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New Parliament Ambassador on Creating California-Based Children’s Interfaith Organization First Drops

Children of Orange County, California participate in the First Drops program, the first of its kind in California created by Parliament Ambassador Farrah Khan after her son posed questions about other faiths.

Orange County, California area interfaith program First Drops teaches children about a variety of religions through fostering relationships and taking different religious sites and experience it for themselves. The curiosity of children and their eagerness to learn about religion fuels the organization. Parents and community members provide children resources as a means of learning about many religions. They also participate in monthly community service projects including feeding hungry families, as well as many more projects and activities. Recently the children’s filming of “An Interfaith Carol” submitted to the World Interfaith Harmony Week Film competition won in its category. 

Farrah Khan, a new Ambassador of the Parliament and founder of First Drops shares the following reflection on how this kind of active interfaith community cultivates respect for everyone.

First Drops was founded in the Spring of 2011.  The idea came from the need to answer various questions my son who was in 5th grade had about religions.  Even with my knowledge, I knew that it would be best for him to get his information from the source, so I took him to my friend’s church.  He enjoyed the experience of attending mass, that’s when I knew I had to do more.  I called up a few friends whose kids were the same age as mine and asked them if they would be interested in joining up for small discussions.  The group of six kids and parents developed into an organization in less than two months.

Currently, First Drops educates children and their families about the many religions that surround them through site visits.  Each site visit is a unique experience.  The host facility usually gives an over view of their religion, provides a tour of the facility, and an opportunity to observe or engage in their religious service followed by a Q & A session.  Then we usually are invited to a more casual setting where members of the congregation and our First Drops families have a chance to mingle and munch on snacks.  This is a great learning experience because the child has an opportunity to experience the religion rather than reading about it in a book.  The children have visited during Christmas Mass, Easter Mass, Purim, Celebration of Nirvana (Buddhism), Celebration of Ridvan (Baha’i) and much more.  These experiences are what will become a lasting memory.

Our children also engage in community service.  Every 2nd Sunday of the month, the children serve 100-150 homeless people in the Santa Ana downtown district.  The families prepare the food and the children serve each guest.  This has taught the children that respect for humanity comes first.  After the first few feedings, the children began looking into ways to help our brothers and sisters living on the streets.  So each month, the children come up with ways to help even more.  During the rainy season, the children collected 200 rain ponchos and passed them out.  These ponchos were either bought by the children’s own money or by asking friends, family and neighbors to purchase them.  On Mother’s Day, the children passed out flower bouquets to every woman.  The flowers were contributed by Trader Joe’s.  We have held several clothing, toy and book drives throughout the year.

The children are welcome to use their own ideas to help foster a more compassionate world.  They have produced an interfaith film called “An Interfaith Carol” which won the World Interfaith Harmony Film Festival first place for Youth Film.  They are regular participants at the Irvine Global Village Festival and The Newport-Mesa-Irvine Interfaith Council’s Celebration of Thanksgiving where they sing interfaith related songs.

We are teaching the children that in today’s world, it is important to work with others to improve.  We partner with CROP Hunger Walk and collect money to help feed the needy around the world.

First Drops was recently asked to come under the Orange County Interfaith Network’s umbrella.  This opportunity will give us access to over 12 interfaith councils and grow the organization.

My personal desire is to bridge the gap between those of us who are currently working in the interfaith arena and our next generation.  One day, we will all be on the same page and the world will see peace.

California Declares October “Hindu Appreciation Month”

Photo: Hindu American Foundation

The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions congratulates the Hindu American Foundation on their successful campaign to make October the Hindu-American Awareness and Appreciation Month in the state of California. In a release from HAF Press, State Senate Majority Leader, Ellen Corbett, was interviewed about her recent work to bring Resolution SCR 32 to a vote. “As the Senator representing the 10th State Senate District, I am honored to represent constituents from many diverse backgrounds, including a significant number of Hindu Americans,” said Majority Leader Corbett. “California is home to a thriving community of over 370,000 Hindu Americans that enrich our state’s diversity and professional assets in fields as diverse as academia, science, technology, business, arts and literature. I thank my colleagues for supporting SCR 32 today that recognizes Hindu American contributions in California, as well as designates October 2013 in their honor.” The resolution was passed unanimously.

