WISDOM Newsletter – February, 2012

Written by WISDOM on . Posted in Newsletters

Sunday, February 5

Five Women Five Journeys presentation to members of the First Congregational Church in Ann Arbor from 3:00 PM to 5:00 PM.

Thursday, March 15

Five Women Five Journeys Presentation at Albion College, Albion, MI. Contact the Rev. Daniel McQuown, College Chaplain, 517-629-0492.

Thursday, March 29

Interfaith seder held in partnership with Temple Beth El, Bloomfield Hills and the Malin Interfaith Activities Fund of Temple Beth El. The Interfaith Seder will be celebrated at the temple and begins at 6:00 PM. There will be a charge for participation in this program. Contact Fran Hildebrandt Fhildebr@aol.com or Paula Drewek, drewekpau@aol.com for more information. (See Flyer below!!)

Wednesday, April 18

Five Women Five Journeys to the students at the Mercy Education Project at their headquarters in Detroit, 10:00 AM – 11:30 AM. This program is not open to the public.

Wednesday, May 16

“Mental Health Issues and Challenges Facing Metro Detroit’s Diverse Faith Traditions” 6:30 PM to 9:00 PM at The Community House in Birmingham (380 S. Bates)

This presentation will focus predominantly on youth of multiple faith groups, the challenges they face, and the stigma attached to dealing with mental illnesses. The panel will include experts in the mental health field representing the Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, and Muslim faith traditions. This program is sponsored by the Family and Youth Institute, the Interfaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit, Kadima, The Race Relations and Diversity Task Force of the Birmingham Community House, and WISDOM (Women’s Interfaith Solutions for Dialogue and Outreach in MetroDetroit). The event is free! Coffee and cookies will be served. For further information or to register, please contact Sheri Schiff, sheri1228@yahoo.com

Thursday, May 24 – Friday, May 25

Five Women Five Journeys Presentation at the United Methodist Church of the Dunes, Grand Haven, MI. More information in the near future.

Sunday, September 9

Third annual Acts of Kindness (AOK) Detroit event – kick off at University of Michigan-Dearborn!! 1:00 – 5:00 PM. Contact Gail Katz for more information. gailkatz@comcast.net

Come to our Interfaith Sederat Temple Beth El

7400 Telegraph Rd, Bloomfield Hills

Thursday, March 29, 2012

6:00 – 7:30 PM

(with registration beginning at 5:30 PM)

Rabbinic Associate Keren Alpert will lead the seder and explain the Haggadah (the ritual Jewish Passover text) to mark the Jewish Passover holiday which begins on the evening of April 7th. The service will include a light supper that will highlight the traditional Passover foods, the ritual recitations, songs, and portions of the service.

Registration is required. Cost is $20 per person.

Send name(s), contact number(s) and email address(es), along with your check made out to WISDOM to: WISDOM, P.O. Box 7091, Bloomfield Hills, MI 48302

Registration must be received by Wednesday, March 21st.

For more information contact:

Fran Hildebrandt, 248-318-8301 or

Paula Drewek, 586-419-6811

Sponsors: WISDOM, Temple Beth El, and the Isadore and Frances Malin Interfaith Activities Fund of Temple Beth El

Face to Faith Teens Meet at Adat Shalom Synagogue

to learn about Judaism

About 70 Muslim, Christian, and Jewish high school teens came to the January 19th Face to Faith event at Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills, MI. After registration, the Face to Faith Committee organized a brief mixer in which the teens introduced themselves to each other by stating their names and their faith traditions and “broke the ice” with some general questions about their interests.

