but we need to do our best to overcome them. And it also means that we must accept with compassion the shortcomings of others when they have demonstrated their own growth and change.
My wish for us as individuals and as religious communities is that we demonstrate the courage to move relationships ahead and compassion to heal divides with others, even when we feel they have wronged us. This is a sign of leadership and an act of service to our creator.
Marcia Bronstein is the regional director AJC Philadelphia/SNJ.
Catholic encounters with Muslims frame ‘Fratelli tutti’
Oct 20, 2020
Pope Francis, right, with Sheik Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of Egypt’s al-Azhar mosque and university in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Feb. 4, 2019 (CNS/Paul Haring)
Just days into his papacy, Pope Francis announced that dialogue with Muslims would be one of the priorities of his pontificate. Since then, he has visited numerous majority-Muslim countries, met with Muslim families and leaders, spoken prophetically of the need for Catholics to treat Muslims – particularly those who are migrants – with respect, and performed meaningful gestures that speak to the church’s esteem for Muslims declared at the Second Vatican Council. Though his newest encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, never once mentions the words “Islam” or “Muslims,” it is part of the broader legacy that Francis will leave the church on Catholic-Muslim relations, as well as interreligious relations more broadly.
Personal experiences of Catholic-Muslim dialogue frame and inspire Fratelli Tutti. At the beginning of the document, the pope invokes his own namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, who met with the Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil amid the Crusades. He closes the encyclical with mention of Blessed Charles de Foucauld, who lived and died among Muslims in North Africa in the 20th century. Francis’ own experiences of friendship with Muslims inform the encyclical, too. He writes that his choice to focus on the theme of “human fraternity” was inspired in part by the joint document he wrote and signed with Grand Imam Ahmad al-Tayyeb, the head of Al-Azhar, a well-known Islamic university and mosque in Egypt. During Francis’ pontificate, the two men formed a friendship, and one of its fruits was the joint document on the values – informed by their respective faith traditions – that they share. Several times throughout the encyclical, Francis cites their joint declaration and quotes a significant portion of it toward the end. Journalist Claire Giangrave
commented that, “You could almost say this is an encyclical written with four hands. This is Pope Francis and the Grand Imam coming together.”
In the encyclical, Francis also wants to draw our attention to a lesser-known episode from St. Francis’ life. As Christian and Muslim armies were fighting in Egypt in 1219, St. Francis went to the camp of the Muslim sultan in a bid to make peace. The pope calls it an “extraordinary” encounter, writing that St. Francis “did not seek did not wage a war of words aimed at imposing doctrines; he simply spread the love of God.” Though Francis may have come with the goal to convert the sultan, he did not succeed, and his later writings show him committed to a different interreligious approach: not trying to convert Muslims through argumentation and denunciation, but rather living alongside them in a spirit of loving presence, hospitality and humble service.
Christians should be open about their identity and faith, the saint said, and can witness to the message of the Gospel when they discern it pleases God. For Francis – both the pope and the saint, it seems – one’s fidelity to the Lord is not simply measured by the doctrines we profess but rather how we love others. Love is the ultimate standard; when we love others as siblings in the human family, God is there.
It is not only significant that Francis presented the encounter between the saint and the sultan, but also how he portrayed this encounter. As contemporary Franciscan scholars have observed, the 1219 meeting between Francis and al-Kamil has often been invoked for triumphalist ends and seen as an encouragement to proselytize to Muslims. St. Francis is often depicted in artwork and later renditions of this story as a commanding preacher, rather than as the humble servant of others. Even today, there are debates among Catholics as to which version of St. Francis should be our model for relations with Muslims.
With this encyclical, Francis has let us know where he stands in that debate.
Pope Francis, right, with Sheik Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of Egypt’s al-Azhar mosque and university in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Feb. 4, 2019 (CNS/Paul Haring)
As a scholar-practitioner of Muslim-Christian dialogue and someone who studies religious pluralism, I was particularly struck by this line in the encyclical, “The Church esteems the ways in which God works in other religions.” Francis goes on to quote Nostra Aetate, stating that the church “rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions. She has a high regard for their manner of life and conduct, their precepts and doctrines which … often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men and women.” Rather than seeing other religious traditions and communities as competitors or threats, Francis wants us to be on the lookout for what is “true and holy” in them, seeing those many things as pleasing to God and even as the result of God’s working among us. This line could also be speaking to what Francis had in mind in the joint document he signed with Imam al-Tayyeb, where they said that “the pluralism and the diversity of religions … are willed by God in His wisdom.”
Many Catholics bristled and pushed back at the notion that God “wills” religious diversity, afraid that it subordinates or relativizes the role of Christ. Without fully explaining what he intended by that passage, Francis in Fratelli Tutti wants Catholics to see other religions as positive forces in the world, which help to achieve God’s purpose of universal human fraternity. Seeing those of other faiths as partners in a common mission, Francis included a Muslim scholar, Judge Mohamed Mahmoud Abdel Salam, as a speaker in the event to mark the encyclical’s release. This is the first time a Muslim has presented on behalf of a papal encyclical, speaking among Catholic prelates and from the chairs typically occupied by cardinals in the synod hall.
Abdel Salam, who is a former advisor to Imam al-Tayyeb and works for the Higher Committee on Human Fraternity to implement the joint document, said, “As a young Muslim scholar of Shari’a, Islam and its sciences, I find myself – with much love and enthusiasm-in agreement with the pope, and I share every word he has written in the encyclical.”
Francis concludes the encyclical with two prayers. One uses Trinitarian language and is meant for Christian communities and ecumenical contexts. The other is a “Prayer to the Creator,” which uses language that people of other religions – including Muslims and Jews – may feel comfortable with and could be used in some interfaith settings. During his pontificate, Francis has not shied away from opportunities for forms of interreligious prayer, and the fact that he put together a prayer that could be said by other believers is evidence of his deep esteem for those of other faiths, his confidence in the prayers of non-Christians and his recognition that, even amid our differences, there is so much that binds the human family together.
[Jordan Denari Duffner is a doctoral student of theology and religious studies at Georgetown University, where she focuses on Catholic-Muslim relations. She is the author of Finding Jesus Among Muslims: How Loving Islam Makes Me a Better Catholic (Liturgical Press, 2017) and Islamophobia: What Christians Should Know (and Do) about Anti-Muslim Discrimination, to be published with Orbis in early 2021.]
We have the ability to bridge religious divides’ interfaith leader Eboo Patel tells students in BYU forum
The mark of a truly educated person is understanding those of different religions, interfaith leader Eboo Patel told BYU students in a BYU forum on Oct. 20.
“Imagine some of the causes you might feel strongly about, and where you might encounter Jews alongside you,” Patel said. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to lean over to them and to say, ‘Hey, I learned in a class at Brigham Young University about tikkun olam, repairing the world, could you tell me more about that?”
Patel is the founder of Interfaith Youth Core, a nonprofit organization with the mission “to make interfaith cooperation a vital part of the college experience, and ultimately a positive force in our society.” He told students that as professionals in a religiously pluralistic society, they should be prepared to have appreciative conversations with people of other faiths, even those with whom they doctrinally disagree.
That type of cooperation is important, Patel said, because the the success of major social movements can be attributed to religious people of different faiths working together. He cited movements led by Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi as examples.
Throughout his address, Patel showed images of religious people cooperating to do good: Jewish and Muslim ambulance drivers pausing for a moment of prayer, a Hindu woman working in a soup kitchen, Christians at a national disaster cleanup. Referencing the recent Hurricane Delta, Patel said, “Whatever damage it causes, the people who will be helping folks after that damage are people of faith.”
Patel encouraged students to think about what they would want to know when interacting with someone from a differing religious background. He said religious literacy will make students better doctors, emergency responders, coaches, teachers, and members of civic and professional communities. Patel said his own life has been deeply influenced by a friend and a former girlfriend who were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“I think that the people who do not receive some appreciative knowledge of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of your ethics, of your history, of the movement west, from the Burned-Over District in New York state through Nauvoo all the way into Utah and what that journey meant, I think that they’re missing something. I think they lack something in their education. And everywhere I go, whether it’s Harvard, or Notre Dame, or Stanford, I point that out,” he said. Similarly, Patel encouraged BYU students to become more informed about other religions as part of their education.
A study by Interfaith Youth Core found that only 22% of students dedicated time while in college to learn about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Patel said BYU students have a great opportunity not only to be committed to sharing the gospel, but to cooperation, appreciation and interfaith leadership.
“We have the ability to bridge religious divides,” Patel said. “It’s one of the most important problems in the world today.”
Christians and Muslims again top list of faiths facing hostility worldwide
Nov 10, 2020
Christians top the list for countries where they face either governmental or social hostility, according to a new report issued Nov. 10 by the Pew Research Center. Christians have topped the list each year since Pew started collecting data in 2007. The number of countries where Christians face some form of hostility rose from 143 in 2017 to 145 in 2018, the latest year for which statistics are available. Christians were followed in order by Muslims, Jews, “others,” folk religions, Hindus, Buddhists and the religiously unaffiliated. Out of 198 nations studied, Christians faced government harassment in 124 countries, second to Muslims’ 126, and social harassment in 104 countries, one more than Muslims’ at 103. In some nations, both governments and private groups place restrictions on religious adherents. The reason, according to the study’s lead researcher, Samirah Majumdar, is simple: “They are also the largest faith groups in the world and the most geographically dispersed.”
She added, “A striking data point beyond that: The group that seems to be harassed in the third highest proportion is Jews, and they number 0.2% of the global population.” Jews faced some form of hostility in 77 countries in 2018. “We’ve seen this in previous years as well,” Majumdar told CNS in a Nov. 6 phone interview.
The 57-page report showed its Government Restrictions Index is at 2.9 for 2018 – the highest since Pew started recording this in 2007. It started at 1.8 on a scale of 0 to 10, and has never gone below that mark, rising steadily since 2011.
This is Pew’s 11th annual report analyzing the extent to which governments and societies around the world restrict or are otherwise hostile to religious beliefs and practices. Pew cited, in part, “a rise in the number of governments using force – such as detentions and physical abuse – to coerce religious groups.” It noted that the more authoritarian a government is, the more likely it will harass religious adherents.
“Among the 10 countries with very high levels of social hostilities, there were four authoritarian states, three hybrid regimes and three flawed democracies – India, Israel and Sri Lanka,” the report said. “The five countries categorized as full democracies with high levels of social hostilities are all in Europe – Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United Kingdom – and all had reports of anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic incidents.”
In assessing the level of government restrictions, the Middle East-North Africa region ranked highest at 6.2 out of 10. But the region with the biggest leap in governmental restrictions was Asia, from 3.8 to 4.4, “partly because a greater number of governments in the region used force against religious groups, including property damage, detention, displacement, abuse and killings,” the report said. China reached a new peak, at 9.3 out of 10.
“In India, anti-conversion laws affected minority religious groups. For example, in the state of Uttar Pradesh in September (2018), police charged 271 Christians with attempting to convert people by drugging them and ‘spreading lies about Hinduism,'” the Pew report said. “The Middle East-North Africa region had the largest share of countries where Christians were harassed in 2018. Of the 20 countries in the region, 19 had some form of harassment targeting Christians – either by governments or social groups,” it added. “Social harassment occurred in 15 countries, the highest share – 75% – since the beginning of the study, while government harassment of Christians was reported in 19 countries in the region, down from all 20 in 2017. For example, in Algeria, a court denied an interfaith couple’s marriage application because one of them was a Christian.”
Governments with an official religion “tend to favor one or two religious groups,” Majumdar said, yet even “religious groups that are favored can also be harassed.” Only two countries, El Salvador and South Korea, had large increases – two points or more – in their overall scores. In El Salvador during Holy Week in 2018, “armed men robbed a priest and his companions on their way to Mass and killed the priest. Then, in July, Salvadoran gang members killed a Protestant pastor for reportedly persuading six members to leave the gang and join his congregation,” the report said.
