WISDOM Newsletter – December 2013

Written by WISDOM on . Posted in Newsletters



Calendar for WISDOM and Other Interfaith Events



Thursday, January 23rd

Face to Faith high school teen event

6:00 – 9:00 PM

SGI-USA Soka Gakkai Buddhist International Association for Peace,

Culture, and Education, 16990 West Twelve Mile Road, Southfield

Contact Gail Katz, gailkatz@comcast.net


Sunday, January 26th

The 15th Annual World Sabbath

See flyer below!!


Thursday, February 13

Showing of the film Besa: The Promise

at the Holocaust Memorial Center

Story about the Albanian Muslims who saved the lives of Jews during the Holocaust

7:00 PM


Friday, February 28th

See the play MIXED at Marygrove College

More information to come!


Saturday, March 8th

Women’s International Day

Details to be announced


Thursday, March 20th

6:00 – 9:00 PM

Face to Faith high school teen event

Birmingham Unitarian Church

38651 Woodward Ave., Bloomfield Hills, MI





Editorial in the Jewish News: A Righteous Arab

Amid the tension tarnishing the relationship between Jews and Arabs comes the story of an Egyptian doctor being recognized as a Righteous Among the Nations, a deservedly high honor, for helping save a Jewish family during the Holocaust.

Dr. Mohamed Helmy is the first Arab to be so recognized. On Sept. 30, Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial recognized Helmy, along with Frieda Szturmann, a German woman, for working with him to rescue the family.

Helmy settled in Berlin after finishing his medical studies there.  But Nazi-induced discrimination kept him from working, prompting him to rail against Nazi policies.  In 1942, he hid a 21-year-old Jewish patient, Anna Boros, at a cabin he owned.  He also arranged to hide other members of her family, including her mother, at Szfurmann’s home, according to Yad Vashem.


Yad Vashem is seeking the rescuers’ next of kin to award them the certificate and medal of the righteous on behalf of their heroic relatives.  Until they are found, the certificates and medals will be shown, for all to appreciate, at the Yad Vashem exhibition “I Am My Brother’s Keeper: 50 Years of Honoring Righteous Among the Nations.”


Yad Vashem recently received letters written years ago by the survivors on behalf of their rescuers.  Interestingly, the letters were found in the archives of the Berlin Senate.  Helmy died in 1982; Szturmann dies 20 years earlier.  Fortunately, their acts of lovingkindness, a very Jewish value, in one of the darkest times in Jewish history no longer will be destined for obscurity.


“I will be grateful to him for eternity,” Anna Boros wrote of Dr. Helmy after the war.  She moved to Brooklyn and died in the 1980s, according to Yad Vashem.

In addition to remembering the 6 million Jews who perished at the hand of Nazi Germany, Yad Vashem strives to extend the gratitude of the State of Israel and the Jewish people to non-Jews who risked everything to give Jews a new lease on life as Hitler’s fury raged.  In 1963 Israel’s Remembrance Authority developed the Righteous Among the Nations title and tasked a public commission headed by a Supreme Court justice to award it.


More than 24,800 non-Jews from 50 countries have been cited as Righteous among the Nations – people who easily could have been killed by the German government-led Nazis for protecting Jews from the final solution of Hitler’s genocide.