This passage marks a great interfaith triumph as, according to the release,  “the resolution also received the support of 55 non-governmental organizations, interfaith leaders, civil rights activists, and community leaders from across the country, who previously wrote to all State Senators urging them to pass SCR 32.” As for this October, many are looking forward to the various events and opportunities for discussion as the month becomes a platform for Hindu dialogue.

For more information, please connect to The Hindu American Foundation.


An Advent Sermon on Compassion for All of Humanity

(A powerful sermon of compassion for all of humanity)
Preached by the Rev. J. Edwin Bacon, Jr.
All Saints Church, Pasadena, California
First Sunday of Advent – December 2, 2012

In a great southern Episcopal cathedral, an elderly southern gentleman walked up the aisle and knelt at the communion rail to receive the bread and wine made holy. Over the course of his life, he had inherited without criticism his culture’s religious and political script about the way the world works. Those people with white skin have privilege. Black people are appropriately in the back of the proverbial bus. That particular Sunday morning, African-Americans had come to his cathedral, the multi-generational “whites only” place of worship for this man’s family. The Dean and Vestry had instructed the ushers that this morning, they were to admit any people who wanted to worship. As the southern gentleman walked down the aisle to receive communion, so did a young African American woman. As only the Holy Spirit can choreograph these moments in life, the two knelt together, side by side, to receive at the same rail from the same piece of bread and the same common cup. As the southern gentleman received the bread, he looked up into the eyes of the priest, tears beginning to roll down his cheeks. He whispered to the priest, “I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.

Seeing, waking up is essential to life.

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, marking the four weeks until Christmas. The Advent Wreath becomes our focal symbol, with four candles, one lighted each week. There are a variety of values and dynamics that those candles can represent: faith, hope, joy, peace.

But the overarching value and dynamic represented by the increasing number of candles burning more brightly each week? That dynamic is enlightenment.

Light. The ability to see what is really going on in our lives. The value of alertness, of watchfulness, of consciousness, of awareness.

The physician, Naomi Remen Stone, told Bill Moyers, when he interviewed her about healing and the mind in the early 90s, that all spiritual paths have four steps: show up, pay attention, tell the truth and don’t be attached to the results. Show up. Pay attention. Tell the truth. And don’t be attached to the results. (See: Moyers, Bill, Healing and the Mind, p. 351)

Jesus and all the other founders of the world’s religions emphasized how important it is for you and me not to sleepwalk through our lives, to wake up and see what is going on around us.

Every time someone becomes aware that they are living out of a narrative that they inherited and that narrative is toxic, suffocating, unsustainable for the health of the individual or for the larger human family, that is a moment of enlightenment, of awareness, of consciousness, of waking up to real life, to a generative life, to being fully alive.

The word “Buddha” is often misunderstood as the name of a historical figure from India, but this is not the deepest understanding. “Buddha” is a principle, not a person. “Buddha” actually means “awake.” When asked “Are you a god,” Gautama, the person who became a Buddha replied, “No.” “Then what are you?” the man asked again. Gautama’s answer was, “I am awake.

And so the collect or the prayer that we just read that collects or focuses our reflections on this first Sunday of Advent deals with our personal and collective struggle to cast off the toxic narratives of darkness so that we may live in the light, what that prayer calls the “armor of light.” Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.

We definitely need to use light as armor at times in life, but more about that later.

The casting off of darkness, as did the white southern gentleman kneeling together at the altar rail with the black young student, always means the end of the world as you knew it. That is why Jesus mentions in this morning’s gospel that the end of one old world and the beginning of the new world, which happens to you and me many times throughout our life if we commit to staying awake, will seem as if the whole universe is falling apart. Many will suffer from breakdowns and fears they cannot control, and in all this confusion, Jesus says the “Complete Person” will emerge, like someone appearing out of the mists. The sight will be powerful and dazzling.