“Gang members also extorted money from congregations in exchange for letting them operate, or in some cases made them divert charitable donations to gang members’ families,” it added. In neighboring Nicaragua, according to Amnesty International – one of a phalanx of sources used by Pew to formulate its report – the government “committed or permitted” serious human rights violations, including attacks on the Catholic Church and its clergy, especially those who helped protect protesters.
In July 2018, the report said, “police conducted a 15-hour attack on a church in the capital city of Managua that was providing shelter to student protesters; two people died and at least 10 were injured in the police action. And in September, a deputy chief of police assaulted a priest for asking government supporters to turn down ruling-party propaganda music playing outside the church during a funeral.”
The United States came in at 2.3 – “moderate” levels of restrictions in Pew’s terminology. The report cited the synagogue attack in 2018 in Pittsburgh as worshippers were shot during services, killing 11 people and injuring six others in what Pew said was “one of the deadliest assaults on Jews in American history.”
The State Department’s human rights report is a primary source for Pew, but “the State Department doesn’t publish reports about itself, so we actually have to depend on other sources,” Majumdar said, including FBI hate crime statistics and Justice Department reports on religious freedom cases that surfaced over the year. Beyond what appears in the report, “the way we break it down, we can find data on the different groups’ general harassment by the government,” Majumdar said. “We also do religious-denomination breaks of social harassment as well. We can also provide data on countries in general where minority groups are being targeted.”
INTERFAITH LEADERS AND POLICY EXPERTS DISCUSS THE ETHICAL DIMENSION OF CLIMATE CHANGE AT THE G20 INTERFAITH FORUM 2020
The looming dangers posed by climate change should spur faith organizations and lawmakers to address its potentially catastrophic impact on vulnerable populations around the world, according to religious leaders, policymakers and other experts gathered virtually yesterday at the G20 Interfaith Forum. In the opening plenary on Day 4 of the G20 Interfaith Forum, hundreds of faith leaders, policymakers and other experts discussed ways in which religious and interfaith organizations can take action to address the threat of global warming.
The G20 Interfaith Forum, which concludes today, is being held in its first ever virtual incarnation by KAICIID and its partners, the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC), the G20 Interfaith Association and Saudi Arabia’s National Committee for Interfaith and Intercultural Dialogue.
“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia seeks to preserve natural resources and environmental sustainability and achieve water security,” said keynote speaker H.E. Abdulrahman Abdulmohsen A. AlFadley, Minister of Agriculture and Environment, Saudi Arabia. “It aspires to contribute to food security, protection of ecosystems and the quality of life in general, based on its religious and humanitarian principles.”
He warned that climate change could push as many as 120 million more people into poverty by 2030. “The science is clear. Climate change is occurring at an alarming rate and human activities are the primary driver. Climate change exacerbates poverty and inequalities and triggers new vulnerabilities. In fact, it threatens to undo the last 50 years of progress in development, global health and poverty reduction.”
Climate change is having a catastrophic effect on environments and economies across the world. Recent California wildfires have been exacerbated by global warming; a new study has warned that the Arctic is undergoing “an abrupt climate change event” that will probably lead to dramatic changes. Last month, it was reported that a large ice shelf in Greenland had torn itself apart, worn away by warm waters.
Other speakers at yesterday’s opening plenary included His Eminence Metropolitan Emmanuel Adamakis of France, Exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and member of KAICIID Board of Directors, Dr. Juliette Biao Koudenoukpo, Regional Director for Africa at the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Rev. Fletcher Harper, Executive Director of GreenFaith, H.E. Margaritis Schinas, Vice-President in the European Commission with the portfolio of Promoting the European Way of Life and Rabbi Awraham Soetendorp, President of Green Cross Netherlands.
In 2018, the world’s leading climate scientists warned there is only a dozen years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C. Any temperature beyond 1.5C could significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people around the world. The authors of the landmark report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change also said that urgent and unprecedented changes are required to reach the target, set out by the Paris agreement pledge to keep temperatures between 1.5C and 2C.
“Today’s ecological challenges are not only related to globalisation. I would also say they areINTERFAITH LEADERS AND POLICY EXPERTS DISCUSS THE ETHICAL DIMENSION OF CLIMATE CHANGE AT THE G20 INTERFAITH FORUM 2020geopolitical, economic and philosophical…faith-based institutions have the crucial task to raise awareness of the dangers related to the destruction of the natural environment,” said His Eminence Metropolitan Emmanuel Adamakis of France, Exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and member of the KAICIID Board of Directors.
“To surmount the many obstacles that disrupt our focus on enhancing climate action and ambition, every decision, every investment, every action must be founded on the timeless values of selflessness and the singular purpose to touch many lives,” said Dr. Juliette Biao Koudenoukpo, Regional Director for Africa at the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). The opening plenary ended with a Q&A session during which Rev. Fletcher Harper, Executive Director of GreenFaith, encouraged citizens to equip themselves in matters of theology, as well as solutions to climate change like renewable energy sources.
“Have your sacred text in one hand and the day’s newspaper in the other hand, so that you can make a substantial moral contribution to public discourse about the issues, not only speaking about the issues, not only quoting sacred texts, but to bring those into dialogue to help people understand why these issues matter as moral and religious issues,” he said.
The G20 Interfaith Forum is the culmination of a months-long process of consultations between hundreds of religious leaders and policymakers, experts and representatives of faith-based organizations from 90 countries on five continents collaborating to discuss and identify joint solutions to issues ranging from protecting the global environment, access to education and gender equality to countering hate speech and COVID-19. The opening plenary was followed by panels on protecting ecological spaces, the importance of partnerships address climate change and the rule of law, human rights and religious rights. Ecological challenges: rainforest protection and purposeful action to protect the environment
Participants in the panel discussion on ecological challenges urged immediate cooperation from the international community on environmental protection plans, pointing to the problems the climate crisis has instigated across the globe.
According to Marylita Poma, Communications Officer at the Interfaith Rainforest Initiative, particular consideration must be given to the planet’s Indigenous and First People communities, who face a very immediate threat from climate change.
Poma also called on faith-based organizations to champion young people’s voices and support their efforts on environmental policy, because action can no longer be postponed. “Today, young activists are the largest mobilised movement supporting climate justice. We’re no longer the future, because climate change is now our present,” she said.
Participants in the second panel acknowledged the challenge of involving faith communities in environmental protection initiatives, as their credibility and knowledge is often questioned. According to Kiran Bali, Chair of the URI Global Council of Trustees, faith communities can overcome this through evidence-based work and learning the ins and outs of policy. She outlined one recent example from the United Kingdom where faith-based and civil society organizations united to reduce carbon emissions and greenhouse gases. Together, they made targeted plans for policy reform and set clear goals to make their community carbon neutral by 2038. These types of partnerships are vital, according to Prof. Auwal Farouk Abdussalam, KAICIID Fellow and Associate Professor at the Department of Geography at the Kaduna State University in Nigeria, because they ensure that change will be made from both the top down and the bottom up.
“We have the religious leaders, and we have the scientists and policymakers. If you gather them in one room and ask them to bring a solution, that will be a real practical solution, it can be scaled down to the grassroots and community levels. We all know that religious leaders are the link,” he said.
Shifting the discussion from climate change to the rule of law, participants in the third panel called for religious communities to unite on fundamental human and religious rights. Panellists also said that the need for dialogue and mutual respect has been more urgent than ever during the current pandemic.
Claudio Epelman, Executive Director of the Latin American Jewish Congress said in cases like these, religious communities need to stand up for each other, combatting misinformation and fighting for freedom of worship and pluralism.
“I believe that we have to spread the idea that our rights must be reflected in ‘the Other’.”
A girl and her mother visit a temporary shrine to the Hindu goddess Durga, ahead of Durga Puja festival, in Kolkata, India, Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020. (AP Photo/Bikas Das)
Buddhist monk Shoten Minegishi lights a candle for peace as Bartolomew I, Patriarch of Constantinopolis, Pope Francis and Haim Korsia, Chief Rabbi of France, look on, during an inter-religious ceremony for peace in the square outside Rome’s City Hall, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020 (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
A religious man uses herbs to apply liquor on a worshiper of folk saint Maximon, worshipped mainly by Indigenous people, inside a temple known as Maximon church on his feast day in San Andres Itzapa, Guatemala, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020. To help curb the spread of the new coronavirus, the festival was limited to local residents who waited in line to enter little by little, and it was closed to pilgrims who travel here from across the country. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
Calendar for WISDOM and Other Interfaith Events
Tuesday, December 8, 7:00 PM Five Women Five Journeys
Insight Through Education, Inc.” Irma Blauner, V.P. for Programming, Palm Spring, FL.
Starting November 11th, The Jewish Wisdom of Jesus
See Flyer Below
November 16th 7:00 – 8:30 PM Women Confronting Racisom Webinar See Flyer Below
Tuesday, December 1 at 6:30 PM Mosaic Art Tile Outing with Song and Spirit Institute for Peace. See Flyer Below
The Jewish Wisdom of Jesus,
and the Roots of Modern Spiritual Practice
Hazzan Steve Klaper
Song and Spirit Institute for Peace
4 classes | 90 minutes each | $60
Wednesdays on Zoom at 7:00 pm
Nov. 11 – Nov. 18 – Nov. 25 – Dec 2
REGISTER AT: tinyurl.com/Jwisdom2020
Judaism and Christianity have each removed Jesus from his place in the lineage of Jewish teachers, but his deeply Jewish message can be understood almost entirely as a daring attempt to re-form and renew the Judaism of his day. In this 4-part interfaith class, we place Jesus in historical context as an innovative, first century teacher of Jewish wisdom. We’ll compare and contrast Kaddish and the Lord’s Prayer as examples of early rabbinic liturgy, explore the intent of the Beatitudes as a means of teaching Torah to the masses, examine the parables as they sounded to 1st Century ears, and much more. Join Hazzan Steve Klaper in exploring the life and teachings of the most famous Jewish teacher in history, in a respectful and spiritual way.
About a dozen WISDOM sisters and friends braved cloudy and chilly weather to visit the Yates Cider Mill in Rochester on October 19, enjoying fresh cider and donuts in a covered picnic area. Those in attendance agreed it was wonderful to see people in the flesh rather than on Zoom. The conversation ranged from pandemic woes to children’s books and, of course, what’s going on in our state and our nation. Several of those who came brought friends or relatives who were new to WISDOM. Here’s hoping we can plan some more socially distanced in-person gatherings soon!
Award-winning Birmingham Educator Rick Joseph Named New Chairman of World Sabbath
After 20 years, World Sabbath, a Detroit faith-based event that brings youth and adults together one Sunday each year to offer prayers of peace as an answer to global wars and conflict, is changing leadership. Birmingham language arts and social studies teacher Rick Joseph, who in 2016 was recognized by the Northwest Evaluation Association as Michigan Teacher of the Year, will take over the chairmanship position as Gail Katz steps down after 20 years of involvement and service.
Usually held in March, World Sabbath draws hundreds of worshippers and participants into a house of prayer into a multi-sensory experience with prayers, songs, and dance. Planning a future event will be a challenge due to the ongoing pandemic, Joseph acknowledges. The next in-person World Sabbath is not slated until early 2022 and is set to be hosted by Temple Israel. To mark the day in 2021, Joseph hopes he can coordinate with local religious leaders and educators to create an online compilation and collection of expressions and prayers for peace across Detroit’s diverse faith population.
Joseph believes that World Sabbath is the embodiment of “what makes us spiritual beings and is a celebration of the ties that bind us in how we come together in peace to acknowledge the Creator.” Children ph. articipating in the Parade of Flags, World Sabbath. “Coming together as we do each year at World Sabbath helps create a more peaceful loving world. I am looking forward to cultivating relationships with local religious and educational leaders to increase the diversity represented at World Sabbath.
