September 2020

Written by WISDOM on . Posted in Newsletters

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.


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 

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
(The Forward)

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.”
Image by Courtesy of Beth Tfiloh
Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg, left, and Rev. Dr. Terris King II, right.
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.”

August 2020

Written by WISDOM on . Posted in Newsletters

Calendar for WISDOM and Other Interfaith Events 
Wednesday, August 5th, Hate Has No Home Where Love Abides,
IFLC Community Annual Meeting, 11:15 – 12:30 PM. See Flyer Below.
Wednesday, August 19th 1:00 – 2:00 PM  Black Jewish Coalition Conversation, featuring Rabbi Marla Hornsten from Temple Israel and Rev. Ken Flowers from Greater New Mt. Moriah Missionary Baptist Church who will be speaking about the Coalition for Black and Jewish Unity.  See Flyer Below to RSVP.
Thursdays, Temple Kol Ami’s Community Food Project,  5085 Walnut Lake Rd, West Bloomfield, MI 48323, See Flyer Below.

Jewish and Muslim women join forces to remove antisemitic graffiti in Birmingham, England
group of Jewish and Muslim women, including the city’s only female rabbi, have defiantly come together to remove antisemitic graffiti which appeared overnight on a wall in Billesley in Birmingham, transforming it into positive art depicting a rainbow. Determined to show they’re “stronger together,” the women joined forces after vile and abusive words of hate targeting the Jewish community were discovered daubed on a brick wall in the city ward, located in the Selly Oak constituency.
Image by Benita Wishart/IAB
Muslim and Jewish women including rabbi Margaret Jacobi (right) and Benita Wishart (second right) join PC Adrian Griffiths from West Midlands Police at the scene of the antisemitic vandalism
Upon discovering the words “Die Jewish” had been spray-painted onto the wall, local resident Benita Wishart contacted several other women from across the city and organized the removal of the offensive vandalism, opting to replace it with messages of peace alongside a brightly colored rainbow. Where the message of hate had been left, it now reads: “Standing Together Against Hate – Jewish and Muslim women together.” Before letting their creativity flow, the women got in touch with West Midlands Police who helped them remove the graffiti and praised their collaborative effort to make good of a bad situation.
Wishart, who called on close friends from different faiths to help, said they decided to counter hate with messages of hope.
“This is our message to those who seek to divide us. This is what being an ally looks like.” “We stand together in Birmingham. Hate crime has no place in our city. Our citizens value diversity and stand side by side.
“There must be zero tolerance of such hate against any group.”
Wishart thanked local police and residents for their assistance and the local community groups who came together to clean-up the racist graffiti.
Birmingham’s only female rabbi, Margaret Jacobi, was also on the scene to help do her bit. Heading the congregation at the city’s Progressive Synagogue since 1994, Jacobi is an active member of several initiatives promoting community cohesion and peace. Among them Citizens UK, an independent membership alliance of civil society institutions acting together for the common good of the city, and Nisa-Nisham, a national Jewish and Muslim Women’s Network set up to “build personal friendships” between faiths. Many of the women who helped remove the sickening graffiti are members of these organizations, which helped them facilitate the speedy and effective response. A spokesperson for the Birmingham branch of Citizens UK tweeted, “We are outraged and saddened by this act of hate” but praised the community response as “a powerful show of solidarity.”
Alongside the rainbow and positive messages, the women – from all faiths and none – also posed for photos, holding up posters stating ‘Active Allies’, ‘Standing Together’ and ‘We’re All Neighbours.”
Messages from The Great Get Together, which took place last month in memory of hate crime victim Jo Cox, were also attached to a tree nearby. These read: ‘We are all part of the human race’ and ‘I believe in the power of community.’
Birmingham Selly Oak MP Steve McCabe urged constituents to remain vigilant against hate crime, describing the incident as a “far-right” threat.
The number of antisemitic hate incidents recorded in the UK has reached a record high, according to Community Security Trust, a charity that monitors antisemitism in the country.
The trust recorded 767 hate crimes in the first six months of 2017 – a 30% rise in comparison to the same period last year. This is the highest level ever recorded since monitoring began 33 years ago.
The number of hate crimes recorded by West Midlands Police has also risen. Recent figures published by the Home Office show there were 5,715 hate crimes recorded in the West Midlands Police area in the 2018-19 financial year, up from 4,678 offenses the previous year – an increase of 22%, more than a fifth, in just one year.
Adam Yosef is editor-in-chief of I Am Birmingham
This article is reposted with permission from

We have a story to tell: Indigenous scholars, activists speak up amid toppling of Serra statues
Demonstrators prepare to pull down a Junipero Serra statue on June 20, 2020, in downtown Los Angeles at Father Serra Park.

LOS ANGELES (RNS) – Jessa Calderon initially felt numb watching the Junipero Serra statue topple to the ground as it was yanked from its platform with yellow rope tied around its neck. Within minutes, she was in tears. “I began to cry hysterically. It was like a sense of relief,” said Calderon, a descendant of Gabrielino-Tongva and Ventureño Chumash, who witnessed the toppling on June 20 in downtown Los Angeles.
Calderon and other California Native people prayed and left offerings, including medicinal herbs, at a makeshift altar before activists took down the statue of Serra, the 18th-century Franciscan priest who, while credited with spreading the Catholic faith in the West Coast, is also seen as part of an imperial conquest that enslaved Native Americans.
The ceremony, Calderon said, was a way to help release painful energy their disrespected ancestors may be carrying in the afterlife.
As Californians once again reckon with their statues of Serra, the founder of what would become 21 missions along the California coast, Native people and Indigenous scholars say it’s time for their voices to be heard and their existence to be recognized.

Jessa Calderon, right, cries and embraces another demonstrator after the toppling of a Junipero Serra statue June 20, 2020, in downtown Los Angeles at Father Serra Park. Photo by Erick Iñiguez
This public scrutiny of Serra has reemerged in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests denouncing institutional racism and police brutality that led to the toppling of monuments honoring Confederate leaders.
In California, this has resulted in protesters overthrowing Serra statues in San FranciscoLos Angeles and most recently in Sacramentoon Saturday (July 4). Catholic parishes in OrangeMonterey and Los Angeles counties have removed statues of Serra in fear of potential vandalism.
Activists in the city of Ventura are demanding the Serra monument near City Hall be removed as soon as possible and on Tuesday will virtually gather with community stakeholders to discuss the statue, which the mayor, a pastor and a tribal leader recently pledged to remove.
To Calderon, this renewed attention on Serra can help enlighten the public who, she said, “believed Native Americans didn’t exist anymore.”
“Now that this moment is happening, we have a story to tell,” Calderon said.
The Catholic Church response to the toppling of the statues has been persistent. The California Catholic Conference of Bishops in a statement said protesters “failed the test” of history in toppling Serra statues.
Salvatore Joseph Cordileone and José Gomez, archbishops of San Francisco and Los Angeles, issued letters staunchly defending the image and history of Serra and criticizing those who defaced the statues.
Cordileone, in a June 20 statement, referred to protesters as embodying “mob rule.” He said Serra made heroic sacrifices to protect Indigenous people from Spanish soldiers. While Cordileone acknowledged “historical wrongs have occurred,” he said they cannot be “righted by re-writing history.” Healing is needed, he said.
A week later, Cordileone held an exorcism at Golden Gate Park, where the statue was taken down, because he said “evil has made itself present here.”
Gomez, in a June 29 letter, acknowledged that the image of Serra and the missions evoke “painful memories for some people.” However, he denounced activists for “revising” history to portray Serra as the “focus of all the abuses committed against California’s indigenous peoples.”
He said that crimes and abuses Serra is blamed for happened after his death. Gomez likened California missions to other communes and “communitarian” societies. He said Serra “did not impose Christianity, he proposed it.” And, he said, Serra wrote and advocated for a “bill of rights” for the Native peoples.
These responses have galvanized Indigenous scholars who want the Catholic Church to fully admit to a history of colonialism that led to the loss of culture and land among the Native community.
Through a project known as Critical Mission Studies, University of California researchers and Indigenous scholars are working to provide a more nuanced understanding of the state’s missions. The research highlights Native, Mexican and Mexican-American voices and “supports Indigenous perspectives on the California colonial missions and their aftermath.”
As part of this project, Native people and Indigenous scholars will virtually gather on July 15 for a Zoom event titled “Toppling Mission Monuments and Mythologies: California Indian Scholars and Allies Respond.”
To Indigenous scholars such as Jonathan Cordero, who is part of this project, the statements from the archbishops are factually wrong and misleading.
“They’re implying that we’re anti-Catholic. They’re accusing us of being uncivil by not following their purported rules for how to handle this,” said Cordero, a professor at California Lutheran University. “They’re accusing us of not knowing the actual historical record.” Cordero, who studies California Indians during the Spanish colonial and early American periods, takes issue with a number of their claims. He said Serra was both a colonist and an evangelist.  “He was responsible for establishing self-governing colonies of Hispanicized and industrious Native citizens in service of the Spanish crown,” said Cordero.
Cordero criticizes the claim that Serra advocated for a “bill of rights” he wrote for the Native peoples. Serra, said Cordero, did not get any new rights for California Indians.  And, Cordero said, missionaries worked with the Spanish military to control the Native population, which was confined to the mission grounds. Indigenous people, he said, were granted a two-week furlough but they had to come back. If they didn’t, they were sought, and in some instances, killed by the military, Cordero said.
“A commune is not a place where you’re forced to go to church, where you’re forced to labor without fair compensation, where you’re punished for minor infractions,” he said. To Cordero, if the Catholic Church wants justice for California Indians, “it begins by telling the truth of what happened at the California missions.” “Until the Catholic Church owns up to the truth …  there will be no justice for California Indians, and if there is no justice as the protest signs say, ‘There will be no peace.'”
Caroline Ward, center, of the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians, speaks during a June 27, 2020, ceremony next to the Junipero Serra statue in Mission Hills. She said the Catholic Church needs to acknowledge the mistreatment of Native people at the missions. RNS photo by Alejandra Molina
The truth is what Caroline Ward, of the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians, demanded at a June 27 ceremony next to the Serra statue across from the San Fernando Mission.
People knelt, burned sage and pounded the drums in front of the statue of Serra, who many in Spanish referred to as an “asesino,” a murderer.
Ward watched as a group of young activists covered the statue with a black plastic sheet and placed a chain around its neck. It felt liberating, she said.
“The church still refuses to acknowledge the treatment of our ancestors,” said Ward, addressing the dozens of people who were there.
While Ward demanded the statue be removed by Sept. 23, on the five-year anniversary of Serra’s sainthood, it has since been temporarily taken down by the city of Los Angeles to prevent violence, according to the San Fernando Valley Sun.
Ward applauds the statue removal, but said the Catholic Church still needs to acknowledge the complete stories of their ancestors within the mission system. That is half of the healing process, she said.
“If they put it back up, it’s going to come back down,” she said.
Now, Ward would like to see the missions transferred to Native people and be repurposed into cultural and healing centers.
“We are the first people of this land and nobody knows we’re here,” she said.
For UC Santa Cruz professor Yve Chavez, who is also part of the Critical Mission Studies Project, it’s crucial to recognize the different Serra viewpoints among the Native community. Some admonish the Catholic Church due to this history of mistreatment, while others try to balance their Catholic faith with knowing their ancestors were forced to live in the missions and “were sometimes doing what they had to do to survive,” she said. “If we completely dismiss the experience of these individuals, we lose sight of the bravery of our ancestors who managed to survive a very difficult situation,” said Chavez, a descendant of Tongva.
To Chavez, whose research focuses on Indigenous art of Southern California and the missions, Serra should not be seen as representative of the entire Catholic Church or even the mission system.
Removing Serra statues won’t make the missions any less Catholic, Chavez said. Instead, it can “help our Native communities feel a sense of recognition that these are not spaces that are strictly about Serra anymore,” said Chavez. Native people provided the labor that built the mission system and made up the majority of its population, said Chavez. The missions stand on ancestral homelands and some are located in preexisting Native villages.
“These are also spaces that we can claim as our own,” Chavez added.
Whether it’s through the removal of statues or through more public awareness of why these monuments are problematic, “now our communities have an opportunity to be heard on a public level,” Chavez said.
She hopes people can recognize that “Native people are still alive and these are their homelands.”

US Sikhs tirelessly travel their communities
 to feed hungry Americans

When Gurpreet Singh and other members of the Sikh community in Riverside, California, started to organize efforts to provide food assistance in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, Singh figured it would simply be a variation on the work the Riverside Gurdwara had been doing for years. “When the pandemic came along,” Singh told CNN, “the Sikh temples were shutting down, and that didn’t seem right. At times of dire need, you don’t close down, you open up.
Worldwide, Sikh temples, also known as Gurdwaras, offer free meals to anyone who shows up. Known as Langar, it’s a tenet of faith and a key part of the Sikh religion, which emphasizes a concept of selfless service to the community at large. In the pre-pandemic days, the Riverside Gurdwara was used to providing 800 to 1,000 meals each Sunday, its busiest day, Singh said. So the community, unable to gather in large groups inside the temple because of pandemic restrictions, decided to serve food out front – Langar-by-drive-through. Gurpreet Singh and members of his Sikh community provide meals for those in need in Riverside, California.

“We thought, ‘we’ll run it two or three days a week — good deed done, pat on the back,'” Singh said. Within the first week, however, “the lines got crazy.” Singh said he quickly realized the scope of the problem.
“Hunger has no days off,” he said, “so there’s no way we can serve less often than every day.” On the busiest days, Singh said, the line of cars can reach two or three miles long.
As an organized religion, Sikhism is relatively new.
Founded some 500 years ago in the Punjab region of India, the faith has some 30 million adherents, making it the fifth largest religion worldwide. Conservative estimates place the number of Sikhs in the United States at just over half a million. “Hunger has no days off, so there’s no way we can serve less often than every day.”

