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Protecting the Earth Through Interfaith Education and Activism

Photography credit to the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development.

The Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development’s Interfaith Climate Change Forum.

by Yonatan Neril
from The Huffington Post

The Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison tells the following story: A young girl with a bird in her hands went to a wise person. The child asked the wise person, “Is the bird in my hands alive or dead?” If the answer was “dead,” she would open her hands. If the answer was “alive,” she would close her hand and kill the bird. The wise person, sensing her intention, responded, “I cannot say whether the bird is alive or dead, but I can say that the fate of the bird is in your hands.”

Today we have in our hands not one bird, and not just all birds, but all living beings on our planet, including 7 billion human beings.

I grew up on an acre of land in California with a large orchard and organic garden. In my BA and MA studies with a focus on global environmental issues, I conducted research in India on renewable energy and in Mexico on genetically modified corn. I came to see first-hand global environmental changes that humanity is effecting on this planet. Following these studies and research, I studied for a number of years in a rabbinic program. Because of my environmental background, I encountered traditional Jewish texts from a particular lens, and realized that my own tradition offers profound teachings that relate to environmental sustainability. I also came to realize that other faith traditions — Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and others — also speak deeply about the roots of and solutions to our environmental challenges. Based on this understanding, I founded The Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development to access the collective wisdom of the world’s religions to promote co-existence and environmental sustainability through education and action.

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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.

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A Jewish Synagogue Makes a Comeback in Lebanon

Two Syrian workers in the Magen Abraham synagogue. Photo Credit: Natalie Naccache

by Nicholas Blanford
from the Christian Science Monitor

Amid the new tower blocks that are changing this city’s skyline rises a newly restored symbol of Beirut’s multireligious society.

The Magen Abraham synagogue is the last Jewish place of worship to survive in Beirut, a lone reminder that a few decades ago a thriving Jewish community lived in the city center.

The Jewish faith is one of the 18 officially recognized sects that exist in Lebanon. When the synagogue was built in 1920 there were some 12,000 Jews in Lebanon. But the Arab-Israeli conflict and Lebanon’s devastating 1975-90 civil war spurred Jews to emigrate, and today there are only around 150 left here.

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April 9th, 2012 at 7:55 am

Interfaith Effort Boosts Latin Ties: Jews and Muslims Meet to Work Out Differences

by Nathan Guttman
from The Jewish Daily Forward

WASHINGTON — While international attention is focused on relations between Jews and Muslims in Europe, following the Toulouse shooting, attempts are under way to strengthen ties between the two religious communities in another region: Latin America.

A group of Muslim and Jewish leaders from Latin American and Caribbean nations came to Washington on March 26 as a first step in an effort to forge partnerships between the communities.

The program is an initiative of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, which has been organizing Muslim–Jewish dialogue events in the United States and in Europe in which synagogues twin with mosques, and leaders of the two faith communities work together on issues relating to anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and Middle East peace.

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Faith Inspires: The Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development

from Huffington Post

This week’s Faith Inspires highlights the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development (ICSD), a Jerusalem-based organization of inter-religious leaders who promote environmental consciousness and responsibility together. Through their Seminary Students Sustainability Program, Muslim, Christian and Jewish students learn side-by-side about sustainability and co-existence. The organization leads “eco-tourism” trips throughout the Holy Land. And on March 19, ICSD will host the Interfaith Climate and Energy Conference, which will bring together a diverse group of religious leaders to talk about the religious imperative to protect the earth.

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Michael Lerner: There Is a Nonviolent Alternative to War with Iran

by Rabbi Michael Lerner
from Huffington Post

President Obama is under immense pressure from Netanyahu and his allies in the U.S. Congress, AIPAC, Christian Zionists and Republican candidates for the presidency to give Netanyahu private assurances that if the U.S. strategy to stop Iran from developing the capacity (not the actuality) for nuclear weapons doesn’t work, the U.S. will back an Israeli first strike.