As a social studies teacher, Joseph always encourages his students to have deeper conversations by asking hard and sometimes uncomfortable questions to learn how to respectfully engage in civic discourse. Joseph said that sometimes, questions that can come off as offensive are okay if they are framed in a curious, non-accusatory manner. When a student learns effective communication tools such as how to ask questions on sensitive topics, everyone comes out ahead if it means those questions lead to learning and understanding more about another student’s religious or ethnic backgrounds.
“There are no elephants in my classroom. No topic – religion, politics, race – is off the table. And though sometimes some questions or opinions raised by one student may seem offensive or even bigoted to another, I see them asking the question from a point of curiosity. It is then my job to reframe the question so it will have constructive and educational results.” Joseph looks forward to his new role and hopes to continue Katz’s legacy of “creating community wherever she goes and whomever she comes in contact with.”
“Gail Katz is truly one of the most inspiring educators that I know. She is a true role model for me. From her work on World Sabbath to starting Religious Diversity Journeys, she has shepherded and facilitated relationships that span across religious differences and across Metro Detroit. She is somebody whom I aspire to and will continue to learn from as I move into this position.”
As a Catholic, Joseph looks to the verse from the Book of Matthew 5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” for inspiration as he embarks on this new leadership chapter in his life to encouraging others across faiths to seek to achieve peace. He is eager to work with other faith leaders who can bring youth from different faith and ethnic perspectives together for future World Sabbath events. There is a possibility that there will be an online event in 2021 and for that, he is seeking people to submit videos illustrating peace practices in their religious traditions, rituals, or texts.
In 2000, Detroit area pastors Rev. Rod Reinhart and Rev. Ed Mullins introduced Katz to the program concept as they sought to create an annual peace event for clergy as a reaction to wars going on around the world. When Rev. Reinhart and Rev. Mullins departed the Detroit area in 2004 and turned the coordination of World Sabbath over to Katz. At the time, she was a Middle School teacher so she put her own spin on the event by asking area youth to participate and offer prayers of peace instead of clergy. Twenty years later, Katz said it is time to “pass the championship torch on” to Joseph. “I’m looking forward to staying on the World Sabbath committee and watching Rick take over as the new chairman of the World Sabbath, who will add his own insights and new ideas to the event as he encourages his own students to become involved in projects that increase their understanding of diversity.”
Israeli and Palestinian Breast Cancer Survivors
Forge a Unique Alliance.
By Michele Chabin – Detroit Jewish News, October 1, 2020
Ibtisam Erekat, a devout Muslim, and Ruth Ebenstein, a Modern Orthodox , have much more than breast cancer survival in common.
Jerusalem -Growing up in Southfield, Ruth Ebenstein always felt energized by the ethnic and religious diversity that characterizes Metro Detroit life. So when Ebenstein, who moved to Israel in 1990, was diagnosed with breast cancer 10 years ago, it felt natural for her to join a Jerusalem breast cancer support group for Jewish and Palestinian women. “When I found out about this breast cancer support group, I thought it would be a great way to forge a connection,” Ebenstein said. “Breast cancer is a huge thing to have in common.”
In addition to seeking the support group’s advice and reassurance, Ebenstein was hoping to find friendship. “I was looking for someone going through the same experience to connect with. I felt lonely on this journey.” The woman she connected with – to the point of feeling like sisters – is Ibtisam Erekat, a Palestinian breast cancer survivor who lives in Abu Dis, a Palestinian village on the other side of Israel’s soaring security barrier that separates the West Bank from Jerusalem.
As the political impasse and mistrust between Israelis and Palestinians has grown, so has their devotion to each other. Erekat, a devout Muslim, and Ebenstein, a Modern Orthodox Jew, have much more than breast cancer survival in common. Both were in their 30s when they married divorced men with children, and both gave birth to three children within three years. And they both believe that love can overcome hate.
“Ibtisam is so comfortable with herself, something we have in common,” Ebenstein said. “She’s strong-willed in the best sense; she has her own opinions. She’s warm, has a wonderful sense of humor and incredible faith.” Soon, they began meeting outside the confines of the support group, woman-to-woman, and, later, family-to-family. Their common language is English. “We talk about everything,” Ebenstein said. When they talk about the “hard stuff” – terror attacks, wars – they discuss how these events relate to their personal lives.
During the 2014 Israel-Gaza war, for example, the friends leaned on each other for emotional support as Hamas launched thousands of mortars and rockets into Israel, and the IDF retaliated, decimating parts of Gaza.
On a day-to-day level, “if I hear of something that happened in Abu Dis, I’ll check in and see if she’s OK,” Ebenstein said. “Ibtisam does the same for me.”
Erekat initially joined a Palestinian support group, and then joined the Jewish Israeli-Palestinian group through the Patient’s Friends Association at Augusta Victoria Hospital in eastern Jerusalem.
“It was a beautiful experience where we got to know a group of Israeli and Arab women,” she said. She was struck by Ebenstein’s warmth and desire to help Palestinian group members. “She treated me with great respect and helped me in several situations,” Erekat said. The more time they spent together, the more their friendship blossomed. “I got to know her family, her father, mother, sister and two brothers, and also her husband Yonatan. He is a very fun person and respects me, and I appreciate this about him. I respect them, and love them all,” Erekat said. Eventually, the friendship evolved into speaking engagements in the U.S. and Israel. Erekat and Ebenstein addressed groups, large and small, about their unique relationship and the fact that individual Israelis and Palestinians have the power to overcome ingrained hatred by seeing each other as people. They’ve started giving talks over Zoom to groups near and far. “We’re individuals,” Ebenstein said. “She’s not Palestine. I’m not Israel. She’s Ibtisam; I’m Ruth.” Along the way, Ebenstein has learned about Palestinian culture – and suffering. “Getting close to someone across the divide has taught me how much we don’t know about the ‘other.’ Getting close to someone makes you see how little you know. It really hammers it home.”
Erekat, who has asthma, lives close to the Separation Barrier. Sometimes there are skirmishes between Palestinians and Israeli military or border police, and the tear gas wafts into her home.
“She can be vomiting for hours from the tear gas, but if you don’t know anyone affected, you wouldn’t know that this is happening,” Ebenstein said. “You don’t realize an innocent person sitting on her couch will be sick for hours, or that many Palestinians who are sick can’t get an entry permit into Israel for much-needed medical treatment.
“As a cancer survivor the thought of not being able to get treatment is frightening,” both for herself and Erekat, Ebenstein said. “We are an occupied people,” Erekat said. “At first, when I got to know Ruti, I could not visit her at her home except with a permit from the Israeli government. Then the laws changed, and I was allowed in without a permit because I’m over 50 years old. Now such a visit is forbidden, possibly related to the Coronavirus pandemic.” For the vast majority of Israelis, Palestinians are “arbitrary concepts,” Ebenstein said. Having a dear friend who is Palestinian “changed so much for me.” Erekat feels the same way. “We have our own bodies but share one soul. We feel each other’s pain and help each other in many matters. Ruti is my sister and best friend,” Erekat said.
Ardeth Platte, Dominican nun dedicated to no-nukes cause, dies at 84
Religion News Service
Ardeth Platte (in the center) leading a prayer service
Sister Ardeth Platte, a Dominican order nun who fought for nuclear disarmament and later served as an inspiration for a character on the popular Netflix show “Orange Is the New Black,” died in her sleep at the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker House in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday (Sept. 30). Platte, 84, who often worked in tandem with her best friend and frequent collaborator, Sister Carol Gilbert, spent years in prison for nonviolent civil disobedience in opposition to nuclear weapons and war.
It was Gilbert who discovered Platte on Wednesday morning. She had apparently been listening to the radio, as she was still wearing headphones when Gilbert found her. Gilbert said Platte had listened to the presidential debate Tuesday night. In recent years, the duo spent the brunt of their work speaking in support of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Gilbert said she had been excited Wednesday morning at the prospect of telling Platte that Malaysia had become the 46th nation to ratify the treaty. Malaysia’s decision means just four additional ratifications are needed for the landmark disarmament treaty to be brought into force, Gilbert said. Gilbert said Platte did her final Zoom presentation in support of the treaty on Saturday to the Boston University School of Theology.
“I’m numb,” Gilbert said in a telephone interview. “She was fine yesterday. We did work. I guess you just don’t think death can come that quickly.”
Platte was born in Lansing, Michigan, and began her work for the Dominicans as a teacher. In the 1960s and ’70s, she served as principal and director of alternative education at the former St. Joseph’s Educational Center in Saginaw, Michigan. Her work as an educator impressed many in the community, and Platte was urged to run for the Saginaw City Council. She won, serving as councilwoman from 1973-1985. She also served as coordinator of Saginaw’s Home for Peace and Justice for more than a decade. It was in Michigan that Platte began her anti-nuclear work, and where Gilbert joined her. Later, the pair moved to Baltimore to join the Jonah House resistance community with Elizabeth McAlister and Philip Berrigan. In 2002, Platte, Gilbert and Sister Jackie Hudson gained international attention when they dressed as weapons inspectors, entered and were arrested at a Minuteman III nuclear missile site in Colorado. Convicted of federal felony charges, the three nuns were sentenced to prison. Hudson died in 2011.
When Platte and Gilbert returned to Colorado in 2017 for a rally, a story in The Denver Post stated: “In the years since they served their sentences in federal prison, the Dominican sisters, hardly deterred by the threat of future incarceration, have become pop culture icons.” A character on the Netflix series “Orange Is the New Black” was based on Platte, who practiced yoga at Danbury Federal Correctional Institution with Piper Kerman, author of the book on which the series about a group of women serving time in a minimum-security women’s prison is based.
A documentary film about the sisters, called “Conviction,” led to stories about the trio being published in The New Yorker, The New York Times and The Washington Post, as well as some international publications. In recent months, Platte and Gilbert joined actress Jane Fonda for large protests at the White House. Gilbert, who called 911 when she realized Platte had died, said the Catholic Worker house was soon crawling with D.C. police.
“I wanted to tell Ardeth that even in death you have to make a scene, made our bedroom here into a crime scene.” In an email announcement of Platte’s sudden death sent to many of her friends, Catholic activist Paul Magno of Jonah House wrote: “Deep shock to hear this but grateful for all that Ardeth has given to making the peace of Christ radiate through our world.”
In 2017, Platte told The Denver Post: “I refuse to have an enemy. I simply won’t.”
German Biker Gang Stages Vigil to Protect Munich Synagogue During Yom Kippur Services
Members of the ‘Kuhle Wampe’ bikers club take part in a Yom Kippur solidarity vigil, outside the synagogue on Munich’s Jakobsplatz, Sept. 28, 2020. Photo: Thomas Vonier via imago-images / Reuters.
Members of a German bikers club staged a vigil outside the main synagogue in Munich on Monday pledging to protect the city’s Jewish community as it held services for Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. About 70 people – including 20 leather and denim-clad bikers from the “Kuhle Wampe” club – gathered outside the synagogue on Jakobsplatz to mark the first anniversary of the attack by a neo-Nazi gunman on a synagogue in the city of Halle in which two people were murdered. The club, which actively campaigns against racism and antisemitism, was first launched in the 1970s by bikers who opposed the nationalist and right-wing tendencies that dominated the scene at the time. Oliver Westermann, a biker who initiated the vigil, told the assembled crowd, “We’re here to protect the synagogue.” Other members of the club held up a white banner bearing the words “Together for Our Synagogue” in Hebrew.