Among the principles of the Sikh faith is Seva — “basically, ‘selfless service,'” explained Vaneet Singh, a member of the Sikh community in Memphis, Tennessee. “It’s so engrained in our faith, it’s everywhere.” (The Singh surname is a traditional and common one for Sikh men.)
Among the principles of the Sikh faith is Seva — selfless service, essentially. “We believe that to serve others, to help others, is a key to who we are,” he said. Perhaps the most visible example of Seva to a non-Sikh, is Langar – the practice of a free community kitchen based in a Sikh temple and open to all. “The concept of the common kitchen is you sit together on the floor and eat together – you are all equal in God’s place,” Singh said. But as the coronavirus pandemic sweeps the nation and a jumble of restrictions, shutdowns and distancing precautions has kept the Sikhs from inviting their neighbors in, several communities have found new ways to break bread. It’s an act of service that, in the face of massive need and fear of infection, has required commitment, devotion and careful planning.
The Mid-South Sikh Sabha, on the outskirts of Memphis, is the only Gurdwara for 100 miles in any direction, Singh said. The community is small, no more than 300 people at its most active, by his estimate. At the beginning of 2020, Singh said he was focused on interfaith outreach, connecting with Christian and Jewish communities in the greater Memphis area. “Then – boom – coronavirus came along,” he said.
“As a community, we thought, ‘OK, how can we contribute?'” he said. It was a question made all the more difficult by the fact that the pandemic meant services in the Gurdwara were suspended. Together with a small team of volunteers, Singh coordinated food donations to local hospitals and aid organizations.
Initially they provided meals to healthcare workers in Memphis hospitals. Working long shifts in a city mostly devoid of restaurants, the city’s essential workers were having a hard time finding food, Singh said.
The University of Memphis reached out as well, Singh said, and asked for food for their international students stranded by the pandemic.
Volunteers took food around Memphis in masks and gloves, and a small group of volunteers took precautions working in the Gurdwara’s kitchen.
In all, Singh said, his small community distributed 1,700 meals before pausing to reassess.
“I hope and pray that this goes away,” he said, but he expressed concern about another rise in coronavirus cases. “I don’t know how long we have to continue this.”

Up the Mississippi River, Deb Bhatia and the volunteers of his non-profit, the Sikhs of STL, had organized similar efforts in St. Louis, Missouri.
When the state started to shut down, Bhatia said, he reached out to his local Gurdwara to ask about using its kitchen.
“When we started, it was for two shelter homes,” he said.
Before the pandemic, Bhatia organized volunteers from the Sikh community to go volunteer at local shelters. As fear of the coronavirus spread, Bhatia said shelters told him they weren’t getting enough volunteers to run their own kitchens. So with four volunteers, Bhatia set the modest goal of making and donating 150 hot meals. But as he started making deliveries, he said he noticed more and more people in need.
“We started driving for hours downtown, bringing people food,” he said. A large group of homeless St. Louis residents had set up tents in front of City Hall, and Bhatia began making weekly visits to deliver meals.
Before long, the Gurdwara’s kitchen wasn’t large enough, Bhatia said. The demand had grown to 1,500 meals a week.
Bhatia said 85 families have volunteered to make meals in their kitchens at home. Bhatia himself does all the shopping. On Wednesday, volunteers come to get groceries from his home. By the weekend, they bring him meals to deliver by van to a dozen shelters across St. Louis.
The idea is to minimize his volunteers’ exposure, he said. “A lot of elderly and kids — I didn’t want them to go out. It’s my responsibility.”
Funding has been a team effort, too, Bhatia said. A GoFundMe he setup was fulfilled in two weeks’ time. “It’s not only the Sikh community,” he said when asked who donated, “it’s the whole community.”
In recent weeks, as the state of Missouri has reopened, Bhatia said that requests for food had gone down slightly. But he said he was prepared to keep offering support. “The fear is still there in people,” he said.

Across the country, Japjot Sethi, a software engineer in San Jose, California, turned an idea for a new way to serve the community into a large-scale operation.
Sethi said he’d had a crazy idea back in 2019. He’d been volunteering his time at homeless shelters since he came to America 20 years ago, but he wanted to do more.
“I started this last year with the crazy idea that there should be food trucks with free food on street corners,” Sethi said.
He was in the middle of starting a nonprofit and shopping for his first truck when the pandemic hit.
He’d already gathered a few volunteers and had started renting space in a commercial kitchen, so he and his partners decided to put the truck on the backburner and help get food to area homeless shelters.
“The shelters were in a dilemma,” Sethi said. “They get the food from restaurants, and the restaurants were shut down.”
Sethi, like many of the Sikhs who spoke to CNN, referenced the concept of Dasvandh – a religious obligation to give 10% of your income to good causes.
With the work he had already done in preparing for his nonprofit, Sethi said he could start cooking meals at a cost of no more than $2 each. He gathered together seven volunteers and got to work.

Langar food is typically vegetarian in an effort to meet the dietary requirements of anyone who might attend. Asked whether he followed the same guidelines in his commercial kitchen, Sethi said that for him, it’s also a logistical concern.
“I have a very strict chef. He says vegetarian food will last longer than any meat,” he said. “We’re keeping all food hazards in mind.”
To date, Sethi said, he and a group of no more than 10 volunteers have made about 20,000 hot meals and distributed them to shelters in San Jose and surrounding communities. Once a week, Sethi also distributes food in Richmond, California, where his family owns a gas station.
“My goal is to make sure our resources really go to the people in need,” he said, noting that the relatively affluent city of San Jose has resources that nearby Richmond and Oakland do not.
“Richmond is hourly wage employees, and many of them lost their jobs,” he said.
On a recent Thursday morning, Sethi said he distributed meals to 1,000 families in Richmond in three hours.
“Next week, we’ll have enough for 1,500,” said Sethi.
While Sethi’s efforts were originally self-funded, they’ve grown to a level where he’s started accepting donations. He’s also begun to take advantage of a coronavirus relief package through the US Department of Agriculture, which distributes food from farmers and distributors to food banks nationwide. Known as the Farmers to Families Food Box Program, Sethi said it’s been a boon to his ability to serve the surrounding communities.
“The need for food is going to keep going on,” he said. “School is shut for the summer – they’re not going to be able to provide meals for the kids. We are prepared to go on until the end of the year.”

Gurpreet Singh estimates that they distribute between 3,000 and 5,000 meals a day.
Gurpreet Singh/United Sikh Mission
Back in Riverside, California, Gurpreet Singh has built his large-scale Langar for the long haul.
Singh said he comes from an engineering and project-management background, and that he’s approached his support efforts accordingly.
He’s split his volunteers into four teams. Four volunteers are dedicated to logistics, he said. Their job is to keep tabs on inventory, figure out where to get more food and how to transport it to the Gurdwara.
“We’re fortunate our Gurdwara’s got a lot of truckers,” Singh said.
A team of six to eight people handles the cooking each morning. “We have very large pots,” Singh said.
They keep the menu simple — rice and beans, pasta dishes and the like.
When the cooking team is done, another team packs meals into boxes to keep them warm and make them easy to distribute.
Then the food is handed off to a team that distributes the food to a line of waiting cars in front of the temple.
“There’s no overlap,” Singh said of the work the teams do. In addition to giving everyone a clearly focused task, Singh said he also sought to limit each volunteer’s exposure to three hours a day.
“This is not just food, it’s getting everyone to feel a sense of community, a sense of support … It’s a way of being American- we’re all in this together.”
The operation has become so efficient that the volunteers store surplus in two donated refrigerator trucks to send to other communities in need.
But the real success, Singh said, has been watching the greater Riverside community coalesce around his temple.
“I’ve always felt conflicted,” Singh said, “that if someone is hungry somewhere within five miles of a Sikh temple, we are not doing our job.”
Now, he says, the Gurdwara has become a hub for the community. Families that came early on but have since had to isolate because of a positive COVID-19 test call the temple. Other families – strangers, says Singh – offer to drop their meals off on their doorsteps.

A villager uses a net to catch offerings thrown into the crater of Mount Bromo by Hindu devotees during Yadnya Kasada festival in Probolinggo, East Java, Indonesia, Tuesday, July 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Trisnadi)

A Jewish man prays outside his house, as synagogues are limited to 20 people following the government’s measures to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, in Bnei Brak, Israel, Thursday, July 9, 2020. Israel is going through a new coronavirus outbreak that is hammering both the economy and public health. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty

Vendors arrive with their decorated camels at a market set up for the upcoming Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha on the outskirts of Karachi, Pakistan, Thursday, July 16, 2020. Eid al-Adha, or Feast of Sacrifice, commemorates the willingness of the Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham to Christians and Jews) to sacrifice his son. (AP Photo/Fareed Khan)

July 2020

Written by WISDOM on . Posted in Newsletters

On Racial Inequities and a new Era of Jim Crow
By Stancy Adams
To begin, I want to thank my sisters and brothers across faiths who have called me in tears and wrote me with letters of support.  I am grateful for prayers that have gone forth, not just for how my community has been ravaged by COVID-19, but for the hateful, unconscionable, blatant killings of black men. My prayers as an ordained minister and chaplain are for worldwide healing.  Even amid my anger and pain, I believe G-d is in charge. Prayer and faith will prevail.
I write this with an aching and heavy heart. From a personal perspective, I have a black son, nephews, and other relatives. My grandchildren are biracial boys. I taught in Sunday school and mentored many young black men and women. Right now, I feel that each has a target on their backs. It is open season to hunt and kill for sport all black and brown people of any age!
I believe that the current civil unrest – bordering on civil war – is the result of the encouragement of extremist right-wing leaders in every level of our government.
The looting and destruction of buildings is the least of our problems,  The problem is not the fall of the stock market. The crux of the matter is the systemic racism that has permeated America since 1619 when the first African slaves were brought to this country.
Africans were treated worse than animals – stuffed into the holes of ships like sardines, chained together with those who died or were diseased. Those slaves who did not commit suicide or die faced lives of heinous treatment, i.e., merciless beatings with whips and chains, brutal rapes, lynching, castration and worse.
After Emancipation came Reconstruction, giving civil rights to freed slaves. This was a time when black men were able to vote and hold public office, Black literacy surged, surpassing that of whites in some cities. Black schools and churches thrived. But this era was short-lived. Redemption followed, led by white supremacists to reverse all black advancement. They erased the right of the black man to vote, and leased black prisoners to provide disposable, cheap labor. These unjust moves relegated black people into a place of servitude as indentured servants.
Then came the cascade of unjust laws targeting the black community: Jim Crow laws that reestablished white supremacy and codified segregation. These laws included bans on interracial marriage and separation of races in public places and businesses.
With the fight for Civil Rights legislation came lynching; and the burning of crosses, houses, and churches. Many of us watched in disbelief either in person or on television as fire hoses were turned on civil rights activists. We were horrified to see police unleashing dogs on men, women, and children to discourage and mutilate protestors.
Now we live in the “New Jim Crow” era, according to author, civil rights litigator and legal scholar, Michelle Alexander. Alexander describes “mass incarceration” and the age of “colorblindness” of which many of our people are not even aware, as they lose  freedoms through the movement every day!
Now the lynching is no longer from poplar trees but from within our governments, businesses and institutions of education – starting in kindergarten and continuing all the way through university. Jobs are provided based on physical attributes, experience, and education with less emphasis on the last. Skin color and gender are the most decisive factors.
Traffic stops give opportunity to police officers to antagonize, degrade, and strip persons of their man- or womanhood, without conscience. The statement, “I felt threatened,” justifying the killing of a black “unarmed man,” is considered a valid defense if one is white. However, that same defense is not acceptable in reverse.
Blatant injustices carried throughout police departments, such as coroner reports claiming  incorrect or misleading causes of death, make it possible for crimes of police to receive either a lesser sentence or no sentence at all.
This, indeed, is “systemic racism,” along with its resulting annihilation of black and brown people in cooperation with injustices in the court system – from district courts right up to the Supreme Court.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, statistics have proven a disproportionate number of blacks have died compared to whites. Some hospitals are reported to have discriminated in care provided to black people presenting with underlying health issues, and were turned away. Personal protection equipment often has been unequally disseminated in the black community, risking a death sentence for people who have to catch a bus to get to their often minimum-wage jobs that offer no sick pay, even in a global pandemic.
These abuses are but a microcosm of the travesties and tragedies poured out on my ancestors, parents, peers, sons, daughters, grandchildren, friends, neighbors and countless others.
The protests should not end until there is change. Looting and destruction should stop, but demanding justice should prevail – until ending racism is the mission of all.
May G-d have mercy on America, our leadership, and our people.

Faith leaders in metro Detroit call for justice and peace
Niraj Warikoo, Detroit Free Press
(l to r) Rabbi Daniel Schwartz, of Temple Shir Shalom in West Bloomfield and the incoming president of the Michigan Board of Rabbis, Rev. Kenneth Flowers of Greater New Mount Moriah Baptist Church in Detroit, Imam Mohammad Ali Elahi of the Islamic House of Wisdom in Dearborn Heights, and Rabbi Asher Lopatin, Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of metro Detroit/American Jewish Committee, stand inside Flowers’ church in Detroit on May 31, 2020. They called for justice, unity and peace, speaking out against racism. (Photo: Rev. Kenneth Flowers)
Faith leaders across metro Detroit are calling for justice, and peace, after the death of George Floyd at the hand of a white police officer in Minnesota.
Jewish, Christian, and Muslim leaders are standing in solidarity with the African American community and have held interfaith gatherings and news conferences, and put out statements condemning the death of Floyd who died when a police officer held a knee down on his neck for several minutes.
In Detroit on Sunday at Greater New Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church, rabbis, an imam and the Rev. Kenneth Flowers spoke out against the injustices that African Americans face while calling for peace.
In Dearborn, Muslim faith leaders, Arab American advocates with the Arab American Civil Rights League, as well as the Dearborn mayor and police chief, also criticized the death of Floyd at a news conference on Sunday outside the Dearborn Police Station.
Also on Sunday, the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan, Rt. Rev. Bonnie Perry, preached: “George Floyd. Say his name. We cannot be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit and crush the life out of another. We cannot tolerate a world, where videos reveal one and we choose to pretend other.”
And on Monday, the Imams Council of Michigan released a statement on behalf of Islamic clerics calling the death of Floyd “criminal and unjustified.”
During Sunday services broadcast online at Greater New Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church, Jewish leaders said they stand with the black community. The church has a predominantly African American congregation.
“On behalf of the Jewish community of Detroit … we are with you at this time, we are with you forever,” said Rabbi Asher Lopatin, Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of metro Detroit/American Jewish Committee. “We are with the African American community, with all the communities that are discriminated against.”
“When George Floyd said those terrible words, ‘I can’t breathe,’ when Eric Garner said those terrible words, ‘I can’t breathe,’ we have to remember that we can’t breathe,” Lopatin said.
Rabbi Daniel Schwartz, of Temple Shir Shalom and the incoming president of the Michigan Board of Rabbis, also spoke at the church, saying: “I want you to know that you are not along in your pain … you are not alone in your fear. … I stand here today to say we must do better.”
Imam Mohammad Ali Elahi, of the Islamic House of Wisdom, said at the church that the death of Floyd was a case of “unbelievable brutality” that “shocked the world.”
“There was no justification … to kneel on Floyd’s neck,” Elahi said.
In his remarks, Flowers said “As a black man living in America, I’m tired of these modern-day lynchings. I’m tired of being treated unfairly and un-trusted based on the color of my skin.”