“You’ll get your confidence back,” Jesus says, “and see the new life you’ve been longing for actually becoming a reality.” “Then,” Jesus says, “just think about the trees, a fig tree, for example. When their leaves start to sprout, you can see that summer is on the way. So, when you see the things I’ve described happening, like the universe falling apart as you’ve known it, you know that God’s new world is on the way,” says Jesus. “Believe me, the world as you know it won’t disappear until all of these things have happened and one world will give way to another, but My words will last forever. So in times like this, you must keep your wits about you. Watch out for those things that sap your energy and drag you down, indulgences, drunkenness and worldly cares. Don’t miss the wonder of the great things happening all over the world. Keep your eyes open,” Jesus says. “Ask God to give you the strength to get through these difficult times so that you’ll be ready for the appearance of the Complete Person.” (See: Luke 21:25-36 John Henson’s translation)

I’ve thought about this passage about the end of the world as we know it and others like it on election night. After the presidential election had been called, I turned over to Fox News, where I heard our brother Bill O’Reilly, who works on Fox News, say the following:

“Ours is a changing country. The demographics are changing. We don’t live in a traditional America anymore. Twenty years ago, President Obama would have been roundly defeated by an establishment candidate like Mitt Romney, but the white establishment is now the minority.”

In my imagination I heard R.E.M. singing in the background,

“It’s the end of the world as we know it, it’s the end of the world as we know it, it’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.”

I love the fact that my brother Bill O’Reilly was waking up, at least to some small degree, to what I believe is God’s new world, which is on the way.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., preached one of his most radical sermons entitled, “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.” He recalled that Washington Irving had written the famous story about Rip Van Winkle. Dr. King pointed out that the one thing that we usually remember about the story is that Rip Van Winkle slept for 20 years, but Dr. King said there’s another point in that little story that is almost completely overlooked, and that detail is the sign that appeared on the village inn from which Rip went up in the mountain for his long sleep.

“When Rip Van Winkle went up into the mountain, the sign had a picture of King George III of England. [But] when [Rip] came down twenty years later the sign had a picture of George Washington, the first president of the United States. When Rip Van Winkle looked up at the picture of George Washington, [in] looking at the picture he was amazed . . . [Rip] was completely lost—he knew not who he was. And this reveals to us,” Dr. King said, “that the most striking thing about the story of Rip Van Winkle is not merely that Rip slept twenty years, but . . . he slept through a revolution. While he was peacefully snoring up in the mountain a revolution was taking place that at points would change the course of history—and Rip knew nothing about it: he was asleep. Yes, he slept through a revolution. And one of the great liabilities of life is that all too many people find themselves living amid a great period of social change and yet they fail to develop the new attitudes, the new mental responses—that the new situation demands. They end up sleeping through a revolution. “ (See: King, Martin Luther, A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., p. 268-269)

My friends, this morning I have no doubt about the fact that God’s new world is on its way. God’s revolution is continuing. It is the revolution of compassion overcoming sacrifice. It is the end of the toxic narrative that too many of our religions have promulgated. That toxic narrative is that in order to become a part of my religion, you have to hate someone else in another religion or you have to hate somebody else in another category. You see, every time we become more conscious or aware or awake, we discover that we have a soul which is our deepest self, and the discovery of our soul gives us access to a larger knowing beyond ourselves, and if we obey the voice of our soul, if we obey our consciousness, our awareness will become a very wise teacher of soul-wisdom and will teach us deep within ourselves. Some people call it the “inner witness” and this witness is what Christians have called the “Holy Spirit.” (See: Rohr, Richard, Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, p. 86-87)

Consciousness. Awareness. Soul. The Holy Spirit. It’s astounding to think about the following: that 14 billion years ago, the Holy Spirit hovered over the Big Bang and that is the first moment that God began to materialize. God had always been, but now God took on matter. And then 2,000 years ago, that very same Spirit, Holy Energy, that was present 14 billion years ago at the Big Bang came and spoke to a 14-year-old Jewish girl and told her that she was pregnant with God’s new world. And now this Advent morning in 2012, that same Spirit that was present 14 billion years ago and two thousand years ago, is coming to you, and saying to you and to me,

“You’re pregnant. You’re pregnant with the new world. The new world is on its way and the old world is passing away.”