This is the moment for peace oriented voices to speak out and say no to an Israeli first strike with American overt or covert backing. We at Tikkun magazine and our Network of Spiritual Progressives have launched a national campaign to say no! We are attempting to buy space in major newspapers and electronic media on the web to launch this campaign quickly before Obama and Netanyahu meet next week. Please get involved here.

There is a non-violent way to deal with all this. The background info:

Apparently the U.S. and Israel are debating the best method for coercing Iran to stop developing the capacity for nuclear weapons. Israel believes that goal requires a military strike; the U.S. talks of “crippling” economic boycotts. Other military and strategic experts have argued that neither path is likely to succeed in the long run as long as Iran finds itself in a world in which nearby China, Russia, India, Pakistan and Israel all have powerful nuclear military capacities. And with Iran certain to face nuclear obliteration should it use its nukes in a first strike against Israel or anyone else, it is more likely that continuing extremes of poverty, oppression from Western supported elites, and social injustice, rather than the threat of Iranian nukes, will continue to be the primary destabilizing factor among the tens of millions of Middle East Muslims in the coming decades.

Imagine instead if the U.S. were to announce our new non-violent path to homeland security: a strategy of generosity, acknowledging the pain and distortion hundreds of years of Western colonialism has brought to the region, particularly to the Palestinian people, and simultaneously launching a Global Marshall Plan (already introduced to Congress by Hon. Keith Ellison as House Res. 157) aimed at ending poverty, homelessness, hunger, inadequate education and inadequate healthcare both at home and around the world. Dedicating 1-2% of our gross domestic product each year for the next twenty (to be collected not through taxes on ordinary citizens but a 1% Tobin tax on all international transactions of one million dollars or more).

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Is God in the Brain?

by Douglas Fields
from Huffington Post

Two weeks ago in Tel Aviv I attended a gala event of neuroscientists from around the world, including three Nobel Laureates, business leaders, wealthy philanthropists, and politicians, most notably Israeli President Shimon Peres. After his introductory speech on science and education in Israel, the President sat and listened intently from the front row of the theater to three Nobel Laureates on stage answering questions about their brain research. At the end of the program the moderator politely asked Peres if he would like to ask the brain researchers a question. He stood, and grasping the wireless microphone before an audience of perhaps 800, Peres addressed the Nobel Laureates, “Can you see God in the brain?”

There was an awkward moment as the Nobel Laureates scrambled to formulate appropriate comments extemporaneously, struggling and fumbling for words in an effort to regain footing after being knocked off the security of their familiar talking points.

Religion and science are rarely mixed, except in confrontation. Amplifying this tense moment was the location: Israel, the hotbed of religious conflict for centuries, and the Jewish state now on the precipice of launching an attack on nuclear sites in Muslim Iran.

Which God? The Christian? Jewish? Muslim? Hindu? The God gene maybe? There is no God — at least not in science books. The moment passed slowly like an unwelcome odor.

But two weeks later, after all the questions I heard posed by international scientists in the week-long meeting, this question stands out as the only one I remember. At the time it seemed embarrassingly naive, but in truth it is a broad, profound, and daring question. “Can you see God in the brain?”

March 5th, 2012 at 3:55 pm

An Interfaith Davos Moment

By Eli Beer
From Huffington Post

Very few people in the world will ever have the chance to experience an “interfaith moment” quite like mine.

There I stood in Davos, Switzerland at the World Economic Forum with three smiling new friends from the four corners of the earth. Laughing side-by-side were members of all the major religions of the world; a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist, and a Jew. It was a “congregation” of social entrepreneurs completely diverse in culture and faith and yet immediately bonded by an overarching belief — the belief in life.

Together we were united by the fundamental teaching of all our religions; love your neighbor as you love yourself. It doesn’t matter where you live, what language you speak, or what spiritual orientation you have, at the end of the day we are all connected by same sanctity of life and mortal blood that runs through our veins.