Flowers said that when he gets pulled over for speeding, “my heart drops not because I’m afraid of getting a ticket” but because of “not knowing if that traffic stop will result in violence and me losing my life.”
Flowers also called for peaceful demonstrations. He was previously a pastor in Los Angeles during the 1992 riots and remembers the devastation. “America is being ripped apart” almost 30 years later after the death of Floyd,” Flowers said.
Flowers said he spoke Saturday night with Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon and Detroit Deputy Police Chief Todd Bettison, saying they want to send a message that they support the protesters, “but in a peaceful, law abiding away and that everything is done in a nonviolent way.”
He commended them for “working to keep the peace in the city.”
Through the weekend, Detroit had not seen the widespread looting and vandalism seen in other cities across the U.S.
“I call upon you also,” Flowers said, “if you are looting, we urge you to stop the looting now, we do not do any justice to our cause by burning buildings, burning the police cars and looting in the neighborhoods.”
“Let us strive to keep the peace, and stop the looting, and stop the violence,” Flowers said.
The Rev. Steven Bland, pastor of Liberty Temple Baptist Church in Detroit and president of the Council of Baptist Pastors of Detroit & Vicinity, said at the Dearborn news conference: “If it happened to George Floyd, it can happen to anyone of us.”
Also at the Dearborn event, Dearborn Police Chief Ron Haddad said that the officer’s actions against Floyd was “the most despicable, indefensible, and incomprehensible action by a human being against a human being.”
Contact Niraj Warikoo: or 313-223-4792.

Poll: US believers see message of
change from God in virus
NEW YORK – The coronavirus has prompted almost two-thirds of American believers of all faiths to feel that God is telling humanity to change how it lives, a new poll finds. While the virus rattles the globe, causing economic hardship for millions and killing more than 80,000 Americans, the findings of the poll by the University of Chicago Divinity School and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research indicate that people may also be searching for deeper meaning in the devastating outbreak.
Even some who don’t affiliate with organized religion, such as Lance Dejesus of Dallastown, Pa., saw a possible bigger message in the virus.
“It could be a sign, like ‘hey, get your act together’ – I don’t know,” said Dejesus, 52, who said he believes in God but doesn’t consider himself religious. “It just seems like everything was going in an OK direction and all of a sudden you get this coronavirus thing that happens, pops out of nowhere.”
The poll found that 31% of Americans who believe in God feel strongly that the virus is a sign of God telling humanity to change, with the same number feeling that somewhat. Evangelical Protestants are more likely than others to believe that strongly, at 43%, compared with 28% of Catholics and mainline Protestants.
The question was asked of all Americans who said they believe in God, without specifying a specific faith. The survey did not have a sample size large enough to report on the opinions of religious faiths with smaller numbers of U.S. adherents, including Muslims and Jews. In addition, black Americans were more likely than those of other racial backgrounds to say they feel the virus is a sign God wants humanity to change, regardless of education, income or gender. Forty-seven percent say they feel that strongly, compared with 37% of Latino and 27% of white Americans.
The COVID-19 virus has disproportionately walloped black Americans, exposing societal inequality that has left minorities more vulnerable and heightening concern that the risks they face are getting ignored by a push to reopen the U.S. economy. Amid that stark reality, the poll found black Americans who believe in God are more likely than others to say they have felt doubt about God’s existence as a result of the virus – 27% said that, compared with 13% of Latinos and 11% of white Americans.
But the virus has prompted negligible change in Americans’ overall belief in God, with 2% saying they believe in God today, but did not before. Fewer than 1% say they do not believe in God today but did before.
Most houses of worship stopped in-person services to help protect public health as the virus began spreading, but that didn’t stop religious Americans from turning to online and drive-in gatherings to express their faiths. Americans with a religious affiliation are regularly engaging in private prayer during the pandemic, with 57% saying they do so at least weekly since March – about the same share that say they prayed as regularly last year.
Overall, 82% of Americans say they believe in God, and 26% of Americans say their sense of faith or spirituality has grown stronger as a result of the outbreak. Just 1% say it has weakened.
Kathryn Lofton, a professor of religious studies at Yale University, interpreted the high number of Americans perceiving the virus as a message from God about change as an expression of “fear that if we don’t change, this misery will continue.”
“When people get asked about God, they often interpret it immediately as power,” said Lofton, who collaborated with researchers from the University of Chicago and other universities, along with The Associated Press, on the design of the new poll. “And they answer the question saying, ‘Here’s where the power is to change the thing I experience.'”
Fifty-five percent of American believers say they feel at least somewhat that God will protect them from being infected. Evangelical Protestants are more likely than those of other religious backgrounds to say they believe that, with 43% saying so strongly and another 30% saying so somewhat, while Catholics and mainline Protestants are more closely split on feeling that way or not.
However, the degree and nature of protection that God is believed to offer during the pandemic can differ depending on the believer. Marcia Howl, 73, a Methodist and granddaughter of a minister, said she feels God’s protection but not certainty that it would save her from the virus.
“I believe he has protected me in the past, that he has a plan for us,” said Howl, of Portalas, N.M. “I don’t know what’s in his plan, but I believe his presence is here looking after me. Whether I can survive it or not, that’s a different story.”
Among black Americans who believe in God, 49% say they feel strongly that God will protect them from the virus, compared with 34% of Latino and 20% of white Americans. David Emmanuel Goatley, a professor at Duke University’s divinity school who was not involved with the survey, said religious black Americans’ view of godly protection could convey “confidence or hope that God is able to provide – that does not relinquish personal responsibility, but it says God is able.”
Goatley, who directs the school’s Office of Black Church Studies, noted a potential distinction between how religious black Americans and religious white Americans might see their protective relationship with God. Within black Christian theology is a sense of connection to the divine in which “God is personally engaged and God is present,” he said. That belief, he added, is “different from a number of white Christians, evangelical and not, who would have a theology that’s more a private relationship with God.
(The AP-NORC poll of 1,002 adults was conducted April 30-May 4 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.)

Global Citizen
Meet Britain’s ‘Skipping Sikh’: a 73-Year-Old Bringing Joy to Older People Exercising at Home
First there was Colonel Tom walking laps for the NHS, then we had Dabirul Islam Choudhury fundrasing while fasting for Ramadan – and now, adding to the list of inspirational people from the older generation keeping Britain motivated during the coronavirus pandemic, Rajinder Singh has been showing off how to stay fit at home in lockdown.
The 73-year-old retired bus driver from west London has found himself unexpectedly in the limelight after posting a series of videos showing people how to skip – all while raising money for the NHS, encouraging almost £12,000 in donations so far.
The sprightly pensioner was passionate about exercise and keeping healthy before the pandemic, regularly running for charity and joining Park Run for an organised 5km jog every Saturday.  But now he’s using that interest to inspire others in his generation and community to do the same, after receiving a huge response online.  Global Citizen spoke to Singh and his daughter Min Kaur, who has been helping to film and upload his workouts to YouTube .
“I have always exercised and done things for charity, but in lockdown we decided to put some of the exercises I was doing online to show others what they could do too – my daughter encouraged me, she said it could help other people,” Singh says. “I agreed. I wanted to show people that you can stay active in lockdown.” His daughter explained that she started to realise how isolated older people could become as lockdown began. The government advised people over 70 and those with underlying health conditions to “shield” – meaning going out as little as possible and getting food delivered to their homes.
“I spoke to my friends who have parents or grandparents living with them at home, and even though they were together in the same house, they were spending time in separate rooms to keep them safe,” Kaur said. “I thought it was all a bit sad and depressing.”   Kaur also worried that many people would resort to staying on the sofa all day and eating unhealthy food, affecting both their physical and mental health.   But her father was determined to keep his spirits up – he couldn’t go for runs anymore but was still skipping every day. So Kaur filmed one of Singh’s sessions, put it on Twitter, and it quickly got over 35,000 views.  They’ve since built a lively community of followers on YouTube and across social media, using the hashtag #skippingsikh – with his story featured on the BBC and international outlets such as CNN and Al Jazeera.

Singh explains that he likes skipping because it’s simple to do inside the house or in the garden. “You just get a rope and you don’t need a lot of space to start skipping,” he says.   “I skip daily between five and 20 minutes of interval skipping as it’s a great cardio workout,” he adds. “In lockdown this is the best form of exercise as it’s easy to learn and do.”
Some of the workouts show other ways to keep active at home, like lifting makeshift weights, such as watering cans filled with water and other household items. Singh’s wife, Pritpal, has featured in some of them too.
“The younger generation are showing them to their parents and grandparents, and they’ve also been shown on the British-Asian TV channels, so more people saw them on TV and got in touch,” says Kaur.
“People have sent us so many messages online saying they are learning to skip now. During a time of doom and gloom, it’s felt really positive to have motivated people,” Kaur adds.  The pair explain that it has also been a good way to connect with the Sikh community online too, as of course during lockdown people can no longer gather to worship weekly.
“We would normally gather at the Gurdwara and the elderly would go there regularly,” Kaur explains. “It has a kitchen and food is available throughout the day, and as they aren’t working that would be their time to meet people from the community and socialise.”
Kaur adds that it is helpful for people in their community to relate to her dad. “He’s not Joe Wicks – some of the exercises are not that intense – and it’s not professional, but it doesn’t need to be, it’s just about having fun and encouraging people to stay active,” she says.
“And it just adds something, if somebody sees someone like them exercising then it makes them want to try it – they’ll engage because it’s someone from their community,” she continues.
As the UK starts to ease lockdown measures, many older people will continue to practice social distancing because of the continued potential risk to their health, and many have been strongly advised to continue to do so by doctors. So Singh and Kaur say they will continue with their videos and keep up the momentum amid their new virtual community.
“I’m really humbled by the response I have got and thank everyone out there who’s supported the fundraiser and felt inspired by my exercises and has started to do exercise,” Singh says of his lockdown project.  “I’m truly thankful to those who have shown me so much love.”

