Calendar for WISDOM and Other Interfaith Events
Friday July 12th and Saturday July 13th 2019 Freedom Tour,
Michigan Coalition for Human Rights
See Flyer Below
Sunday, August 4th noon to five
DION interfaith picnic at Belle Isle
See Flyer below
A Thriving Synagogue Hired Its First Female Head Rabbi. Here’s Why That Matters.
By Ari Feldman
Most job interviews are little more than sitting in a windowless room, answering questions from a manager with your resume in one hand and coffee in the other. For rabbis aiming for the pulpit, they’re a little different. This past winter, Temple Israel Center, a large Conservative synagogue in Westchester County, New York, had four candidates come to its campus for weekend-long “interviews.” These finalists were on display at multiple prayer services and gatherings, giving a Sabbath morning sermon, leading a teaching session and sitting for a question-and-answer session with over 200 synagogue members in attendance.
For Beth Grafman, who sat on the search committee, one rabbi stood out – Rabbi Annie Tucker – for her calm, thoughtful and insightful performance across this rabbinic decathlon. In February, they offered her the job, and she accepted. “And the fact that she turned out to be a woman, it wasn’t part of the selection process per se,” said Grafman, “it was a cherry on top of the process.”
Tucker, 42, is joining a small circle of women rabbis who lead some of the largest Conservative congregations in the country. While egalitarianism is the watchword at nearly every synagogue in the movement, whether due to tradition or trepidation the senior roles of some of the most influential pulpits have eluded women. Female rabbis say Tucker’s hire is another victory for Jewish women.
“This was a big long search, and the fact that it went to a woman is something that we’re really proud of,” said Rabbi Debra Newman Kamin, president of the Rabbinical Assembly, the movement’s professional association for rabbis.
Women have been ordained rabbis only since 1985 in the Conservative movement, the centrist denomination of American Judaism, which upholds Jewish law but has often reinterpreted it to keep up with changing norms in secular society. It counts roughly 570,000 members in its synagogues, roughly a fifth of American Jews – a number that has been in decline in recent decades. Of the 57 or so Conservative congregationswith more than 750 member families, only handful are led by women.
Adas Israel, in Washington, D.C., with over 1,700 families, is co-led by Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt. Congregation Beth Shalom, Seattle’s largest Conservative synagogue, has been led by Rabbi Jill Borodin since 2005. Rabbi Amy Wallk Katz leads Temple Beth El, in Springfield, Massachusetts. Multiple experts told the Forward that they do not know of any studies quantifying the number of female rabbis in senior roles at Conservative synagogues. The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism declined to share a list of the movement’s largest synagogues with the Forward. The Jewish world still struggles with equity and pay parity for female clergy. In the Reform movement, women in senior rabbi roles are paid on average 85% of the salaries of men in similar roles. In Modern Orthodoxy, a contentious debate is ongoing about whether women can have the title of rabbi, or even lead joint prayer services.
TIC occupies a large, sprawling red brick building in the very Jewish suburb of White Plains. The area is replete with Jewish communities of all kinds, from Reform and Reconstructionist to Hasidic enclaves. The synagogue’s main sanctuary sees about 200-300 congregants a week, but expands on holidays into its social hall to fit its 750 member families.
For nearly a quarter century, until 2018, TIC was led by Rabbi Gordon Tucker, (of no relation) a nationally known rabbi for his work on allowing female clergy in Conservative Judaism and an adjunct professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. TIC’s search process to replace him was spread over two years. In the synagogue’s first round of searching, it declined to make a job offer to any of the candidates it hosted for a Shabbat weekend. They decided instead to hire an interim rabbi and continue with the search.
“We always had a view that we were looking for the right fit, and that we wouldn’t settle,” said Marc Berman, TIC’s president. The synagogue’s search committee, with 23 members, ultimately agreed that Tucker was the rabbi for the job. “Gender was never an issue,” said Berman. “We were looking for the best candidate.” Tucker said that she felt that the community was the right fit for her. It’s closer to her family and friends on the East Coast, and there is a strong focus on education for both children and adults in the synagogue.
“It’s a lot of very thoughtful, interesting, interested Jews,” she said.