Other speakers at the event included Charlotte Knobloch – the head of the Munich Jewish community – who recalled her enthusiasm when Westermann suggested the vigil a few weeks ago. Praising the bikers’ for their commitment, Knobloch said that “the name ‘Yom Kippur’ has sat heavily in our hearts since Halle.” More than 50 worshippers who attended the Halle synagogue on Yom Kippur in 2019 would have faced a certain massacre at the hands of the gunman, neo-Nazi Stephan Balliet, had the synagogue’s security doors not prevented his entry.
Another speaker at the vigil, Susanne Breit-Kessler, chairwoman of the Bavarian Ethics Council, released two white balloons in memory of the two people murdered by Balliet after he fled the synagogue.
“We give antisemitism, racism and neo-fascism a clear rejection,” she declared, adding, “L’Chaim! To life in diversity.”
Why ‘namaste’ has become the perfect pandemic greeting
(The Conversation) – Hands over the heart in prayer pose. A little bow of the head. A gesture of respect. An acknowledgment of our shared humanity. And no touching. As people the world over are choosing to ditch the handshakes and hugs for fear of contracting the coronavirus, namaste is becoming the perfect pandemic greeting. As a scholar whose research focuses on the ethics of communication and as a yoga teacher, I’m interested in how people use rituals and rhetoric to affirm their interconnectedness with one another – and with the world.
Namaste is one such ritual.
I bow to you. Originally a Sanskrit word, namaste is composed of two parts – “namas” means “bend to,” “bow to” or “honor to,” and “te” means “to you.” So namaste means “I bow to you.” This meaning is often reinforced by a small bow of the head. In Hindi and a number of other languages derived from Sanskrit, namaste is basically a respectful way of saying hello and also goodbye. Today, namaste has been adopted into the English language, along with other words from non-English sources. Many words, when borrowed, keep their spelling but acquire new meanings. This is the case with namaste – it has shifted from meaning “I bow to you” to “I bow to the divine in you.”
For many American yoga teachers, beginning most likely with Ram Dass in the 1960s and 1970s, namaste means something like “the divine light in me bows to the divine light within you.” This is the definition of namaste I first learned and have often repeated to my students.
In the words of the popular American yoga teacher Shiva Rea, namaste is “the consummate Indian greeting,” a “sacred hello,” that means “I bow to the divinity within you from the divinity within me.” Deepak Chopra repeats a similar definition on his podcast “The Daily Breath with Deepak Chopra“: namaste means “the spirit in me honors the spirit in you” and “the divine in me honors the divine in you.” Namaste has a sacred connotation. When you bow to another, you are honoring something sacred in them. When you bow to another, you are acknowledging that they are worthy of respect and dignity. I bow to the divine light in you
However, there are critics who say that global yogis have taken namaste out of its context. Some claim that the greeting has been infused with a religious meaning that doesn’t exist in Indian culture.
I see things differently. Many common salutations have religious roots, including adios, or “a Dios,” to God, and goodbye – a contraction of “God be with you.” Most Indian religions agree that there is something divine in all individuals, whether it’s a soul, called the “atman” or “purusha” in Hinduism, or the capacity for awakening in Buddhism. As I argue in my forthcoming book, “The Ethics of Oneness: Emerson, Whitman, and the Bhagavad Gita,” this idea, of bowing to the divine in others, also resonates with a deep spiritual inclination in American culture. Beginning in the 1830s and 1840s, the influential philosopher and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson, in dialogue with a number of other thinkers, invented a form of spiritual practice that encouraged Americans to actively address the divine soul in others every time they spoke. Of particular note is that Emerson often used the metaphor of light to imagine this inner divinity, likely because of his great admiration for the Quakers, whose Christian denomination holds that God lives inside of us all in the form of an “inner light.” The definition of namaste as “the divine light in me bows to the divine light in you” is very much in the spirit of both Indian religions and 19th-century traditions of American spirituality.
In today’s global yoga culture, namaste is typically said at the end of class. As I understand, for yogis, saying namaste is a moment of contemplating the virtues associated with yoga – including peacefulness, compassion, and gratitude and how to bring those into one’s daily life.
I asked Swami Tattwamayananda, the head of the Vedanta Society of Northern California in San Francisco and one of the world’s leading authorities on Hindu ritual and scripture, how he felt about Americans like me saying namaste. He responded: “It is perfectly appropriate for everyone, including Westerners like yourself to say namaste at the end of your yoga classes.” He also reiterated that namaste means “I bow down to you” – in the sense that I bow down to the divine presence in you.
One need not be a Hindu, or a Buddhist, or a yoga teacher to say namaste. Namaste can be as religious or secular as the speaker desires.
What matters most, I believe, is the intention behind the word namaste. When you bow to another, the question to consider is this: Do you truly recognize them as a fellow human being worthy of dignity, bonded in shared suffering and a shared capacity for transcendence?
This recognition of our interconnectedness is what namaste is all about – and exactly what we need during the pandemic.
(Jeremy David Engels is a professor of communication arts and sciences at Pennsylvania State University. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)
HWPL Interfaith Prayer Meeting Unites Believers in Fervent Prayer to End Suffering from COVID-19
HWPL (Heavenly Culture World Peace and Restoration of Light) brings together almost 200 religious leaders and their members to join a virtual prayer meeting to pray for an end of COVID-19 and global peace. Religious leaders of different denominations gathered their congregations and joined HWPL to “lift up prayers as one” for the end of COVID-19 around the world. The pandemic has inflicted suffering around the world, and one organization is uniting believers of all faiths to pray for its expedient end. HWPL held its Interfaith Prayer Meeting Saturday and over 180 online attendees prayed in their native languages to their deity to help a cure be discovered sooner. They also fervently prayed in unison for leaders in religion, political, medical and science fields to unite and lead with wisdom and compassion.
“In the current situation where the world is suffering from COVID-19, the purpose of this prayer meeting is for religious people to pray as one to overcome this disaster by breaking down the barriers between denominations,” the Moderator said. “Today, through our prayers, petitions, cries, tears, and smiles and through peace, the world that is suffering because of the virus will change.”
Though religions may separate people by languages and customs, faith in a higher power is what united all of them at the Interfaith Prayer Meeting Saturday. Attendees wore masks in solidarity with health workers on the front lines. And HWPL Chicago hopes this meeting will inspire other religious organizations to also hold interfaith meetings to unite people to pray for COVID-19’s end.
The event opened with meditation, where a soothing voice urged listeners to quiet themselves and focus deeply as a Hindu mantra was spoken. A quote from the Bhagavad Gita was read that translated as ‘whenever wherever there is a decline in religious practice, oh Arjun whenever there is a predominant rise of irreligion, at that time I descend myself. To deliver the pious, to annihilate the evil & to establish the (re-establish) the principle of religion.’ (Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 4, Verse 7-8)
The opening of this beautiful virtual event set the tone for a peaceful unification where believers could worship freely, and some could be cleansed by the many prayers lifted. Likewise, the montage of beautiful landscapes and religious monuments around the world set to the soundtrack of Buddhist, Christian and Hindu hymns created a surprising sense of connectedness. Though attendees were alone in their homes across the country, they were united in faith by the sincerity of the Moderator and by the shared impact of the deadly coronavirus plague.
The Moderator led participants in prayer and silent meditation for seven distinctive prayers requested from religious leaders, quoting the Quran, the Bible, Gandhi and Buddha. With humility he said, “We are united first as human beings.” Then attendees prayed each prayer out loud in their native languages.
Together they prayed:
For an end to the coronavirus around the world.
For government and medical personnel who are working to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
That all people and religious leaders would become one through love and pray for the end of coronavirus.
For fellow citizens who are suffering because of the virus, and those who have lost loved ones to the virus.
For the development of an effective treatment for the coronavirus.
A prayer of repentance.
For unity of religions and world peace.
Witnessing a hundred-plus people, their heads bowed wearing surgical masks and praying with a fervent humble heart, to their god for an end to suffering around the world was truly an uplifting sight for attendees. Recounting the Biblical story of Apostle Paul, the Moderator said, “When one of us suffer we all suffer.”
HWPL Chicago is inspiring believers to come together and transcend religion and denomination to work with one heart and help heal the world.
A cyclist pedals past rows of unfinished clay idols of Hindu goddess Durga, outside a studio ahead of Durga Puja festival, in Kolkata, India, Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020. Durga Puja, will be celebrated from Oct. 22 to 26. (AP Photo/Bikas Das)
Muslim worshippers observe social distancing during Friday prayers in Rabat, Morocco, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. For the first time since the outbreak of coronavirus in March, Morocco has allowed mosques to reopen for Friday prayers. (AP Photo/Mosa’ab Elshamy)
Calendar for WISDOM and Other Interfaith Events
Monday, October 19, 4:00 PM Come Join us at Yates Cider Mill for Cider and Donuts, 1990 E. Avon Rd., Rochester Hills, MI 48307. See Flyer Below.
Tuesday, December 1, 7:00 PM WISDOM Art Project
– Mosaic tiles at Song and Spirit Institute for Peace, 1717 W. 13 Mile Rd., Royal Oak, MI 48073 Stay tuned for more information
Tuesday, December 8, 7:00 PM Five Women Five Journeys
Insight Through Education, Inc.” Irma Blauner, V.P. for Programming, Palm Spring, FL.
Shofar lessons are becoming a pre-holiday necessity in the age of coronavirus
Shofars, or ram’s horns, on display for sale at a workshop in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Sept. 22, 2014. A shofar is traditionally blown during several Jewish holidays. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
(RNS) – In the biblical account, the walls of Jericho came tumbling down after Joshua commanded seven priests to blow their ram’s horns or shofars.
This year, it will take a lot more than seven priests for the plaintive wail of the shofar to penetrate the walls of Jews sheltering in place for the Jewish High Holy Days. The coronavirus has left nearly all synagogues across the country shuttered. On Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, which begins at sundown Sept. 18, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which starts the evening of Sept. 27, most Jews will be streaming services from home. But Jewish law requires Jews to hear the shofar in person, and now many Jews are scrambling to figure out ways to provide that hornlike blast to as many people as possible, since rabbis say an online recording should be the last resort. While some Jewish homes have a shofar – mainly as a decorative ritual object – few American Jews actually use it. In most Jewish congregations, a handful of people trained in blowing a shofar are called upon year after year to do the honors in front of packed sanctuaries.
A man plays the shofar at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on Aug. 22, 2010, in Champaign, Illinois. Photo by Clay Gregory/Creative Commons
But ahead of the High Holidays this year, many people are dusting off their shofars and getting on Zoom with trained shofar blowers to learn how to use it for small groups gathered outdoors. Chabad, the Hasidic Jewish dynasty based in Brooklyn, last week began offering a three-session how-to class called “The Sound and the Spirit.” As of earlier this week, 4,000 people had registered for it. Rabbi Chanoch Kaplan, who serves at Chabad House in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, teaches the prerecorded class and expects many more to register in the coming days. (The course is free but has a $40 suggested donation.) Kaplan has been blowing shofars and teaching children in Hebrew school how to make them for more than 20 years. With a little instruction, he said, anyone can do it. But “obviously, practice makes perfect.”
Kaplan said he learned from his father, who used to stand at the Jewish-American Festival in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor year after year to teach passersby how to blow the shofar. “I looked up to him and I was mesmerized by the sound as it would penetrate the air and people stood and listened,” Kaplan said.
The shofar is harvested from the carcass of a ram or almost any other kosher animal; antelopes have particularly beautiful spiraling horns. They’re widely available online for as little as $30, though they can fetch much more. A shofar has to be completely empty of bone and cartilage to be used. This can be done manually with boiling water or oil or a blowtorch. Afterward, it can be cleaned and sanitized, sometimes sanded and polished. Any puncture, even if it is repaired, renders the shofar ritually unfit.
