Calendar for WISDOM and Other Interfaith Events
Sunday August 10th through Wednesday August 13th
NAIN (North American Interfaith Network) Conference
Wayne State University
August 10th through 13th
See Flyer Below
Sunday, November 9
Dr Wayne Baker presents “United America.” Details forthcoming
Sunday, November 16
Interfaith Leadership Council presents “Marriage and Divorce Across the Faith Traditions.” Part of the series on Life Cycle Events to be presented at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Royal Oak. 3:30 PM – 6:00 PM
Sunday, March 8th
“Empowering Women” a WISDOM and National Council of Jewish Women joint program – Details forthcoming
Sisterhoods Tied Together: A Blanket of Interfaith
By Gail Katz
On Thursday, June 12th women from Hartford Memorial Baptist Church’s Sisterhood in Detroit joined women from Temple Israel’s Sisterhood for an interfaith potluck dinner and a social action project. About 80 women brought delicious side dishes and desserts to compliment Temple Israel’s catered roll-up sandwiches, sat together to dialogue and get to know each other, and then formed groups of four to cut and tie fleece blankets that will be donated to Alternatives for Girls in Detroit, an organization that helps needy teens! The enthusiasm was high, and everyone had a great time. We came together again at Temple Israel’s July 11th Friday night outdoor services, where our new African American Baptist friends learned about our Jewish faith and our Shabbat practices. Temple Israel’s Sisterhood will be then be invited to join Hartford’s Sunday services on September 28th when our Jewish sisters will learn about the Baptist faith traditions and practices!
This event was sponsored by a grant from the Men of Reform Judaism, which offered $1000 for an interfaith event at a reform temple. Gail Katz, a Temple Israel board member who loves bringing together folks of different faith traditions to increase respect and understanding, jumped at the chance to apply for the grant, and the application was accepted! The money went to help fund the food for the dinner, the catering help, and the material for the fleece blankets. Thanks to all the Sisters who helped out with this very successful event!! We look forward to bringing Hartford women and Temple Israel women together again in the near future!
The blankets were delivered to Alternatives for Girls in Detroit by Gail Katz, representing Temple Israel, and Janet Gilyard, representing Hartford Memorial Baptist Church, on Thursday, July 17th!
The Peace Kawomera Interfaith Cooperative
I brought the idea to my fellow friends, Muslims and Christians, and I said we should make a co-op selling our coffee but as well as spreading peace in the world.
They were all so happy so we called it Mirembe, which means peace, Kawomera, which means that even our coffee must be of quality.
Then we made that cooperative.
– JJ Keki, founder & director, Peace Kawomera
One of Peace Kawomera’s 200 women members.
Mirembe Kawomera Coffee began with one man’s dream. In 2003, JJ Keki, a Ugandan coffee farmer, walked door to door asking his Jewish, Christian, and Muslim neighbors to put aside old differences and come together. Their community of third and fourth generation coffee farmers was struggling to make a living off the low prices offered by the local market. With the assistance of Laura Wetzler from the US-based organization Kulanu, these Jewish, Christian and Muslim farmers formed a cooperative to build lasting prosperity in their villages and to spread a message of peace throughout the world. They named their coffee Mirembe Kawomera, which means, “Delicious Peace” in the Luganda language. The Peace Kawomera Cooperative has grown to over 1,000 members. Thanks to their collective effort, the farmers sell directly to Thanksgiving Coffee Company, and receive prices four times higher than what they were previously paid. This has enabled farmers to send their children to school, start savings accounts, and reinvest in their farms. Together, the farmers have succeeded in doing something that none could have done alone. As they face the many challenges of life in rural Uganda, they look to their cooperative for hope and strength. In the coming years, the Cooperative plans to invest in land and equipment, offer microfinance to members and contribute to a variety of public health and education projects.
How Delicious Peace Came To Us
by paul katzeff, ceo
I was at my desk, it was late afternoon. The phone rang… “Hello, my name is Laura Wetzler” came the voice from the other end. That was the beginning of my and Thanksgiving Coffee Company’s involvement in this fascinating experience that has just begun to unfold.
It was 2004. The sky was blue but the sun was well on its way down over the Pacific creating that eerie orange glow when late afternoon begins to turn into early evening. It was “magic time,” or time for magic.
It turned out that Laura Wetzler was, and still is, the Ugandan Coordinator for an all volunteer Jewish NGO called Kulanu in Washington DC. She called to ask me if I would buy five sacks of coffee from a cooperative she was working with. I rolled my eyes and thought, “Another starry-eyed idealist who went to a poor country to build a school, discovered coffee in the midst of poverty and decided that it was the answer to all the community’s woes.”
