Anyone listening can hear the loud, raucous controversies surrounding religion and our religious differences. The conversation is rife with words such as terrorism, hate, threatening, ungodly, illegal, and inhumane. The effect of this volcanic environment is to make our adrenalin run so high and long that we are virtually unable to hear the human beings involved. As hyperbole and exaggeration are added, we are witnessing a vicious cycle of protests and counter-protests, threats and counter-threats. Can this cycle be broken, or at least interrupted long enough for us to stop yelling, listen effectively, and initiate some major problem solving?
It was an honor to share my perspective as a Jew and diversity professional at Chattanooga’s MLK interfaith service commemorating The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. My passion for diversity is a legacy from my father, a US World War II military intelligence officer whose letters describing Nazi Germany reside in Cincinnati’s American Jewish Archives. Having dedicated decades to tikkun olam, Hebrew for ‘repair of the world,’ I resonate deeply to Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel words, “Racism is man’s gravest threat to man – the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason.”
In a time when racial, political, economic and religious divisions in the United States are increasingly obvious, the people of one southern city, Chattanooga, Tennessee, are attempting, through dialogue, to understand the religious beliefs of one another. On a chilly November Monday evening a group of over fifty people gathered at a Hindu temple for the Sixth Interfaith Panel Discussion. The attendees and panelists were ordinary people, with extra-ordinary beliefs concerning the value of gaining knowledge and understanding of the faith traditions of one another.
It’s 1959. I’m a Southern religious teenage girl raised on the fire and brimstone of the Baptist Church. My boyfriend is a second generation Italian Catholic. My mother, recently divorced from my step-father, transforms from a “Betty Crocker’ housewife into a bird set free from a gilded cage. This turn of events leads to her elopement with one of her many men friends to Elkton, Maryland. Butch and I go along as witnesses. After spending the night in her Buick at the A&P parking lot, waiting for the courthouse to open, we finally walk out of the wide court doors—married—all four of us. Mom and Sal drive off to Florida, I move in with a girlfriend and Butch goes back to his home, as if nothing stupendous happened.
I was excited to return to Cincinnati to speak on Religious Diversity in our Schools and at Work at the invitation of a Women of Faith event sponsored by American Jewish Committee, Xavier University & the Brueggeman Center for Dialogue, Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati, and the Jewish Community Relations Council. Always a dynamic city, Cincinnati has become an innovative powerhouse. It was an honor to share the lessons, analysis, and strategies gained during my three decades and two books devoted to the topic of religious diversity.
The holiday season for the Hindu Community all over the world is marked by the ‘The Fesitival of Lights’- Devali. The myth and story of Devali lies the significance of the victory of good over evil; and it is with each Devali and the lights that illuminate our homes and hearts, that this simple truth finds new reason and hope. From darkness unto light — the light that empowers us to commit ourselves to good deeds, that which brings us closer to divinity. During Devali, lights illuminate every corner of India and the scent of incense sticks hangs in the air, mingled with the sounds of fire-crackers, joy, togetherness and hope.
How the very same decision that claims to liberate women actually oppresses them.
I was reporting on the Cannes Advertising Festival on behalf of ArabAd Magazine in 2004, not only as an Arab, but also as a Muslim woman and a veiled one. For a whole week I was following up on the Arab delegation, arranging interviews with winners and even scoring with the Festival’s highest rank and advertising celebrities. I was very proud of myself and thought I deserve a day off before traveling back to Lebanon.
One year ago, Chattanooga was traumatized by Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez. After shooting at a recruiting center, he drove to a U.S. Navy Reserve Center and opened fire again. Before he was killed by police in a gunfight, four marines and a navy sailor were killed. The FBI determined that the shootings were inspired by terrorist propaganda. Chattanooga responded with memorials across the area and an interfaith service that was memorable, inclusive, and high-profile in a city with little interfaith infrastructure.
One Christmas morning, I remember the soft-needled pine towering, as if through the spackled ceiling, its angel brushing the clouds.
My daughter came home from Middle School where they were studying the Holocaust and asked me “Mommy, was grandpa a Nazi?” How do you answer such a question? Easy! I said “No”, because all of my life I had heard my parents rail against the Hitler regime. They sent my father to the Russian front and my mother to the basement for shelter from the Allied bombers attacking Berlin. But thirty years later, a fifth-grader in my French class, who was also learning about the Holocaust, asked me, “Why are the German people so awful?” Now the answer was not so easy, because the student unwittingly used a stereotype painting all present-day German people as Nazi criminals. Without going into the history of WWII, I briefly explained that not all Germans are awful, just like not all Americans are awful. Still, seeing an opportunity for a lesson, I taught the French words for “war and peace” (la guerre et la paix) and went on with class.