Hearing the shofar on Rosh Hashana is a mitzvah – a required, virtuous deed. It is intended to awaken the soul and prompt people to reflect on the past year and vow to return to God. The clarion call is so important to hear in person that many synagogues switch off any microphones or audio amplifiers before the shofar is blown. This year, because the first full day of Rosh Hashana falls on a Saturday, the shofar will not be blown until Sunday, the second day of the holiday.
There are three sound combinations blown on Rosh Hashana and they can be learned. “The most important thing I tell people is, it’s not about the amount of air you’re blowing,” Kaplan said. “It’s about your position. If you get the position right, it’s no problem whatsoever.”
In Raleigh, North Carolina, Beth Meyer Synagogue has assembled a shofar corps – a group of people who will go around to outdoor courtyards around nursing homes or assisted living complexes so elderly Jewish residents can hear the sound without leaving their rooms. “We have to be sensitive to the neighbors,” said Rabbi Eric Solomon. “But we’re excited about it.” Many synagogues will also be holding limited outdoor shofar blowing events – either in synagogue parking lots or in local parks. Public health experts say it’s safe to blow the shofar outdoors if people maintain proper distance. As an extra precaution, the Orthodox Union has issued guidelines recommending a surgical mask be wrapped over the wider end of the shofar. The fear is that some droplets from the blower could turn into aerosols, thus posing a COVID-19 infection risk. Adam Levine, a professor of math at Duke University who is active at Beth El Synagogue in Durham, North Carolina, said he owns two shofars, which he received as bar mitzvah gifts years ago. “I can’t really get much of a sound out of either one of them,” Levine said. “I’m hoping to get a little Zoom lesson in between now and then. I certainly am not going to put anyone’s shofar hearing in my hands. But if I can maybe try to learn to do it for myself it’ll be nice to take this opportunity.”
Pope Francis is flanked by the Rev. Georges Breidi, a Lebanese priest, right, as they hold a Lebanese flag in remembrance of last month’s explosion in Beirut, during the pontiff’s general audience, the first with faithful since the coronavirus outbreak began in February, at the San Damaso courtyard at the Vatican on Sept. 2, 2020. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Shiite Muslims re-enact the 7th century battle of Karbala, during Ashura commemorations outside the holy shrine of Imam Hussein in Karbala, Iraq, Sunday, Aug. 30, 2020. Ashura marks the death of Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, at the Battle of Karbala in present-day Iraq. (AP Photo/Anmar Khalil)
Interfaith program brings Jews, Muslims together
September 8, 2020
The Muslim and Jewish co-authors of a book promoting Muslim-Jewish friendship and trust appealed directly to members of their respective communities to “stand together to protect democracy, pluralism and religious liberty in America.”
Addressing a zoom forum co-sponsored by the Interfaith Institute of the Islamic Center of Long Island (ICLI) and Temple Or Elohim, A Community Reform Congregation, the speakers, Sabeeha Rehman and Walter Ruby, whose book We Refuse to be Enemies. How Muslims and Jews Can Make Peace, One Friendship at a Time (Arcade Publishing. April 2021), argued, “As members of the two largest minority faith communities in America, we must stand together at a portentous moment in American history. Neither of our communities will be able to prosper in an America characterized by xenophobia and bigotry.”
Rehman and Ruby, who have worked to strengthen Muslim-Jewish communication and cooperation since 9-11, believe that Jews and Muslims are natural allies who share a great deal including common Patriarchs and Matriarchs, and shared principles at the core of both faiths, including: ‘If You Save One Life, It Is As If You Save The World’; ‘Welcome the Stranger’; ‘Tikkun Olam and Islah-the common moral imperative to help those in need; and ‘Standing Up for the Other’.
Yet they acknowledged the roadblocks to Muslim-Jewish solidarity: the longstanding differences over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They argued, American Muslims and Jews cannot afford to let the conflict drive us apart, especially at a time when our collective well-being in America is at stake. We can agree to disagree respectfully, even as we contribute together to humanitarian efforts to save lives and improve the quality of life for Palestinians and Israelis alike.”
Rehman and Ruby shared their respective life journeys during which they were able to overcome longstanding biases. Rehman explained that growing up in Pakistan until the age of 20, she had never met a Jew and viewed Jews through the lens of the middle-east conflict; a viewpoint replicated in reverse by Ruby; who grew up in suburban Pittsburgh and for an extended period in Israel with a deeply negative perspective on Muslims and Arabs. They shared fascinating anecdotes about how their perspectives shifted as Sabeeha found herself “living in an Orthodox Jewish community on Staten Island and being attended by a Jewish obstetrician during her first pregnancy; while Walter spoke of sipping coffee and discussing politics with Palestinian Arabs as a young journalist and witnessing Yasser Arafat deliver the Palestinian Declaration of Independence. Ruby and Rehman spoke of their work in Muslim-Jewish relations, and of the eight-point roadmap they have developed for moving forward, that begins with: “We are Americans first. While the Israeli-Palestinian issue matters greatly, we live here, not there, and our collective well-being is at risk unless we stand up for each other and unite, together with other Americans dedicated to enhancing democracy and pluralism’
According to Laurel Fried, Vice President of Temple Or Elohim, A Community Reform Congregation, and moderator of the forum; “Together with the Interfaith Institute, we were proud to sponsor this timely event, which powerfully made the case for Muslim-Jewish and Interfaith solidarity.” Dr. Faroque Khan, founder and president of the Interfaith Institute of ICLI, and a pioneer in Muslim-Jewish relations going back to the early 1990’s, commented, “Now more than ever, Muslims, Jews and interfaith allies need to come together and stand up for core American values that sustain us all.”
Report: College Students Care About Interfaith Dialogue, But Most Don’t Engage In It
September 2, 2020
Dr. Matthew Mayhew, a professor of educational administration at The Ohio State University, attended College of the Holy Cross, a Jesuit school, then transferred to Wheaton College, an Evangelical university. He got his master’s at Brandeis University, known for its vibrant Jewish community, and did his doctoral work at University of Michigan, a large, religiously diverse public institution.
For him, interfaith dialogue felt like a critical part of his higher education journey.
“All along the way, I made friends who thought about the world incredibly differently than I did,” Mayhew said. “In developing friendships, we would talk about life, we would talk about goals, we would talk about academics … It was just so enriching to share a common pursuit of wanting to understand the world but doing so from different perspectives.”
But according to a study he recently co-authored – the Interfaith Diversity Experiences & Attitudes Longitudinal Survey, or IDEALS – college students are enthusiastic about religious pluralism and interfaith dialogue, but most aren’t engaging in it.
The survey, conducted in partnership with Interfaith Youth Core, ultimately tracked 3,486 students from 116 institutions between 2015 and 2019, collecting data on their experiences with people holding different worldviews and their level of interest in creating interfaith connections. Students were surveyed three times over the course of their college careers.
The study found that 70% of fourth-year students reported a high commitment to bridging religious divides, with lesser percentages among certain groups, like politically conservative, atheist or Evangelical students. However, only 14% participated in interfaith dialogue on campus, and less than half of students said they dedicated time to learning about other religions in college.
The distance between how much students wanted to engage with different belief systems and how little they actually did surprised co-author Dr. Alyssa Rockenbach, a professor of higher education at North Carolina State University.
“There’s this gap that I think is important for us as educators to really think about,” Rockenbach said. “How can we help students bring their values and their behaviors into greater alignment?”
Granted, students from minority religions showed higher levels of interfaith involvement, while students who identified as secular engaged less. But that dynamic can be “problematic,” Rockenbach said. “If you have religiously minoritized students only engaged in interfaith work, that puts a lot of the burden on their shoulders to bring people together across these differences. And there’s an inequity in that.”
Plus, students from minority religions also report campus climate issues. While religious students largely felt like they had spaces for religious expression on campus, less than a third of Jewish students felt their campuses were receptive to religious diversity. About 58% of Muslim students said their campuses were at least somewhat accepting, but a fifth of Muslims also felt pressure to put limits on expressing their beliefs.
Ideally, campuses should offer opportunities “where people of all perspectives can come together and try to dialogue about their differences, about what they share in common, about how they can work together to make the world a better place,” Rockenbach said, including students who identify as secular.
But the data suggests students feel ill-equipped to do that. Only 32% of them felt like they learned skills for how to better engage with diverse belief systems in college. About three-quarters of fourth-year students scored a C grade or below on a religious literacy quiz. While 93% of students had at least one interfaith friendship by their last year, 59% of college students had never had a disagreement about religious differences, which signaled to the authors that they might not be talking about faith deeply.
In interviews with students, Mayhew also found that discussions about religion between peers was difficult, more so than dialogue about other kinds of diversity, because talking about religion “cues choice for students.” In these conversations, students risk proselytizing or being proselytized to – and that can be “really sticky.”
Still, friendships help, Mayhew noted, because they create a more comfortable context for those hard conversations and give students a greater appreciation of other worldviews. He worries about how to encourage that in a pandemic where so many students are taking classes online.
“Given COVID, how do we design environments that help students become friends?” he said. “Are we in the business of friendship engineering? Should we be? Is it possible for first-year students to develop authentic friendships via a series of Zoom classes? Those are questions that haunt me … Peer effect is important for all types of learning.”
The report ultimately recommends instituting policies that promote religious inclusion, like accommodations for religious holidays and dietary restrictions. It also calls for at least one mandatory class in the curriculum that explicitly teaches students about diverse religious identities.
Leaders of public higher education institutions have “some hesitancy” about fostering dialogue about religion because of concerns about the separation of church of state, Rockenbach said, but “our beliefs and values about a whole host of social issues – many of the things that we see happening in terms of the culture wars in our society – come from our worldview. So, if we aren’t able to understand one another’s worldviews, it’s going to make it hard to have those kinds of conversations about the critical issues that we see facing our society right now.”
Sara Weissman can be reached at email@example.com
Building interfaith community at work
Religion News Service
September 14, 2020
(Interfaith America) – There are lots of ways to be an “only” at work; mine has always been my faith. I’m a visibly Muslim woman who’s been wearing a headscarf, aka hijab, since I was 16 years old, out of my own desire and love for my faith. In the month of Ramadan I fast in an office filled with free snacks, regular lunch meetings and all the coffee one’s heart can desire. I strive to pray five times a day, which can be hard when there’s no space to pray at work. I don’t drink alcohol and feel a bit uncomfortable at bars and happy hours where much of the team building and socializing happens. And I eat meat, but only if it’s halal (that’s like the Muslim kosher), which basically means I’m a vegetarian at work.
I was born and raised in Miami, grew up watching Saturday morning cartoons and MTV, cheering for my hometown sports teams (Go Heat!), having birthday parties at Pizza Hut and watching Fourth of July fireworks each year with my Pakistani immigrant family. I’ve always thought of myself as 100% Muslim, 100% American, 100% normal.
But no matter how much I’ve wanted to belong and be seen as normal at work (what even is “normal”?!), at first glance, all people see is my otherness. There’s been a barrier between me and the majority of people I’ve worked with that, granted, at times existed only in my head – because my co-workers have generally been awesome human beings – but most of the time has been very real.
The barrier existed simply due to a lack of understanding about a piece of cloth on my head or other religious practices I observe. It existed because of limited exposure to meaningful interactions with people from different faiths and cultures and too much exposure to negative portrayals in news and media of people who look and believe like me. The barrier existed because everyone assumed you couldn’t talk about religion at work, or didn’t know how to talk about it, so stories and experiences like mine just weren’t heard, questions remained unasked and unanswered, and assumptions and biases remained unaddressed.
These barriers kept me from the belonging I was craving. For a lot of people who come from different cultural or religious backgrounds, the choice at work sometimes becomes a choice between changing or hiding parts of who we are to fit in, which can potentially lead to more success in our careers. Or it can be a choice to remain different – keeping that beard long, that turban or hijab or kippah on; not joining in on the happy hours or skipping out on the team lunch because you’re fasting, or because you have to make the Friday Jummah prayer, or because you have to make it home for Shabbat. All the while, you deal with the micro-aggressions, misconceptions and barriers that keep us from connecting with our co-workers and possibly keep us from moving up the corporate ladder. There’s a lot of pressure to conform or keep parts of ourselves hidden, and not a whole lot of support.