Like Westchester County’s Jewish community, TIC’s membership is diverse, drawing in observant Conservative Jews who send their children to day school, as well as congregants that attend only for major holidays and enroll their children in the area’s public schools.
Helping to further unite TIC’s “micro-communities,” as Tucker called them, is one of the mandates she has going into her new role. She hopes to do that by “re-imagining” their children’s educational program and adding more social justice-oriented programming and events.
Tucker will become Temple Israel Center’s first female senior rabbi – just its fourth senior rabbi since the late 1930s – and one of the few female rabbis leading large Conservative congregations in the New York City area. She was also the first female senior rabbi at her current synagogue, in Wilmette, Illinois.
Female rabbis in the movement see Tucker’s hire as a sign that, while things aren’t changing as fast as they’d like, they are trending toward equal leadership of the movement between the genders.
“The fact that this is news shows us that the Jewish community has not been where it’s needed to be on women’s leadership for a while,” said Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, an author and contributor to the Forward who is a colleague of Tucker’s in Chicago.
The Conservative movement is not past the point where such hirings should be singled out and celebrated, said several people who spoke with the Forward. “I’m conflicted always, as to whether it’s something to point out or not,” said Rabbi Rachel Ain, who leads the Sutton Place Synagogue in New York, which has 500 member families. “But until it’s something we don’t need to point out anymore, we should applaud the hiring.” Tucker said she hopes that her new role will allow other women to imagine themselves as leaders of large Jewish organizations.
Ain noted that Tucker’s hiring also comes as the United States is questioning its own readiness to have a female leader in the White House. “We’re not there yet in the world,” she said. “This is still part of the landscape, spoken or unspoken.”
Interfaith Girl Scouts Combat Hate
Interfaith Girl Scouts of Southeast Michigan are interested in more than just cookies; Jewish liaison Brenda Rosenberg helps them combat hate.
By Stefani ChudnowPhotos
courtesy of the Interfaith Girl Scouts of Southeastern Michigan
Girl Scouts tour the Holocaust Memorial Center
in Farmington Hills
For the past several years, society has felt more divided than ever. It’s been an “us” versus “them” mentality for a while now, but politics has made everyday society increasingly hateful. Working to combat this is native Detroiter and interfaith activist Brenda Rosenberg. Rosenberg is the Jewish liaison to the Interfaith Girl Scouts of Southeastern Michigan. This group not only works to combat hatred among independent cultural groups starting at young ages, but also aims to develop myriad events meant to bring young girls with different backgrounds together.
“Several years ago, Suzanne Bante, who chairs the Interfaith Girl Scouts of Southeast Michigan, contacted the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit and wanted to speak to Jewish women who were interested in interfaith work,” Rosenberg said. “I was one of those women.”
Said Bante, “I believe that Girl Scouts offers young women (and sometimes their families) the opportunity to learn about individuals who have different backgrounds and faith traditions in a non-threatening way. Understanding of religious diversity is required to prepare our young women for the future.”
“When 9-11 happened, my heart spoke to me and said, ‘Brenda, you’re really good at coordinating big projects. You need to bring Christians, Jews and Muslims together,'” Rosenberg said. “That was the day I started creating projects and relationships to bring Christians, Jews and Muslims together.” One such project is “My Promise My Faith,” which Rosenberg is working on with Bante. The goal of this project is to share elements of the Jewish faith with Girl Scouts from a Catholic school in order to further develop their understanding of Judaism.
“On May 15, we presented the My Promise My Faith program to the Girl Scouts at Holy Family Regional School in Rochester,” Bante said. “The program is designed to allow girls to learn about other faith traditions and how all faith traditions are the foundation for the Girl Scout Promise and the Girl Scout Law.” A part of that Girl Scout Law reads: “I will do my best to […] make the world a better place.” If that sounds familiar to you, it’s because it is almost identical to the Jewish concept of tikkun olam or repairing the world.
Christian Ferris, Hannah Richard, Brenda Rosenberg, Fiona Warner, and officer John Julian, a school resource officer in Troy.
Rosenberg talked to the Girl Scouts about what she’s done to make the world a better place through creating better levels of understanding between Christians, Jews and Muslims. Then, the girls were given a selection of quotes from notable Jewish women throughout history and chose their favorites to put on a mug. The girls learned “Henei Ma Tov” in both Hebrew and English as well as all about Shabbat symbols and wrote down how they plan to make the world a better place this year.