Following the mixer, the teens returned to their interfaith tables, and dined on kosher Jerusalem Pizza along with kosher seven layer cake (a traditional Jewish dessert) and listened to Rabbi Aaron Bergman speak about some of the basic tenets of Judaism – explaining that Judaism has respect for all human beings because we are all made in God’s image, regardless of our faith tradition. Judaism values the current moment – who we are now and our daily actions – as the afterlife is not something that is stressed. This introduction was followed by a visit to the small chapel, where Rabbi Bergman explained that the daily services are a way to offer each Jew a place to be part of a community, and that the same Torah readings occur on the same day in synagogues around the world. In his Conservative synagogue men and women are treated equally, and any knowledgeable person can lead the religious services – it does not have to be the Rabbi. Rabbi Bergman took one of the Torah scrolls from the Ark, beneath the eternal light that burns 24/7 in every Jewish House of Worship, and the teens gathered round the Torah to get a good look at the Hebrew words of the Jewish Bible that are hand-written (and can have no mistakes!) by a trained scribe.

One of the highlights of Face to Faith is the Teen Forum at the end of the evening. The teens gathered in a large circle and asked each other questions about their faiths. Some of the questions had to do with the hijab that the Muslim women wear, baptism, and the meaning of a barmitzvah.

The teens left this Face to Faith event at the synagogue with a greater understanding about Judaism, and a deeper connection with each other!!

The next Face to Faith event will be Thursday, March 22nd in the evening. The details are in progress!!





An Interfaith Initiative for Teens of all faith traditions!!

6:30 PM – 9:00 PM

Meet new people and make new friends!

Stay tuned for more information!!

or contact Gail Katz at gailkatz@comcast.net

A Jew and a Christian co-create
the Song and Spirit Institute for Peace.


by Esther Allweiss Ingber for the Jewish News


A Jew married to a Christian and a Franciscan monk, have taken on a big challenge: creating a community that promotes greater understanding among people of diverse religious, cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Song and Spirit Institute for Peace, a nonprofit in Berkley, is the venture founded by Steve Klaper and Brother Al Mascia, the program directors, and Mary Gilhouly – the art director and Klaper’s wife of 27 years. The institute offers music, art, cultural programs, dialogue and study opportunities.

“Living in a diverse society and culture, inter-religious cooperation is no longer an option but a fact of life,” says Klaper, a maggid (inspirational speaker) ordained by Yitzhak Buxbaum in Brooklyn N.Y.

The men met three years ago. Brother Al walked into Klaper’s sukkah upon the recommendation of a mutual Catholic friend. Brother Al “had never been to a sukkah, didn’t know what to expect – but he had brought his guitar,” Klaper

says. “We talked about the holiday of Sukkot – how the fragile nature of this structure mirrored our fragile place in the world; how we rely on the grace of heaven to keep our health, our jobs, our families and, indeed our lives, intact.”

Talking and playing music, the men began imagining how they could take their stories and songs and do something meaningful with them. Song and Spirit was born.

Shir HaNishamah (Song of the Spirit) is a monthly Shabbat service on the first Friday. Leaders Klaper and Judy Lewis were co-music directors at Oak Park-based Temple Emanu-El. Klaper, raised modern Orthodox, draws upon more than 30 years’ experience as a professional musician to infuse traditional Jewish teachings with mystical chants and melodies at the soulful, renewal-style Kabbalat Shabbat.

“This is what your grandfather’s shul would have been like if they spoke English, played guitar and counted women in the minyan,” he says. “Everything that I present religiously will always be representative of normative Judaism, and everything Brother Al presents represents Franciscan Roman Catholicism.”

Song and Spirit’s interfaith Havdalah begins with a fully Jewish Havdalah service. With the onset of Saturday night – after the Havdalah candle is extinguished – the Lord’s Day begins for Christians.

“The Christians sing to the Jews in attendance, thanking them for their faithful tending of Shabbat all these centuries, and the Jews sing to the Christians, welcoming them into the deep and fulfilling practice of marking sacred time,” Klaper says.

Free education programs include “Faith in Our Community,” clergy explaining their beliefs. Temple Emanu-El Rabbi Joe Klein’s series,

“Reading Exodus Again,” meets 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Jan. 26-Feb.9.

