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Rosh Hashana’s Sacred Bread Offers Meaning in Many Shapes and Sizes

The traditional challah for the upcoming Jewish holiday, Rosh Hashana, is round. But as this bakery demonstrates, other shapes offer symbolic meanings. Photo from Getty Images.

by Deena Prichep
from National Public Radio

Challah is a rich, eggy bread baked every week for the Jewish sabbath, or shabbat. But for Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year that starts at sundown, it gets a few tweaks. There’s a little extra honey or sugar, for a sweet new year. And instead of the usual long braid, it’s round.

Mimi Wilhelm, who bakes challah for her family every week, teaches a challah-making class through Chabad Oregon. “The reason that we do the round challah, versus the braids, for Rosh Hashana, is because the year is round, it represents that idea. This looks like a crown, for crowning God as king on Rosh Hashana.”

But crowns and braids aren’t the only shapes around. Charles Levy grew up in Morocco and is now the president of Congregation Ahavath Achim, Portland’s Sephardic temple, which is largely made up of Jews of non-Eastern European descent. Growing up, he saw Rosh Hashana challahs in all sorts of forms. “Some of the people in Morocco will emulate animals, like a swan, or often you’ll have a head-like lion, lion of David. Or gdi, which is like a gazelle, a very fine and good-looking animal,” he says.

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September 24th, 2012 at 11:55 am

Native American Leaders Share Concerns About Sacred Sites

Native peoples are concerned about the effects of abandoned uranium mines on or near their lands. These types of problems in terms of disrespect toward Native American land are the main issues about which Native American leaders have approached the White House of late. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

by Scott Theisen
from ABC News–Minnesota

The Obama administration on Monday began reaching out to Native American political and spiritual leaders to address concerns over the protection of sacred sites on federal land.

Tribal leaders said they’re frustrated. Some feel consultation between the federal government and tribes has become just a formality despite promises by the administration to improve discussions.

About four dozen tribal leaders from New Mexico, Arizona and elsewhere packed a meeting room in Albuquerque for the first of a few listening sessions planned by the U.S. Interior Department.

Pointing to the importance of sacred sites to religious and cultural practices, the department is aiming to develop some kind of uniform policy for addressing the protection of such sites. That could mean a consultation policy specific to sacred sites or changes in law that would allow for greater protections, officials said.

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ELCA Working to Meet Needs of Syrian Refugees in Neighboring Jordan

The logo of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

from Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is responding to the needs of Syrian refugees in Jordan, where an estimated 150,000 Syrians — 39,600 of which are registered with the United Nations as refugees — have fled. As the conflict in Syria continues to worsen, some Syrians have also fled to Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey.

The Rev. Munib A. Younan, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land and president of The Lutheran World Federation, has been in conversation with Jordanian officials about how Lutherans can best be involved in addressing the needs of Syrian refugees. He is helping to identify ways in which his church, the ELCA and The Lutheran World Federation can deepen their participation in relief efforts.

Both the ELCA and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land are member churches of The Lutheran World Federation, a global communion of 143 member churches in 79 countries all over the world. The ELCA is the federation’s only member church from the United States.

“We have offered our services to respond in a way that addresses the needs both of the Syrian refugees and of the host government of Jordan,” said Younan. Receiving refugees is difficult work that can stretch resources and affect political dynamics in host countries.

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Teaching Children Religious Diversity: A Dilemma?

Image of Eboo Patel’s new book, Sacred Ground: Pluralism, Prejudice, and the Promise of America. Photo from Kirkus Reviews website.

by Eboo Patel
from USA Today

The first time I heard my 3-year-old son say the Lord’s Prayer, I felt like a fraud. We are, after all, Muslim.

When I speak before audiences, one of the most frequent questions I get as the founder of an interfaith youth group is, “How young is too young for children to engage with kids from other religions?”

My answer is to tell the story of how babies are delivered in an American hospital. I imagine an institution founded by Jewish philanthropists, with a Muslim doctor presiding over delivery while a Hindu anesthesiologist administers the epidural and a Catholic nurse helps the mother.