Outgoing President Bobbie Lewis’s Speech at the WISDOM Installation Zoom meeting on May 27th, 2020.
Despite the challenges, we held several successful programs, including a membership tea, a docent-led tour of the Detroit Institute of Arts that focused on images of women, and a panel discussion, “Coming to America,” in honor of International Women’s Day, where a diverse group of women shared their experiences and perspectives as immigrants to our country. We held our signature Five Women Five Journeys programs for Oakland Center Physicians, Covington Middle School, Blue Cross/Blue Shield and Hadassah, a Jewish women’s organization.
We also did several community services projects. As we have done for many years, we stuffed backpacks with school supplies with Greater New Mt. Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in Detroit. We prepared food for the communal kitchen in Zaman’s headquarters in Inkster and participated in the graduation ceremony of Zaman International’s BOOST program, which provides English language instruction, GED classes and vocational training for women. This year, with many of Zaman’s activities on hiatus, we have made a donation to help them purchase supplies for the women to make face masks that they can sell. We also contributed to the Oakland County Poverty and Homelessness Task Force.
While our programming challenges remain huge, we are going to get to work soon on planning for the coming year, either programs we can present remotely, like the one are doing now, or activities that will take place once social distancing becomes less intense.
It has been a huge honor to serve WISDOM as president for the past two years. I joined WISDOM – I can’t even remember when, probably about 10 years ago – because I strongly believe in its mission and vision. Interfaith relationships have always been important to ne. WISDOM has been a lifeline in that regard, especially after I retired and my social group contracted to consist mainly of people like me.
I’m looking forward to working with the sisters I have come to know so well over the past few years and with Mary, Suzanne, Reem and Diane, who are joining us today. I know that the intelligence, caring, and energy we share will lead us to do great things for our community.
And I am thrilled to be turning over the presidency to my dear friend Teri Weingarden. I can’t think of anyone better qualified or better suited to lead our organization over the next two years.
Incoming WISDOM President Teri Weingarden’s speech at the WISDOM Installation Zoom
meeting on May 27th, 2020.
I am honored and humbled to “Zoom” before you, as your next WISDOM President. WISDOM started with a few women deciding to sit down and just get to know each other. That is really how most friendships begin, when we take the time to truly listen to and get to know each other.
The founders of WISDOM shared a belief that women were best suited to form an interfaith movement, build on these relationships, encouraging collaboration, empathy, respecting each other’s differences, building bridges and taking action towards change.
This very human and spiritual component is what personally led me to WISDOM. I wanted to be a part of an interfaith group of friends finding commonality, supporting each other and creating pathways to peace. I feel such an integral part of this WISDOM sisterhood and am excited to be helping lead us our organization forward. As our WISDOM President, I want to increase our impact on helping those unseen or misunderstood in our community through interfaith collaboration, engaging in educational programming, and finding new and innovative ways to share our stories.
In our book Friendship & Faith, Parker Palmer is quoted, “What we need is right here, within us and between us, in the places we meet, in the moments we pray, in the times we reach out and across to one another in love.”
It’s important to me to understand what attracted each of you to WISDOM and find a way to engage, encourage and motivate you to work with your WISDOM sisters to make your best contribution towards our world. We need to empower members to be actively involved in supporting our mission as well as experiencing personal fulfillment. We are a team and each member of the team has unique skills, interests and resources to share.
One of our first WISDOM programs, before my time with WISDOM, brought together a group of interfaith women, mostly strangers to do a Habitat for Humanity build. As the day progressed the women worked together, talked together and built together. By the end of the day they had achieved a tangible goal and not only build a home, but also new relationships, understanding and friendships. This is the power of our work together. Building relationships that can lead to powerful collaborations.
We need to continue to deepen our relationships throughout our organization and also leverage our connections with other interfaith organizations to jointly create programming that engages our communities and helps us make space for peace. We are small and powerful but we cannot accomplish everything ourselves. We need to focus on our strengths and help others succeed in their areas of expertise. We should continue to work with organizations that further our mission and support them financially, publicly and through joint projects and volunteer efforts.
Our International Women’s day began two years ago as an idea. One of our WISDOM sisters brought it to us and that program took life. We have invited others to share poems and stories and this year, highlighting immigrant experiences and even raised funds for Alternatives for Girls. This resonates with people and brings light to issues of immigration and discrimination.
In these times of isolation and quarantine, it is important to find additional ways to connect. We deepen our own spirituality and motivation to help others through these inspirational relationships. Luckily, this draws upon several of our strengths. We have a beautiful new addition of Friendship and Faith which shares 52 women’s stories of interfaith relationships, struggle and perseverance. We need to ensure these books are being shared and read so our message can travel into homes around the world. This supports our efforts to dispel myths, stereotypes, prejudices and fear about faith traditions different from our own.
We have our 5W5J (Five Women Five Journeys) which adds a very personal and interactive component to our stories. 5W5J This unique WISDOM program features personal stories of women of different faith traditions, how their childhood impacted their beliefs today, what the challenges are for women in their faith tradition, what parts of their religion are misunderstood, how reaching out to someone from a different faith has enriched their lives.
Through 5W5J, we share our unique perspectives and commonalities, highlighting the fact that none of us are really the “other”. We are your sister, neighbor, colleague or friend. We are discussing ways we can share past discussions or tape new ones and allow for panel interviews or interactive question and answer sessions. This will present a new challenge, but ultimately allow us to share our message more widely. What message do you want to share about the importance of WISDOM?
We need to continue to find ways to support “the other” and advocate for inclusion and tolerance. As stated by Ambassador Samantha Power,U.S. Representative to the United Nations (2013-17), “But as women who, even to this day, know what it feels like to be unheard or unseen, we have an additional responsibility. I think the burden of being treated differently is also our strength – because it gives us the capacity to notice when others are treated differently. To see the blind spots.” We need to take an active role in supporting equality and social justice and “hear, and lift up, the voices of those whom others choose not to hear.”
Our recent support of the Oakland County Poverty and Homelessness Task Force and continued collaboration with the Zaman Boost program show strides in this area. Let’s continue and expand these efforts. How do you want to help us focus on helping those without a voice, thus supporting our efforts to further social justice and world peace? How do you see your passion contribution helping us achieve our mission?
Let me close by quoting President Barack Obama in his commencement speech to my daughter’s college in 2012,
“And if you’re willing to do your part now, if you’re willing to reach up and close that gap between what America is and what America should be, I want you to know that I will be right there with you.  If you are ready to fight for that brilliant, radically simple idea of America that no matter who you are or what you look like, no matter who you love or what God you worship, you can still pursue your own happiness, I will join you every step of the way.”
WISDOM Board of Directors 2020-2021
Teri Weingarden, President, (Jewish) West Bloomfield
Karin Dains Vice President of Public Relations, (LDS) Lathrup Village
Gail Katz Vice President of Public Relations (Jewish) Bloomfield Hills
Dr. Paula Drewek, Vice President of Board Development, (Baha’i), Warren
Trish Harris Vice President of Board Development, (Catholic) Bloomfield Hills
Ayesha Khan Vice President of Programs (Muslim) West Bloomfield
Sameena Basha Vice President of Programs (Muslim) Rochester Hills
Bobbie Lewis Vice President of Membership (Jewish) Detroit
Shama Mehta Vice President of Membership (Hindu) Livonia
Suzanne Levin (Jewish) Beverly Hills
Mary Gilhuly (Catholic) Oak Park
Rev. Carolyn Simon (Christian) Southfield
Rev. Dianne Van Marter (Christian) Detroit
Rev. Dr. Rose Cooper (Unity) Lathrup Village
Reem Saleh, (Muslim) Dearborn
WISDOM Advisory Board 2020-2021
Rev. Stancy Adams (Christian) Bloomfield Hills
Parwin Anwar (Muslim) Sterling Heights
Rev. Sharon Buttry (Christian) Hamtramck
Peggy Dahlberg (Christian) Bloomfield Hills
Fran Hildebrandt (Jewish) Farmington Hills
Delores Lyons (Buddhist) Detroit
Brenda Rosenberg (Jewish) Bloomfield Hills
Gigi Salka (Muslim) Bloomfield Hills
Maryann Schlie (Unity) Beverly HIlls

Christians, Muslims hope Mosul project
helps rebuild trust
Jun 3, 2020

AMMAN, JORDAN – Christians and Muslims hope a project to reconstruct Mosul’s iconic places of worship, badly damaged by Islamic State militants during their 2014-2017 occupation of the city, will also help to rebuild trust between Iraq’s fractured religious communities.
“Walking in the streets of Mosul, I saw a young neighbor, probably born after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, who never knew peace time in the city,” French Dominican Father Olivier Poquillon told Catholic News Service from the northern Iraqi city of Irbil.
“‘Oh, you are Christians,’ he told me and the group. ‘Come back, come back here to live in peace together,’ he implored us.”
“We know it will be a challenge for everybody to rebuild trust among people, families and communities. But this is our faith. We believe in a God of mercy, and we believe we have this humanity as a common responsibility,” Poquillon said.
The $50.4 million UNESCO project, funded by the United Arab Emirates, envisions rebuilding not only Mosul’s landmark Great Mosque of al-Nouri and its minaret, but also the renowned Conventual Church of Our Lady of the Hour, along with the Al-Tahera Syriac Catholic Church.
Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed a “caliphate” from the al-Nouri Mosque’s minaret in 2014 and, three years later, had it blown up as Iraqi government forces retook the city. The battle for Mosul lasted almost nine months, leaving large areas in ruins and killing thousands of civilians. More than 900,000 others were displaced from the city.
The extremists forced tens of thousands of Christians to choose conversion to Islam or death, if they remained. Instead, they escaped northward, while others fled abroad.
The Dominicans built Our Lady of the Hour Church in the 19th century as a place of encounter. Their history in Iraq dates back to the 13th century, soon after the founding of the order, when their first friar arrived at the behest of the pope. In the 17th century, the Dominicans in Mosul established educational instruction, health care, and sought to unite local Christian communities with Rome.
Later, both large and small seminaries associated with this church educated Iraq’s Chaldean Catholic Cardinal Louis Sako and a host of other top Catholic clerics in the country. Mosul was always considered, along with the Ninevah Plain, the ancestral heartland of Iraq’s Christian community. Our Lady of the Hour’s famed clock tower, the first in Iraq, was gifted by Empress Eugenie de Montijo, wife of Napoleon III, in 1876. The clock installed in 1880 was a famous four-dial clock.
Poquillon, who oversees the project on behalf of the Dominicans, is excited that it is Mosul’s citizens, now nearly 99% Sunni Muslim, who requested that UNESCO include both Catholic churches as absolutely necessary to the city’s rebuilding efforts.
“It’s not a top-down initiative but bottom-up. They (Mosul’s Sunni Muslims) told UNESCO that if you rebuild the Great Mosque, the old city will never again be our city without the Dominican church,” he recounted. “We hope, by the help of God, that this place may return as a sanctuary for the Virgin Mary, venerated by Christians and Muslims alike.”
“The project is a great opportunity because our mission has always been to support the people and to help value the fantastic heritage of this region. Mesopotamia is part of the Holy Land. Abraham was from Ur and Mosul is Ninevah,” Poquillon said. “It is very important not to lose this perspective and to see how we can contribute to help people engage together for the common good.”
Poquillon said the project’s first goal is for Muslims, Christians and other communities “to work together, to do something positive together.” Then, he said, Christians and other religious minorities must see again that Mosul is “their home and that they are in their own land.”
“It is a symbolic commitment of the authorities to tell the Christians that they are indeed part of the community. This the is heart of the joint message between Pope Francis and the grand imam of Al-Azhar to move from minority status to full citizenship,” he said of the leaders’ signed agreement, “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together.”
Poquillon said Christian and Muslim workers will once again rebuild Mosul’s landmark mosque and churches as they had initially done in the past.
“We are sharing a joint responsibility to rebuild for the common good,” he said. He noted that the Dominicans are not employers for the project, but are accompanying UNESCO on this mission.
A recent spike in COVID-19 cases forced authorities to impose a strict curfew and lockdown from June 1 until midnight June 6, halting work. Northern Iraq was already under a two-month curfew.
Poquillon said workers hoped to be able to clear leftover land mines and sort stones.
“We have to keep the historical stones,” he said of plans to maintain the same cityscape afforded by both the mosque and the church.
“The church is at the heart, the crossroads of the old city of Mosul, on the corner of the two main streets of the city. So, when the people entered the city, they first saw the Clock Tower of Our Lady of the Hour and the Great Mosque minaret,” UNESCO said.
Poquillon said 50 Christian families have returned to Mosul, likely due to the cost of living being lower there than in Irbil or the towns of the Ninevah Plain. But the hope is that Christians and Muslims alike will find jobs and homes in Mosul once again, and perhaps the project will contribute to that.