It is saying to you and me,

“Jesus is not [the] exclusive Son of God.” Jesus is “the inclusive Son of God, revealing what is always true everywhere and all the time”

– that God’s compassion includes everyone. Christianity is not the exclusive religion. Christianity is the inclusive religion that embraces everyone with compassion. (See: cf. Rohr, Richard, Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, p. 87)

Every time you and I wake up to the fact that the world is a moral universe, where every human being is interconnected, and that we live in a universe that has a moral arc and that it is long but it always bends toward justice, whenever we awake to the fact that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, and that the way that the universe actually works, its inner system of humming and buzzing and moving forward, is through compassion and grace and love. Whenever we awaken to that, we have awakened to the Holy Spirit that lives and dwells within each one of us, as well as being outside and beyond us. Don’t sleepwalk through that reality.

Now friends, I’m not talking about some abstract theory. I’m talking about something that is real and that can change the way that you act, think, and feel. Let me give you an example.

This past Wednesday was the culmination of a long conversation that a couple of us here on the staff had been having with a rabbi and a couple who have been attending All Saints Church for quite awhile. The conversation was about the fact that the parents were of different religions, one Christian and one Jewish. The children have begun to put down spiritual roots here and it was time to take note of that, to mark that liturgically as a life transition. However, we didn’t want — we, this community of prayerful discernment — didn’t want to baptize the kids, to turn that into some kind of exclusive thing. We wanted something that was inclusive. We devised the following unprecedented liturgy. We took the baptismal font that we use here and put it out under the big oak tree. We blessed the water, made it holy water by recalling the important transformational moments in Jewish history and Christian history in which water had been redemptive. And then because the rabbi had suggested that we incorporate the blessing of the children from the Sabbath meal that Jews, observant Jews, use, the parents blessed their children both in Hebrew and English and then both children walked amongst all of us and each of us whispered a blessing while we touched each child.

Then, we took evergreen branches and, dipping them into the holy water we sprinkled the water on top of the children. Then to recognize that the children themselves are ministers, we gave them a little bowl of the holy water and gave them their own evergreen branch and they went around and dropped holy water on the heads of each one of us.

We concluded by having everybody express their appreciations for what had happened. One of the grandfathers who is crippled with ALS talked about how he had come to the service for his grandchildren, but that the service had helped him. Everybody said these wonderful appreciations of compassion.

I realized at the conclusion of the service that my heart had been stretched. My chest had expanded. My soul had gotten twice as large just so that it could have the capacity to have all of that God, compassion, and love in it. And it took me a full day for my lungs and my heart and my soul and my chest to kind of come back down, but it didn’t come back down to the size it had been before. I was forever changed and made a little more able to hold God’s love.

That’s being awake, for you to make room in your life for the Holy Spirit to cross all the stupid, toxic, unsustainable destructive barriers that divide the human family. My soul was so expanded that I felt like maybe it was as big as Mary’s, who said,

“My soul is big enough to proclaim the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.”

Now, I mentioned that this light, this awareness, this alertness sometimes needs to be used as an armor to protect our souls. Two weeks from yesterday, an historic moment is going to take place in America. For the first time that I know of, a major Muslim body is going to have its convention in a Christian church. All Saints Church is going to host the Muslim Public Affairs [Council] Convention and all of us are invited to participate in it. Come, please, but make sure you come ready for the Holy Spirit to stretch your soul so that you have more compassion and inter-connectivity with other human beings across boundaries than you’ve ever had before. And also know that that’s going to be armor of light because we’ve begun to receive some of the most vile, vituperative, ugly, mean-spirited email correspondence I’ve ever read in all of my life, talking about All Saints participating in terrorism by being hospitable to Muslims. But this open-hearted, soul-expanded awareness and awake-ness is our calling.

If you and I practice this stuff, this soul-expanding waking up, I guarantee you all that by Christmas, our souls will be so expanded that they will be ready to receive the mystery of God made flesh because we will have understood God inside our flesh.

God made flesh not only in a baby, but in our very lives in our history and in our journey of casting off the narratives of darkness and exclusion and putting on the armor and narratives and new stories of God’s light and love and new world.