Enter Faithforce, the interfaith employee resource group at Salesforce, the San Francisco customer relationship software company.
Around three and a half years ago, I had a conversation with a wonderful person, who at the time was leading the employee resource group program at Salesforce (where we call them equality groups), in which we discussed the possibility of creating an interfaith employee resource group. Salesforce already had nine amazing ERGs that supported different underrepresented groups and minorities and drove equality initiatives across the company. Groups like BOLDforce for the Black community, and Outforce for the LGBTQ+ community, to name a couple. I wanted to know if we could add one more to the mix. Could we make space for our faith identities when we talked about equality, allyship, representation and inclusion at work? Because as a person of faith, I needed all of those things too, and I knew I wasn’t the only one.
Along with another co-worker, a devout Christian based in Sydney, we set out to create an inclusive interfaith ERG, with the intent to give our diverse faith identities a voice and a seat at the equality table. Three years ago it was a dream. Today, Faithforce is a global employee resource group at Salesforce, with over 3,000 members across five continents, representing many different faith backgrounds and worldviews.
Faithforce grew out of a need for belonging, support and a deeper understanding of our religious diversity. It exists to knock down those invisible barriers between us and build bridges instead; to make our religious identities “normal” and OK to acknowledge and learn about. It’s about being able to be fully, comfortably and unapologetically *insert religious identity here*. Just as important, it’s about helping all employees get comfortable stepping outside of their bubbles to better understand and respect the “other.” One of my favorite verses in the Quran says “Oh mankind! We created you from a single pair, and made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another.” I take this verse to heart daily and can attest to the transformative power of simply getting to know someone who’s different from you.
As a Muslim, I get so much joy planning events for Passover, Easter and Holi with my Jewish, Christian and Hindu co-workers, and I learn so much in the process. I get so excited when my teammates join a Ramadan event I’m leading or when a senior leader actually asks me to share more about my holiday with her team. I no longer celebrate alone. It may seem like a trivial thing, but to have your manager and team wish you an Eid Mubarak or throw a Chag Sameach your way, to acknowledge a part of you that you hold dear, that matters.
When over 100,000 attendees walked into last year’s Dreamforce – one of the largest tech conferences in the world – they encountered halal, kosher and vegetarian meal options, and a multifaith meditation and prayer room open and accessible to all. No more worrying about what to eat or struggling to find a secluded corner to make your daily prayers in if you need to.
This is the impact an interfaith ERG can have when it has a seat at the table. This is faith inclusion at work. Interfaith employee working groups also drive vocal and visible support for faith communities in times of need. After a tragic, hateful attack against your place of worship, instead of being greeted with silence at work the next day, you come in to find that leaders in your company actually stand with and support you. Managers and teammates ask if you’re all right and how they can help. Events are held in solidarity with faith communities, to respond to hate with education, love and support. Stories are heard that weren’t heard before, and these stories inspire hope and remind us that people of different faiths need allyship too.
This all goes to show that building an interfaith community at work is not only possible, but necessary. Over the past several years I’ve seen tremendous growth and interest in this space and have gotten to know leaders of interfaith and faith-based resource groups at other tech companies. While we each may do things a bit differently, in every group there has been an eagerness for interfaith support and collaboration that has helped the well-being of individuals as well as an added value to the diversity and inclusion efforts of the company. In a world where misinformation and division thrive, be it on the internet, in media and entertainment, or in government, an interfaith ERG can actually help provide much-needed healing and make our workplaces safe and welcoming for all. It can bring us together to share our authentic stories to drive positive change across our companies, and do it alongside and in partnership with other ERGs working to do the same for the communities they support.
Farah Siddiqui. Courtesy photo
Faithforce and other interfaith ERGs remind us every day that we don’t have to change who we are to fit in. Another way is possible, where our religious diversity can be honored, and where we can respect, learn from and make space for one another. Where we all can be given the dignity that each one of us deserves.
Michigan leaders’ charity work lands them on Lay’s potato chip bags
Detroit Free Press
Next time you go to the grocery store, stop and check out Lay’s new chip bags. You may see a local nonprofit leader on it.
And you may see Zaman International founder Najah Bazzy, a Canton resident, and Khali Sweeney, founder and CEO of Detroit’s Downtown Boxing Gym, donning a Lay’s signature smile on a family-size chips bag.
“Meet this smile,” Bazzy’s bag, BBQ-flavored, reads. “Inspired by her experiences as a nurse, Najah and Zaman International are providing basic needs assistance and vocational training to women, children, and refugee families – empowering over 2 million people worldwide to break the cycle of poverty.”
Sweeney’s smile is on the classic yellow Lay’s bag, promoting his gym as a free after-school academic and athletic program that “has a 100 percent high school graduation rate,” according to the release.
Sweeney said he was nominated for the program, and also thought Operation Smile was a good cause. He said he was thankful for any accolades and attributed the gym’s success to his team.
But being on the Lay’s bag felt like a crazy and lucky coincidence to him, like being on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. When he was younger, Sweeney said he was incredibly skinny. He followed a strict meal and workout plan that required a light snack in between courses and the plain Lay’s chip was his No. 1 quick bite he never tired of.
“One of the things I like in this world is the Lay’s potato chips,” he said. “Anybody who knows me knows my house is full of Lay’s potato chips.”
Since CNN, Bazzy has been on TV and magazine covers, but her appearance on the Lay’s bag has been especially different because people are using the product. Her smile is in people’s pantries. She was getting texts from across the country, from Texas to Florida. She went to her niece’s house and found her carrying 12 bags with Bazzy’s face on them, ready to pass them out. Her husband was doing the same, handing out the bags of BBQ chips to their neighbors.
Her children were in a tizzy.
“The kids have seen me do a lot of things, but all my children were like,’This is so cool, Mom. This is the coolest thing you’ve ever done.’ I’m like, ‘Really?'” she recalled, laughing.
Another big question she gets: Are those really her teeth? Yes, they are, she’d reply.
Zaman has been around for 20 years, starting in the back of Bazzy’s van. Seeing it grow in recognition has been a humbling experience for Bazzy, who, as CEO, is still working on a volunteer basis. As the ongoing pandemic exasperated certain needs, Bazzy said the organization snapped into action.
“We became rapid responders,” she says. “We’re really good at crisis management, so we went right in. I actually was prepared before Gov. Whitmer had announced the quarantine – I was preparing for that. I’m a nurse so I anticipate these kinds of things.”
Their response included including turning their large Hope for Humanity Center into a food distribution site and graduating their culinary and sewing students virtually. Their GED and literacy programs have also been moved online. Bazzy said Zaman is planning on workforce development as well, helping women secure jobs and living wages.
“Zaman is on the cusp, right now, of realizing its full mission,” she said.
Downtown Boxing Gym had similar reaction to the pandemic: kicking into gear to help the community.
“That’s one of the things that I stress real heavy in the gym is that you have to be ready to help your neighbors in any type of situation,” Sweeney said. “I always tell my kids, one day the strong will be called on to protect the other one in the neighborhood.”
Inspired by the lack of resources in his own childhood, Sweeney said the gym is an academic program first. It moved its lesson and workout plans online and helped connect their students to technology at home. The second was outfitting its vans to provide meals to students and families.
As the school year starts, Sweeney said the kids who are not physically going to school and have parents who are working or unable to watch them can come to the gym. The kids are separated into small groups, with screening and testing to prevent the spread of the virus. The gym is also looking for tech donations for kids who may not have a computer to study from.
“The focus is creating the future leaders of this world,” he said.
Bazzy said she loved meeting the other nonprofit leaders and Everyday Smilers, even if virtually.
“What I’ve learned is there’s not enough appreciation around the country of the nonprofit sector,” she said, “because the nonprofit sector clearly carried the nation.
“Day upon day, you see hundreds – not tens – hundreds of stories of people who have goodwill, who either have nonprofits or who just out of sheer goodness would organize and begin to do front-line work. I think the story of nonprofits in America, as a nation, needs to be told,” she added.
Calendar for WISDOM and Other Interfaith Events
Wednesday, September 9th and Thursday, September 10th, North American Interfaith Network Conferences – See Flyer Below
Tuesday, December 8, 7:00 PM Five Women Five Journeys
Insight Through Education, Inc.” Irma Blauner, V.P. for Programming, Palm Spring, FL.
RELIGIOUS DIVERSITY JOURNEYS LEAD TO THE HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL CENTER
By: Stacy Gittleman
Newsletter Editor of the
InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit
Aleena Malik, 15, is a rising sophomore at Troy High School. In the seventh grade, she participated as a Religious Diversity Journeys (RDJ) Ambassador, a program of the InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit. Malik said RDJ opened her eyes and mind about different religions and hopes that more of her high school peers can find ways to learn to dispel myths and misinformation about religions that differ from their own.
Growing up in a Muslim family, she learned a little bit about Judaism and Christianity “because these religions are intertwined with Islam.” But being involved in RDJ also exposed her to learn about Hinduism and the Bahai faith, she said.
In her own faith practice, Malik has drawn much joy and teachings from Islam. All her life, she has been taught the values of honesty, modesty and giving to others along with the five pillars of Islam. She grew up listening to stories of the time her father went on Haj to Mecca. She loved hearing how every Muslim pilgrim dressed in white as they walk around the Kaaba so all are seen as equals regardless of their racial or socioeconomic background. Someday, she hopes to go on her own Haj.
One of the standout experiences for Malik during RDJ was when her group visited the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills. There, a Holocaust survivor led the group through the museum and gave their own account of persecution, suffering, and survival.
“I was so blown away by this experience I brought my family back there for a visit,” said Malik. “By taking this trip with RDJ, I learned the importance of never remaining passive or silent during times that people are persecuted for their religion.”
Now that she is in high school, Malik’s RDJ experiences have got her thinking that her high school peers should also be more informed about religions that differ from their own.
“Many kids do not have a clue about different religions,” said Malik. “For example, there are not that many Jewish kids at my high school. While there are different religious clubs (like a Christian and Muslim Student associations), I would like to see an interfaith club where students can learn about different beliefs and traditions. Lots of times, kids carry religious stereotypes, and having an interfaith club would help clarify a lot of these stereotypes.”
Like all students, Malik hopes that she can return to high school in person, at least part of the time, in the fall. She loves to play sports such as tennis and volleyball and enjoys hiking and nature. This summer, she is keeping a journal as well as meeting up with friends and taking a few classes online.
(for more stories and statement on the IFLC’s impact in the Metro Detroit community go to https://www.
COVID hajj restrictions leave streets of Mecca empty, pilgrimage businesses in trouble
MECCA, Saudi Arabia (RNS) – Saeed Khan is a 58-year-old Pakistani business owner living and working in Mecca, and this is the first time in 30 years that he is not performing hajj. In the past, as many as 2 million Muslims have made the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. This year, in efforts to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, Mecca has opened its door to only a fraction of that number.
“Health determinants are the basis for selecting pilgrims residing in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and there will be no exceptions to anyone during this year’s hajj season,” the
According to the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, those already residing in the country who have not previously performed hajj, are not government officials and are between 20 and 65 years old could apply for a hajj permit, which usually costs between $1,000 and $1,200. Initially, about 10,000 people were expected to perform hajj this year. Most (70%) would be non-Saudis residing in the country, while Saudi citizens would make up the rest.
However, the number of people approved for hajj has been significantly lower.
Before being allowed entry into the holy city, pilgrims have had to also adhere to a “house confinement,” within their own homes, for a few days and then also be tested to ensure they do not have COVID-19 before being allowed to enter the holy city.
