Calendar for WISDOM and Other Interfaith Events
Monday, October 19, 4:00 PM Come Join us at Yates Cider Mill for Cider and Donuts, 1990 E. Avon Rd., Rochester Hills, MI 48307. See Flyer Below.
Tuesday, December 1, 7:00 PM WISDOM Art Project
– Mosaic tiles at Song and Spirit Institute for Peace, 1717 W. 13 Mile Rd., Royal Oak, MI 48073 Stay tuned for more information
Tuesday, December 8, 7:00 PM Five Women Five Journeys
Insight Through Education, Inc.” Irma Blauner, V.P. for Programming, Palm Spring, FL.
Shofar lessons are becoming a pre-holiday necessity in the age of coronavirus
Shofars, or ram’s horns, on display for sale at a workshop in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Sept. 22, 2014. A shofar is traditionally blown during several Jewish holidays. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
(RNS) – In the biblical account, the walls of Jericho came tumbling down after Joshua commanded seven priests to blow their ram’s horns or shofars.
This year, it will take a lot more than seven priests for the plaintive wail of the shofar to penetrate the walls of Jews sheltering in place for the Jewish High Holy Days. The coronavirus has left nearly all synagogues across the country shuttered. On Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, which begins at sundown Sept. 18, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which starts the evening of Sept. 27, most Jews will be streaming services from home. But Jewish law requires Jews to hear the shofar in person, and now many Jews are scrambling to figure out ways to provide that hornlike blast to as many people as possible, since rabbis say an online recording should be the last resort. While some Jewish homes have a shofar – mainly as a decorative ritual object – few American Jews actually use it. In most Jewish congregations, a handful of people trained in blowing a shofar are called upon year after year to do the honors in front of packed sanctuaries.
A man plays the shofar at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on Aug. 22, 2010, in Champaign, Illinois. Photo by Clay Gregory/Creative Commons
But ahead of the High Holidays this year, many people are dusting off their shofars and getting on Zoom with trained shofar blowers to learn how to use it for small groups gathered outdoors. Chabad, the Hasidic Jewish dynasty based in Brooklyn, last week began offering a three-session how-to class called “The Sound and the Spirit.” As of earlier this week, 4,000 people had registered for it. Rabbi Chanoch Kaplan, who serves at Chabad House in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, teaches the prerecorded class and expects many more to register in the coming days. (The course is free but has a $40 suggested donation.) Kaplan has been blowing shofars and teaching children in Hebrew school how to make them for more than 20 years. With a little instruction, he said, anyone can do it. But “obviously, practice makes perfect.”
Kaplan said he learned from his father, who used to stand at the Jewish-American Festival in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor year after year to teach passersby how to blow the shofar. “I looked up to him and I was mesmerized by the sound as it would penetrate the air and people stood and listened,” Kaplan said.
The shofar is harvested from the carcass of a ram or almost any other kosher animal; antelopes have particularly beautiful spiraling horns. They’re widely available online for as little as $30, though they can fetch much more. A shofar has to be completely empty of bone and cartilage to be used. This can be done manually with boiling water or oil or a blowtorch. Afterward, it can be cleaned and sanitized, sometimes sanded and polished. Any puncture, even if it is repaired, renders the shofar ritually unfit.
Hearing the shofar on Rosh Hashana is a mitzvah – a required, virtuous deed. It is intended to awaken the soul and prompt people to reflect on the past year and vow to return to God. The clarion call is so important to hear in person that many synagogues switch off any microphones or audio amplifiers before the shofar is blown. This year, because the first full day of Rosh Hashana falls on a Saturday, the shofar will not be blown until Sunday, the second day of the holiday.
There are three sound combinations blown on Rosh Hashana and they can be learned. “The most important thing I tell people is, it’s not about the amount of air you’re blowing,” Kaplan said. “It’s about your position. If you get the position right, it’s no problem whatsoever.”