The Reverend J. Edwin Bacon, Jr. is the rector of All Saints Church in Pasadena, California – a 4,000 member multi-ethnic urban Episcopal parish, with a reputation for energetic worship, a radically inclusive spirit, and a progressive peace and justice agenda.

Ed’s energies focus on leadership in anxious times, peacemaking, interfaith relations, integrating family, faith and work systems; and articulating the Christian faith in non-bigoted ways. He is a passionate advocate for peace and justice in the community, the nation, and the world. He has received several honors for his peace and interfaith work. He is a founder of Beyond Inclusion and Claiming the Blessing (working for justice for the LGBT community) and a co-founder of the Abrahamic Faiths Peacemaking Initiative. He serves on Human Rights Watch California Committee South and on other national and community boards.

Ed has been a guest on Oprah’s Soul Series on XM’s Oprah & Friends Radio, as well as The Oprah Winfrey Show, which led to a regular role as guest host on Oprah’s Soul Series and contributor on His first book, 8 Habits of Love: Open Your Heart, Open Your Mind, was published in September 2012.

Prior to coming to All Saints, Bacon served as Dean of the Cathedral of Saint Andrew in Jackson, Mississippi; Rector of St Mark’s in Dalton, Georgia; and Dean of Students and Campus Ministry at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia. He graduated from the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in 1979, and in 1983 was ordained as an Episcopal priest. He holds honorary Doctorates by Church Divinity School of the Pacific and Mercer University.

He and his wife, Hope Hendricks-Bacon, have two adult children and two grandchildren.

The Power of Interfaith-Based Community Organizing

LA Voiceby Minister Zachary Hoover

On May 15, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously passed the Responsible Banking Ordinance, which requires banks seeking city contracts to disclose detailed information about their lending and foreclosure practices. This victory allows people to see which banks are investing in their community or being responsible neighbors and which ones are not. Big banks are incredibly powerful and pay millions of dollars for lobbying to write rules that benefit them. Angelenos won a rule that shifts some power back into the hands of the people. And that rule would not have been won without the power of organized religious communities under a common banner.

I am blessed to lead LA Voice, a multiethnic, federation of 25 churches, synagogues, and mosques that is striving to be something healing and striving to do something healing. The climate of racial anxiety, divisive politics that pull at our implicit biases, and the growing diversity of our country urgently call all of us to speak, listen, and struggle together for a different set of outcomes for our cities. Our organizational leaders, clergy and lay, are striving every day to shift the balance of spiritual and political power so that our great city might truly reflect its glorious name and the dignity of all—not just the dignity of those with the means and privilege to protect their opportunity and promote the future of their children, but of all those who have been left out or pushed out of the land of opportunity we claim to inhabit.

Pastors, imams, rabbis and laity from the member congregations of LA Voice have played key leadership roles in the struggle to gain leverage to end unfair foreclosures, to increase small business lending to communities of color, to end costly, unjust police impounds of immigrants’ vehicles—immigrants whom our state does not afford the opportunity to get a driver’s license; and to increase access to food in public housing in East LA. These same leaders have sent clergy to represent them with the Governor of California to influence the outcome of much needed revenue initiatives for our schools, and they have sent thousands of letters and made countless visits to state political offices to write new rules that make life fairer for suffering communities. The power of faith and interfaith struggle is alive and well in many places, including in PICO National Network organizations like LA Voice.

In acting together for justice, our leaders find their voice and voices. When sixty African American Muslims join 700 Christians of all colors and 50 Jews at a gathering to launch a campaign, and their leaders sit together onstage with political and business leaders, I see interfaith power. When Fr. Margarito goes to Shabbat services at a neighboring Jewish community to tell his community’s story and proposes going to city hall together, with translation, new ground is broken. When I, an American Baptist Minister, have the honor to sit with five respected Imams and dream about what we might change together about mass incarceration, as we speak about li ta’arafu and how knowing one another is something God desires for us, I hear interfaith dialogue. When our Jewish leaders from West LA journey to East LA to fight together for a better life for those whose migration is more recent, and they share their personal Exodus stories, and they take the power of that bond into meetings with LAPD, they live interfaith peacemaking. When 250 PICO affiliated clergy gathered in New Orleans last fall to launch an initiative to bring a bolder prophetic voice and the power of organizing to bear to bend the arc of U.S. history toward justice, and those leaders experience moments of discomfort at the different approaches of their fellow clergy, we build new life as they commit to each other despite those gut rumblings. When passersby see clergy of different colors and creed standing together at a press conference, defying what they have heard in the media about how much we all really hate each other, there is a witness to a more powerful Spirit.