On arrival, all pilgrims performing hajj this year have stayed in a select number of four- and five-star hotels in Mecca, including Four Points by Sheraton, where social distancing and other protocols had already been implemented with consultancy from health officials. Other health-related plans for hajj include, not unlike previous years, a number of field hospitals, clinics and ambulances. Hundreds of Muslim pilgrims circle the Kaaba, the cubic building at the Grand Mosque, as they observe social distancing to protect against the coronavirus, in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, on July 29, 2020. During the first rites of hajj, Muslims circle the Kaaba counter-clockwise seven times while reciting supplications to God, then walk between two hills where Ibrahim’s wife, Hagar, is believed to have run as she searched for water for her dying son before God brought forth a well that runs to this day.
However, due to the significantly fewer pilgrims this year, only a limited number of local doctors and other medical staff have been relocated to ritual sites.
“Our work hours are usually extended to 12 hours instead of eight during two weeks around hajj, and every second or third year, I have had to cover a three- to five-day shift at a hospital at Arafat or Mina,” said Dr. Shabeeh Haider, an ear, nose and throat specialist working for a public hospital. “But nobody from the hospital I work for has longer than normal duty hours this year, nor has anyone been asked to work from the hajj sites.”
Strict measures are in place to ensure only those with a permit enter Mecca.
Every year, just days before hajj, entry into Mecca gets restricted to just those with a hajj permit or those who are residents of the city. However, within the city, security is traditionally more relaxed, allowing residents to slip in and out of areas where the rituals are performed fairly easily.
“But they can’t really keep people from Mecca from performing; it is easy to slip through if you live here, so somehow I have managed to perform (the rituals) every year since I first moved here,” said Khan. “But this year is different.”
This year all roads directly leading to an area of hajj ritual have been shut off a week in advance to prevent Mecca residents without permits from taking part in the rituals. At least 200 people have also been caught and fined or arrested for entering the holy city without permits in the week leading up to hajj, and Mecca residents have all been receiving text messages informing them of the fines for breaking the ban.
“We haven’t visited the Grand Mosque since March when, before COVID-19, I would go at least once a week. Even Ramadan, which is more of a lively and busy time here than anywhere else in the world, was spent under lockdown, and now the time of hajj is also feeling so barren,” Khan said. “Of course, this is the responsible thing to do and I respect the difficult decision the government made to value health over profits, but it is also emotionally a little difficult.”
For many residents of the city, however, the economic challenges are becoming increasingly difficult. According to the Mecca Chamber of Commerce and Industry, about a quarter of the private sector’s income in the region around Mecca and Medina depends on pilgrimage. More than 19 million pilgrims visited Mecca in 2019 for umrah, a smaller pilgrimage that can be performed yearlong; a significant proportion of those pilgrims visited during the holy month of Ramadan.
Last year 2.5 million pilgrims performed hajj. Tourism provides the source of income for many residents of Mecca, many of whom are migrants and undocumented workers. Mecca maintained the longest round-the-clock lockdown in Saudi Arabia; it was first implemented on April 2 and wasn’t fully lifted until late June.
“I’d make more in Ramadan and hajj seasons than I would in four other months combined,” said Anwar Yaseen, a taxi driver from India who is living in Mecca. “This year’s Ramadan was the most difficult time I have had financially in my life. Things are returning to normalcy now but only a little.”
Ramadan took place between April and May this year and Mecca was in a consistent lockdown throughout. “It is a really strange time,” said Abdullah Al Maghrabi, a 27-year-old native of the city. “Never in my life did I expect the city to be so eerily quiet during hajj. My friends and I would always spend our evenings of the days before and after hajj in neighborhoods where lots of pilgrims would stay, get to know people from all over the world, and tell them about our lives here. This year is sad.”
Al Maghrabi works for his family business, a three-star hotel that caters to pilgrims. He said the hotel has been in a financial crisis since April.
A Synagogue and a Black church search for shared history with a walk through a once-integrated neighborhood
By Ari Feldman
Half of the students in the Zoom class were from Liberty Grace Church of God, a Black Baptist church in Baltimore. The other half attended the Jewish day school affiliated with Beth Tfiloh Congregation, in the Baltimore suburbs. One teacher was Black and Christian. The other was white and Jewish. Over a week in July, they gathered together on Zoom to plan an iPad-guided historical walking tour of the city’s Forest Park section, which in the 1950s and early 1960s was integrated – Black and Jewish. And one day, they hosted two guests who were children in the neighborhood at that time. One of those people, now the executive director of the synagogue, remembered the amusement park she used to love going to during the summer, Gwynn Oak Park. The other guest, a Black congregant of Liberty Grace, added an important detail: The park was whites only.
“It was one of those moments you’ll remember your whole life,” said Susan Holzman Biggs, one of the two teachers, who is also an administrator at the Beth Tfiloh school, in an interview. “Hearing those kinds of stories firsthand from the people who lived them was important for everybody, the adults and the kids.”
Since the police killing in May of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the oppression of Black Americans has dominated the national conversation, and many white American Jews are looking at their community’s role and responsibilities. These two Baltimore congregations, capitalizing on a relationship that began five years ago, are remembering the community African Americans and Jews once made, which Jews left.
‘No different than the knee on George Floyd’s neck’ The two communities first connected when Rev. Dr. Terris King of Liberty Grace visited Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg of Beth Tfiloh in Wohlberg’s office in Pikesville, a suburb in northwestern Baltimore home to about 70,000 Jews.
The reverend had come with a proposition. He’d learned that the abandoned bowling alley in his church’s basement-closed down by the previous congregation that owned the building-had once been a center of communal life when the Forest Park and adjacent Ashburton neighborhoods were integrated. Did Beth Tfiloh want to partner on rebuilding it?
“I walked in to tell him, we need your help. This was the home of your people,” Rev. King said in an interview. “And I want my people to have a standard of living as a community, equal to, if not greater, than what you have. That’s what started this process.”
The meeting led to a friendship between the two faith leaders, and their flocks. Liberty Grace is a non-denominational church with 250 members, founded in the living room of the elder King’s mother – a rare woman-led church in Baltimore. Beth Tfiloh is a large Modern Orthodox synagogue whose congregants are primarily observant Jews. Yet Rev. King said he and Wohlberg have been amazed by the similarities between them. After long careers – Wohlberg’s 40 years at Beth Tfiloh, Rev. King’s 25 at Liberty Grace – they felt confident enough to try a unique, unprecedented partnership in Baltimore. (Rev. King also worked full-time as a healthcare executive in the federal government.) They both like fast cars, and good jokes.
“The major things we have that’s different is three things: You’re Jewish, I’m Baptist, you’re short, I’m tall; you’re white, I’m Black,” Rev. King said. “Virtually everything else, we’re on the same page.”
Since King and Wohlberg met, Beth Tfiloh has hosted Liberty Grace’s children’s choir to sing with the synagogue’s own children’s choir, and the two congregations have participated in several “culinary exchanges,” where women from the two communities cook together (in the synagogue’s kosher kitchen) and then serve the food for kiddush luncheon the following Saturday. Each Shabbat before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Liberty Grace’s congregation comes to Beth Tfiloh, where Rev. King gives a sermon. The deepening relationship between Beth Tfiloh and Liberty Grace has also forced the Jewish congregation to face facts about poor Black life in Baltimore.
In one visit to the synagogue, Rev. King described how the public schools in his neighborhood do not have WiFi, crippling the learning abilities of the children. Wohlberg said his congregation was shocked.
“On the most simple and basic level, what chance does this seven-year-old Black kid have if their school doesn’t have WiFi?” Wohlberg said in an interview. “And people could relate to that – that was no different than the knee on George Floyd’s neck.”
White flight, Jewish flight
Starting in 1934, with the creation of the Federal Housing Administration during the New Deal, white developers used redlining to keep both Jews and Black people out of many neighborhoods. Even Jewish developers who were major philanthropists in their communities upheld the restrictive covenants. Jewish neighborhoods, beginning with western Baltimore’s one-time Garment District, were largely graded as undesirable on redlining maps from the time, but Black neighborhoods were considered worse. For that reason, as first wealthier German Jews, then Eastern European Jews, moved northwest out of Baltimore’s center, realtors would rent the neighborhoods they left only to Black people, creating the conditions for ghettos that still exist.
“Once Jews moved out, the assumption was that realtors would only show the properties to African-Americans,” said Paige Glotzer, an assistant professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of “How the Suburbs Were Segregated.” “It was gonna be Jewish, then it was gonna be African-American.”
That meant that Jewish communities were at the forefront of white flight among white ethnicities in various cities, including Baltimore, Glotzer said.
In 1966, Beth Tfiloh moved its synagogue – established in Forest Park in the early 1920s – to Pikesville, severing the Jewish community’s last connection to the city neighborhood. Parts of the area remained middle class, while others declined. Wohlberg said his congregation is made up of people who themselves joined Beth Tfiloh in Pikesville, as well as the children they raised in the suburbs. “This Jewish knowledge of what was going on is very, very much real,” Wohlberg said. “They made the history.”
The areas are now divided by Northern Parkway. North of the parkway, the average life expectancy is about 82 years. If you’re born to the south of the road, it drops to 68.
The tour, and the iPad app it is built on, is the brainchild of Terris King II, the son of Liberty Grace’s pastor. He’s a kindergarten teacher who moved home during the pandemic after a decade abroad teaching at the Shanghai American School. He is calling the project Temple X: The “Temple” represents inter-religious cooperation, and the “X” is for experiential learning. The Forest Park/Ashburton walking tour tells the fictional story of two friends, a white and Jewish girl and a Black and Christian girl, as they show the viewer what their lives were like in their neighborhood.
By pointing an iPad camera at stickers with QR codes pasted on or near historic buildings, the children on the tour will be able to see and hear speakers and images from the past in “augmented reality,” which uses the iPad screen to, for example, show archival photographs of a former synagogue over the place it used to be. King II said that the program has a safety team to accompany the families. The elementary school students from Liberty Grace and Beth Tfiloh’s Dahan Community School – in third through sixth grades – who participated in the Zoom classes helped set the route for the tour (remotely, on Google Maps) after learning about the neighborhood’s history with King II and Holzman Biggs, though they have yet to go on the tour themselves.
Teaching the shared history to the children is the first step to bringing Baltimore’s Black and Jewish communities closer together, as they were 70 years ago, King II said.
“The people who are gonna thrive in the future are the people who are gonna understand other cultures,” he said.
Wohlberg said his community has enthusiastically embraced the walking tour project as a way to further their relationship with Liberty Grace, and engaging with the fraught history of the Jewish community’s movement from Baltimore’s center to its perimeter.
“This is not a matter of putting up a sign: Black Lives Matter,” said Wohlberg. “It’s a matter of learning who we are.”
The tour app, in technical development for more than a month, is launching on August 18, with an in-person tour for both communities.
The Beth Tfiloh community has provided funding and Holzman’s time for the Temple X project, and has put Liberty Grace in touch with Jewish foundations to begin discussions about further funding.
Beth Tfiloh has also partnered with Towson University and Liberty Grace to begin rebuilding the bowling alley where Black people and Jews rolled side by side, Rev. King said.
This walking tour is the first in a global project, King II said, to create a platform for communities around the world to make their own tours and engage the students that are simply too young to do all of their learning via Zoom.
“We want to destroy the digital divide, but also the cultural divide between our communities,” he said. “The reason we’re starting here is that there’s a lot of turmoil between the Black and white Jewish community.”
While the older elementary students did not shy away from asking about race in the past – Did you attend the same schools? Could you go to the same hospitals? – the walking tour they helped make will not feature the Jewish community’s exit or its aftermath, since it is meant as the first foray for younger students into this fraught history.