How to Feed Crowds in a Protest
 or Pandemic? The Sikhs Know
The New York Times, June 10, 2020
Inside a low, brick-red building in Queens Village, a group of about 30 cooks has made and served more than 145,000 free meals in just 10 weeks. They arrive at 4 a.m. three days a week to methodically assemble vast quantities of basmati rice, dal, beans and vibrantly flavored sabzis for New York City hospital workers, people in poverty and anyone else in search of a hot meal. This isn’t a soup kitchen or a food bank. It’s a gurdwara, the place of worship for Sikhs, members of the fifth-largest organized religion in the world, with about 25 million adherents. Providing for people in need is built into their faith.
An essential part of Sikhism is langar, the practice of preparing and serving a free meal to promote the Sikh tenet of seva, or selfless service. Anyone, Sikh or not, can visit a gurdwara and partake in langar, with the biggest ones – like the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India – serving more than 100,000 people every day.
Since the coronavirus pandemic has halted religious gatherings in most of the country, including langar, gurdwaras like the Sikh Center of New York, in Queens Village, are mobilizing their large-scale cooking resources to meet the skyrocketing need for food aid outside their places of worship. Some are feeding the protesters marching in outrage over the killings of George Floyd and other black Americans by the police. Last week, a dozen or so volunteers from the Queens center served 500 portions of matar paneer, rice and rajma, a creamy, comforting dish of red beans stewed with tomatoes, and 1,000 bottles of water and cans of soda to demonstrators in Sunnyside. They also offered dessert: kheer, a sweetened rice pudding.
“Where we see peaceful protest, we are going,” said Himmat Singh, a coordinator at the World Sikh Parliament, an advocacy group providing volunteers for the Queens Village efforts. “We are looking for justice. We support this.” Since the pandemic began, soup kitchens have had difficulty keeping up with demand. Shuttered schools and even fine-dining restaurants are using their kitchens to prepare and serve hot meals. But few other places are as well positioned to handle the sheer scale of assistance required right now as the gurdwaras. Most have large, well-equipped kitchens, a steady stream of volunteers and no shortage of ingredients, thanks to regular donations from community members. During the last annual Sikh Day Parade in New York, in April 2019, the Queens Village kitchen – which has a walk-in cooler, multiple freezers, 50-liter stockpots and a huge grill that can cook dozens of rotis at once – produced 15,000 meals in a single day. The Sikhs’ biggest challenge isn’t keeping up with demand. It’s letting people know that they’re here – without making a big show of it or proselytizing, which is forbidden.
Founded in the 15th century in Punjab, India, by the spiritual leader Guru Nanak, Sikhism has an estimated 500,000 followers in the United States and 280 gurdwaras, according to the Sikh Coalition, a civil-rights organization in New York City. One of the most visibly distinctive features of the Sikh practice is the turban – a symbol of the religion’s belief in equality – though not everyone chooses to wear one.
Sikhs in America have been often been prey to bigotry, hate crimes and Islamophobia, particularly since 9/11. A few volunteers said in interviews that before going out to distribute meals, they worried that they might hear ignorant comments. But Santokh Dillon, the president of the Guru Nanak Mission Society of Atlanta, said the people he serves are often more puzzled than prejudiced. Most have never even heard of Sikhism, he said. When some find out that the meals are free, “They look at us and say, ‘You are kidding, right?’ “
At least 80 gurdwaras in the United States are now providing food assistance. For many, the transition has been quick and seamless.
This is not just because the infrastructure is already there, said Satjeet Kaur, the executive director of the Sikh Coalition. “The call to action and the responsibility” for helping others is deeply entrenched in the Sikh way of life. Sikhs are expected to donate at least 10 percent of their time or income toward community service.
It took the Gurdwara Sahib of Fremont, Calif., just a few days after suspending religious services in March to set up a meal and grocery delivery program, and a drive-through meal pickup system outside the gurdwara. Cooks wear gloves and masks, and the kitchen is big enough for workers to stand more than six feet from one another. As at most gurdwaras, the menu changes regularly, but is typically Indian and always vegetarian. (Meat is not permitted in gurdwaras.)
While these Sikh volunteers, known as sevadars, are experts in mass-meal preparation, they aren’t as accustomed to spreading the word. The Fremont kitchen has produced 15,000 to 20,000 meals a day on holidays like New Year’s Eve, said Dr. Pritpal Singh, a member of the gurdwara. But now, the gurdwara is serving just 100 to 150 people each day.
Dr. Singh said he hoped that more people in need would come pick up food. “We could do hundreds of thousands of meals if given the task,” he said.
But with the demonstrations unfolding around the country, Sikhs aren’t waiting for people to come to them any longer. On Tuesday, volunteers from the Gurdwara Sahib attended a protest in Fremont and handed out several hundred bottles of water as a show of solidarity.
On a recent Friday, Gurjiv Kaur and Kiren Singh asked the volunteers at their gurdwara, the Khalsa Care Foundation, in the Pacoima neighborhood of Los Angeles, to prepare meals in the community kitchen that they could take to the protest. The next morning, they and others picked up about 700 containers of pasta with a garlic- and onion-laden tomato sauce and 500 bottles of water from the gurdwara, and set up a tent in Pan Pacific Park. Soon, protesters started arriving at the tent with other donations, like medical supplies, snacks and hand sanitizer.
“It is our duty to stand up with others to fight for justice,” said Ms. Kaur, a graduating senior at the University of California, Irvine. “Langar at its core is a revolution – against inequality and the caste system,” the antiquated hereditary class structure in South Asia, which Sikhism has always rejected.
In Norwich, Conn., volunteers from five gurdwaras handed out a few hundred bottles of water to protesters last Tuesday, and on Friday, distributed as many containers of rajma, or kidney beans, and rice on a Main Street sidewalk, a block from City Hall. Swaranjit Singh Khalsa, a volunteer and a member of the Norwich Board of Education, noted that historically, many Sikhs in India have been killed by the police while fighting for their civil rights.
At many gurdwaras in the United States, most of those who show up for langar meals are Sikhs. Now that they are catering to a broader population, menus have changed to suit different tastes. In the Seattle area, volunteers at the Gurudwara Sacha Marag Sahib are making pasta and tacos in addition to rice and dal.
At the Hacienda de Guru Ram Das in Española, N.M., meals have included enchiladas and burritos. Still, Harimandir Khalsa, a volunteer, said the community kitchen is operating at less than 10 percent of its capacity.
“I think it is about convenience,” Mr. Khalsa said, as the gurdwara isn’t centrally located. “If we had a food truck parked in front of Walmart that said, ‘Free food,’ we could get more takers. But for people to get in their cars and drive over to this place – people aren’t that desperate yet.”
Location is also an issue for the Guru Ramdas Gurdwara Sahib in Vancouver, Wash., as the neighborhood doesn’t have much foot traffic, said Mohan Grewal, the gurdwara secretary. So every other Sunday, volunteers pack up 300 to 400 meals made in the gurdwara and drive them to the Living Hope Church, a Christian congregation six miles away, in a more urban part of the city. One of the biggest challenges for gurdwaras is that many hospitals, shelters and other charitable organizations they’d like to help don’t take cooked food because of hygienic concerns, or accept it only if it meets certain health codes. Many Sikhs have started collecting and distributing pantry items in addition to making meals.
Still, some gurdwaras are bustling. In Riverside, Calif., a hub for the Sikh population, volunteers from the United Sikh Mission, an American nonprofit aid group, and the Khalsa School Riverside, a children’s program, serve 3,000 to 5,000 meals every day at the Riverside Gurdwara. People line up in the drive-through as early as 9:30 a.m., even though it doesn’t open until 11:30.
The process is highly systematized. The cooking team shows up at 5:30 a.m. to prepare meals based on previous days’ numbers, as well as requests from senior centers, hospitals and nursing homes; another team packs the meals into microwave-safe boxes; and the third distributes them at the drive-through and other locations. The gurdwara shares information about the free meals through regular posts on large Facebook groups for local residents.
“We didn’t just sit there and say we are going to cook and wait for people to come,” said Gurpreet Singh, a volunteer for the United Sikh Mission.
Since the protests, Mr. Singh and others have been reaching out to black organizations, like churches, offering to drop off meals or groceries. They expect to see an increase in people showing up for meals, as thousands have been attending protests in the area.
Groups like United Sikhs, an international nonprofit, are helping to get the word out. They have stepped up efforts to identify areas of need, connect gurdwaras with organizations seeking assistance, provide best practices for food preparation during the pandemic and mobilize Sikhs to help feed protesters.
While the pandemic continues, a few gurdwaras aren’t using their kitchens. Tejkiran Singh, a spokesman for the Singh Sabha of Michigan, west of Detroit, said the gurdwara committee decided it was too risky to start a meal distribution service, especially since Michigan has become a hot spot for the coronavirus.
When the Sikh Society of Central Florida, in Oviedo, reopens on June 14, services will be limited to fewer people, and food will be handed out in to-go containers as they leave.
But Amit Pal Singh and Charanjit Singh, the chairman and the treasurer of the Sikh Society of Central Florida, also want to continue the drive-through and delivery services they developed during the pandemic.
“The concept of langar is to serve the needy,” Mr. Pal Singh said. Before the pandemic, he said, most people participating in langar were local Sikhs coming more for social and religious reasons than out of need. The drive-through and deliveries will allow them to put meals into the hands of people who struggle to afford to eat.
That will mean a lot of extra food for volunteers to prepare, in a city where the Sikh population is still small. But none of that seemed to worry Mr. Pal Singh. “We would love to be in that situation,” he said, his optimism vibrating through the phone. “We will handle it.”

Zaman Founder’s Life-Changing
 Experience Prepares Her for Pandemic
Earlier in my career, I was a critical care nurse at a hospital in Detroit caring for a 50-year-old man with heart disease. In the middle of the night, the monitors started beeping and the monitors showed the line flattening. I hollered, ‘Code blue! Code blue!’ “The surgeon ran in and said, ‘We have to split the chest.’ Before I knew it, I was looking down at this man’s heart. The surgeon grabbed my hand and put it on the heart. I began to gently clap the heart; it started to quiver. And then it started to beat. “It was a pivotal moment in my life. I have not been the same person since. This is what some call a spiritual synapsis. We all have them. We just aren’t aware of them and often don’t know how to capture the moment.”
Najah Bazzy not only captured the moment; she has been guided by it. Eventually her role as a nurse expanded, and she has found her life’s work. Today, Bazzy, 60, is a world-renown humanitarian recognized for her work as founder of Zaman International, a Detroit-based nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating poverty and restoring dignity among refugee women and children. She has earned a 2019 CNN Top Ten Hero award, among many other such honors. Zaman’s humble beginnings reflect Bazzy’s approach to life: Fix the immediate problem. Do not be slowed down by limitations. Follow the guiding spirit. In the beginning there was no office, no staff, no organization. There was only Bazzy. Her van. And her outstretched hand.
For nearly 15 years, Bazzy delivered food, clothing and household items to newly arrived families in Detroit and Dearborn who had next to nothing. She asked her doctor and nurse colleagues for contributions. And when her van grew too small to store all the donated items, she asked her friends to make room in their garages. Bazzy remains every bit the visionary today as she was then. In January, when coronavirus was an exotic name of a far-off medical condition, Bazzy was planning for the devastation it could cause at home.
“I lived through the HIV crisis. I spent time in critical care, the emergency room, with end-of-life patients. It was almost instinctive, anticipating what we are seeing now: food insecurity with hundreds of cars lined up to receive food. A lot of phone calls, a lot of fear around not being able to pay bills.
“Prior to the state’s shelter-in-place order, I knew we had to prepare. I mobilized our team and we talked about what was coming: The first crisis is going to be around the availability of food. The second is economic anxiety. And the third is grief. “Organizations like Zaman must constantly revisit their operations and ask: Are we as focused as we should be? Are we as efficient as we could be? Are we as strategic as we could be?”
Focus, efficiency and strategy are the reasons why Zaman was able to continue its services without interruption-as well as add new ones-when the pandemic did hit Detroit. Zaman’s food pantry, which had been open to the community, has become a food distribution center where volunteers pack food kits and provide them to area families. Vocational arts and literacy classes for women who are the head-of-households have continued-online. Social work and case management have also continued and can help calm the anxiety of those who miss rent payments and utility bills. And, perhaps most important, her team is ready to offer grief support for those who have lost loved ones.
“Once the shock of this wears off, I think there will be a time of mourning and grief for the families of those who died, and for those who died alone. We are preparing ourselves to help manage grief for those who call on us.”
Though much of Zaman’s current focus is on meeting the needs of COVID-related emergencies, the programs that put Zaman on the map continue. Plots for Tots Infant Burial Program assists families in poverty who suffer miscarriages and infant deaths. Those families include refugees who often experience language barriers and do not understand how to have their infants’ remains released to them from hospitals. Zaman helps these families through this heart-wrenching process ensuring their religious and cultural beliefs are honored and they are treated with dignity. Zaman gives these babies proper burials.
Another program, less grave, but impactful just the same, is the Back to School Initiative. The program expanded in 2015 with a $12,500 grant from Ford Fund, and provides backpacks filled with new school supplies to K-12 students at the beginning of each school year. More than 5,000 students have been served.
This grant represents an on-going relationship between Ford Fund and Zaman. In 2016, Ford Fund donated a Ford Transit to support Zaman’s food pantry operations. And in 2018, Zaman became a nonprofit partner in the Ford Volunteer Corps-a global network of Ford employees and retirees who lend their time and expertise in tens of thousands of community service projects each year. Bazzy said the backpack program will continue this fall whether students return to brick and mortar schools or continue to their classes from home.
“It’s important that kids feel they are counted,” she said. “The ritual of collecting school supplies at the beginning of the school year is exciting for kids. It’s symbolic of hope for the future, and Ford Fund helped make it possible.”
Always the visionary, Bazzy likens the emergency of COVID-19 to the emergency of the man whose heart she held in her hands all those years ago. “These times require a collective human response. If we could look through the lens of our collective heart, maybe we would be kinder and there would be less war and less destruction. I believe we will learn to honor the differences between us. That’s the human spirit. It is something beautiful to watch.

What Latter-day Saints Can Learn from Ramadan to Enhance Their Fasting Experience
For our Muslim friends and neighbors around the world, April 23 through May 23 is the holy month of Ramadan. Serving on the board of directors for the Interfaith Leadership Council of Metro Detroit and in my capacity as public affairs director for the Church in my stake, I have had some incredible opportunities to explore the rich religious landscape of my diverse community. One of my favorite experiences has been celebrating Ramadan with my wonderful Muslim friends and neighbors.
Before I got involved in interfaith work, the only thing I knew about Ramadan was that it involved fasting-for a really, really long time. As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I am no stranger to fasting. During our designated fast Sunday at the start of each month, we go without food or drink for two consecutive meals, or approximately 24 hours. But a month! How do you fast for an entire month?
Ramadan lasts for 29 or 30 days, depending on when the new moon is seen based on the Islamic calendar. Before sunrise each day, a pre-fast meal called the Suhoor is eaten to provide energy for the day. The morning prayer (Fajr) marks the beginning of their fast, which lasts until the sun sets. Once the evening prayer (Maghrib) has been observed, it is time to refuel physically and emotionally for the next day of fasting and devotion. Family and friends often gather for the evening meal (Iftar) which is a time of unity and celebration during this season of spiritual reflection and increased worship to God.
One of my favorite interfaith experiences has been joining my Muslim bothers and sisters for an Iftar during the month of Ramadan. Not only is the food absolutely amazing (seriously the best!) but the spirit of love and community consecrated by the fast of faithful believers is truly touching. I would highly encourage anyone who has the opportunity to attend a community Iftar.
So why do Muslims observe Ramadan?
For followers of Islam, fasting isn’t just a good thing to do-it’s a requirement, or pillar of faith. You may have heard of the Five Pillars of Islam. Fasting (Sawm) was taught by the prophet Muhammad as a way to increase devotion to God.
“O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous” (Quran 2:183)
The practice of fasting is common to many religions and acts as a way to elevate the self or the soul above physical wants and needs to access a higher level of spirituality. Jewish men and women fast at Yom Kippur, Buddhist fast on Vesak, and many Christians fast as part of Lent and the Holy Weeks. Muslims fast specifically during the holy month of Ramadan to commemorate the month in which the Qur’an, the holy text of Islam, was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. Muslims also fast at other times throughout the year to ask for forgiveness of sins.
What can we learn from Ramadan?
One of the most inspiring aspects of witnessing my Muslim friends’ observance of Ramadan is their cheerful obedience. I have asked them if it is hard to fast while working or going about their daily activities while others may give little or no thought to their religious practice. But they always respond with a smile that it is a blessing to fast. I have never heard them complain about the long, hot days when Ramadan falls in the summer due to the lunar calendar.
As we have held interfaith meetings in past years during the fast, there is no grumbling or complaint when others enjoy a snack or a meal. When asked if it is hard to fast for 30 consecutive days, I am met with responses of nothing but gratitude, giving me an increased devotion for the season and how I can learn lessons from it in my own life.
As a young person growing up, the approach of Fast Sunday often solicited dread as I contemplated the hours of stomach pains surely ahead. Even on a Sunday surrounded by fellow participants in the fast, when a younger sibling enjoyed a bowl of Cap’n Crunch cereal, I would lament the unfairness of my plight. Now as an adult, I am ashamed to admit how often I note the approach of the first Sunday of the month as I would an upcoming visit to the dentist-necessary, but not desired.
Now imagine a blend of fast Sunday and the Christmas season! Think about what it would be like with all the sights, smells, traditions, and memories of that special time connected with the increased spiritual devotion from fasting. What if the night before fast Sunday felt like Christmas Eve? Wouldn’t that be the coolest?
What I have learned from Ramadan is how to celebrate the fast! I have discovered how to be more intentional about my devotion and how to be grateful for the sacrifice fasting requires. Here are some elements of Ramadan that my family and I have incorporated into our fast Sundays to make them more meaningful-I hope they will be useful for your own fasting observance, too.
Create fun and memorable traditions.
Make it a day to celebrate and look forward to each month!
Have a special meal at a designated time to break your fast. Use special plates. Make a favorite or meaningful meal. Wait until sundown and eat by candlelight. Create a tradition around the meal.
Gather with family and friends to break the fast. Treat it like a birthday or special occasion, one to be shared!
Start your fast with increased intention.
Central to the Islamic practice of fasting is the concept of intention. Muslims offer special prayers (Dua) to state their intention before fasting.
According to the Qu’ran, “He who does not make the intention for fasting before dawn, there is no fast for him.”
In October 2004 general conference, Elder Carl B. Pratt of the First Quorum of the Seventy  spoke about the importance of Church members fasting with real intent.
“If we have a special purpose in our fasting, the fast will have much more meaning,” he said. “Perhaps we can take time as a family before beginning our fast to talk about what we hope to accomplish by this fast. This could be done in a family home evening the week before fast Sunday or in a brief family meeting at the time of family prayer. When we fast with purpose, we have something to focus our attention on besides our hunger.”
Make it about more than just food.
When Muslims observe Ramadan, they don’t just refrain from food or drink. They also refer to it as a fast from all wrongdoing. As Latter-day Saints, we can also pray for greater charity and patience to become our best selves while fasting rather than giving into the “hangry” feelings. Additionally, it should be noted that all Muslims who are unable to fast for medical or other reasons can find spiritual ways to make the day meaningful for them.
Increase prayer and worship.
One thing my Muslim friends have mentioned they like about Ramadan is how much more time they devote to study and prayer. Although their worship looks different this year due to the coronavirus, typically mosques become a hive of activity with special devotional studies, lectures, and extra prayers. Most people also commit to reading the Qu’ran more intensely, with some reading the book in its entirety during the month.
Sometimes, fast Sundays can feel like they’re more about survival than study. Dedicating extra time to prayer and scripture study during fasting can enhance your experience. In October 1974 general conference, President Ezra Taft Benson admonished, “To make a fast most fruitful, it should be coupled with prayer and meditation; physical work should be held to a minimum, and it’s a blessing if one can ponder on the scriptures and the reason for the fast”
Find joy in giving.
Another key element of Ramadan is charitable giving (Zakat), which is another one of the Five Pillars of Islam. During the month, Muslims make charitable donations and find ways to serve and bless their community. This is similar to fast offerings made by members of the Church. But we could make this an even more significant part of our devotion? Besides giving a donation, can we reach out and bless our families and communities while we fast?
I am excited to take the lessons I have learned from my Muslim friends and from the practices of the nearly 1.8 billion members of the Islamic faith and apply them to my own. There is truly so much we can learn from one another, and I am grateful to the faithful men and women of all religions who inspire me with how they live their devotion.
Featured image from Shutterstock
Comments and feedback can be sent to