This appreciation for life is what started United Hatzalah of Israel and is the belief that has made our non-profit, volunteer emergency first response organization such a success.

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U.S. Students Build Connections through Interfaith Pilgrimage to Israel/Palestine

by Cheryl Walker
from Wake Forest University

The group of 13 divinity school and undergraduate students and their leaders—School of Divinity Professor Neal Walls and Associate Chaplain for Muslim Life Khalid Griggs—gathered at a spot overlooking the Sea of Galilee during the University’s winter break.

“All at once we were connected to an ancient tradition of looking upon the hills and mountains of Israel and giving thanks to God,” Stillerman wrote in the blog chronicling the journey to Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Masada and other places of religious and historical significance in the region.

Participants discussed the trip at a public presentation on campus Jan. 26. The two-week experience was the beginning of a semester-long class devoted to the history and religious traditions of Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities.

Sophomore Avalon French, a religion major and co-president of the University’s Interfaith Council, was among the undergraduates who traveled on the Interfaith Pilgrimage.

“With Professor Walls and Imam Griggs, we would visit one place, like the Temple Mount, and get two different perspectives,” French said. “It opened our minds to different points of view and helped us understand the value of interfaith dialogue.”

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Crossing Boundaries on a Train from Tel Aviv to Be’er Sheva

by Ariel Katz
from Common Ground News Service

I am on the train, travelling south from Tel Aviv to Be’er Sheva. Three Bedouin women dressed in hijab (headscarves) enter the train ahead of me and my daughter, each with a toddler. They see there are no seats together, so they opt to sit on the floor, near the doors. I find seats for myself and my daughter. Across the aisle from us sits a man with akipah, a cap worn by Orthodox Jewish men. A Bedouin woman in hijab and her toddler sit facing him. The toddler is cranky; she is tired of sitting on mother’s lap. She wants to explore. Her mother holds her firmly as she squirms and whines, trying to pacify her. Because she is using simple Arabic language for a three year-old, I can understand every word.

It is one of those unpleasant situations that happens all the time, and usually is tolerated in silence, as if it were unnoticed. In this instance, the young man with the kipah reaches into his backpack and withdraws a completed Rubik’s Cube, a puzzle made of interlocking squares. He hands it to the mother who carefully twists the top row of squares to show her daughter it can move.

When the toddler realises she will never find out what is inside the cube, she becomes cranky again, and the mother thanks the man, returning it. We sit with the toddler’s discomfort for a while. Then the Jewish man starts to fold and tear the advertisement flyer that has been left on the table between them. He is making the child something out of the paper using Japanese origami. She becomes engaged in his actions and quiets. He makes a swan and demonstrates how it can flap its wings by pulling on its head and tail. The woman accepts it and plays with her daughter. They are happy. The swan reminds me of a dove. The man speaks to the mother in Hebrew, telling her she has a lovely daughter. The mother thanks him in Hebrew and asks if he has children. He says he has younger siblings. She speaks some Hebrew and they have a simple conversation.

After a while the girl tires of the swan and the mother allows her to squirm off her lap to stand in the aisle beside her. The girl reaches over to my daughter’s armrest, and comes to say hello to us. She has noticed our interest in the unfolding story of the Jew and the Arab. We smile and welcome her to our side of the aisle. My daughter is wearing a skirt and the toddler puts her hand on my daughter’s leg. Her little fingers weave under the wide lace of my daughter’s tights to feel her bare skin. She smiles. Her mother directs her to come back, saying, “ta’ali”. I cheekily contradict the mother in Arabic and tell her, “khalleeki”, stay. “Khalleek” is a central word in Arabic – it is said when a guest makes a move to leave the host’s house. It is polite to beg the guest to stay, even if it is clear the time has come to go. I play with this cultural imperative. “Stay with us.” You have crossed a border into our space, but you are welcome here. We are no longer strangers.

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February 3rd, 2012 at 10:52 am