In Raleigh, North Carolina, Beth Meyer Synagogue has assembled a shofar corps – a group of people who will go around to outdoor courtyards around nursing homes or assisted living complexes so elderly Jewish residents can hear the sound without leaving their rooms. “We have to be sensitive to the neighbors,” said Rabbi Eric Solomon. “But we’re excited about it.” Many synagogues will also be holding limited outdoor shofar blowing events – either in synagogue parking lots or in local parks. Public health experts say it’s safe to blow the shofar outdoors if people maintain proper distance. As an extra precaution, the Orthodox Union has issued guidelines recommending a surgical mask be wrapped over the wider end of the shofar. The fear is that some droplets from the blower could turn into aerosols, thus posing a COVID-19 infection risk. Adam Levine, a professor of math at Duke University who is active at Beth El Synagogue in Durham, North Carolina, said he owns two shofars, which he received as bar mitzvah gifts years ago. “I can’t really get much of a sound out of either one of them,” Levine said. “I’m hoping to get a little Zoom lesson in between now and then. I certainly am not going to put anyone’s shofar hearing in my hands. But if I can maybe try to learn to do it for myself it’ll be nice to take this opportunity.”
Pope Francis is flanked by the Rev. Georges Breidi, a Lebanese priest, right, as they hold a Lebanese flag in remembrance of last month’s explosion in Beirut, during the pontiff’s general audience, the first with faithful since the coronavirus outbreak began in February, at the San Damaso courtyard at the Vatican on Sept. 2, 2020. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Shiite Muslims re-enact the 7th century battle of Karbala, during Ashura commemorations outside the holy shrine of Imam Hussein in Karbala, Iraq, Sunday, Aug. 30, 2020. Ashura marks the death of Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, at the Battle of Karbala in present-day Iraq. (AP Photo/Anmar Khalil)
Interfaith program brings Jews, Muslims together
September 8, 2020
The Muslim and Jewish co-authors of a book promoting Muslim-Jewish friendship and trust appealed directly to members of their respective communities to “stand together to protect democracy, pluralism and religious liberty in America.”
Addressing a zoom forum co-sponsored by the Interfaith Institute of the Islamic Center of Long Island (ICLI) and Temple Or Elohim, A Community Reform Congregation, the speakers, Sabeeha Rehman and Walter Ruby, whose book We Refuse to be Enemies. How Muslims and Jews Can Make Peace, One Friendship at a Time (Arcade Publishing. April 2021), argued, “As members of the two largest minority faith communities in America, we must stand together at a portentous moment in American history. Neither of our communities will be able to prosper in an America characterized by xenophobia and bigotry.”
Rehman and Ruby, who have worked to strengthen Muslim-Jewish communication and cooperation since 9-11, believe that Jews and Muslims are natural allies who share a great deal including common Patriarchs and Matriarchs, and shared principles at the core of both faiths, including: ‘If You Save One Life, It Is As If You Save The World’; ‘Welcome the Stranger’; ‘Tikkun Olam and Islah-the common moral imperative to help those in need; and ‘Standing Up for the Other’.
Yet they acknowledged the roadblocks to Muslim-Jewish solidarity: the longstanding differences over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They argued, American Muslims and Jews cannot afford to let the conflict drive us apart, especially at a time when our collective well-being in America is at stake. We can agree to disagree respectfully, even as we contribute together to humanitarian efforts to save lives and improve the quality of life for Palestinians and Israelis alike.”