I truly find God’s Spirit alive, and where we find power to change our world for the better, is in the messiness of our stories and contending for our public space together. Those same Jews and Christians and Muslims who have won real change have plenty of moments where understanding each other isn’t the first thing that happens—whether it’s a Jewish leader cringing at the “in Jesus’ name,” or a Muslim leader wondering why we haven’t thought about a space for their afternoon prayer on the agenda, or a Christian pastor explaining to a congregant why it is OK for them to be in relationship with non-Christians without aiming for their conversion, or explaining to another Christian how real the power of prayer is in his church.

Organizing is messy. And leaders are the ones who shepherd their people down a new path that leads to more abundant life and wrestles with the consequences of the status quo. We at LA Voice are interested in being with people who want to be together because it gives them the power to be transformed, to transform others, and to change our world. Transformations aren’t real if they don’t change our transactions.

I am not under the illusion that organizing is equally easy in all of the countries to which this newsletter makes its way. I cannot speak about the dangers and fears that must come with organizing right now in Northern Mexico or Syria. And I can only confess shame at the countless opportunities powerful countries like ours miss to act with our human family in other countries. But wherever we are, if we do not use our shared values, stories, and relationships to build real power to unyoke the burden of disproportionate death and suffering that we all allow to be visited upon some while protecting others, then no God can save us. As Bob Dylan says, “You’re gonna’ serve somebody, it might be the Devil, it might be the Lord, but you gonna’ serve somebody.”

Minister Zachary Hoover is Executive Director of LA Voice, an affiliate of the PICO National Network (a national network of faith-based community organizations working to create innovative solutions to problems facing urban, suburban and rural communities).


Catholic Couple Embark on Interfaith “Pilgrimage,” Circle World on Religious Tolerance Quest

by Gillian Flaccus
from the Huffington Post

CLAREMONT, Calif. — Frederic and Anne-Laure Pascal are devout Roman Catholics who built their lives around their religion. When she lost her job last year, the young couple decided on an unlikely expression of their religious commitment: a worldwide “interfaith pilgrimage” to places where peace has won out over dueling dogmas.

Since October, the French couple has visited 11 nations from Iraq to Malaysia in an odyssey to find people of all creeds who have dedicated their lives to overcoming religious intolerance in some of the world’s most divided and war-torn corners.

The husband-and-wife team blogs about their adventures – and their own soul-searching – and takes short video clips for the project they’ve dubbed the Faithbook Tour.

Click here to read the full article

Rebranding Interfaith

NewGroundby Rabbi Sarah Bassin

Inspired. Energized. Confused. Naïve.  I had asked a Jewish audience to share a single word to capture their thoughts of my presentation on Muslim-Jewish relations.  I had spent the last hour painting a picture of the broken communication between Jews and Muslims over the last 20 years – the public spats, the failed dialogues and the wounded relationships.  I devoted the last portion of the session to envisioning a more positive paradigm and cultivating the tools to get us there.

Some people entered the session eager to acquire the skills needed to strengthen relationships with the Muslims who share their city.  They had witnessed the breakdowns but refused to think of “Muslim-Jewish” as synonymous with “conflict.” They walked away from the session recharged.  Inspired.  Energized.

Others entered as skeptics, poised to dismiss interfaith work as a charming but ineffective effort to bridge an unbridgeable chasm of differences.   The cycle of conflict exists for a reason and those who champion engagement with the other don’t understand the threat to their own community.  Openness and vulnerability lead to exploitation.  Interfaith activists are unrooted. Confused. Naïve.