The spacious building housing Song and Spirit was a convent in 1957. Jesuits were tenants about 50 years. The Archdiocese of Detroit found the building for the partners at Brother Al’s request. They moved there in April 2011.

Gilhouly, a mosaic artist and a home-based graphic designer along with her husband, hosted “Art-in-Action Day” on the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Nearly 50 participants became well acquainted making peace collages, painting bowls and designing mosaic squares for the gift shop. Proceeds help the institute and Brother Al’s Canticle Cafe Bicycle Cart Ministry.

There’s no membership requirement at Song and Spirit. Klaper says they’d rather charge for specific events and opportunities than institute dues. On Jan. 22, he and Brother Al started an online, monthly show, Song and Spirits, at UDetroit Cafe. They explore diverse cultures, times and places through music, stories and interviews from 5-7 p.m. on the third Sunday (www.udetroit.com).

Looking ahead, Klaper says the partners would love to have a Muslim member
join them, and also a Hindu and a Buddhist, but “we just haven’t met the right people yet.” He also wants to “procure a Torah scroll, even a used one.”

Song and Spirit Institute of Peace 2599 Harvard Berkley, MI 48072
248-895-3011 www.songandspirit.org

Art in Action Day at the Song & Spirit Institute

A Great Success!!

On Martin Luther King Monday, the Song & Spirit Institute for Peace in Berkley, MI offered a day of artistic creation that will benefit the poor, hungry and homeless in Detroit. About 50 participants, ranging in age from 7 to 83 years old, came to the Song & Spirit Institute (many for the very first time) to experience an interfaith coming together and to try their hands in the creation of three art projects. Mary Gilhuly, one of the Co-Founders of this Institute for Peace, had organized the day so that everyone could create a Peace card,



a ceramic bowl, and a mosaic tile plaque.



All of these art works will be sold either through the Song & Spirit online store, their gift shop, or at an Empty Bowls Dinner to be held in the late spring. All of the participants will have helped to raise over $2,000 for charity in the first ever Art in Action Day!!

For more information about the Song & Spirit Institute for Peace go to www.songandspirit.org.

A Panel Discussion about the Show

“All-American Muslim”

is held at the University of Michigan-Dearborn

on January 17, 2012

by Gail Katz

(photo borrowed from All-American website http://tlc.howstuffworks.com/tv/all-american-muslim)

An interesting panel discussing the TLC show entitled “All-American Muslim” and how the show has impacted the Detroit/Dearborn community was held at the University of Michigan-Dearborn on January 17th. The program featured a panel of local, regional and national figures who provided a variety of ideas and opinions, followed by an opportunity for questions and answers. The program featured a panel including: Suhaib Al-Hanooti, UM-Dearborn student;Aayat Ali, UM-Dearborn student; Dr. Hani Bawardi, UM-Dearborn faculty member;Dr. Sally Howell, UM-Dearborn faculty member;Dr. Saeed Khan, Wayne State University faculty member (panel moderator); and Mr. Mike Mosallam, Co-Executive Producer of “All-American Muslim.”

Controversy over the show erupted in December when home-improvement retailer Lowes pulled its advertising, a move that followed the Florida Family Association’s email campaign against the show, which said in part, ” ‘All-American Muslim’ is propaganda that riskily hides the Islamic agenda’s clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values.”

The main thrust of the panel was to explain that the show was not a documentary on how to be a Muslim, but a platform to air the stories of five Muslim families. There is not only one single Muslim story or one definitive representation of all Muslims. The panel pointed out that the show also gives the moderate Muslim voice a platform. The two U of M-Dearborn students underscored that their fellow students really don’t know what Islam is all about. “All-American Muslim” shows that Muslims are just normal people, very much like what The Cosby Show did for African Americans in the 1980’s and 1990’s. All-American Muslim depicts “what is normal versus what is normative!!”