Over the past 20 years I have fielded many such calls. Although my heart goes out to these volunteers, I explain to them that coffee is not bought under such novice circumstances. “There is a well-established infrastructure of exporters, brokers, importers,” I explained, “And of course, there are the issues of quality and price.”
I asked Ms. Wetzler if she had called any other roasters and she told me she had called over 50 but had sold nothing. “Everybody wants a sample to taste but I have none,” she told me. “I was just there but didn’t know I needed samples to offer.” I began to settle in to the conversation and asked her to tell me about the work of Kulanu. Being Jewish myself I thought it unusual for her to be working with Jews in Uganda. “Jews in Uganda? Tell me more!”
Laura told me about this community of black Bantu Jews that she has been working with since 2002. She helped them organize a coffee cooperative, become Fair Trade Certified™, and now, with their first crop sitting unsold in a Uganda warehouse, she was calling US coffee roasters trying to sell the coffee. She had a list, it was in alphabetical order, and when she got down to the letter T she called Thanksgiving Coffee and I picked up the phone. By the time she got to me she had been rejected 50 times.
The Jewish Bantus of Uganda caught my attention, but it was when she described the other two-thirds of the cooperative that my heart really began to pound. “There are Muslims and Christians in this coffee cooperative,” she continued. “They are all working together. It’s one community. The co-op president is Jewish, the vice-president is Christian, and the treasurer is Muslim. There are hundreds of families all together; they have one container to sell and soon this year’s crop will be coming. The people are desperate!” she exclaimed.
I couldn’t believe my good fortune. I was the recipient of this call because 50 coffee roasters heard this story and declined to purchase before tasting samples. They were focusing on the product so they missed the story. For me the story was inspiring at minimum. People of faith finding hope through coffee. Choosing cooperation in a world torn up by intolerance. I said, “OK, I’ll buy it.” “How many sacks do you want?” she asked. I could hear in her voice her plea, her compassion, her fear, her innocence, and her dedication, all born from what was much much more than the experience of the starry-eyed girl I had assumed she was when I first picked up the phone.
“I’ll buy it all,” I said. “All or nothing. I want the entire story. I don’t want any other coffee company to have a single bag. I want to bring this story to the world.”
Three weeks later I flew to Uganda to meet the co-op leaders and farmers. I tasted their coffee (it was delicious), signed a contract for 37,500 lbs, went to services on the Sabbath at the Abayudaya Jewish Community Temple and spent that afternoon meeting with people of three faiths who were using coffee to bring a better life. I returned home inspired and dedicated. On the plane, I remember thinking how 50 coffee roasters missed the significance of what these people had done. It was because of them that Thanksgiving Coffee got this opportunity to support what in our time could become one of the greatest stories ever told – and through the selling of the coffee, to strengthen and build a cooperative that could become a shining light of beauty for all to see and be inspired.
On July 12, 2005 the coffee arrived in the US after six weeks “on the water.” From that shipment, a sample was sent to us as soon as the boat docked. We “cupped it” and it is good, real good, and it fills my heart with hope.
Thanks to the years of work in Uganda by Laura Wetzler and Kulanu, one community of Jews, Christians and Muslims, in a small village in Africa have come into our presence. What we do with this gift is up to us. I say, “Let’s tell everybody and let’s toast ‘peace’ each morning over a cup of Mirembe Kawomera coffee.”
Interfaith Prayer Can Strengthen Unity, Diversity In Faith-Based Organizations: Study
Prayer is a powerful practice, as many who do it regularly can attest to. But in addition to being a powerful personal practice, prayer can play a role in strengthening even the most diverse communities, according to a new study led by a University of Connecticut sociologist Ruth Braunstein, Richard L. Wood from the University of New Mexico and Brad R. Fulton from Duke University.
Scheduled to appear in the August edition of the American Sociological Review, the study found that interfaith prayer practices played a key role in bridging cultural differences within diverse faith-based community organizing groups in the United States.
“The prayer practices we observed appear to play a crucial role in binding participants together across significant racial and socioeconomic differences,” Braunstein said in a release. “They do this by being inclusive of multiple faith traditions, celebrating the diversity of the group, and encouraging individuals to interact with each other.”
These findings may come as a surprise in a world where religion and prayer often divide people with differing views. Braunstein found, however, that “bridging cultural practices,” like prayer, worked to create a new sense of shared identity within groups.
“Most talk of diversity rests on an understanding of “differences” that are rooted in fixed categories, like racial groups, genders, social classes, etc.,” Braunstein told HuffPost.
“In reality, however, one way that groups navigate diversity is by defining new identity categories, which cut across, transcend, or celebrate members’ differences, often by highlighting what distinguishes them from people outside of their group. Generally speaking, this suggests that things like difference and sameness are really very fluid.”