My point is that in this era, the question of age when it comes to engaging religious diversity is moot. We are literally born into a condition of interfaith interaction. Our children will be raised in an environment of religious diversity — from a Mormon presidential hopeful, to Olympic athletes competing in Islamic head scarfs, to the images of a Wisconsin Sikh community mourning after a terrible attack.

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Sikh Solidarity Messages Delivered

from Groundswell

Within hours of news of the Sikh gurdwara (house of worship) massacre, Groundswell supporters across the U.S. and around the world voiced our support and prayers for the community in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.

On Sunday, August 12th, Groundswell Director Valarie Kaur hand-delivered 4,000 solidarity letters sent in by Groundswell supporters to the families and community in Wisconsin. During the first service at the Sikh gurdwara since the mass shooting, the children of the six Sikh men and women who were killed in the attack accepted the letters on the community’s behalf.

Watch the video at this link.

 

Reflecting on Oak Creek

No one is an enemy, no one is a stranger. We befriend all. We Believe in the Fatherhood of God, and the brotherhood of mankind. We are one family. One becomes inferior or superior only by one’s deeds, and not by what caste, class, creed, or tribe one is born into.

All of the above are the core beliefs of Sikhism, but the Sikh American community which so proudly calls America home is hurting today. And in the midst of that pain, the outpouring of profound love and support the community has received from our fellow Americans following the shootings in Wisconsin is unbelievable.

Loss of any innocent life is sad, but when it happens at a house of worship where men, women, and children come together to celebrate their open, all inclusive faith by praying and offering gratitude to “One Universal Ultimate Supreme Being,” asking for the well-being of all humanity, then it has to be heart wrenching.

The shooting in the Oak Creek Wisconsin Sikh Gurudwara (place of worship) on August 5th that took so many lives was such an enigma and senseless act of violence that has shattered many innocent lives. No one expected it.  No one would have thought it possible that such a tragedy could occur on a peaceful summer Sunday, in a place where members of all faiths are welcome to share in the community and develop their bond with God and their neighbors. But it did not define America for Sikhs. Perhaps it can lead to better understanding of Sikhs for America.

Oak Creek Wisconsin police officers did a commendable job, and likely saved many more lives by confronting the attacker.

The entire country is baffled, and President Obama stated, “As we mourn this loss, we are reminded how much our country has been enriched by Sikhs, who are a part of our broader American family.”

There is no doubt the Sikh American community feels a great sense of unease resulting from this incident.  Feeling both that we are mistakenly associated with people of other faiths  and that neither we nor any other innocent people should be singled out for abuse or ridicule because of our faith. Such unease has been there, not only since the Iran Hostage Crisis of the late seventies, but also from the backlash of 9/11 when Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh American wearing the traditional articles of faith of a beard and turban was shot and killed in Mesa Arizona on September 15, 2001, by a gunman who ignorantly declared, “I stand for America all the way.” The Sikh American community, and other similar minorities, have long lived under an unfair burden of vulnerability from baseless attacks and threats by individuals who cannot rationally justify their hatred.

 

Incidents directed at Sikh Americans may appear at first glance to be random and isolated, but when they are viewed collectively over a period of time, a troubling pattern emerges that requires enhanced actions by policymakers and law enforcement. It is crucial that the Department of Justice, through the FBI, collect and provide more detailed statistics on such incidents, so that local and federal law enforcement are better equipped to combat hate crimes.  It is also crucial that members of the Sikh American community, and other minority groups, continue reporting these incidents, pushing for prosecution, and working with law enforcement to be heard.

This time it was Sikhs who were targeted; tomorrow, it could be any other faith or ethnic community. The cognizable fear associated with such directed acts of domestic terrorism is very disturbing to Sikh Americans, as well as to an overwhelming majority of peace loving, caring, and charitable Americans.  We are solaced only by the outpouring of profound love and support the Sikh American community has received from our fellow Americans, and appreciate that we all stand together in times like this.