Rehman and Ruby shared their respective life journeys during which they were able to overcome longstanding biases. Rehman explained that growing up in Pakistan until the age of 20, she had never met a Jew and viewed Jews through the lens of the middle-east conflict; a viewpoint replicated in reverse by Ruby; who grew up in suburban Pittsburgh and for an extended period in Israel with a deeply negative perspective on Muslims and Arabs. They shared fascinating anecdotes about how their perspectives shifted as Sabeeha found herself “living in an Orthodox Jewish community on Staten Island and being attended by a Jewish obstetrician during her first pregnancy; while Walter spoke of sipping coffee and discussing politics with Palestinian Arabs as a young journalist and witnessing Yasser Arafat deliver the Palestinian Declaration of Independence. Ruby and Rehman spoke of their work in Muslim-Jewish relations, and of the eight-point roadmap they have developed for moving forward, that begins with: “We are Americans first. While the Israeli-Palestinian issue matters greatly, we live here, not there, and our collective well-being is at risk unless we stand up for each other and unite, together with other Americans dedicated to enhancing democracy and pluralism’
According to Laurel Fried, Vice President of Temple Or Elohim, A Community Reform Congregation, and moderator of the forum; “Together with the Interfaith Institute, we were proud to sponsor this timely event, which powerfully made the case for Muslim-Jewish and Interfaith solidarity.” Dr. Faroque Khan, founder and president of the Interfaith Institute of ICLI, and a pioneer in Muslim-Jewish relations going back to the early 1990’s, commented, “Now more than ever, Muslims, Jews and interfaith allies need to come together and stand up for core American values that sustain us all.”
Report: College Students Care About Interfaith Dialogue, But Most Don’t Engage In It
September 2, 2020
Dr. Matthew Mayhew, a professor of educational administration at The Ohio State University, attended College of the Holy Cross, a Jesuit school, then transferred to Wheaton College, an Evangelical university. He got his master’s at Brandeis University, known for its vibrant Jewish community, and did his doctoral work at University of Michigan, a large, religiously diverse public institution.
For him, interfaith dialogue felt like a critical part of his higher education journey.
“All along the way, I made friends who thought about the world incredibly differently than I did,” Mayhew said. “In developing friendships, we would talk about life, we would talk about goals, we would talk about academics … It was just so enriching to share a common pursuit of wanting to understand the world but doing so from different perspectives.”
But according to a study he recently co-authored – the Interfaith Diversity Experiences & Attitudes Longitudinal Survey, or IDEALS – college students are enthusiastic about religious pluralism and interfaith dialogue, but most aren’t engaging in it.
The survey, conducted in partnership with Interfaith Youth Core, ultimately tracked 3,486 students from 116 institutions between 2015 and 2019, collecting data on their experiences with people holding different worldviews and their level of interest in creating interfaith connections. Students were surveyed three times over the course of their college careers.
The study found that 70% of fourth-year students reported a high commitment to bridging religious divides, with lesser percentages among certain groups, like politically conservative, atheist or Evangelical students. However, only 14% participated in interfaith dialogue on campus, and less than half of students said they dedicated time to learning about other religions in college.
The distance between how much students wanted to engage with different belief systems and how little they actually did surprised co-author Dr. Alyssa Rockenbach, a professor of higher education at North Carolina State University.
“There’s this gap that I think is important for us as educators to really think about,” Rockenbach said. “How can we help students bring their values and their behaviors into greater alignment?”
Granted, students from minority religions showed higher levels of interfaith involvement, while students who identified as secular engaged less. But that dynamic can be “problematic,” Rockenbach said. “If you have religiously minoritized students only engaged in interfaith work, that puts a lot of the burden on their shoulders to bring people together across these differences. And there’s an inequity in that.”
Plus, students from minority religions also report campus climate issues. While religious students largely felt like they had spaces for religious expression on campus, less than a third of Jewish students felt their campuses were receptive to religious diversity. About 58% of Muslim students said their campuses were at least somewhat accepting, but a fifth of Muslims also felt pressure to put limits on expressing their beliefs.
Ideally, campuses should offer opportunities “where people of all perspectives can come together and try to dialogue about their differences, about what they share in common, about how they can work together to make the world a better place,” Rockenbach said, including students who identify as secular.
But the data suggests students feel ill-equipped to do that. Only 32% of them felt like they learned skills for how to better engage with diverse belief systems in college. About three-quarters of fourth-year students scored a C grade or below on a religious literacy quiz. While 93% of students had at least one interfaith friendship by their last year, 59% of college students had never had a disagreement about religious differences, which signaled to the authors that they might not be talking about faith deeply.