Prayer only works as a practice for transcending difference, though, when it manages to incorporate values from multiple faiths and backgrounds, Braunstein said. In the faith-based community organizing coalition where Braunstein conducted her research, leaders and clergy often highlighted the group’s shared identities as “people of faith” while still recognizing their differences. They did this in several ways:
“One common way was by inviting multiple clergy representing different faith traditions to offer prayers. In some cases, clergy also instructed audience members to direct prayers to their respective understandings of God. For example, a priest once called everyone to prayer by saying: “If you are Jewish, stand for Adonai. If you are Muslim, stand for Allah. If you are Christian like me, stand for Jesus.”
Some created interfaith prayers by avoiding references to any particular religious tradition, and instead incorporating non-religious texts -like news articles, poetry, and social criticism-into their reflections. Beyond the content of their prayers, certain forms of collective prayer – in which people were asked to shake hands, hug their neighbor, or learn new prayer practices together – also encouraged diverse participants to interact with one another or to share experiences that drew the group together.”
Prayer is a meaningful practice for faith-based groups, Braunstein said, but it won’t necessarily work in secular organizations where spirituality isn’t a part of the group’s shared identity. There are other activities diverse groups can do, however, to build solidarity and develop shared “rituals” important to the group’s identity.
“These practices, which could involve sharing meals or making music together,” Braunstein said, “would likely emerge over time as participants reflected on the qualities that unite everyone in the group and develop shared rituals that are meaningful to everyone.”
No one is putting the power of “bridging cultural practices” to the test more prominently than Pope Francis, who hosted Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to a peacemaking “prayer summit” at the Vatican in June. Though divided by significant religious and political differences, these three world leaders joined together in prayer as a display of their commitment to the peacemaking process.
“All my life I shall never stop to act for peace, for the generations to come,” Peres saidduring the service. “Let us all join hands and make it happen.”
Berlin House of One:
The first church-mosque-synagogue?
By Stephen Evans, BBC News, Berlin
Berlin thinks it is making religious history as Muslims, Jews and Christians join hands to build a place where they can all worship. The House of One, as it is being called, will be a synagogue, a church and a mosque under one roof.
An architecture competition has been held and the winner chosen. The striking design is for a brick building with a tall, square central tower. Off the courtyard below will be the houses of worship for the three faiths – the synagogue, the church and the mosque. It is to occupy a prominent site – Petriplatz – in the heart of Berlin.
The location is highly significant, according to one of the three religious leaders involved, Rabbi Tovia Ben Chorin. “From my Jewish point of view the city where Jewish suffering was planned is now the city where a centre is being built by the three monotheistic religions which shaped European culture,” he told the BBC.
Can they get on? “We can. That there are people within each group who can’t is our problem but you have to start somewhere and that’s what we are doing.”
The imam involved, Kadir Sanci, sees the House of One as “a sign, a signal to the world that the great majority of Muslims are peaceful and not violent”. It’s also, he says, a place where different cultures can learn from each other.
Each of the three areas in the House will be the same size, but of a different shape, architect Wilfried Kuehn points out.
“Each of the singular spaces is designed according to the religious needs, the particularities of each faith,” he says. “There are for instance two levels in the mosque and the synagogue but there’s only one level in the church. There will be an organ in the church. There are places to wash feet in the mosque.”
He and his team of architects researched designs for the three types of worshipping place and found more similarities than expected.
“What’s interesting is that when you go back a long time, they share a lot of architectural typologies. They are not so different,” Kuehn says. “It’s not necessary for instance for a mosque to have a minaret – it’s only a possibility and not a necessity. And a church doesn’t need a tower. This is about going back to the origins when these three faiths were close and shared a lot architecturally”.
In the past, different faiths have used the same buildings but not usually at the same period. Mosques in southern Spain became cathedrals after the Christian conquest. In Turkey, churches became mosques. In Britain old Welsh chapels have sometimes become mosques as areas change – and Brick Lane mosque in the East End of London started as a church in the 18th Century, later became a synagogue before turning to Islam, and has now become a place of worship for the newly arrived Muslim community.
But that’s different from the three faiths worshipping as neighbours under one roof. The idea came from the Christian side of the triangle. Pastor Gregor Hohberg, a Protestant parish priest, says it will be built where the first church in Berlin, dating back to the 12th Century, was once situated. St Petri’s Church was badly damaged at the end of World War Two as the Red Army liberated Berlin. What remained was destroyed in the period after the war by the East German authorities. Then, six years ago, archaeologists uncovered remains from an ancient graveyard and it was decided that something should be done to resurrect a community and its place of worship. The project expanded and changed from a single-faith building to the present three-faith plan. Money is now being raised to turn the architects’ plans into bricks and mortar.