                         Soccer Match Unites Jews, Sikhs

From the Canadian Jewish News



                                                             Rabbi Ron Aigen
MONTREAL – A Hampstead synagogue and members of the Sikh community
are showing goodwill in the midst of the acrimonious debate over values in Quebec by teaming up for a series of joint activities. Congregation Dorshei Emet, better known as the Reconstructionist Synagogue, and Sikh community leaders Manjit Singh and Harjeet Singh Bhabra got things going with a friendly soccer match on Sept. 29 between young people from each community, held at Mackenzie King Park. Most of the Sikh participants are from the Gurdwara Sahib Greater Montreal Temple in Dollard des Ormeaux. Young men and women aged 16 to 22 took part in the program, dubbed the “Turbans vs. Kippot Face-off.” The two communities have found common ground as two “Peoples of the Book,” whose traditional headgear as religious minorities is the target of the proposed Quebec charter of values. The choice of soccer as the inaugural event is a reminder that this past spring, the Quebec Soccer Federation sought to ban the wearing of the Sikh turban on the pitch, which provoked a widespread outcry. The federation reversed the directive after FIFA, the international soccer body, confirmed that turbans were permitted. Dorshei Emet executive director Robyn Bennett said, “Rather than following an increasingly worrisome trend of polarization and fear of the other, members of the two communities have chosen to get to know each other, their similarities and their differences.” The soccer game was followed by a potluck picnic. Later this fall, reciprocal presentations at the synagogue and a Sikh temple by Rabbi Ron Aigen and Manjit Singh, the Sikh chaplain at McGill University, are planned. Harjeet Singh Bhabra is a professor at Concordia University’s John Molson School of Business. Manjit Singh, a past president of the Interfaith Council of Montreal, has been involved in dialogue for more than 25 years. “There has not been until now any formal relationship between Jews and Sikhs. We have had contact among individuals, but this is the first time at the institutional level,” he said. “We do have some things in common. Jews and Sikhs have a similar concept of God, as well as both being people of the book.” Singh and other Sikh leaders have been actively reaching out to other faith groups in recent years to demystify their religion, and the charter controversy has made that effort more imperative. On Nov. 3, at Le Mood, a Federation CJA-sponsored day of alternative Jewish learning aimed at young adults, there will be a session called “Holy Hair!” where Jewish and Sikh representatives will discuss the significance of hair in their respective traditions. Dorshei Emet is sponsoring the events as part of its second annual Pierre Toth Memorial Series, named for a congregation member who was active in interfaith dialogue. Toth, who died in 2010, taught international business at HEC Montréal. Bennett noted that work began on the Jewish-Sikh partnership this summer before the charter debate got underway, but it has since taken on deeper significance. Meanwhile, Immigration and Cultural Communities Minister Diane De Courcy and Democratic Institutions Minister Bernard Drainville told members of the ethnic media on Sept. 23 that the charter is intended to “bring all Quebecers closer together.” “These proposals are addressed to all Quebecers and are aimed at affirming the values that unite us: the equality of all citizens before the state and, in particular, the equality between women and men, the religious neutrality of the state, and respect for a common historic patrimony,” Drainville said. These proposals, he contended, will reinforce “social cohesion and harmonious relations in a Quebec that is more and more multi-ethnic, more and more multi-religious.” De Courcy emphasized that immigrants must respect these values and “adapt” to their new homeland. “Difference must not be considered as a richness to preserve, but rather as the point of departure of an enriching cultural mixing,” she said. Drainville added: “Throughout its history, Quebec has always found a balance between respect for the rights of each person and respect for our common values. These proposals fall within this profoundly democratic tradition.” One Jewish group, B’nai Brith Canada, is not convinced. It’s readying legal arguments against the charter bill, which the government says it will table this fall. “Should the charter be passed in its current form, B’nai Brith Canada, which has championed human rights for all Canadians, will seek to legally intervene, first and foremost on behalf of the Jewish community, as well as to protect the rights of all minority groups in the province of Quebec,” said the organization’s CEO, Frank Dimant. B’nai Brith has communicated to federal government its support for a constitutional challenge if the charter, as proposed, is adopted by the National Assembly. – See more at: http://www.cjnews.com/index.php?q=node%2F115312#sthash.0U3UXUvU.dpuf



The Last Jews of Kolkata

                           By ZACH MARKS



KOLKATA – On bustling Brabourne Road in central Kolkata, vendors line sidewalks packed with pedestrians, while cars, motorbikes and rickshaw pullers fill the street. Amid the urban din, the Magen David Synagogue sits silent and empty. A Muslim guard stands watch outside. With an estimated 25 Jews remaining in this city of 14 million people, the synagogue is rarely used.

Magen David and the city’s two other synagogues used to be packed on Jewish holidays. For the first half of the 20th century, Kolkata, then known as Calcutta, was home to nearly 3,500 Jews. At its peak during World War II, the population grew to about 5,000 when Jews from Burma and Europe moved to the city seeking refuge, according to Jael Silliman, one of Kolkata’s remaining Jews and the author of a recent novel on the community.

“We thrived here,” said Ms. Silliman, 58. “We had Jewish schools and our own newspapers. But now it’s mostly memories. In a few years we’ll all be gone.”

Ms. Silliman is working to preserve the memory of the community before that day comes. A former women’s studies professor at the University of Iowa, she is compiling a digital archive that will feature documents, photographs and other memorabilia, including a marriage contract written in Hebrew and recipes for culinary delicacies like aloo makallah, a heavenly deep-fried potato dish that blends traditional flavors of India and the Middle East.