In interviews with students, Mayhew also found that discussions about religion between peers was difficult, more so than dialogue about other kinds of diversity, because talking about religion “cues choice for students.” In these conversations, students risk proselytizing or being proselytized to – and that can be “really sticky.”
Still, friendships help, Mayhew noted, because they create a more comfortable context for those hard conversations and give students a greater appreciation of other worldviews. He worries about how to encourage that in a pandemic where so many students are taking classes online.
“Given COVID, how do we design environments that help students become friends?” he said. “Are we in the business of friendship engineering? Should we be? Is it possible for first-year students to develop authentic friendships via a series of Zoom classes? Those are questions that haunt me … Peer effect is important for all types of learning.”
The report ultimately recommends instituting policies that promote religious inclusion, like accommodations for religious holidays and dietary restrictions. It also calls for at least one mandatory class in the curriculum that explicitly teaches students about diverse religious identities.
Leaders of public higher education institutions have “some hesitancy” about fostering dialogue about religion because of concerns about the separation of church of state, Rockenbach said, but “our beliefs and values about a whole host of social issues – many of the things that we see happening in terms of the culture wars in our society – come from our worldview. So, if we aren’t able to understand one another’s worldviews, it’s going to make it hard to have those kinds of conversations about the critical issues that we see facing our society right now.”
Sara Weissman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Building interfaith community at work
Religion News Service
September 14, 2020
(Interfaith America) – There are lots of ways to be an “only” at work; mine has always been my faith. I’m a visibly Muslim woman who’s been wearing a headscarf, aka hijab, since I was 16 years old, out of my own desire and love for my faith. In the month of Ramadan I fast in an office filled with free snacks, regular lunch meetings and all the coffee one’s heart can desire. I strive to pray five times a day, which can be hard when there’s no space to pray at work. I don’t drink alcohol and feel a bit uncomfortable at bars and happy hours where much of the team building and socializing happens. And I eat meat, but only if it’s halal (that’s like the Muslim kosher), which basically means I’m a vegetarian at work.
I was born and raised in Miami, grew up watching Saturday morning cartoons and MTV, cheering for my hometown sports teams (Go Heat!), having birthday parties at Pizza Hut and watching Fourth of July fireworks each year with my Pakistani immigrant family. I’ve always thought of myself as 100% Muslim, 100% American, 100% normal.
But no matter how much I’ve wanted to belong and be seen as normal at work (what even is “normal”?!), at first glance, all people see is my otherness. There’s been a barrier between me and the majority of people I’ve worked with that, granted, at times existed only in my head – because my co-workers have generally been awesome human beings – but most of the time has been very real.
The barrier existed simply due to a lack of understanding about a piece of cloth on my head or other religious practices I observe. It existed because of limited exposure to meaningful interactions with people from different faiths and cultures and too much exposure to negative portrayals in news and media of people who look and believe like me. The barrier existed because everyone assumed you couldn’t talk about religion at work, or didn’t know how to talk about it, so stories and experiences like mine just weren’t heard, questions remained unasked and unanswered, and assumptions and biases remained unaddressed.
These barriers kept me from the belonging I was craving. For a lot of people who come from different cultural or religious backgrounds, the choice at work sometimes becomes a choice between changing or hiding parts of who we are to fit in, which can potentially lead to more success in our careers. Or it can be a choice to remain different – keeping that beard long, that turban or hijab or kippah on; not joining in on the happy hours or skipping out on the team lunch because you’re fasting, or because you have to make the Friday Jummah prayer, or because you have to make it home for Shabbat. All the while, you deal with the micro-aggressions, misconceptions and barriers that keep us from connecting with our co-workers and possibly keep us from moving up the corporate ladder. There’s a lot of pressure to conform or keep parts of ourselves hidden, and not a whole lot of support.
Enter Faithforce, the interfaith employee resource group at Salesforce, the San Francisco customer relationship software company.