Those words may have felt cutting in the moment but they were also a gift.  It was early in my work as the Executive Director of NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change though I had long been devoted to interfaith relations.  As someone who grew up with a mixed religious background, the importance of interfaith was engrained in my Jewish identity.  But my own experience blinded me to the experience of those for whom interfaith was not a self-evident good.  It was beyond my worldview that someone could see interfaith engagement not only as superfluous but as threatening.  I realized that I needed to take a step back and explain why the work matters in the first place.  More specifically, I needed to make a compelling case for why the work matters to them.

There is something that feels base about using the language of self-interest to undergird interfaith work.  I imagine that many of us find ourselves committed to interfaith activism because our highest ideals have led us down this path.  As someone who chose to become a rabbi to pursue a career in interfaith relations, I certainly felt compelled by the holiness of the endeavor.  My tradition demands it of me.  The Jewish philosopher Emanuel Levinas captures my deeply held belief with his claim that we experience divine commandment through the face of the other.

But I am also in this line of work because I believe wholeheartedly that a commitment to interfaith relations and Muslim-Jewish relations in particular tangibly benefits the Jewish people.  This work is, as they say, “good for the Jews.”

As a teenager and young adult, I despised the “good for the Jews” cliché.  It seemed to be an excuse for isolation, a justification for turning a blind eye to the plight of others.  But those excuses represent a narrow interpretation of what is good.  Those justifications conflate that which is in our self-interest with that which is self-serving.

Asking whether something is “good for the Jews?” is actually a useful question.  As my colleagues in community organizing assert, acknowledging one’s self interest is the first important step to social change.

When I engage Jewish audiences now, I open by speaking to that self-interest.  I lay out the vast overlapping domestic agendas between the American Muslim and Jewish communities and spell out the missed opportunities for collaboration.  I articulate how changing demographics will impact Jewish community relations.  Jews are becoming a smaller proportion of the American population and we will need to rely more heavily on coalitions.  I cite how the younger generations of Jews understand “Jewish values” more universally than their parents did.  Interfaith activism thus has a role in engaging these generations’ Jewish identity.

No part of me imagines that I will transform every skeptic in an hour by framing Muslim-Jewish relations in terms of Jewish self-interest.  But I often see something click for Jewish audiences when I cite the 2010 Gallup poll that directly links anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.  The single greatest predictor for whether someone holds Islamophobic beliefs is whether they also hold anti-Semitic beliefs.  This simple statistic reframes the issue from an abstract good to a concrete need.  Combating Islamophobia is not some altruistic endeavor for Jews rooted in the collective memory of our own historical persecution.  It is a strategic approach to prevent latent anti-Semitism from resurfacing today.

The rhetoric that we use to describe our work serves to undermine or enhance the power of our impact.  Early on, a supporter once described NewGround as “the ones getting everyone to love each other.”  She soon learned that this does not begin to capture what NewGround does.  We equip Jews and Muslims with the tools, space, and relationships to identify what matters to people in both communities– our fears, our values, our narratives and aspirations.  Sometimes, the conversation feels uncomfortable because interests do not always align (for example, we do not expect everyone to agree about how to handle the conflict in the Middle East). But the willingness to articulate what is at one’s core creates the foundation for a more honest and trusting partnership when there is alignment.  At NewGround, we are not the ones getting everyone to love each other.  We are the ones transforming intergroup relations in Los Angeles from a civic liability into a communal asset.

There will always be a core of people drawn to interfaith work for its more abstract ideals – people who need no convincing of interfaith’s inherent value.  But our goal ought to include preaching beyond the choir.  There is no shame in rebranding interfaith as savvy and strategic, substantive and smart.  Interfaith is all of these things and there is much to be gained by speaking of our work from this angle.  Those poised to call us naïve may instead walk away energized.  And those who thought us confused may instead find themselves inspired.

Rabbi Sarah Bassin is the Executive Director of NewGround: A Muslim Jewish Partnership for Change.


Food, Faith, Peace Focus of Interfaith Seder in Pomona, California


Ding Elnar-Wicker, of Claremont, breaks apart matzah, a bread used in the Jewish passover seder, Sunday, April 1, 2012 at the Islamic Center of Claremont. Elnar-Wicker and others participated in an interfaith seder held by the Claremont Interfaith Working Group for Middle East Peace. Khai Le/Correspondent.

by Jannise Johnson
from the Daily Bulletin

POMONA – For the second straight year, an interfaith Seder has been hosted in what some would consider an unusual venue.