Each faith will keep its distinctive ways within its own areas, Pastor Hohberg says.
“Under one roof: one synagogue, one mosque, one church. We want to use these rooms for our own traditions and prayers. And together we want to use the room in the middle for dialogue and discussion and also for people without faith.
“Berlin is a city where people come together from all over the world and we want to give a good example of togetherness.”
It was not always the Berlin way.
If you have about 20 minutes, I encourage you to watch this TED talk on You Tube by Rabbi Chava Bahle, entitled “The Common Heart: Spiritual Paradigm Shift” filmed in Traverse City! It is about the spirit of oneness – all about Interfaith!!
Ancient Pakistan temples draw devotees
from across faiths
In their journeys across Pakistan to document old Hindu shrines, writer Reema Abbasi and photographer Madiha Aijaz find belief battling bigotry.
The Kalibari in Peshawar has a regular devotee who toggles between two identities. At home, up north in the Kurram Tribal Agency, she is Maria Salamat.
But here in the temples dedicated to Kali and Balmiki, she becomes Mala Kumari. She will not be allowed into the sanctum as Maria, and back home she cannot survive as Mala.
Reema Abbasi’s just-released compendium of Pakistan’s historic temples, is full of such stories where belief, minority identity, secular faith, bigotry and extremism criss-cross all the time. These are mostly ancient Shiva and Shakti temples: some date back 1,500 years and others, a few centuries. But like all shrines, they’re not just stone and sculpture, their lives are deeply intertwined with society and politics. There is treacherous Balochistan, which despite its image mostly ensures communal harmony, prosperous Punjab where minorities live in fear and temples are shorn of icons, and Sindh which stays true to its Sufi and pluralist traditions.
“It started as a guerilla project, I and Madiha just heading out on our own to all kinds of territory. But this book had to be done to make a difference to how the two countries see each,” says Abbasi of her work, Historic Temples of Pakistan.
There are over 70 lakh Hindus in Pakistan, mostly in the borderland deserts of the south and in Sindh. The numbers are dwindling (last year 500 fled in the face of extremist threat). But these ancient temples – over 40 of them – are places of worship for them and for pilgrims from India and elsewhere too. Contrary to what most tend to believe, they are also muchloved shrines for many Muslims, Sikhs and Christians in Pakistan. In Thatta, Sindh, recent efforts by land-grabbers to swallow temples was opposed by not just the Hindus but also Muslims and Christians.
“I am proud of this solidarity – people didn’t wait for the government to take the step. When the establishment saw the public response it stepped in to protect the temple,” points out Abbasi.
Many of the temples that feature in the collection are hauntingly beautiful, set in the midst of mountains, caves and one along the seashore. Hinglaj Mata temple, held sacred by Durga worshippers, is located in inhospitable Baloch terrain. (Durga here doubles as Bibi Nani for Muslims.) Katas Raj, decaying yet majestic, stands at
2,000 feet in Salt Range hills of Punjab. Gor Khattree, the splendid shrine to Gorakhnath in Peshawar, that left even Babur stunned was attacked by the Taliban recently . Fear, says Abbasi, still doesn’t allow worshippers to return to the temple. “Hardliners in Pakistan have attacked more mosques than temples. They have no religion, they are just antipeople,” says the author.
One shrine that pulls people of all faiths is the serene Sadhu Bela in Sukkur, Sindh. Set in a lush island in Indus, it is a seat of ascetics. It was attacked by mobs after the Babri Masjid demolition in India so the isolated temple is forever on guard. Believers say the shrine `protected’ them during the 1965 and 1971 wars between the neighbours.
Punjab was one province that saw a lot of mob rage against tem ples in the aftermath of the Babri Masjid attack. “I was taken aback that the city was bent on rewriting the history of its communities. The answer to one wrong wasn’t to reply with another,” says Abbasi.
Hindu shrines are a popular destination for people looking to fulfil a mannat.
Since security is tight at the venues, Muslim worshippers have a tough time visiting. “We have to beg to be allowed in. In fact to get into the Swaminarayan temple in Pakistan we had to put on a bindi to pass the guards,” says Abbasi. The book was not an easy journey for Abbasi and Aijaz.
“In Balochistan going to the Hinglaj Mata shrine, the headlight of our car was the only light shining off the jagged peaks. And a bomb once went off behind us as we stepped out of a Peshawar temple,” recalls Abbasi.
But most of all the book is about human faith. About Delhi priest Nareshbhan Goswami who comes on a pilgrimage to the Kalka cave in Sindh.
Sculptor Fakira who fashions icons of deities for temples and churches. And Londoner Amna who comes to Ratneshwar Mahadev temple in Karachi every year to thank Durga for the gift of a child.