“I feel like it’s my civic duty to document my community,” said Ms. Silliman, who expected the archive to be accessible online next year. “We have such a fascinating history, one that is very much tied to the history of the city.”

From the bedroom where she grew up with her siblings – the bunk beds now replaced with art from around the world – Ms. Silliman leads the archiving project, her desk piled with folders of photos and newspaper clippings. She has been gathering material for eight months and has received submissions from members of the Kolkata Jewish diaspora in the United States, Britain, Israel, Australia and Canada.

Among the submissions are photographs of the first Miss India, who went by the screen name Pramila but was born Esther Victoria Abraham to a Jewish family. Stories like hers and that of Rachel Sofaer, who gained fame in Bengali silent films under the name Arati Debi, will be featured in the digital archive’s section on Kolkata’s Jews in film.

The archive begins in 1798, when a jewel trader named Shalom Cohen arrived from Syria via Surat, a port on India’s west coast, and became the first Jew to settle in Kolkata. Most of the Jews who followed, known as Baghdadi Jews, came from present-day Iraq and Syria in the late 18th and early 19th centuries seeking economic opportunity, according to Ms. Silliman.

The community thrived under the British Raj, exporting silk and indigo and playing a pivotal role in the opium trade. After India gained independence in 1947, most immigrated to Britain, Australia, the United States or Israel, when it was established the following year.

“We never felt any anti-Semitism,” Ms. Silliman said. “In fact, India is probably the only country in the world where Jews have always been welcome. But still, most Jews left when the British did. There was talk of nationalizing the banks so people were worried about their businesses.”

Other factors contributed to the Jews’ departure, including the establishment of Israel, Hindu-Muslim riots during Partition, and open British immigration policies for residents of former colonies.

Ms. Silliman left in 1972 for a boarding school in Ireland, moved to a college in the United States, where she settled after her graduation, got married, raised two daughters. Four years back, she returned to Kolkata to research a novel set in the Jewish world of the city. When she came back, she realized Jewish Kolkata and the generation that knew it was disappearing. “I decided to gather this material from community members all over the world while they are still around,” she said. Amlan Das Gupta, a professor of English at Jadavpur University and lifelong Kolkata resident, said the decline of the Jewish community is representative of other demographic shifts in the city. “Kolkata used to be a very cosmopolitan place, but East India has not prospered the way other parts of the country have, and most members of the once vibrant Jewish, Armenian and Chinese communities have left,” he said.

“The extent to which Kolkata is a diverse, multiethnic city is not as evident as it once was, but the Jews contributed a great deal to making it the city that it is today,” Professor Dasgupta said, noting that many of the city’s landmark structures like the Ezra Mansions were built by Jews.

Ms. Silliman also intends to collect the stories of Indians who lived, worked and interacted with Jews. “You really cannot tell the story of Jewish Kolkata without them all – the business partners and colleagues, friends and neighbors, the students they taught, people they employed in their businesses, their domestic help and the caretakers of our synagogues,” she said.

Indeed, the best hope for keeping the memory of Kolkata’s Jews alive might lie with the city’s other communities. Two Jewish schools continue to educate Kolkata’s youth.

“The Jewish Girls School does not have a single Jewish girl, and 80 percent of the students are Muslim,” said Flower Silliman, 83, a graduate of the school and mother of Jael Silliman, who returned to Kolkata after living for around 30 years in the United States and Israel. “But that school and those girls will be the legacy of Kolkata’s Jews when we’re gone.”

While the seats may remain empty at the Magen David synagogue, Rabul Khan, a Muslim guard who inherited the job from his father, said he would help preserve the memory of Kolkata’s Jews. “I know the Jewish holidays, and my father taught me all the Jewish namaz,” he said, using the Urdu word for prayers. “Whether Jews come or not, we will still be here to watch over this place for them.”


Troy Mayor Dane Slater, together with Padma Kuppa and Jagdish Karira, President-Elect of the Bharatiya Temple, recognized Nov. 3 as Diwali Day. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Hindu American Foundation


Nov. 3 Recognized as Diwali Day in TroyDiwali is celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains to signify the destruction, through knowledge, of all negative qualities.


Amidst four intimate ceremonies with public and elected officials and community members over the span of 10 days, the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) welcomed proclamations designating November 3, 2013 as Diwali Day in the Michigan cities of Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, Rochester Hills, and Troy. The official proclamations shared greetings to over one billion Hindu, Sikh, and Jain celebrants of Diwali worldwide and provided the citizens of these cities a glimpse into the altruistic nature of the festival.