The Islamic Center of Claremont, which is actually 3642 N. Garey Ave. in Pomona, held the event called “From Slavery to Freedom, An Interfaith Seder Experience” on their quad.

The mosque provided tents, tables and chairs for visitors from both the Islamic center, various churches and Jewish temples.

Traditional Seder foods such as Matza and eggs were placed at each of the tables. In addition traditional foods, olives, oranges and humus also made an appearance.

All foods eaten during the Seder meal are symbolic. Olives symbolize peace in the Middle East and the orange symbolized fruitfulness “that occurs when even the most estranged among us are welcomed as contributing and active members of our communal life,” according to information placed at each table.

Click here to read the full article

Women Wear Hijabs in Support of Slain Iraqi Woman

by Omar Sacirbey
from the Washington Post

Jean Younis won’t be wearing an Easter bonnet at church this Sunday. Instead, the office manager at Bonita Valley Adventist Church in National City, Calif., will don an Islamic headscarf to support the family and friends of Shaima Alawadi, the Iraqi immigrant and mother of five who died March 24, three days after being beaten in her home in El Cajon, Calif.

“I do expect a reaction, but that’s the point. It needs to be discussed,” said Younis, 59, who predicted that most church members would be supportive or respectfully inquisitive.

She is one of many non-Muslim women to post photos of themselves wearing a headscarf on “One Million Hijabs for Shaima Alawadi,” a recently created Facebook Page that had nearly 10,000 likes on Monday (April 2) and hundreds of photos. Others posting on the page have identified themselves as Catholics, Quakers, Mennonites, Jews, Pagans, and atheists.

Click here to read the full article

Understanding Shariah Can Counter Irrational Prejudice

by Dr. Nasim Rehmatullah and Muhammed Chaudhry
from Silicon Valley Mercury News

Silicon Valley is renowned for innovation in software, social media and biotechnology — all reasons why countless flock here to work and raise their families. But the Valley of Heart’s Delight also boasts the best of pluralism, multiculturalism and interreligious cooperation, which is fertile ground for a serious discussion about the latest national debate: What is Shariah, and can it peacefully exist within America’s legal system?

Critics increasingly question religious freedom rights for American Muslims. Many call Islam and America “wholly incompatible.” While few understand what exactly they are banning, more than 20 states have discussed or passed anti-Shariah legislation. Some politicians are demanding that Muslims serving in the military be discharged, baselessly alleging that Shariah commands that “Muslims kill Americans.” When influential politicians such as Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain demand that American Muslims take a loyalty oath or “repudiate Shariah” to receive equal rights, no one wins.

Muslims are now facing what American Jews, Catholics, Mormons, Italians, Irish, American Indians and African-Americans have suffered through: fear mongering and discrimination. This discrimination is real and directly affects our workplace. The New York Times reports that while Muslims make up only 2 percent of America’s workforce, they filed nearly 25 percent of religious discrimination claims in 2009. Silicon Valley leaders must lead the charge to change this un-American development.

The correct understanding of Shariah can ignite this change.

Shariah is a set of laws and principles about how Muslims should lead their lives. Muslims use Shariah in private matters such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, worship and personal morals. Shariah is like the Jewish law (Halacha) utilized in Beit Din (rabbinical courts). American Jews routinely use Halacha for property contracts, divorces and business disputes. American Muslims use Shariah for the exact same purposes.

A “Shariah takeover” is impossible because the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause ensures that the Constitution is always the undisputed sovereign law of the land. Likewise, true Islamic teachings promote a just, secular government with a separation of mosque and state. Far from a threat, Shariah actually champions the U.S. Constitution.

Click here to read the full article

February 17th, 2012 at 10:57 am

Partner Cities in the Tri-City Voice

The Tri-City Voice has written a nice article on San Jose’s admission to the Partner Cities Network.  According to the report, “a delegation from Santa Clara County will travel to Melbourne, Austrlia to receive the award at the World Parliament in December 2009.”  To read the full article, click here.