We hope that this tragedy will compel Americans to unite as a single community, working together to counter this culture of intolerance, bigotry, hatred, and senseless violence.

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.”  We must take a firm stand of supporting organizations that build bridges of understanding with one another rather than walls of separation and fear.

Maybe the civil war isn’t over yet. Maybe the attacker here was motivated by additional factors, such as the economy. We will never know the entire truth, but we must seek ways of resolving the ultimate root causes of frustration, anger, and hate that lead to violence. It may not happen overnight, but it needs to be done – and we can do it!

Acting on hate is on the rise. But how can law enforcement protect every shopping mall, every school, every movie theater, and every place of worship at all times? They need our help, as a community.

Education alone can dispel ignorance. The mediating forces of faith and interfaith must become stronger through mutual, open dialogues about ways to establish peaceful and productive relationships of co-existence among diverse groups.

We all need to educate ourselves about the people who live here and make up our nation, starting with the Native Americans. How can we learn about people’s faith and culture? And how can they learn about us? That is a significant step in promoting a sense of camaraderie and reduced fear of the unknown; about someone who is unfamiliar, looks different, or has an accent.

We are proud of our men and women in uniform because of their gallant service to our nation. Soldiers are our defenders and protectors, but when a former Soldier – one who fought for the same freedoms we as a Sikh American community also fight for – massacres his own innocent, unarmed countrymen, there is something seriously wrong. Such issues must be dealt with – they must be addressed and fixed.

Let us work together in solidarity to ensure that love prevails over hatred, and such tragedies never happen again.

We must stand up for each other, no community should be made to feel isolated and vulnerable in a society that values diversity and was founded by immigrants.

Haven’t we always been global and importing and exporting our products and knowledge overseas? Haven’t we received goods and knowledge from other countries and people of all faiths?  We are a global society, and all interdependent on each other.  May we learn sooner rather than later that we are all one… and each other’s keeper.

Rajinder Singh Mago

Trustee Emeritus, Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions

Member,  Sikh Religious Society (Palatine, IL, USA)

Co-Founder Punjabi Cultural Society of Chicago

Religious Communities Rally to Support Missouri Muslims After Mosque Arson

 

Imam Lahmuddin holds his hands over his face after a devastating fire destroyed the Islamic Society of Joplin mosque Monday morning, Aug. 6, 2012.
Photo from Joplin Globe/T. Rob Brown

by Roger McKinney
from Joplin Globe

JOPLIN, Mo. — Some local Christians and others who attended an event Saturday at the Islamic Society of Joplin mosque said they are saddened and dismayed about the fire that destroyed the mosque Monday morning.

The Rev. Frank Sierra, of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, called Saturday’s gathering “a great event.”

“Instead of labeling people, we get to see them as fellow human beings — children of God — and that breaks down a lot of walls,” he said.

All were unanimous about their support for members of the Muslim community in their time of hardship and their outrage over the burning of the mosque.

“This is a threat to a group of law-abiding citizens in our midst,” said Paul Teverow, with the United Hebrew Congregation, who was at Saturday’s gathering and was at the mosque to offer condolences Monday morning. “The people of Joplin should share the same sense of outrage.”

He said such incidents are something much deeper when a place of worship is destroyed.

“I just feel a lot sadder,” he said.

He said ties between the mosque and synagogue go back many years, and that the connection would continue.

“This strikes very close to us,” he said. “They’re our extended family.”

Jill Michel, pastor of South Joplin Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), echoed the sentiment.

“They’re our brothers and sisters,” she said. “These are caring and compassionate people who are making a difference in our community. Their grief must be ours. It just has to be. That’s what our faith tells us.”

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In Solidarity with the Sikh Community

All those associated with the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions offer our deepest condolences for the members of the Sikh gurdwara of Oak Creek, Wisconsin, and our heartfelt concern for the sense of anguish and loss being experienced throughout the Sikh community worldwide, in the wake of the senseless shooting on Sunday, August 5th.