Over the past several months, HAF’s Board member Padma Kuppa and Michigan chapter members, Venkat Lakshminarayan, Kedar Raut, and Fred Stella, met with various public and elected officials, to explain the importance of Diwali and encourage the cities to issue proclamations, similar to what the US Congress had been doing since 2007.  Council members Ravi Yalamanchi of Rochester Hills and Sumi Kailasapathy of Ann Arbor, and Community Affairs Director Cindy Stewart of Troy, all understanding the significance of Diwali, were instrumental in seeing the proclamations to fruition.

“Cindy Stewart’s tireless efforts to engage the Hindu community, the Mayor, and the Council is only the latest in her long time commitment to addressing ethnic issues,” said Ms. Kuppa.  “And the mention of recognized the Bharatiya Temple located in Troy, one of the first and largest temples in Michigan, is so important. Hindus have lived in and contributed to the metro-Detroit area for decades.  We’re grateful that all of these cities are acknowledging our contributions and the way our cultural heritage weaves into the social fabric of America. My immediate neighbors have known for years why my Christmas lights go up in November — now more people in the community will realize it too.”


During Diwali, also known as the “Festival of Lights,” clay lamps or diyas are lit to signify the destruction, through knowledge, of all negative qualities — be it violence, anger, jealousy, greed, fear or suffering. Diwali has become more notable in the United States in recent years, having been celebrated in the White House since 2003.  In 2007, the U.S. Congress acknowledged the religious and historical importance of Diwali through resolutions in both houses.

Steve Spreitzer, Interim Director and CEO of Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion and long-time friend of the Hindu American community, said, “Within this challenging political climate, it is gratifying to see our lawmakers coming together to demonstrate their commitment and appreciation for religious diversity.”

Members of the Jain and Sikh communities, as well as other local HAF supporters, were present at Ann Arbor’s proclamation celebration.


“As Hindu Americans, it’s so important that we share our faith traditions with our neighbors in order to foster good relations with all Americans,” said Dr. Raut, an HAF member from Rochester Hills. “Diwali is also a time to reflect upon the improvements to be made in one’s life for the betterment of society, and it provides an opportunity to bring people together. I hope these proclamations inspire all to continue serving and contributing to the greater good.”

Rabbi, Archbishop Take Lessons

 from Jewish, Catholic Views

By Ronelle Grier, Jewish News

The Binding of Isaac, one of the most intriguing and contro- versial Bible stories, was the topic of an ecumenical conversation Nov. 3 between Rabbi Joseph Krakoff of Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield and Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit. The two religious leaders exchanged ideas about the underlying meanings of the provocative story about how Abraham is instructed by God to prepare his son, Isaac, for sacrifice, only to receive a last- second reprieve in the form of an angel. While drawn from different scholarly references, the interpretations had over- riding similarities. Both men agreed that asking Abraham to sacrifice the son he and Sarah had waited a lifetime to con- ceive was a test of faith. “Abraham has to prove he’s worthy of lead- ing human beings on the path of righteous- ness,” said Vigneron, adding that the test reinforced the idea that for human relation- ships to work, one’s relationship with God should take priority. “It’s by putting God first that everything else is rightly ordered.” Krakoff and Vigneron concurred that

the translation of the Hebrew words Abraham spoke in response to God’s sum- mons, “Here I am,” should apply to mod- ern relationships as well. “Abraham was saying, ‘I am all here, totally present and at your disposal.’ There are so many ways people are not present today,” said Vigneron, citing the distractions caused by tech- nology, especially among adolescents. Krakoff said the story was not only about a test of faith but also about the miracle of bringing Abraham and Isaac together, perhaps for the first time. “Abraham seems to have no relationship with Isaac, no dialogue until this scene,” Krakoff said, “when the text says, twice in two verses, that the two walked on ‘together.'” When Krakoff asked if the Jews’ designa- tion as the “chosen people” was offensive to those of the Catholic persuasion, the Archbishop said this was not the case. “We see ourselves as spiritually related to Abraham, so anti-Semitism is really self- loathing,” Vigneron said. “The Christian creed blesses God for his choice of Abraham.” Krakoff explained the concept is a source

of both pride and misunderstanding. “It means we were chosen to observe the commandments; not that we’re better,” he said. The discussion was the second in a two-part series held at the Maple Theater in Bloomfield Township. Called “In the Beginning,” the series featured the two religious leaders presenting their respective views on various stories contained in the Book of Genesis. The first dialogue, on Oct. 6, focused on the Garden of Eden. Krakoff and Vigneron, who called the program “a conversation between friends,” believe this is the first time two reli- gious leaders have come together in this way to compare the Jewish and Catholic views on traditional Bible stories. The program, sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit’s Alliance for Jewish Education, drew more than 300 members of the Jewish and Christian communities to each event. Judy Loebl, associate director of adult education for Federation, said she was pleased with the diversity of the audience, which she estimated was about 70 percent Jewish.