A few years ago, Troy High School student and Girl Scout Hannah Richard approached Rosenberg about working on Rosenberg’s Hate2Hope initiative for her gold award project. Because of a recent spike in violence by and against police, Hate2Hope’s goal is to bring police and communities together and save lives as a result.
“Hannah was very taken with the project because at the time she was 15 and getting her driver’s license,” Rosenberg said. “Nowhere in driver’s education do they teach you what to do if you’re stopped by a police car.” For the past two years, Rosenberg has been working with Hannah directly on making this initiative completely actionable. Hannah came up with a slogan they’re currently using to promote positive police and community interactions. “Her three words are: Relax, Respect, Respond,” Rosenberg said. “That’s what we’re missing today, not just in police encounters, but in almost all encounters. People just spew whatever they’re feeling and they’re not taking the time to relax, respect and then respond. It’s simple, but incredibly effective.”
This past Passover, Temple Israel hosted a women’s seder. Rosenberg invited the Religious Relationships Committee of Girl Scouts of Southeastern Michigan. Committee member Lisa Pelzer attended the seder. Though Pelzer isn’t Jewish, she thought it was a particularly enlightening experience. “The seder was absolutely awesome,” Pelzer said. “It was really meaningful for me because it discussed mental health, which is key. The thing I loved the most was ‘Enough, Dayenu.’ That was wonderful to me.”
When people think of the Girl Scouts, they think of cookies. After just one conversation with Rosenberg, Pelzer and Bante, it’s clear that Girl Scouts mean so much more. They are the generation who will be future world leaders, and their track record isn’t too shabby.
“All three of our female secretaries of state, Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton have been Girl Scouts,” Pelzer said. “Sandra Day O’Connor was also a Girl Scout.” Rosenberg and Bante plan to continue their interfaith work. Rosenberg is currently planning an intercultural scavenger hunt at the Detroit Institute of Arts.
She credits her childhood exposure to art with her lifelong interfaith understanding. “I think so much more has to be done at an entry level, at that young level, because no one is born hating,” Rosenberg said. “If no one’s born hating, we need to have these very important interactions at younger ages than we are currently engaged in.”
When asked about what she sees as the future for the Girl Scouts, Rosenberg is quite confident that they will be “a powerful force for creating and understanding across America and across the world. Yay, girl power!”
For further information, visit http://njcgs.org.
West Bloomfield Synagogue’s Bible Garden Welcomes Visitors and Tour Groups
The Louis and Fay Woll Memorial Bible Garden, located at 5075 West Maple Road, West Bloomfield, on the campus of Congregation Beth Ahm, will soon be in full summer bloom, and people of all faiths are welcome to visit for learning and reflection. The Garden is available for group tours as well as for informal individual visitation. Group tours can be arranged to take place any day of the week with the exception of Shabbat (Saturday). The Garden is open in the summer, fall and spring, from sunrise to sunset.
Bible gardens usually contain plants mentioned in the Bible or use plants to recreate themes from the Bible. The Louis and Fay Woll Memorial Bible Garden does both and serves many purposes. It is meant to serve as a place of inner reflection, as a place of education, as a place for social and community gatherings, as a place to celebrate special things in our lives, and as a place to understand and appreciate the beauty and continuity of nature and its connection to the Jewish people and to the Divine.
There are a number of Bible gardens in various locations around the United States, but the Louis and Fay Memorial Bible Garden is believed to be the only one in Michigan and is one of very few in the world that are sponsored by a synagogue. Almost all other Bible gardens to date have been created by Christian houses of worship.
The Louis and Fay Woll Memorial Bible Garden was created by Drs. Douglas and Margo Woll in 2010 to honor the memory of Doug’s parents, who believed in and exemplified the principles of goodness, caring and generosity.
If your group would like to tour the garden with a synagogue docent and also have the opportunity to visit the Beth Ahm sanctuary and learn more about Judaism, please contact Rabbi Steven Rubenstein by phone (248) 851-6880 ext. 17 or by e-mail email@example.com to schedule your visit.