Around three and a half years ago, I had a conversation with a wonderful person, who at the time was leading the employee resource group program at Salesforce (where we call them equality groups), in which we discussed the possibility of creating an interfaith employee resource group. Salesforce already had nine amazing ERGs that supported different underrepresented groups and minorities and drove equality initiatives across the company. Groups like BOLDforce for the Black community, and Outforce for the LGBTQ+ community, to name a couple. I wanted to know if we could add one more to the mix. Could we make space for our faith identities when we talked about equality, allyship, representation and inclusion at work? Because as a person of faith, I needed all of those things too, and I knew I wasn’t the only one.
Along with another co-worker, a devout Christian based in Sydney, we set out to create an inclusive interfaith ERG, with the intent to give our diverse faith identities a voice and a seat at the equality table. Three years ago it was a dream. Today, Faithforce is a global employee resource group at Salesforce, with over 3,000 members across five continents, representing many different faith backgrounds and worldviews.
Faithforce grew out of a need for belonging, support and a deeper understanding of our religious diversity. It exists to knock down those invisible barriers between us and build bridges instead; to make our religious identities “normal” and OK to acknowledge and learn about. It’s about being able to be fully, comfortably and unapologetically *insert religious identity here*. Just as important, it’s about helping all employees get comfortable stepping outside of their bubbles to better understand and respect the “other.” One of my favorite verses in the Quran says “Oh mankind! We created you from a single pair, and made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another.” I take this verse to heart daily and can attest to the transformative power of simply getting to know someone who’s different from you.
As a Muslim, I get so much joy planning events for Passover, Easter and Holi with my Jewish, Christian and Hindu co-workers, and I learn so much in the process. I get so excited when my teammates join a Ramadan event I’m leading or when a senior leader actually asks me to share more about my holiday with her team. I no longer celebrate alone. It may seem like a trivial thing, but to have your manager and team wish you an Eid Mubarak or throw a Chag Sameach your way, to acknowledge a part of you that you hold dear, that matters.
When over 100,000 attendees walked into last year’s Dreamforce – one of the largest tech conferences in the world – they encountered halal, kosher and vegetarian meal options, and a multifaith meditation and prayer room open and accessible to all. No more worrying about what to eat or struggling to find a secluded corner to make your daily prayers in if you need to.
This is the impact an interfaith ERG can have when it has a seat at the table. This is faith inclusion at work. Interfaith employee working groups also drive vocal and visible support for faith communities in times of need. After a tragic, hateful attack against your place of worship, instead of being greeted with silence at work the next day, you come in to find that leaders in your company actually stand with and support you. Managers and teammates ask if you’re all right and how they can help. Events are held in solidarity with faith communities, to respond to hate with education, love and support. Stories are heard that weren’t heard before, and these stories inspire hope and remind us that people of different faiths need allyship too.
This all goes to show that building an interfaith community at work is not only possible, but necessary. Over the past several years I’ve seen tremendous growth and interest in this space and have gotten to know leaders of interfaith and faith-based resource groups at other tech companies. While we each may do things a bit differently, in every group there has been an eagerness for interfaith support and collaboration that has helped the well-being of individuals as well as an added value to the diversity and inclusion efforts of the company. In a world where misinformation and division thrive, be it on the internet, in media and entertainment, or in government, an interfaith ERG can actually help provide much-needed healing and make our workplaces safe and welcoming for all. It can bring us together to share our authentic stories to drive positive change across our companies, and do it alongside and in partnership with other ERGs working to do the same for the communities they support.
Farah Siddiqui. Courtesy photo
Faithforce and other interfaith ERGs remind us every day that we don’t have to change who we are to fit in. Another way is possible, where our religious diversity can be honored, and where we can respect, learn from and make space for one another. Where we all can be given the dignity that each one of us deserves.
Michigan leaders’ charity work lands them on Lay’s potato chip bags
Detroit Free Press
Next time you go to the grocery store, stop and check out Lay’s new chip bags. You may see a local nonprofit leader on it.