The concept of “original sin,” one of the main differences between the two religions, was discussed during the first presentation. Vigneron said Catholics believe all people are in need of healing when they come into the world because of the actions of Adam and Eve, while Krakoff said the Jewish view is that people are morally neutral at birth, with the capacity for good or evil. “Although there were places where we agreed and disagreed, it was all done with deep respect in an atmosphere of learning from one another,” Krakoff said. The two men met several years ago at an ecumenical breakfast and developed a last- ing friendship and spiritual affiliation, which includes serving as co-chairs of the Religious Leaders Forum of Metropolitan Detroit, an interfaith coalition of influential leaders. “The Archbishop is such a wonderful and thoughtful man … we had a great time together and would certainly be open to doing something like this again,” Krakoff said. “I thought it was very informative to hear their different interpretations, and to see how well they actually worked togeth- er,” said Max Rothbart of West Bloomfield. “There are a lot of similarities between Judaism and Catholicism; on the whole, they’re very agreeable.”  ■


Boy Scouts of America Approves Sikh Religious Award in Consultation with WSC-AR

The World Sikh Council – America Region (WSC-AR) has worked closely with the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) for nearly two years to prepare and finally secure approval of ‘Sikh Religious Award’.

Scouts of any religious tradition (Sikhs and non-Sikhs) and gender can participate and work on this Religious Award. Upon completion of the Sikh Religious Award, the Scout will receive an emblem/medallion with a certificate provided by WSC-AR. The emblem/medallion along with the ‘Universal Religious Square Knot’ can be worn on the Scout uniform.

This will provide a significant opportunity for Scouts from various faiths to learn about Sikhs since there are over 2.6 million active Scouts across the US. In turn, it will help in enhancing interfaith understanding and harmony among various segments of society in the country and beyond.

WSC-AR’s recent participation in the National Boy Scout Jamboree at Mt. Hope, West Virginia in July 2013 provided an outstanding opportunity to bring awareness about the Sikh Faith to over 40,000 non-Sikh youth. WSC-AR will continue to collaborate with BSA, in instituting the ‘Sikh Religious Award’.

The Boy Scouts of America has as part of their program developed various religious emblems which encompass many of the major faiths of the world. This is to encourage the Scouts to grow stronger in their own faith. The approval of this program allows emblems/medallions to be worn on the official uniform.

The World Sikh Council – America Region (WSC-AR) is the umbrella organization representative of Sikhs in the United States. It is an elected body of Sikh Gurdwaras and institutions. Currently 51 Gurdwaras and other Sikh institutions across the nation are members of WSC-AR. The major governing purpose of the organization is to represent the collective view of Sikhs in the United States. WSC-AR works to promote Sikh interests at the national and international level focusing on issues of advocacy, education, and well-being of humankind.

Five Women Five Journeys: How Different Are We?
 WISDOM Women together

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.
To inquire about a Five Women Five Journeys Program for your organization, contact Paula Drewek at Drewekpau@aol.com .

Check out the latest story about a friendship that crosses religion, race, or ethnic boundaries at www.friendshipandfaith.com.
Email Gail Katz at gailkatz@comcast.net if you have a personal story for the friendshipandfaith.com website!!


 1)  Go to http://www.readthespirit.com/religious-holidays-festivals/ for fascinating information about upcoming Religious holidays that your neighbors of different faith traditions may be celebrating!!

2)   Go to http://www.readthespirit.com/were-making-news/ for a listing of all the articles written about the WISDOM Book Friendship and Faith: the WISDOM of Women Creating Alliances for Peace.

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.


WISDOM is a Non-Profit Organization. Get involved with WISDOM!

WISDOM’s challenge is to bring together people from different faith traditions, ethnicities, races, and cultures in an atmosphere of safety and respect to engage in educational and community service projects. Let’s change our world through the positive power of building relationships!