June 2020

Written by WISDOM on . Posted in Newsletters

National Day of Prayer, reshaped by pandemic,
includes interfaith and online events
May 7, 2020
The National Day of Prayer, like most events amid the coronavirus, will have a different look this year as it is marked on May 7.
Now in its 69th year, the observance – often predominated by evangelical Christians gathering in public places – will feature interfaith and even international voices on computer screens and cellphones. For the first time, Religions for Peace USA has organized a National Interfaith Prayer Service for Healing & Hope via Facebook and Zoom.
“Of course, we do pray separately in our own religious communities but it’s also important for us to come together to pray together and uplift our common humanity and pray for everyone,” said Tarunjit Singh Butalia, executive director of Religions for Peace USA.
“Some of our own religious communities, ethnic and others who are poorer, have been in fact quite severely hit with the pandemic so we need to come together and pray for everyone because we’re only as secure as the very least among us,” he added.
Butalia said there will be a “prayer for the infected” that will be offered by a faith leader who has recovered from coronavirus and a “prayer for the dead and their families” offered by a faith leader who lost a close family member to the virus.
The online gathering is set to feature Sikh, Muslim, Buddhist, Zoroastrian, Hindu, Jain, Unitarian Universalist, Christian and Jewish leaders. Butalia said he expects the service will become an annual event.
Anuttama Dasa, director of communications for the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, said he plans to participate in the Religions for Peace afternoon event. He said he thinks the coronavirus has made Americans of many faiths realize the benefits of prayer for strength and guidance.
“I also hope more and more people this year realize that those doctors and nurses on the front lines include Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Hare Krishnas, Sikhs, and the whole diverse spectrum of faiths,” said Dasa, who is a board member of the U.S. chapter of the interreligious organization, in an email to Religion News Service.
“I have two friends, Krishna devotees in the DC/Baltimore area, both anesthesiologists, one African American and one Indian American, risking their lives in COVID units, and I know they are praying their Krishna prayers for each and every patient.”
The National Day of Prayer was created by Congress in 1952 and has been observed on the third Thursday of May since 1988. In the law’s original language, churches were the only houses of worship specifically mentioned. It described the day as one “on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals.”
The National Day of Prayer Task Force has held a National Day of Prayer observance featuring prominent evangelicals since 1983. In recent years, in addition to promoting tens of thousands of events from churches to courthouses, leaders such as former Southern Baptist President Ronnie Floyd have presided over a prayer service in the U.S. Capitol. President Donald Trump held Rose Garden ceremonies the last two years on the day, featuring speakers of Christian, Jewish, Hindu and Muslim faiths. However, evangelical leaders seemed dominant among both speakers and audience members, including some of Trump’s unofficial advisers.
But in 2020, with coronavirus social distancing in place, the task force’s listing of events by ZIP code show many in “virtual” rather than physical locations. Its national event, co-hosted by Will Graham, grandson of evangelist Billy Graham, is set to be broadcast and livestreamed on May 7 evening.
“This year, while some communities may have the ability to gather in small numbers, we encourage observing all local health guidelines and social distancing recommendations that are in place,” said Dion Elmore, the task force’s vice president for marketing and public relations.
The Presidential Prayer Team has likewise focused on online initiatives, requesting people to sign up for a “prayer room” time slot to pray for national leaders and offering a guide for the prayers that lists Trump and his Cabinet members.
“As we continue to face the unique challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, millions of Americans are unable to gather in their churches, temples, synagogues, mosques, and other houses of worship,” said Jim Bolthouse, president of the nonpartisan prayer ministry, in a statement. “The ability to bring praying Americans together virtually on the National Day of Prayer has never been more important.”
Some Christian groups that have not previously promoted the prayer day have chosen to observe it in their own ways this year.
The Rev. Jennifer Copeland, executive director of the North Carolina Council of Churches, said her ecumenical organization wanted to celebrate a period of ” Joyful Noise ” as a show of solidarity amid the lack of physical togetherness in COVID-19 times. Initially, council members thought solely of ringing church bells but are now urging that a range of religious expressions be heard at noon on May 7.
“Everybody has a kind of call that brings them into worship together – sometimes it’s sung, sometimes it’s spoken and sometimes it’s bell ringing,” she said. “And what we wanted to do is send this hope-filled message across North Carolina, that we will all be together again in person at some point. There will be a day after.”
At a Catholic church in Durham, North Carolina, members have been asked to select a handbell from a case inside the church, wipe it down and step outside to ring it at noon for five minutes (all while “maintaining social distance” and wearing masks). Other churches plan to have bells ring from their towers or carillons. For her part, Copeland, a United Methodist minister who expects to be able to hear church bells from her front porch, plans to ring a schoolroom bell once used by her great-grandmother: “I’ll just add my little bell to the noise.”
Another new approach comes from the United Church of Christ, which plans to observe an Interfaith Day of Prayer on Instagram and Facebook. The “day of healing and hope” will feature prayers for wholeness and health. The progressive denomination will post prayers over a 24-hour period by more than 40 leaders from the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths on its social media accounts and invite others to add their own.
“On this National Day of Prayer it is as important as it has ever been to be reminded of our interconnectedness with one another and all of creation,” said the Rev. Traci Blackmon, the UCC’s associate general minister of justice and local church ministries. “We are deeply grateful for this diverse group of faith leaders, serving in varied spaces, who have agreed to lead us in prayer each hour in ways that connect our hearts, honor the holy and amplify our cries.”
Just like in other years, there are those who are not in favor of a nationally designated day set aside for prayer. The American Humanist Association, for instance, hailed the May 1 introduction of a congressional resolution supporting a National Day of Reason. The measure did not move further in the House of Representatives, whose date of return to the Capitol is not certain.
But the U.S. observance will have a global dimension, with the Israel-based Elijah Interfaith Institute planning an installment of its online “coronaspection” series timed to the prayer day and Ramadan – a month of intense prayer and fasting for Muslims – featuring a Catholic bishop, a rabbi and a Muslim scholar discussing solitude.
Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein, its director, said he and other interreligious leaders view the pandemic as a time to move beyond religious isolation in the U.S. and around the world. “It’s almost an intuitive outcome that, whether specifically for the day or because it’s more broadly in the air, it’s a time for religions to open up to the other,” he said. “The virus doesn’t distinguish between us and therefore our efforts in addressing it, both physically and spiritually, should not distinguish between us.”

Religious Diversity Journeys (RDJ) Students continue their journey with Zoom

Area Students participate in first “RDJ Anywhere” with a Zoom visit to Muslim Unity Center
From kitchen tables, bedrooms, and family rooms, over 100 7th graders across the Detroit Metro area on April 22 Zoomed into the Muslim Unity Center as they continued their Religious Diversity Journey for the 2019-2020 school year.
RDJ began the year visiting churches and synagogues and doing hands-on community service projects in the buildings with clergy and congregant volunteers. But come March, the some 700 RDJ Ambassador students were unable to physically complete the program as social distancing restrictions set in to slow the spread of coronavirus.
IFLC staff and board members would not be discouraged. They still wanted to give these children, specially selected by their social studies teachers to be their school ambassadors for the program, to have an opportunity to continue the journey virtually as they learned about the world’s major religions through unique experiences. So, RDJ Anywhere was launched, beginning with the Islamic segment of the journey.
Dima El-Gamal, a member of the Muslim Unity Center, welcomed the children just as she would if they had visited the mosque on Square Lake Road in Bloomfield Hills in person. Through a slideshow, she offered them a tour of the mosque, starting with a photo of the large rock outside the mosque entrance. The rock contains verses from the Quran that explains Muslim reverence to the words of God that were given to Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. There is also a decorated wood post, donated to the mosque by a local church, that contains carvings of the words “Peace be upon you” in many languages including Arabic, English, and Hebrew.
Students learned that if they visited the mosque, they would have seen the gymnasium where many social gatherings and youth athletic programs are held, as well as the sanctuary where worshippers would pray, shoulder to shoulder, five times a day.

El-Gamal also briefly discussed the many contributions the Muslim world has given to civilization from centuries past, including advances in mathematics, engineering, science in architecture, when at the same time Europe was undergoing the Dark Ages during the plague.
MUC Imam Mohamed Almasmari was also on the zoom to answer questions, which ranged from what special clothing and foods Muslims eat to Muslim views on modesty, marriage, and the afterlife. They also asked questions on how, and how many times a day, Muslims are obligated to pray.

“We pray five times a day because it demonstrates our intimacy with God at different times of the day,” Almasmari explained. “On the carpet, there are lines in our carpet (of our sanctuary), which serve as guides so when men pray, they can pray shoulder to shoulder in a perfectly straight line. In this way, we build relationships and eliminate anything that may divide us. When we pray this way, we are all equal, there is no racism or tribalism,”

Student Yusuf Hares of Novi demonstrated the call to prayer, chanted in Arabic, while his mother, Rouzana Hares offered the English translation. Hares, who attends the James R. Geisler Middle School in Walled Lake, has enjoyed his RDJ experience so far, especially learning about all the different deities in Buddhism. Hares, who was proud to demonstrate his Arabic chanting skills, said he is sad he will not be able to spend any time with his friends at MUC during Ramadan.

Almasmari also lamented how difficult it would be this Ramadan now that large gatherings are prohibited because of social distancing restrictions.

“It will be very hard that we are not gathering at the mosque,” Almasmari said. “Also, for the first time in the history of Islam, Muslims from all over the world will not be traveling to Mecca in Saudi Arabia for the Haj.”
Almasmari told the children that even though Muslims and people of other faiths cannot physically gather in houses of worship, prayer can be expressed through showing kindness to others, giving charity and even smiling at a friend, neighbor, or family member.

Almasmari said when quarantine restrictions will be lifted, everyone will gain a better appreciation for life’s simple gifts such as going outside, gathering together with friends, family and other worshippers, and seeing people face to face instead of always on a screen. Maybe at that time, humans will no longer rush to their screens to socialize, he added.
“In the meantime, even in a crisis, we can continue to pray. And in virtual gatherings like this, there is still intellectual growth. While we are in isolation, make sure you appreciate the family members who are with you in your home.”
During the Zoom, students were polled with a few questions. When asked, 73 percent of the students said they know or had met a Muslim in their life and 63 percent of the students have never visited a mosque.
In May, RDJ Anywhere will continue sharing more resources with its RDJ teachers and students. There will be a virtual visit to the Hindu Temple of Canton and perhaps the Detroit Institute of the Arts and the Holocaust Memorial Center.

These Jewish brothers are making face masks out of yarmulkes to protect Houston’s homeless
By Lauren Lee, CNN
With masks in short supply, a pair of Houston teenagers found a way to use yarmulkes to help protect some of their city’s most vulnerable people — the homeless.
With the help of their family, Matthew and Jeremy Jason have given away over 300 face masks made from yarmulkes to Houston’s homeless.
Kippahs to the Rescue
The project is called Kippahs to the Rescue. A kippah (Hebrew) or yarmulke (Yiddish) is a traditional Jewish head covering. The brothers came up with their idea over a family Shabbat dinner, which is typically a time to reflect and be grateful.
“The community has given us a lot, and my family wants to be a part of that,” 15-year-old Matthew Jason told CNN. “We want to be able to help others.”
The Jasons were discussing the recent CDC recommendations for Americans to wear face masks in public to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.
“We realized that the kippah fits the shape of a mask.”
The Jason brothers have been spending their Fridays volunteering with Food Not Bombs, a Houston nonprofit that feeds the hungry. During that time, they realized how difficult it could be for those experiencing homelessness to deal with the coronavirus threat.
“They don’t have a lot of money or access to masks,” Matthew explained. “So we’re like, ‘Hmm, that’d actually be kind of cool to see what we could do with it.'”
The teens rounded up at least 60 kippahs from around their house that they’d brought home from bar mitzvahs and other events.
“We knew there was a mask shortage, so we used those kippahs to start production,” he said. “From there, the idea took off.”
Others have also found kippahs as a good option for a face mask. The magazine Jewish Currents tweeted a photo of a man with a purple kippah over his face,

190 people are talking about this

A family and community invested in giving
Matthew Jason and his family made over 300 masks out of kippahs.
Kippahs to the Rescue has turned into a family project, with parents Veronica and Mark and 23-year-old brother Danny chipping in to sew elastic strips to the yarmulkes.
Besides his family, Matthew has enlisted the family’s synagogue, Congregation Brith Shalom, which set up a drop box to collect donated kippahs. So far, they have gathered nearly 700.
This wasn’t Matthew’s first time helping out those experiencing homeless. For his bar mitzvah service project two years ago, he launched Street Birthday Parties. Each month the teen hosts a birthday party with cake and candles for the area’s homeless.
The high school sophomore hopes others will grab onto the idea of making this sort of DIY mask in their own communities. Steps to making the mask are pretty simple. Sew a 6-inch elastic strip to both sides to anchor the kippah around the ears. “There’s a lot of people out there that really need help,” he said, “and anything can help even in the smallest way.”