Studying Sacred Texts Online to Encounter Another View of God

by Matthew L. Skinner

Research consistently shows that people-and I’m thinking primarily of those in my home country of the United States-know alarming little about the basic contours of the world’s religions.

Runaway ignorance about the foundational tenets or central writings of religions, whether of other religions or even one’s own, threatens to undermine the prospects for constructive inter-religious dialogue and cooperation. But a corollary ignorance should generate as much concern. Consider how widespread is misunderstanding of or unfamiliarity with the ways that religious beliefs and texts are interpreted or put into practice.

People of faith can promote religious literacy and better acquaint our neighbors (and ourselves) with our beliefs; but to do so without showing them how our faith is meaningfully lived out, how it helps us makes sense of our lives and our world, accomplishes little. Worse, it risks reducing the notion of “religion” to a list of definable assertions or a set of historical processes.

In my vocation as a scholar who educates students to serve in Christian ministry, I emphasize the need for biblical interpreters to be more forthcoming, more public, about their hermeneutical presuppositions and tendencies. Pastoral leadership, I believe, is less about transmitting “what the Bible says” than it is about attending to the ways faithful imaginations get shaped through attentive, critical, and corporate interaction with the Bible. Other Christians may approach scripture out of a different set of values, but I would expect them to agree that the goal of having and reading a Bible is not to amass more information so much as it is to meaningfully indwell and practice their faith.

Given these convictions, it makes sense that I became part of an editorial team responsible for launching nearly six months ago a Web-based resource called ON Scripture-The Bible. Produced weekly by Odyssey Networks, the multi-faith media coalition, and published on their website.

ON Scripture-The Bible is simply an investigation of a biblical text, offered in a way intended to show readers how the Bible might affect people’s interactions with the trends and events that inform our lives. An accompanying video follows the biblical themes or a current event, making for a richer exploration into lives of faith.

I knew ON Scripture-The Bible would, as it has done, provide Christians a forum for learning more about-and vigorously discussing-how the Bible is faithfully interpreted in light of current news and social realities. My pleasant surprise has been discovering that it brings others, especially those interested in reading the Bible over Christians’ shoulders, into the conversation, as well. Whether out of curiosity, worry, or respect, others want to see what Christians are doing with their scriptures.

By making the study of scripture more public, ON Scripture-The Bible welcomes others into discourse around the nature of the Christian Bible, hermeneutics, and practices of faith, whether they realize that this is what they are doing or not.

Having glimpsed the potential for a resource like this to attract and promote not just intra-faith but also interfaith conversation, Odyssey Networks expects to launch ON Scripture-The Torah in early 2012. This will feature rabbis and Jewish scholars writing weekly on Torah passages. The possibility of a third ON Scripture resource, dedicated to interpretation of the Quran, sits on the horizon.

These resources cannot make up for our culture’s shortcomings in “religious literacy.” But they do much to promote “religious fluency,” which consists of a curiosity and ability to be in informed, constructive conversation with a religious tradition, whether one’s own or someone else’s. It is about becoming familiar with people’s ways of living their faith.

The focus on sacred texts provides a fitting arena for welcoming others to observe a religious worldview in action. At the same time, it affords anyone with a computer the opportunity to examine other religious perspectives. For in doing so, I do not just read another’s sacred text; I watch another person enter into creative and expectant dialogue with this text. The encounter becomes personal, and a clearer window into a lived faith. To peer inside other people’s scriptural interpretation-and inside another religion’s scripture-is to gain a better sense of their understanding of who or what God is, and their understanding of what it means to respond to this God.

Mourning in a Digital Age


I HAVE found myself in a season of loss. Every few weeks for the last six months, friends in the prime of life have suffered the death of a close family member. These deaths included a mother, a father, a sister, a brother, a spouse and, in one particularly painful case, a teenage child who died on Christmas morning. The convergence of these passings brought home an awkward truth: I had little idea how to respond. Particularly when the surviving friend was young, the funeral was far away and the grieving party did not belong to a religious institution, those of us around that friend had no clear blueprint for how to handle the days following the burial.