There is no charge to visit the Woll Memorial Bible Garden, either on an individual basis or for group tours. Donations are welcome to help support the ongoing maintenance and enhancement of the Bible Garden.
All are welcome to find enjoyment, beauty and peaceful reflection in the experience of exploring the Louis and Fay Memorial Bible Garden in person or online. For more information, including photos of the Garden, visit http://www.wollbiblegarden.
Heard the one about the Jew and the Muslim?
Ashley Blaker and Imran Yusuf’s pairing makes a unique comedy show called Prophet Share!
When Liverpool FC achieved their “miracle” win over Barcelona earlier this month, there was no doubt in Imran Yusuf’s mind as to where he should be. The avid Liverpool fan and hugely popular stand-up comic made his way to the home of his friend Ashley Blaker, an equally besotted Liverpool supporter and himself a renowned comedian. What they needed – in fact, what the world needed – was a double selfie of the two of them, proudly wearing their Liverpool red shirts.
The obvious affection between the two men, Blaker – an Orthodox Jew – and Yusuf – a knowledgeable Muslim – has led to a remarkable and probably unique stage pairing for their comedy show, Prophet Sharing, which is currently touring the UK. How did they meet? “I was a TV and radio producer,” says Blaker, “and I think I booked Imran for one of my shows. I’ve known him about eight years or so.” Yes, says Yusuf, it was after appearing on one of Blaker’s shows that they discovered their mutual passion for Liverpool FC.
Gradually, this unlikely pair became good friends. Last summer Blaker did a show at the Edinburgh Festival called Observant Jew, and Yusuf went to see it. “After the show, we were talking and Ashley came up with this proposal that we should do a tour together. I thought, what a great opportunity.” Both men have had their own successful BBC shows, so it was a natural pairing. Blaker has been doing solo stand-up comedy for a number of years and in a previous interview was adamant that he wouldn’t work with other Jewish comedians. So has he broken a rule to work with a Muslim comedian?
No, insists Blaker. “I said I would never do ‘mixed bill’ stuff where the audience comes and sees five or six different acts. This is still like a solo show – we each do stuff on our own and then we have half an hour together, which is really great fun.” The joy of the two of them together is that it is entirely driven by the audience, who have been asked to fill in a questionnaire before the show, and Blaker and Yusuf then riff off each other, each bringing their own, unscripted views to the stage.
“We designed the show together,” says Blaker. “We’re each very aware of what we are doing, and how that marries up.”
Yusuf, who has been a full-time comedy performer for 14 years, comes from an Indian Muslim family who were chased out of East Africa by Idi Amin. He was born in Mombasa, Kenya, and was brought up near Hackney Fields, before moving to Harrow. Blaker was a television producer and writer most associated with the hit comedy, Little Britain, before going it alone on a very carefully thought-out comedy path. He doesn’t do clubs and certainly won’t do anything which would conflict with his Orthodox beliefs. Of his friend’s comedy, Blaker describes it as “very warm, not cruel – audiences really like him”.
Meanwhile, Yusuf believes the pair have much in common: “We are both quite learned about our religion. I’ve read the Koran – in English – twice through, cover to cover and [Hinduism’s] Bhaghavad Gita. I’m about to start on the Tanach [the Hebrew Bible]. Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner gave me a copy.” In fact, says Yusuf, his ambition is to read every major religious book in the world. “Most of us don’t study our own religious books enough, but I want to try.” Stand-up, says Blaker, “is not easy. But we know how to do it and what works with an audience”. For him, it’s an opportunity to find out the similarities between Judaism and Islam, asking Yusuf on stage if his imam is anything like Blaker’s rabbi.
Both men believe that, particularly with the rise in antisemitism and Islamophobia, “there couldn’t be a better time to do this show”.
Blaker says the lesson he draws from it is “that we are stronger together than apart”. Yusuf, for his part, says there is a sometimes “brutal journey” between Jews and Muslims, but that “we thrive by being tolerant -that’s the trajectory we are on”.
Foodies, Faithful Flock to Ramadan Festivals
DEARBORN HEIGHTS, Mich. (AP) – Shortly before midnight, a buzzing crowd stood patiently in a line that bent around the corner of a community center and stretched far back into the night. After a countdown, the throng streamed into the fairway of food trucks and other vendors, then pressed forward to the cadence of a banging bass drum.