“Our goal isn’t to tap dance around the issues,” said King. “But our goal is to forcefully at a young age, teach them about the good things that have happened, and over time we can talk to them about the other things that have happened as well.”
But King II said he has been impressed with the Jewish community’s level of engagement in actually creating the app.
“We are gonna speak the truth,” he said. “And it’s not about speaking truth to some power structure, but about speaking truth to individuals that are gonna sit at the table with us.”
How Families Are Finding God, Grace and Faith Outside a House of Worship
Parents say they miss the religious communities that were a big part of their lives, but they are finding ways to practice their faith with their children.
In the Jacobs home, Shabbat has become synonymous with two things: Facebook Live and Shira Averbuch, the ukulele-playing, golden-voiced singer who serves as the artist-in-residence at B’nai Jeshurun, a nearly 200-year-old synagogue on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
“Shabbat Shalom!” she begins, warmly greeting each of the children listening from home. “I’m so happy you’re all here. Should we start getting ready for Shabbat? What do you think?”
Avery Jacobs, 3, often sings along to the “Bim Bam” song in her family’s Manhattan apartment or in the patio of her grandparents’ home on Long Island. When Averbuch tells the kids that she’s feeling “that Shabbat feeling” in her heart, their parents respond in the comments: They feel it in their head. Their hair. “Avery feels it in her feet!” writes Lindsay Jacobs, 33, Avery’s mother. Weeks later, she said, “Seeing Shira’s face has been the one piece of comfort we’ve had through this whole thing.”
Shabbat, the seventh day of rest in the Jewish tradition, is a time of joy, relaxation and worship. Likewise, Eid al-Adha, the Muslim feast of the sacrifice held at the end of July, is a celebration. And on Sundays, Christians gather to pray, sing and receive sacraments. But none of those rituals have played out as they usually do. One of the cruelties of the coronavirus is that it has led places of worship to not only strip away in-person religious traditions, but also modify or eliminate community gatherings all at a time when the faithful – still reeling from the effects of an unrelenting pandemic – need them most. For families with young children, this presents an especially big challenge: Without in-person religious education or volunteer activities, how do parents keep kids engaged in their religion? How can a family “love thy neighbor as thyself” in a world where close social interaction is discouraged?
Carrie Willard, 42, an administrator at Rice University, said that for her two boys, 12 and 9, the “big-C challenge” is the ability to see God in other people rather than casting judgment because they aren’t making the same choices. But what she and many other families continue to grieve is the loss of their in-person community, especially during the holidays.
“Easter was this weird but not terrible thing,” Willard said. Their church was closed, so her family lit a fire pit in their yard and her husband, who is the rector at Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston, read a sermon. “It was really lovely” she said. “And I think that’s what we’ll remember, I hope.” Willard’s family and others are finding new ways to express their faith and imbue their children with notions of grace and giving, even if the circumstances aren’t ideal.”Nothing can fully take the place of the communal face-to-face gatherings of religious communities,” said Tyler J. VanderWeele, Ph.D., an epidemiologist and co-director of the Initiative on Health, Religion and Spirituality at Harvard University. Dr. VanderWeele and his colleagues have examined how religious upbringing and religious service attendance can shape the lives of adolescents. Their 2018 study found that, among the adolescents studied, attending religious services at least once a week was associated with greater life satisfaction, lower probabilities of marijuana use, greater frequency of volunteering and fewer lifetime sexual partners.
In-person services are also meaningful for parents. A 2017 Pew Research Center survey found that of those U.S. adults surveyed who attended church at least once a month, two-thirds said they did so to give their children a moral foundation, to become better people, and for comfort in times of trouble or sorrow.
Asma Uddin, 40, an author and religious liberty lawyer, said having community events, like celebrating Eid together or attending Muslim summer camp, “gives you a sense that there are people like us.”
Uddin, who lives in Rockville, Md., described how slowing down during Ramadan this spring was “spiritually uplifting,” but if there continue to be fewer traditional in-person gatherings, she is concerned that her children might not learn how essential religious community is to their Muslim identity. Victor Rodriguez, 55, and his wife, Juana Rodriguez, 46, members of the Church of the Ascension, a Roman Catholic Church in Manhattan, have similar worries. He and his family of six attended church in person every Sunday, but now only he and his wife watch mass on YouTube at 9 a.m. on Sundays. Their four children, ages 14, 13, 8, and 5, used to volunteer at the church’s food pantry, which was mainly staffed by kids. But when the pandemic hit, it was no longer considered safe for them to participate and the adults took over.
“It’s real difficult,” said Victor Rodriguez, an unemployed carpenter. Even so, he added, “we have to learn to live with this right now. We have to take precautions for us and others.”
The pandemic has led some church leaders to worry about whether families will return to church when in-person services resume. Church membership has already fallen sharply over the past two decades, and an increasing number of Americans say they have no religious preference. But an April survey from Gallup, conducted during the early days of the pandemic in the United States, found that of those who were members of a church, synagogue or mosque, about half had worshipped virtually within the past seven days, and another 6 percent had worshipped in person.
Ed Brojan, 53, a member of the Chesapeake Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Baltimore, said his family has opted out of the small, in-person gatherings permitted by their church because he and his wife are nurses who want to help protect their community by remaining socially distanced. But they and their two children, 15 and 13, hold a sacrament service at home, something male members of the church can do if they become a priesthood holder.
“I definitely miss the feeling of community, the feeling of fellowship,” Brojan said, referring to the services of yore.
The lack of community also has been tough for Holley Barreto, 40, a baker and cooking instructor, as well as her husband and their two children, who are 11 and 10.
“That’s been a real loss for us when we can’t physically gather with church members,” said Barreto, whose family participated in activities at Nassau Presbyterian Church in Princeton, N.J., throughout the week. “That’s taken away a lot of what we really leaned on.”
About a month ago, Catholic churches were permitted to reopen in New York City, and churches have fought to reopen in other parts of the country, too. Some families did not hesitate to return.
“I am kind of honestly tired of doing all this online stuff,” said Robert Farina-Mosca, 54, who is now attending in-person services at Holy Trinity, a Roman Catholic church in Manhattan, with his 11-year-old son.
In the absence of any formal religious education, his son has been making cards that are delivered along with food donations. On one of the cards he drew a platter with two chicken legs and wrote “Enjoy your meal.” Then, on the inside: “Even though I don’t know you, I still care about you.”
Experts say small, simple gestures like those can help guide children in the tenets of their faith. Corrie Berg, the director of educational ministries at Nassau Presbyterian Church, is empathetic to the many responsibilities parents are shouldering right now.
“I just don’t think our parents particularly have the bandwidth to be creating – or even just following – at-home Bible studies or devotions or simple readings,” Berg said. “All of that requires uploads, downloads, links, clicks, print outs – and as a parent, especially with littler ones, you’re just like: ‘I can’t even. There’s no way.'”
Her philosophy is to “do less, better.”
David Zahl, a young adult minister at Christ Episcopal Church in Charlottesville, Va., agrees.
Zahl, the author of “Seculosity,” a book about how parenting, career and other worldly things have become like a religion, said parents often tell him how they feel guilty for missing religious services online. “It’s a mix of anxiety and deep fatigue,” he said.
Zoom church for young kids, with a few exceptions, is pretty much a nonstarter, he acknowledged.
“The first thing I want to say to them is, ‘It’s OK. Cross that off your list. God is not mad at you,'” Zahl said.
David Carey, 48, a hospice chaplain, said that before the pandemic he regularly attended services at The Refuge Church where he lives in Windham, Maine, and his twin boys, who are 5, went to Sunday school. But now everything is online and they’re “Zoom-ed out,” he said.
So he started playing Christian children’s songs at home and singing them when he and his family spend time outside.
“I remember thinking, and even praying, ‘Lord, how will they ever get to know any of this stuff?’ And then all of a sudden they start singing this on their own,” he said. “I’ve learned music is a way to transcend a lot of things.” Similar to Carey, Maggie Sandusky, 30, along with her husband, who is a student minister at Calvary Baptist Church in Nacogdoches, Tex., about three hours southeast of Dallas, believes that they are the primary people who teach their 3-year-old twins about faith.
“If we say that we believe God gives us grace for every day, how can we be modeling that for our kids?” she said.
In some respects, Zahl said, the pandemic could be considered an opportunity to help children better understand their religion.
“For parents who see things like prayer, spiritual conversation, asking for forgiveness, and overall modeling of grace in practice as the heart of their faith, well, the pandemic has been something of a gold mine,” he said.
13 nuns at Livonia convent died
from COVID-19, report finds
Sister Rosanne Marie Glaza crowns the statue of Our Lady on May 1 during a ceremony at the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Convent in Livonia. (Photo: Felician Sisters of North America)
COVID-19 has led to the deaths of 13 nuns at a convent in Livonia in the last three months, religious officials report.
A dozen members in the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Felix of Cantalice, or Felician Sisters, died after battling the virus between Good Friday on April 10 and May 10, while a 13th associated death was reported on June 27, according to the Global Sisters Report released Monday. The nonprofit outlet is a project of the National Catholic Reporter publishing company.
The Detroit Catholic, another publication that covers the Catholic community in southeast Michigan, reported that as many as 22 sisters at the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Convent had tested positive for the coronavirus through early May.
The nuns at the 360-acre campus, who ranged in age from 69 to 99, included teachers, a librarian and a secretary in the Vatican Secretariat of State, the Global Sisters Report said.
Meanwhile, at least 19 other sisters have died in the United States during the pandemic, according to the article, which said the Livonia deaths “may be the worst loss of life to a community of women religious since the 1918 influenza pandemic.”
Representatives with the Felician Sisters of North America did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.
In a statement released July 8, Sister Mary Christopher Moore, the order’s provincial minister, said another older Felician sister had recently died “due to the residual effects of the coronavirus, which can cause continuing difficulties with other chronic medical conditions.”
“Some of our Sisters who have had COVID-19 are struggling to recover from a variety of effects, including continuing weakness, respiratory issues and more,” Moore said. “We ask for your prayers as we support them in their recovery. At the same time, we are moving forward with slowly loosening the tight restrictions under which Sisters in our convents, especially our larger convents, have operated for more than three months.”
News of the nuns’ deaths comes as coronavirus infections rise in Michigan.
State officials on Monday confirmed seven deaths and 489 cases. The seven-day average of new coronavirus cases in the state has risen to 632 daily, up from 476 a day for the previous seven-day period, according to state data.
South Florida Rabbi Helps Deliver Interfaith Prayer During DNC Closing
A South Florida rabbi appeared on a giant stage at the Democratic National Convention Thursday night, offering the national audience a prayer as the event wrapped up. Rabbi Lauren Berkun, who lives in Aventura, was invited to help deliver the interfaith closing benediction on the fourth and final night of the DNC.
“I wanted to bring a message of comfort, and hopefully a message of unity,” Rabbi Berkun said in an interview before her benediction aired on the televised broadcast. She and her husband Johnathan Berkun are a powerhouse rabbinic team in Northeast Miami-Dade County: he’s the longtime rabbi at the Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center, and she’s the vice president of Rabbinic Initiatives for the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America. Rabbi Lauren’s address took place right after Joe Biden accepted his party’s nomination to be the next President and delivered his remarks.
“I wanted to craft a message that would reflect Jewish values, but also be accessible to all Americans across religious and political differences,” she said. “I wanted to bring a message of hope, a call to action.”
She chose to quote the Book of Psalms in her 40 second message, and recorded it right in the living room of her Aventura home. During the broadcast, an Imam and a priest virtually helped Berkun deliver the benediction. “I think in this time of the pandemic, when we have been spending so much time in our homes, we are thinking about our homes in new ways, and the meaning of home,” Rabbi Berkun said. “And I think that is really what it means in this election season, as we think about the future leadership of this country.” “We’re thinking about what kind of national home we want to create.”