In several of these cases, a group of us organized a small gathering. E-mails were sent around, a few pizzas and a fruit salad were rounded up, someone baked a cake. And suddenly we found ourselves in what felt like the birth pangs of a new tradition.

“It’s a secular shiva,” the hostess announced.

So what exactly were we creating? Grieving has been largely guided by religious communities, from celebratory Catholic wakes, to the 49 days of mourning for Buddhists, to the wearing of black (or white) in many Protestant traditions, to the weeklong in-house condolence gatherings that make up the Jewish tradition of shiva. Today, with religiosity in decline, families dispersed and the pace of life feeling quickened, these elaborate, carefully staged mourning rituals are less and less common. Old customs no longer apply, yet new ones have yet to materialize.

“We’re just too busy in this world to deal with losing people,” said Maggie Callanan, a hospice nurse for the last 30 years and the author of “Final Gifts,” an influential book about death and dying. “And yet we have to.” Ms. Callanan and others in the field point to the halting emergence of guidelines to accommodate our high-speed world, in which many people are disconnected from their friends physically, yet connected to them electronically around the clock.

One puzzle I encountered is the proper way to respond to a mass e-mailing announcing a death. “We still feel it’s nice to pick up the phone or send a card,” said Danna Black, an owner of Shiva Sisters, an event-planning company in Los Angeles that specializes in Jewish funeral receptions. “But if the griever feels comfortable sending out an e-mail, you can feel comfortable sending one back. Just don’t hit Reply All.”

Facebook presents its own challenges. The site’s public platform is an ideal way to notify a large number of people, and many grievers I know have taken comfort in supportive messages from friends. Like CaringBridge, CarePages and similar sites, social networks can become like virtual shiva locations for faraway loved ones.

But Megory Anderson, the founder of the Sacred Dying Institute in San Francisco (it seeks to bring spirituality to the act of dying), said problems arise when grievers begin encroaching on the personal space of others. “The safest thing is to share your own story,” she said. Since everyone grieves differently, she cautions against sharing private details of other family members, loved ones or the deceased themselves. She also recommends sending a private message to grievers instead of writing on their wall.

To read the rest of this article go to : http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/15/fashion/mourning-in-the-age-of-facebook.html?_r=1&adxnnl=1&emc=eta1&adxnnlx=1326717261-a/vfvSXkiBBIF3SmrONmIg

To read Rabbi Jason Miller’s response to Bruce Feiler’s article go to: http://blog.rabbijason.com/2012/01/sitting-shiva-for-traditional-shiva.html

Launching the First Hindu Military Chaplaincy

It is a great day for America and the democratic principles we’ve sworn to defend as service members. The Department of Defense has recently established the first Hindu Military Chaplain program in American history. Army Captain Pratima Dharm, who currently works as a Chaplain Clinician at Walter Reed Medical Center Hospital, took on her new role as the Army’s first Hindu Chaplain as of May 16.
Hindu chaplain

“It is an honor to take on this incredible role supporting military members and their families serving in our Nation’s Armed forces,” says Chaplain Dharm, who holds degrees in Psychology and Theology.

Chaplain Dharm earned her commission in the U.S. Army in 2006 and in 2008 was selected for the Army’s Clinical Pastoral Education Program (CPE) while serving in Iraq. Her awards include the Bronze Star Medal, Army Commendation Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal and Global War On Terrorism Service Medal. No stranger to achieving “firsts,” Chaplain Dharm is also the first female Chaplain of Indian descent in the United States Army.

Launching the Program

Chaplain Dharm learned of this program after reading a flyer developed through the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s (OSD) Chief of Chaplains office. As an Air Force officer stationed at the Pentagon, I had the distinct pleasure of serving as the action officer for this effort. I came across the opportunity after reading about three individuals who led Hindu services at the Pentagon. The three lay leaders leading the services, Mr. Bhuj Gidwani, Hitul Thakur and Dr. Ram Bhat, informed me there was an official DoD endorsement for a chaplain, however a candidate had yet to come forward.