Great Interfaith video by the Greater Boston Interfaith Association about dealing with the Corona Virus Pandemic.  Click on the following link.


Mary Gilhuly and Steve Klaper from Song and Spirit Institute for Peace
                   From Song and Spirit Institute For Peace -You Never Know When the Phone Rings…
…whether the person on the other end will be in need themselves – or be someone with a generous gift to share!
Song and Spirit received such a call on Tuesday of last week. “I’ve got a thousand disposable masks – can you distribute
It turns out that Karin Dains, communication Director for this area
from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints spoke to Susan Shafkalis, Self Reliance Services director in Ann Arbor. They had received a mask donation from Rahma Worldwide – a Michigan-based organization which incorporates core values of Islam as they assist vulnerable communities throughout the world. What better place than an interfaith institute for peace to distribute these 1,000 masks on short notice?!
A quick call to Song and Spirit’s Outreach Coordinator, Greg Allen and we were on the hunt. We have been distributing much smaller quantities of handmade, fabric masks for weeks. These were given to small programs we support throughout the year who are on the frontlines working with the poor and homeless. We had just received a number of colorful, child-sized fabric masks as well, so we thought of some of the groups we know who work with youth, too.
Within hours we had heard back from three agencies who were THRILLED to receive masks. And so, barely 24 hours after the initial call, we set out — in the pouring rain(!) — to deliver 300+ masks each to…
…Vista Maria in Dearborn Heights, which helps hundreds of girls of all ages – many in residential treatment on their campus – who have experienced trauma, or are languishing in the foster care system.
… Methodist Children’s Home in Redford Township – which provides individualized treatment, care, advocacy, and permanency to children and families impacted by childhood trauma. The program houses 60 boys on their campus – ages 5-17.
… and Genesis House, a program of Detroit Rescue Mission – which
provides teens and women of all ages with transitional housing, life skill classes, parenting courses, day care, counseling, food, clothing, job search assistance and much more.
You can not imagine the surprise and gratitude with which these masks were received. Staff and program participants/residents are “in constant need of fresh masks! THANK YOU, THANK YOU!” we heard over and over again.
It looks like we will need masks indefinitely. Those we serve – and those with whom we serve – are among the most vulnerable in our midst. Should you be making masks at home, or have a line
on disposable masks you wish to donate, please email us at:
It’s obvious that people of ALL FAITHS – and no particular faith – are anxious to serve in these trying times.
Thank you for supporting yet another creative opportunity for Song and Spirit to serve this community.

Volunteers for Sikh nonprofit deliver food and supplies across L.A. amid pandemic
A volunteer says his drive to help comes from his religion, which includes the idea of selfless service – or “seva.”
“We have always been taught on Sikh principle that we should be helping people out.”
NBC News
By Natasha Roy
May 1, 2020
When Sumitpal Singh’s phone rings, the person on the other end is almost always in need of something: a hot meal, groceries or over-the-counter medicine. When he hears the request, he immediately does what he can, either by delivering the supplies himself or by finding someone who can. Singh, 38, a Los Angeles-based scientist, is the Southern California coordinator for the international humanitarian nonprofit United Sikhs. He said his drive to help others comes from his religious beliefs, which include the idea of selfless service – or “seva.” In the past, faith has motivated Sikhs to help hurricane victims and supply on-site support to victims of violence in New Delhi. Now, it’s inspiring Singh to provide relief during the coronavirus pandemic.
“From morning all the way to night, there’s calls coming,” Singh told NBC Asian America.
Singh has been volunteering with United Sikhs for the last four years, preparing food in the langar – free kitchen – of a Sikh temple, called a gurdwara, and serving it to Los Angeles’ homeless community. Langars are a core aspect of Sikhism, and anyone can step into a gurdwara anywhere in the world and be served a vegetarian meal. These values have led Sikh groups to help deliver food, water and other supplies after emergencies like Hurricane Sandy.
In the wake of the pandemic, Singh – who is from New Delhi – has been working with United Sikhs to deliver resources to those in need in the Los Angeles area, where he’s lived for the last 16 years.
“We have always been taught on Sikh principle that we should be helping people out,” Singh said.
The organization has a hotline that anyone anywhere in the world – not just Sikhs – can call to request hot meals, over-the-counter medicine, groceries and other supplies. Singh’s days start with reviewing the hotline requests to identify which volunteers can be assigned to fulfill them. He said he’s also planning a large-scale meal distribution program.
Many of the calls the group gets come from families with children, Singh said. A story that stuck out to him was the one about the parents of two young children who were stranded in a Los Angeles motel after their flight to India was canceled. They had nowhere else to go, and before calling United Sikhs, they were living off McDonald’s food. Other calls largely come from the elderly and those with disabilities, he said.
“They are really, really thankful, because they’re scared to get out,” Singh said.
People have shown their gratitude through text messages and donations, Singh said. People whom United Sikhs has helped in the past are also coming forward to volunteer. His biggest obstacle is finding volunteers in areas where there’s no local United Sikhs chapter. In those cases, the group will call restaurants, shops or grocery stores and ask them to deliver goods and cover any costs. Traveling around Los Angeles and making deliveries could put Singh at risk for contracting the virus. His day job involves making products for COVID-19 testing, so he knows the precautions he needs to take, especially because he has two young daughters. But he said his family is excited to do whatever they can to help the cause.
“Am I worried? I would say yes, because that helps me with taking more and more precautions,” Singh said. “But the Sikh principle, it’s a selfless seva. So that comes later for me, the worry. I am more worried about people sleeping without food.”
This story is part of our Asian Pacific American Heritage Month series, “AAPI Frontline,” honoring essential workers who are serving their communities during the coronavirus pandemic.

Four roommates of different faiths face a pandemic together
LOS ANGELES (RNS) – Hadar Cohen, Ala’ Khan, Maya Mansour and Jonathan Simcosky arrived as strangers, ready to embark on a new interfaith journey. The four roommates moved into a five-bedroom, five-bath house in Los Angeles’ Koreatown neighborhood earlier this year. They come from different faiths: Baha’i, Christianity, Islam and Judaism. Cohen came from Jerusalem but had already lived in the Bay Area for a few years. Simcosky made the trek from Salem, Massachusetts, to L.A. Khan and Mansour were already in Southern California. They live rent-free in a new interfaith experiment known as the Abrahamic House, the brainchild of 33-year-old Mohammed Al Samawi, a Muslim man from Yemen who, in his memoir, “The Fox Hunt,” wrote about the threats he endured for his interfaith advocacy. The catch? The four roommates, known as “fellows,” maintain their day jobs but agree to live under the same roof in a co-living and co-creating space for one to two years to learn from one another’s traditions and to organize and host interfaith events and programs for the public. Their shared mantra: “gathering not othering.”
The fellows were selected at the beginning of the year and began moving in around late February. By early March, they were establishing house rules and responsibilities. Then the coronavirus outbreak struck the country. Now, together in lockdown, they’ve adopted new ways of virtually gathering with others while honoring each other’s rituals and traditions. In a time of social distancing, they have had to learn to live together and how to keep each other “safe from potential death and illness,” said Khan.
It has only been about three months, but so far things have gone well as the community celebrated Easter, Passover, Ramadan and the Baha’i celebration of Ridvan and learned to adjust to each other’s religious practices. Just as they were moving in, Mansour, who is Baha’i, had begun fasting in preparation for the Baha’i New Year. It’s 19 days of daytime fasting that culminated just as Gov. Gavin Newsom issued statewide stay-at-home orders to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Every Friday, Cohen, 28, who is Jewish, practices Shabbat, a day of rest and celebration beginning Friday at sunset. Khan, 30, who is Muslim, is currently fasting for Ramadan. Simcosky, who described himself as a “Southern Baptist preacher’s kid,” said the Abrahamic House experience has so far been “educational and enlightening.”
“All these things are not part of the way I normally live in the world,” said Simcosky, 35, a book editor.
Simcosky said he grew up in a culture that “was very interested in converting, conquering and convincing.”
“That never really resonated with me,” said Simcosky, who now attends an Episcopal church.
“As I look at some of the conflicts we’re having in our nation, supremacy is popping up, and I feel like there’s a calling to not conquer or to convince, but to learn and to bless.”
The global pandemic has somewhat complicated this co-living situation. With the stay-at-home orders, the group takes turns going out grocery shopping. They keep a list in the kitchen of communal food running low. They signed up for a Community Supported Agriculture subscription and receive a box of produce every Sunday. The group had to cancel in-person events they had planned for the community. And in order to maintain social distancing, they decided to not have guests and friends over. Khan, a filmmaker, decided to stay in quarantine with her roommates instead of moving in with her parents in Santa Barbara. If she isolated outside the Abrahamic House, the experience wouldn’t have been the same, she said. Now, every Monday evening, the fellows have a communal dinner. It’s a way for them to not just talk logistical house issues or specific faith topics, but to simply be among one another. They rotate cooking responsibilities.
“We actually made that decision before the stay-at-home order was put in place. We wanted to intentionally spend one evening a week having dinner together,” Khan said. To Khan, doing multifaith work can sometimes be compartmentalized as a part-time thing or once-a-month meetings. The weekly dinners change that. “Living together with that intention, we have our interactions randomly through the kitchen where all of a sudden we’ll talk about scripture, which is really cool,” she said.
These are the kinds of experiences Al Samawi hoped the fellows at Abrahamic House would have. Al Samawi said he grew up thinking that anyone who wasn’t Muslim “would go to hell no matter if they are good people or bad people.” Now, Al Samawi lives by the phrase “Who saves a life, saves the whole world.” “If we can change one person’s perspective from hate and ignorance to love and compassion, that would be kind of like saving the world,” Al Samawi told Religion News Service. “That’s what I really want to do.” He was led to interfaith work after reading the Bible and realizing his faith shared many similarities with Christianity. The message and the name of the prophets were the same, he said.
Al Samawi began connecting with Jews and Christians through Facebook and at international conferences. He advocated for peace and dialogue, which he said spurred death threats against him. He eventually fled his war-torn homeland with the help of friends he’d made on Facebook, according to his book.
Since then, Al Samawi has detailed this harrowing tale at universities, churches and other houses of worship in the U.S. And now, his life will be portrayed in a film developed by “La La Land” Producer Marc Platt, with Oscar-winning screenwriter Josh Singer.
Al Samawi said he has received financial donations for the Abrahamic House from board members of the nonprofit as well as contacts he has made through his book and speaking engagements. The international nonprofit Moishe House, a collection of homes that serve as hubs for young Jewish leaders, has been a source of logistical help. Al Samawi aims to open multiple Abrahamic houses across the country and globe. For now, his focus is on the L.A. fellows.
Since the roommates can’t host events for the public in person, they moved their programming online.
So far, the fellows have hosted an online summit exploring the intersections of faith and justice and a virtual symposium discussing fasting in different faith traditions. For the end of May, Cohen organized a virtual multifaith feminism event in honor of Shavuot, a Jewish holiday that marks the celebration of wisdom by staying up all night to learn.
On Thursday (May 14), the Abrahamic House hosted its most recent virtual event with a Zoom screening of Khan’s film documenting “Pray Beyond Borders,” a binational day of prayer at the U.S.-Mexico border in San Diego that included Muslim and Christian faith leaders.
The 2019 event that Khan documented chronicled the six-month anniversary of Border Mosque, a group of Muslims that meets for prayer at the border on the last Sunday of the month. Those prayers coincide with Border Church, or La Iglesia Fronteriza, a Sunday service held for the last decade at the border and led by the Rev. John Fanestil, a United Methodist minister.
To Khan, this is the kind of storytelling she finds inspiring. “The basis of my faith as a Muslim is to treat people kindly and well and compassionately,” she said. “We have an obligation as faith people to do whatever we can to actively construct a more just world.”
The fellows have also been blogging about celebrating major holidays together. They wrote about cleaning the house in preparation for Passover and taking part in other rituals, like bedikat chametz, with guidance from Cohen. Instead of hiding pieces of leavened bread throughout the house, like the tradition entails, the fellows instead hid “spiritual chametz” embodying “anything that no longer serves us psychologically, emotionally and mentally.”
Cohen said that before the pandemic, she was also planning to attend Jewish festivals and home events in L.A. for Passover.
The intimacy of this tradition while at home with her housemates helped everyone get to know each other better, she said.
“It was one of the first rituals we did together, and it was really beautiful,” said Cohen, a feminist spiritual leader and artist. “It felt very powerful.”
To Mansour, 24, being at the Abrahamic House is a way to help others better understand her Baha’i faith.
“I was really attracted to an opportunity to share and represent my faith that is typically left out of interfaith spaces,” said Mansour, editor of One Report, a spiritually minded publication for young people of all faiths. “I was excited that Baha’i’s were even listed on the (fellowship) application.” Khan said the experience of being part of the Abrahamic House has been inspiring. She is glad to know there are other people who invest time and energy into this kind of interfaith work.
Before moving in, she hoped the fellows would all get along and become friends.
That hope, at least, has been fulfilled. “It has definitely panned out very beautifully,” she said.
Copyright 2020 Religion News Service LLC.