And you may see Zaman International founder Najah Bazzy, a Canton resident, and Khali Sweeney, founder and CEO of Detroit’s Downtown Boxing Gym, donning a Lay’s signature smile on a family-size chips bag.
“Meet this smile,” Bazzy’s bag, BBQ-flavored, reads. “Inspired by her experiences as a nurse, Najah and Zaman International are providing basic needs assistance and vocational training to women, children, and refugee families – empowering over 2 million people worldwide to break the cycle of poverty.”
Sweeney’s smile is on the classic yellow Lay’s bag, promoting his gym as a free after-school academic and athletic program that “has a 100 percent high school graduation rate,” according to the release.
Sweeney said he was nominated for the program, and also thought Operation Smile was a good cause. He said he was thankful for any accolades and attributed the gym’s success to his team.
But being on the Lay’s bag felt like a crazy and lucky coincidence to him, like being on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. When he was younger, Sweeney said he was incredibly skinny. He followed a strict meal and workout plan that required a light snack in between courses and the plain Lay’s chip was his No. 1 quick bite he never tired of.
“One of the things I like in this world is the Lay’s potato chips,” he said. “Anybody who knows me knows my house is full of Lay’s potato chips.”
Since CNN, Bazzy has been on TV and magazine covers, but her appearance on the Lay’s bag has been especially different because people are using the product. Her smile is in people’s pantries. She was getting texts from across the country, from Texas to Florida. She went to her niece’s house and found her carrying 12 bags with Bazzy’s face on them, ready to pass them out. Her husband was doing the same, handing out the bags of BBQ chips to their neighbors.
Her children were in a tizzy.
“The kids have seen me do a lot of things, but all my children were like,’This is so cool, Mom. This is the coolest thing you’ve ever done.’ I’m like, ‘Really?'” she recalled, laughing.
Another big question she gets: Are those really her teeth? Yes, they are, she’d reply.
Zaman has been around for 20 years, starting in the back of Bazzy’s van. Seeing it grow in recognition has been a humbling experience for Bazzy, who, as CEO, is still working on a volunteer basis. As the ongoing pandemic exasperated certain needs, Bazzy said the organization snapped into action.
“We became rapid responders,” she says. “We’re really good at crisis management, so we went right in. I actually was prepared before Gov. Whitmer had announced the quarantine – I was preparing for that. I’m a nurse so I anticipate these kinds of things.”
Their response included including turning their large Hope for Humanity Center into a food distribution site and graduating their culinary and sewing students virtually. Their GED and literacy programs have also been moved online. Bazzy said Zaman is planning on workforce development as well, helping women secure jobs and living wages.
“Zaman is on the cusp, right now, of realizing its full mission,” she said.
Downtown Boxing Gym had similar reaction to the pandemic: kicking into gear to help the community.
“That’s one of the things that I stress real heavy in the gym is that you have to be ready to help your neighbors in any type of situation,” Sweeney said. “I always tell my kids, one day the strong will be called on to protect the other one in the neighborhood.”
Inspired by the lack of resources in his own childhood, Sweeney said the gym is an academic program first. It moved its lesson and workout plans online and helped connect their students to technology at home. The second was outfitting its vans to provide meals to students and families.
As the school year starts, Sweeney said the kids who are not physically going to school and have parents who are working or unable to watch them can come to the gym. The kids are separated into small groups, with screening and testing to prevent the spread of the virus. The gym is also looking for tech donations for kids who may not have a computer to study from.
“The focus is creating the future leaders of this world,” he said.
Bazzy said she loved meeting the other nonprofit leaders and Everyday Smilers, even if virtually.
“What I’ve learned is there’s not enough appreciation around the country of the nonprofit sector,” she said, “because the nonprofit sector clearly carried the nation.
“Day upon day, you see hundreds – not tens – hundreds of stories of people who have goodwill, who either have nonprofits or who just out of sheer goodness would organize and begin to do front-line work. I think the story of nonprofits in America, as a nation, needs to be told,” she added.