Unsure of the collective interest in such an effort, I teamed with the lay leaders to develop a flyer to find out what the need was. We circulated the flyer throughout the Hindu community. A few months later, Chaplain Dharm contacted me and indicated she was interested.

Throughout the process, OSD’s Chief of Chaplain’s office was extremely supportive. Once Chaplain Dharm conveyed her interest, the Army moved out quickly to establish the program. Chinmaya Mission West and the three lay leaders served as the endorsing agents for the effort (every military chaplain requires an endorsing agency).

Read more!! http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ravi-chaudhary/a-great-day-to-be-an-amer_b_871748.html

My Three Months as a Temporary Citizen

of Damanhur

By Deb Hansen

(This is a shortened version of Deb Hansen’s original article!!)

Deb Hansen photo

From September through November of 2011, I lived in Damanhur, a spiritual community located in the foothills of the Italian Alps north of Turin. The New Life or Temporary Citizen Program began about a year ago. I assumed its purpose was to give the participants an opportunity to get a taste of a different way of life. Later, it became clear that we also provided both a challenge and breath of fresh air to the residents with our perspectives, ideas, and cultures. While I was there, my fellow “new lifers”, as we called ourselves, came from Argentina, Australia, Croatia, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Mexico, Scotland, Switzerland, and the U.S.

About 400 people of all ages live inside the community in groups called nucleos. Another 600 people from many places in the world affiliate with the community in one of several formal ways. The nucleos function as independent families of choice. Each nucleo has at least one major project such as running the bakery, managing the guest houses, experimenting with the latest solar power technology, or elder care.

When I first heard about Damanhur, the idea of such a place resonated immediately. This was my second visit. Two years ago I spent a month there, exchanging work in three homes for room and board. With the language barrier and the lack of a group of English-speaking peers, I felt quite isolated much of the time. But that didn’t stop me from making friends and really wanting to know more about how these people were able to build a place of such beauty and substance, literally creating a unique culture in such a short period of time. I had to go back and wasn’t quite sure why. What I did know is that I longed to know what it might be like to live in a culture that was an integrated whole. I know what it’s like to live in one that’s deeply fractured. I wanted to experience a way of life based on spiritual principles, ethics, and individual choice – where no ideal or goal would be too outrageous to work towards. Damanhur is only one of many groups, large and small, who want to change the world and provide a model of sustainable living. But I suspect they are unique in the depth and breadth of their scope. They’ve been in existence longer than most. When I arrived, they were celebrating the founding of the community 37 years ago.