It was suhoor time.
The informal gala – in full swing after midnight, illuminated with string lights and resplendent with the scents of Middle Eastern and other cuisine – has been staged on weekends throughout May in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn Heights. But the Ramadan Suhoor Festival has a specific purpose beyond the carnival atmosphere and bountiful buffet: It’s a chance to gather during the Muslim holy month in which worshippers fast daily from dawn through dusk.
Despite its religious underpinnings, and in accordance with Muslim faith, festival organizers also have made one thing clear: Non-Muslims are welcome.
And so they all have come – Muslims and non-Muslims, thousands at a time and collectively in the tens of thousands – to share suhoor, the early morning meal typically consumed before daily fasting resumes and meant to fuel the many hungry hours after sunrise when neither food nor water may pass a faithful Muslim’s lips. The ring of food trucks serve up more than just overflowing plates. For many, it’s a welcome departure from the standard pre-dawn Ramadan fare that typically includes spiced or seasoned bread with cheese or yogurt.
Here at the festival, visitors may instead indulge their well-earned appetites with plates of pancakes, halal (permitted under Islamic dietary laws) hot dogs, cheesesteaks, fresh miniature doughnuts and shawarma, which consists of slivers of seasoned, spiced marinated meat.
The event itself reflects the area’s growing, diverse Muslim population, which goes back more than a century and whose population is estimated by experts to be approaching 300,000. As the community grows, so too does its willingness to practice and more visibly share traditions – with food as the ultimate unifier.
“People are becoming more educated about it … and it’s a beautiful thing,” said Hassan Chami, a pharmacist who started the festival last year. “One of my goals here is to celebrate religious diversity.”
Other U.S. communities have large Muslim populations, including those in and around New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. They also have hosted festivals drawing thousands to mark the Eid al-Fitr, or the end of Ramadan. The Detroit-area’s recurring events aim to amp-up such efforts: They serve as homecomings for some Muslims who left the state and missed the atmosphere, and even attracted “a foodie from Houston” who had no connection but just wanted to experience it, Chami said.
Chami said he launched the festival after seeing food trucks and tents popping up in gas station and strip mall parking lots in recent years during Ramadan. He was impressed by the entrepreneurial spirit, but thought it would be good to “centralize it.”
But it had to be authentic. Signs around the festival grounds offer guidance on fasting, prayers and good deeds, and men sitting in a tent recite verses from the Quran, or Islamic holy book, and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. Their amplified recitations waft along with the aromas from Corn on the Corner, Tornado Potato, Smiley’s Halal, Rafic’s Felafel and other trucks.
The drum Chami used to welcome attendees gets picked up a couple hours later by a food vendor, who Chami says represents “the old villager walking around the town, banging the drum, calling people to wake up and eat the suhoor.”
The traditional and contemporary mix mirrors the Islamic community around Detroit, which traces its roots to the earliest auto plants and the burgeoning industry’s hunger for workers. In the past 30 years, the area has gone from having about a dozen mosques to more than 90, reflecting immigration of Muslims from across the Mediterranean, Middle East and South Asia.
Sally Howell said Ramadan’s observance has changed significantly in the three decades she has been researching Islam in Detroit. In the early days, most people would celebrate in homes and mosques – and restaurateurs would complain how the holiday was bad for business. Mosques expanded their offerings, with post-prayer lectures and large iftars – the formal meal eaten after breaking the daily fast and recitation of prayers – that welcomed non-Muslims. Within the past decade, eateries started hosting buffets.
Even though Ramadan-related events were never closed-off to non-Muslims, the new festivals provide an opportunity to further extend participation in elements of the sacred monthlong rite, Howell said.
“This is the more social, celebratory side of Ramadan,” said Howell, director of the Center for Arab American Studies at University of Michigan-Dearborn. She said the events get a boost because Ramadan, which rotates around the calendar, currently falls in warmer weather months.
Some Muslims have complained on social media about the festival placing a greater emphasis on food over faith. Dana Mohammad, 23, who attended a recent festival, found it very loud, crowded and hype – yet spiritually beneficial.