Prayer from Chautauqua’s Interfaith Family
From the Christian Tradition




-Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB
Author, The Time is Now: A Call for Uncommon Courage
Interfaith Lecturer

The Colorful Way Dearborn Muslims Are Celebrating Ramadan In Isolation
Michigan families decorate their homes with lights so that even as they can’t meet,
Ramadan’s festive spirit brightens their neighborhoods.
Muslims in Dearborn, Michigan, are observing Ramadan in a way that would have been inconceivable just a few months ago. Mosques are shuttered, festive dinners with extended family and friends are canceled, and many members of this ethnically and economically diverse community, one of the largest Muslim populations in the U.S., have found themselves on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic. Confronted with these changes, three Michigan Muslim organizations have come up with a way to help community members feel connected during a season of social distancing, the Ramadan Lights Contest. The challenge encourages Muslims in the area to decorate the exteriors of their houses, take photos of their creations, and nominate themselves or neighbors for prizes.  Across the greater Dearborn region, at least 65 families have responded by decorating their homes with lights, lanterns, and banners to celebrate Ramadan, which began on April 23.
Halal Metropolis, the Ramadan Suhoor Festival and the Michigan Muslim Community Council teamed up to organize a trend into a friendly neighborhood competition marking Ramadan.
The organizers have received photos of Ramadan wreaths, string lights tracing the eaves of houses, and stars dangling from porches. Above the front door of one house, a family has placed an electric crescent moon that glows in the colors of the rainbow. Another family used a drone to dramatically film their lights from all angles, sending in a video submission with a holiday song playing in the background. Hassan Chami, a Dearborn resident and one of the organizers of the competition, said he has enlisted a friend to create a customized 3-D printed sign with the words Ramadan Mubarak, or blessed Ramadan, to place outside his home.
“In the short term, we’re trying to lift everyone’s spirits during COVID-19,” the disease caused by the coronavirus, Chami told HuffPost. “Maybe we’ll have some families driving around the city looking at the lights.” But Chami has a long-term dream for Dearborn in mind, too.  “I hope it’s a tradition where in the future, my kids and nieces and nephews grow up in a community where, when Ramadan comes around, the entire city is lit up,” he said.  Chami founded the Ramadan Suhoor Festivala late-night food festivalthat draws thousands of Muslims and non-Muslims throughout the holy month. This year, Chami said he had about 40 vendors lined up to dish out halal delicacies,  his biggest number yet. But he had to cancel the festival due to the virus.
It wasn’t the only festive social gathering that Muslims in the area have had to forego. Smoking hookah in friends’ garages, chatting around fire pits in mosque parking lots after evening prayers, sipping coffee in the city’s Yemini cafes into the early morning hours, all of these beloved local traditions have been shelved because of the virus.
The region’s Muslim communities have been on the front lines of responding to COVID-19, according to Sally Howell, a scholar of Arab-American history at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. Muslims in the area are overrepresented in fields such as health care, law enforcement, food service and taxi services, she said.
“The Muslim community has have been hit very hard by this.”
Howell said that in recent years she’s noticed an exponential growth in the number of Muslim families in Dearborn decorating their houses for Ramadan. Last year, she and other members of Halal Metropolis, an arts exhibition, documented this phenomenon for a project.
This year, Halal Metropolis, the Ramadan Suhoor Festival, and the Michigan Muslim Community Council (MMCC), an umbrella organization for the state’s Muslim groups, teamed up to organize this trend into a friendly neighborhood competition.
Howell said that it’s common in the Middle East for public areas, such as streets and cafes, to light up during the holy month, but somewhat rarer for people to decorate their own houses. Chami said he thinks it’s standard practice for Muslims in the Middle East to decorate their homes for the holiday, and that American Muslims are catching up now because they finally have access to Ramadan lights and home decor through Amazon, party stores and local grocery stores.
Machhadie Assi, an event coordinator and youth director for MMCC, said the practice of decorating homes during Ramadan wasn’t very popular in Lebanon, where she grew up. But she said it’s a trend that younger American Muslims are beginning to adapt, after seeing how important decorating is during Christmas.
Regardless of how it started, Assi hopes that more Dearborn Muslims will adopt the tradition in the future. She said she sees the Ramadan Lights Challenge as a way to bring “contagious, positive energy” to the community.
“Ramadan is a very uplifting month, so hopefully this light will represent the enlightenment of Ramadan,” she said.
The three Muslim organizations will be sharing photos of nominated houses throughout the holy month. The most creative houses will receive a certificate and a tray of sweets for Eid al-Fitr, the celebration that marks the end of Ramadan. The homes will be recognized during a ceremony in 2021. Howell said she also hopes the challenge will become an annual tradition and that it will eventually be recognized by Dearborn’s local city beautification group, which awards prizes for the city’s best Christmas decorations every year.  In an era of increased surveillance and a time when Islamophobic rhetoric is spewed from the highest offices in the land, draping lights for Ramadan is a way for Dearborn’s Muslims to celebrate their religious identities and make their presence known, Howell said.  “They’re saying, ‘Here in this space, we’re going to be ourselves, we’re not going to worry so much about what other people think. This is who we are,'” she said.

Four African women share wisdom for a suffering world
National Catholic Reporter
May 15, 2020
Two months ago, I was privileged to accompany a remarkable group of people touring ancient Christian sites in Greece. While our focus was on women leaders in early Christianity, I could not help but notice some impressive female leaders traveling right alongside us. The witness of four women from South Africa was especially compelling. They helped us appreciate diverse understandings of God in an African cultural context. At a pilgrimage prayer service dedicated to the “God Beyond all Names,” Nontando Hadebe, reflected that in most African languages there are no pronouns: “So for our understanding of God, it is more the mystery, the greatness of God. … The gendering or masculinization of God is not something that you find in African traditional religions.”
Further, “African religions are diverse and communal in origin. … They don’t have a founder such as Mohammed, or Moses or Jesus.” African traditional religious “emerged over centuries from communities gathering together, acquiring wisdom and reflecting on life.” For Africans, said Hadebe, “You express your faith in God in the way you treat your fellow human beings. … The understanding of what it means to be human is you are human in your relationship with others. Descartes says, ‘I think therefore I am,’ but African traditional religions say, ‘I relate, therefore I am.’ “
The African bishops’ synodal document, “Ecclesia in Africa,” and the work of African theologians greatly benefited inculturation and evangelization, she said. Cultural values from African traditional religions have been appropriated and reflected in African Christianity “so that Christianity has an African face.” For example, the idea of the church “as the extended family of God” incorporates African communal values.
Born into a Catholic family in Zimbabwe, Hadebe teaches systematic theology, pastoral ministry and African spirituality at St. Augustine College in Johannesburg, South Africa. A member of the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians, she is passionate about gender equality, Africanization and social justice. These she brings to her weekly radio program with Radio Veritas, which is the only Catholic radio channel in South Africa and reaches 4 million people. Thanks to Hadebe’s initiative and encouragement, three other South African women – including two millennials – joined our pilgrimage. Their stories are fascinating.
Annastacia Mphuthi heads the Office of Divine Worship and Liturgy for the Johannesburg Archdiocese. In this capacity, she gives workshops in faith communities throughout the archdiocese, training people to be communion ministers, lectors and in other liturgical ministries. Because of tribal beliefs about female menstruation, one problem Mphuthi frequently faces is that parish leaders – including priests and pastoral council members – sometimes resist permitting women to distribute Communion or proclaim the Word. “They believe the women are not supposed to be entering the sanctuary,” she says.
With the support of her archbishop, Buti Tlhagale, Mphuthi works with communities telling them they “need to respect women” and that while inculturation is a value, “they must understand the church culture as well,” and the church culture is to include women. Other liturgical elements that sometimes require education and intervention include appropriate times for dancing and drumming – fine at the “Gloria,” but not at the “Agnus Dei (Lamb of God).”
Two millennial women, Sagoema Maredi and Pride Makgato, blessed us with their youthful energy and fresh vision.
Maredi describes herself as a “born and bred” Catholic from South Africa. She studied theology with Hadebe, an unusual choice for a millennial woman. “It’s a very embarrassing story,” she laughs. The impetus came from reading “the buzz book” at the time, Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code: “I went to watch the movie ‘Angels and Demons’ with my sister, and there was Tom Hanks in the Vatican, able to interpret all those ancient languages and statues and history. … I decided ‘He’s very smart, I want to be able to do that.’ I guess I’ve lived my life wanting to be like Tom Hanks.”
After majoring in the Old Testament and Hebrew in college, Maredi had an opportunity to continue graduate studies but chose to enter the workforce instead. She now works at Baptist Theological College in Johannesburg, where she was recently promoted to academic program administrator, the first black woman to hold that position. She hopes to expand awareness of the need for pastors to address social ills which she finds “too rarely thought of” in South African seminaries.
Makgato describes herself as “a 24-year-old proud black woman” and cradle Catholic who “did all my sacraments,” although her mother gave her the option of waiting to be confirmed. After having a spiritual experience one Christmas, Makgato changed from her initial career path as a beautician: “I don’t know if I can call it a religious experience, but I think I had one. And being a beautician or becoming a makeup artist just didn’t make sense to me anymore.”
Makgato’s grandmother had asked the family to attend Mass together before Christmas dinner.
“And just being in a church after I hadn’t been to church in so long, really moved me,” said Makgato. “It changed me, I guess. I don’t know, maybe it was the service that was held, but it evoked something in me.”
After the meal, Makgato found information about St. Augustine College in her grandmother’s church newspaper. She is now pursuing a bachelor of theology degree, an experience she says is “quite amazing.”
One of the things Makgato loves about the Catholic Church is that it is different from other churches in her culture that do not allow women to be in a room with men or with the tribal elders without a head covering and a long skirt: “So I think I also love the Roman Catholic Church because I’m allowed to be myself. And although it has not progressed to what we want it to be, I’m not told what I should wear.”  She was confirmed last November.
Since returning home in mid-March I have been in regular communication with each of these South African “soul sisters.” Like ours, their country is suffering greatly in lockdown from the coronavirus. Thankfully each of them is healthy, if anxious about their families and worried about the poverty stricken who have even fewer options than the poor in the U.S.
After a generous benefactor helped with her fees, Makgato is thrilled that she will be able to continue theology studies in June, but worried because classes will be online and her internet access is unreliable. She is also dismayed that so many government officials are “stealing food parcels that are meant to be given to the poor.”
Because of the quarantine, neither Mphuthi nor her husband are working, so they are financially struggling. They are also concerned about their son who is frustrated by the pace of online classes and poor internet access. “But we give it all to God,” she writes.
The peripatetic Hadebe is up to her usual good works including joining with the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians “to respond to gendered aspects [of COVID-19] such as the rise in domestic violence” and aiding an ecumenical effort to help grassroots pastors who have lost income due to church closures. A week ago, on Soweto TV, she joined a panel of religious leaders addressing domestic violence through the story of the biblical Tamar.
Hadebe’s reflection on COVID-19 is inspiring:  “It challenges us to answer the call that we are each other’s keepers, the pain of the other is my pain – reflected in the African teaching of ubuntu – I am because we are, my humanity is tied up with yours. COVID-19 calls us to renew our commitment to each other for the common good.”
[St. Joseph Sr. Christine Schenk, an NCR board member, served urban families for 18 years as a nurse midwife before co-founding FutureChurch, where she served for 23 years. Her recent book, Crispina and Her Sisters: Women and Authority in Early Christianity, was awarded first place in the history category by the Catholic Press Association. She holds master’s degrees in nursing and theology.]

May 2020

Written by WISDOM on . Posted in Newsletters

Due to the Corona Virus Pandemic the WISDOM Membership Dinner on May 27th has been cancelled. It is now a zoom installation for the WISDOM officers and board.

WISDOM elects new officers and board

WISDOM has elected officers and board members for 2020-21. They will be installed at WISDOM’s annual meeting, which will be conducted via ZOOM starting at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 27.
These women were nominated for two-year terms as officers:
President: Teri Weingarden, Jewish, of West Bloomfield
Vice Presidents, Board Development: Paula Drewk, Baha’i, of Warren, and Patricia Harris, Roman Catholic, of Bloomfield Hills
Vice Presidents, Membership: Bobbie Lewis, Jewish, of Detroit, and Shama Mehta, Hindu, of Livonia
Vice Presidents, Programming: Sameena Basha, Muslim, of Bloomfield Hills and Ayesha Khan, Muslim, of Bloomfield Hills
Vice Presidents, Public Relations/Marketing: Karin Dains, LDS, of Lathrup Village and Gail Katz, Jewish, of Bloomfield Hills

New members nominated to the board are:

  • Rev. Stancy Adams of Bloomfield Hills, Baptist, associate pastor at Russell Street Missionary Baptist Church and chair of the Interfaith Leadership Council.
  • Mary Gilhuly of Oak Park, Roman Catholic, an artist and designer and co-founder of Song & Spirit Institute for Peace
  • Suzanne Levin of Pleasant Ridge; Jewish, a retired physician assistant
  • Reem Saleh of Dearborn, Muslim, a hospice social worker
  • Rev. Diane Van Marter of Detroit, United Methodist, pastor of Faith Macomb United Methodist Church

General board members continuing their two-year terms are the Rev. Dr. Rose Cooper, Unity, of Lathrup Village; Uzma Sharaf, Muslim, of Bloomfield Hills, and the Rev. Carolyn Simon. Unity, of Southfield.
WISDOM’s Advisory Board includes Parwin Anwar, Muslim, of Sterling Heights; Sharon Buttry, Baptist, of Hamtramck; Peggy Dahlberg, Episcopalian, of Bloomfield Hills; Fran Hildebrandt, Jewish, of Farmington Hills; Delores Lyons, Buddhist, of Detroit; Brenda Rosenberg, Jewish, of Bloomfield Hills; Gigi Salka, Muslim, of Bloomfield Hills and Maryann Schlie, Unity, of Beverly Hills.

General members of WISDOM are welcome; annual dues are $25 and may be paid via the WISDOM website, General members are invited to join any of WISDOM’s standing committees: Board Development, Finance, Membership, Program and Public Relations.

WISDOM wishes everyone to remain safe and healthy at this very difficult and scary time!!

WISDOM Mission Statement

To Provide concrete modeling of women from different faith traditions working together in harmony for the common good.
To Empower women to take a more active role in furthering social justice and world peace.
To Dispel myths, stereotypes, prejudices and fear about faith traditions different from our own.
To Nurture the growth of empathy and spiritual energy that result from our projects and interfaith dialogue.