What is Damanhur? I still have difficulty describing to people the essence of this community, what it’s attempting to accomplish, what makes it different from other communities you might already be familiar with. Damanhur was founded in the 70’s by 12 people who had participated for some time in a meditation group led by Oberto Airaudi in Turin. The federation of communities now describes itself as a school of thought. It is also an experimental community wheremore than you could ever imagine is deeply thought through and re-imagined, then put into practice. There is a complementary currency, a detailed philosophy, a system of therapies and health maintenance used in conjunction with western medicine, a number of businesses and art studios, fine jewelers, a beauty shop, and a calendar of ritual which emphasizes the solstice, equinox, and Day of the Dead, a sacred language, an art and architectural style, and dance form. They produce fashion shows with their own hand-crafted clothing. They produce concerts, plays, dances, and publish a daily newspaper. There’s an order of monks – male and female. There are also schools for children from infancy to adolescence. At age fourteen, Damanhurian young people complete their education in the Italian system so they are prepared to make the choice of remaining in the community or living in the larger world. Damanhur invests a lot in these schools which emphasize travel, a sense of autonomy, and individual attention. Some people in the area pay to send their kids there, as did several of the temporary citizens. Damanhur’s constitution begins with these words: “The citizens are brothers and sisters who help one another through trust, respect, clarity, acceptance, solidarity and continuous inner transformation. Everyone is committed to always extending to others, the opportunity to reach higher. Each citizen makes a commitment to spread positive and harmonious thought, and to direct every thought and action towards spiritual growth, putting ideals before personal interest. Each person is socially and spiritually responsible for every action they take.” It is an artistic community where everyone is encouraged to get involved. People, including some who have had little to no training in their specialties, have produced what the community is best known for: the magnificent Temples of Humankind, excavated entirely by hand in secrecy inside a mountain. A building permit for such an effort would surely never have been allowed. Damanhur is a modern-day mystery school where research into ancient forms of communication with the Divine has created rituals such as the Oracle that takes place every month at the full moon. A variety of courses are offered to the public, ranging from how to build a successful community to learning about past lives as a means of deepening the understanding of the soul’s greater mission over lifetimes. Damanhur is also an eco-village, one of a growing number of communities around the world that are experimenting with ways to become self-sustaining in food and energy. There is a four-person laboratory that, in addition to testing products sold in the all-organic food store for chemical contamination and genetic modification, is focusing on two major research projects: growing meat from the muscle cells of animals — and producing propane from algae.

Before arriving, I had made a request to either live in a family on the beautiful grounds of Damjl or in the village of Vidracco, a 20-minute walk from the capital. Living close to our activities would mean I could easily check in on my canine companion, Mitzi, from time to time and not be so dependent on getting a ride from a more remote area. So I was delighted to learn that I would be living with one of three families in Damjl.

Life at Damanhur is not an easy one. Guests who arrive expecting to have a good part of the day spent in meditation are mistaken. “Here we pray with our hands,” people there are fond of remarking. It’s a spirituality centered on practical action, individual and group goals, shared ideals. People are active every day with a wide variety of responsibilities and interests. Days often last well into the evening. I was surprised at the diverse population who make their home there: doctors, a nurse, a dentist, therapists, a veterinarian, lawyers, mechanics, plumbers, builders, accountants, administrators, artists, teachers, business people, information technology specialists, solar heating specialists, etc. The economic hard times in Italy and beyond have definitely affected Damanhur. Nine people used to work at making cheeses; now there is only one. In the beginning, almost everyone worked outside the community. Today it’s the reverse. The level of creativity in every aspect of life impressed me. While medical people are required to have the credentials we’re familiar with, it was surprising to learn how many artists in stained glass and sculpture had no formal training in their field.

Some of you have asked me what I learned there and whether I would go back….

It was truly refreshing to have a break from being treated as a consumer. In the three months I lived there, no one attempted to sell me anything – ever. It made relationships with others feel “cleaner” and more authentic. I appreciated the emphasis on choosing and choosing again in all aspects of life. Even one’s marriage is re-evaluated formally on a regular basis. As one woman remarked with a smile, “Yes, I’ve been married many times, but always to the same man!” I learned to be open to ideas and experiences without giving up common sense or discernment. I learned a lot about initiative and responsibility. I gained humility in the face of the endless demands such a life entails: the need to pull your own weight and push through fatigue, the effort it takes from everyone to maintain grounds and buildings, the sweat equity and attention required to raise food. These people don’t hire anything out unless they don’t have the skills to do it themselves. That doesn’t mean everyone is paid the same though. Diversity in all forms, including income diversity, is respected. I learned how difficult it is for me and others to counter a lifetime of conditioning in individualism. Unlike our dynamic Spanish predecessors, my group of temporary citizens always had difficulties pulling together as a unit, myself included. But I did get a taste of both the sacrifice of prioritizing group goals to self interest and how much fun you could have doing all kinds of things together. I experienced how living in close proximity to others wears us down and eventually transforms us. Damanhurians really walk their talk when they say they put equal value on all forms of work — hard work. I saw healers mopping floors and artists tending the coffee bar. The founder and visionary of Damanhur regularly scheduled rides for one of us who lived a distance away. The political and social climate in this country is so divisive right now – and our culture so fragmented. In contrast, I learned how much is possible when people really pull together, aim high, and invest their energies and resources in creative endeavors rather than endless bickering. Don’t get me wrong, as in the larger Italian culture, debate is a lifestyle, and there’s no shortage of it at Damanhur. I sometimes grew weary of the long-windedness of the organized discussions. Relationships get tense at times and sometimes rupture. But a higher vision and common purpose seem to transcend and sustain people there for the most part – and evoke a level of inventiveness, can-do attitude, camaraderie, and productivity that are unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I don’t consider Damanhur a utopian community. I agreed with many who remarked that these people are running around all the time, engaged in endless activities related to their work, interests, creative endeavors, and spiritual paths. Many seemed tired. On the other hand, the people who live at Damanhur clearly feel a sense of urgency faced with the inability of business, government, and religion to address some of our most serious challenges: water, food, energy, population, etc. Do we have an unlimited amount of time to chart a different course?