“I think it actually adds to the essence of Ramadan because it brings people together, it binds communities and it builds bridges, which I think is a principle of the holy month,” she said.
Donna Bazzy invited fellow emergency room nurses – assuring them it would be open to non-Muslims. Among those accepting was Rhonda Hines.
“I’m enjoying myself immensely – it’s wonderful,” said Hines, hungrily eying which truck to tackle first. “I am very Christian but I love my girl Donna so much, I want to celebrate with her.”
Howell and Chami see such festivals as an antidote to the hostility Muslims feel in some quarters and the rhetoric and policies of the Trump administration, which has curbed immigration and travel from several Muslim-majority nations. For both, it recalls the increased scrutiny and suspicion directed at Arabs and Muslims after the 9/11 attacks.
The difference now, they said, is Muslims feel more comfortable outwardly celebrating their faith. That was Chami’s mission with the Ramadan Suhoor Festival: Create a space where Muslims could celebrate on their terms but with open arms.
“Having that confidence allows us to embrace our culture and allows (other) communities to support us as much as they do,” Chami said.
“We went through a point where we were trying to prove ourselves, saying ‘Hey, I’m just like you,'” he added. “I’m over that. … We’re great people. We have an unbelievable culture. We do great here.”
Ethnic women’s ‘tireless’ campaigner
Anjum Rahman honoured
Hamilton-based Anjum Rahman has been made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit. It was a sense of duty that prompted Anjum Rahman’s work as a political and human rights activist.
“I started getting involved in the community after 9/11 … I could see that our world was changing and I didn’t want my kids to grow up in fear or to feel ashamed of who they were.
“A lot of the community work I do is about making the world a better place for my children to grow up in.”
Her citation for the Queen’s Birthday honour describes her as a political and human rights activist “who has worked tirelessly to support ethnic women in New Zealand and raise awareness of human rights issues affecting them”. Rahman is based in Hamilton, but her multiple roles take her around the country, serving on boards and speaking out in favour of diversity and inclusion. In May, not long after the Christchurch mosque attacks, Rahman launched the Inclusive Aotearoa Collective – a community-led initiative to combat discrimination.
In the past, she has also had a tilt at politics, standing for Hamilton City Council in 2013 and, before that, as a Labour list candidate.
Her mantra is simple: To leave the world a better place than she found it.
“It’s that sense of duty really, that I’m put here in this world, in this place, and how am I going to leave it better than I found it.
“That’s my responsibility, it’s the responsibility of every person and it’s up to them how they take it up but for me, it’s like how do I fulfil my responsibility to this world that I’m in.”
Rahman is also a board member on various not-for-profit organisations, including Shama Hamilton Ethnic Women Centre, the Waikato Community Broadcasting Charitable Trust, the Islamic Women’s Council of New Zealand, and the Ethnic New Zealand Trust.
She has also worked in the prevention of sexual violence, as a founding member of the Hamilton Campaign for Consent and through work with ACC.
She’s a qualified Human Rights Commission facilitator and promotes diversity and inclusion through speaking engagements around the country. And she’s also an accountant. When she received a letter in the mail, notifying her of the honour, she wasn’t sure whether she would accept it.
“In our faith, in our community, we do things because it’s the right thing to do and as an act of worship, so to be recognised publicly for that is kind of difficult because I’m not doing it to be recognised.
Rahman said she was accepting the honour for her mum, who is a role model to her and her daughters. She said the work she achieves wouldn’t be possible without the support she receives from family, her community, and her employer. “I look at so many others in our community that do reat work that are unrecognised and I feel like there’s so many amazing people in our community and it’s hard for me to accept this when I know that.” But despite her coyness, she is proud of the work she has achieved. “In terms of a local place, I’m really proud of being involved with the Shama Hamilton Ethnic Women’s Centre, and part of the group that set it up. “For me, it’s about our place as Muslims in New Zealand and to be recognised as part of the fabric of New Zealand society – that’s the most important thing.
“Our prime minister’s stance after the [Christchurch terrorist attacks], placing [Muslims] as New Zealanders, was so hugely important. And being included in the awards is part of that, too. For me it says; this is my place, this is my home, I belong here.”