The colder weather along with some health issues with Mitzi and the need to consult with our own vet, made it easier to say good-bye to the people and places I had grown to love. Visitors to Damanhur often do clay work and leave their shamanic figures to be placed somewhere on the grounds. But it was the spirits of nature that captured my attention on the day of our workshop. So I left a bit of myself behind in a little mushroom, an acorn, and a caterpillar. Already, they are calling me back to this unusual and astonishing place….

‘Places of Faith’ Tells What Really Goes on in America’s Temples, Mosques and Churches

By David Briggs

What do Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn, Hispanic Catholics in central Nebraska, megachurch evangelicals in Houston and South Asian Muslims in suburban Detroit have in common? More than many people could ever imagine.

Forget the popular cultural images from shows such as HBO’s “Big Love” that revive stereotypes linking Mormonism with polygamy or the ubiquitous images in the news associating Islam with terrorism. Look past the cultural crossfire that lumps religious liberals and conservatives into separate boxes defined by extremist political and social agendas.


The reality, as presented in a new book by two respected scholars, is that if you walk into a mosque, synagogue, temple or church next weekend, you will most likely find groups of believers in prayer and meditation seeking spiritual growth.

For six weeks, Pennsylvania State University sociologists Christopher Scheitle and Roger Finke traveled nearly 7,000 miles across the country visiting diverse religious communities. What they report back in “Places of Faith: A Road Trip Across America’s Landscape” is a portrait of people of faith sharing many of the same aspirations across theological and denominational divides.

They encounter members of a black church in Memphis and a Mormon congregation in a small Utah town giving personal testimonies amid Sunday worship and religious education classes lasting three hours and more. In both the Friday prayer service at the Islamic Center of America in Detroit and the Saturday morning Shabbat service at B’nai Avraham in Brooklyn, the authors find immigrants from Africa, Asia and Europe praying for the well-being of humanity.

These straightforward observations of faith groups at worship have a critical role to play in public discourse on religion especially when an increasing body of research reveals sharp declines in religious prejudice, the more people of different beliefs get to know one another.

“Places of Faith” allows “students and people in general to look over our shoulder and to find out what these communities are like and how similar they are in many ways,” said Finke, who is also director of the Association of Religion Data Archives.

To read the rest of this article, go to http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-briggs/inside-edition-places-of-faith_b_1214251.html?ref=religion&utm_source=Email+Updates&utm_campaign=c52c2d73e2-Newsletter_32_KidSpirit+Jan+26&utm_medium=email

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 Elaine Schonberger at bookfairmama@comcast.net or 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.

Go to our WISDOM websites at


Read our interfaith story of the week from our book Friendship and Faith,

and find the link to buy the book at

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Contact Information

Gail Katz gailkatz@comcast.net
phone: 248-978-6664

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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.


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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!