Any act of violence is abhorrent. When it targets a religious community—in their sacred space, engaged in worship—it is especially difficult to fathom.

The Council joins the worldwide interreligious movement in recognizing all that the Sikh tradition engenders in its followers: the deep devotion, the ethical clarity, the sense of communal solidarity, and the unwavering belief that all human beings are equal in the sight of the divine. The origins of Sikhism had an interreligious dimension—in the founding mission of Guru Nanak—giving it a unique relevance and poignancy for the challenge of promoting harmony and understanding across diverse communities and traditions.

The fact that, in the first hours after the shooting, the news media struggled to describe Sikhism accurately speaks to the work that needs to be done by the interreligious movement in acquainting the wider public with the diversity of communities and traditions in their midst. Though such knowledge may not have deterred this gunman in his rampage, it can only help reduce the number of incidents of harassment and violence in the future.

The world should know that any person, Sikh or non-Sikh, is welcome at a gurdwara anywhere, to be received with graciousness, offered a meal, and shelter, if necessary. This sense of hospitality that the Sikh community embodies has had a profound impact on the mission and work of the Council. The generous offering of langar—a sacred, blessed meal central to its communal practice—by the Sikh community at the 2004 Parliament in Barcelona is still remembered and cherished by all those who gathered for that event.

—Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions

 

“It is not an act of ‘random, senseless’ violence.  Sikhs, Muslims, Latinos and Africans are increasingly targets of rising hate in the United States. These attacks are sanctioned by a political culture that tolerates hate speech and promotes xenophobia. As hate is rising in the nation, it is critical that the forces of faith mediate anger into the positive energy of relationships. We must build a stronger interfaith movement for our children and the planet.   I stand in solidarity with our Sikh neighbors.”

—Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, Chair, CPWR Board of Trustees

 

“My wholehearted sympathies and ardent prayers are with the innocent victims of senseless violence in the Sikh community in Wisconsin.”

—Dr. Robert Henderson, Vice Chair

 

“My heart and prayers go out to the families and the Sikh community. This hate and violence upon a peace loving community makes the work of the Parliament towards interreligious understanding and helping our country towards inclusive and caring community all the more urgent and important. I pledge my support.”

—Dr. Mary Nelson, Vice Chair

 

“Yesterday was a troubling day, not only for Sikh-Americans, but for all Americans. We need to re-double our efforts to promote mutual respect and understanding. In the midst of this anguish and pain, we must also pray for the family of the assailant.”

—Dr. Tarunjit Singh Butalia, Secretary

 

 

 

 

 

 

Faith and Freedom: Religious Minorities in Egypt and the U.S.

By Calvin Skaggs

Documentary films root themselves in the ground of truthfulness. We filmmakers base our documentaries on the premise that if we look clearly enough at a subject and edit thoughtfully all the material we collect, we can put on film a new set of truthful insights.

Today few subjects need new insights more than religious conflict. Look at the headlines:

66 People Killed Exiting Church in Nigeria….Settlers Torch West Bank Mosque….Egypt’s Copts Fear Islamic State….Woman Jailed in Denmark for Wearing Niqab

As founder and president of Lumiere Productions—a film company that has been creating a diverse array of films that engage hearts and open minds for over 25 years—one of the premises of the films I make is the belief that true freedom of religion—the freedom to worship as one pleases, or not; to change religions if one chooses; and to publicly identify with one’s religion without negative repercussions professionally or economically—is a cornerstone of representative democracy.

Yet most minority religions cannot claim all three of these prongs, even in progressive democracies.

In the U.S., it is Muslims who are struggling to move us one step further toward true freedom of religion. Though 62% of Americans say they have never met a Muslim, recent polls show between 39% and 49% say they do not trust Muslims. Since 66% of the U.S. media coverage of Muslims focuses on fundamentalist or militant groups, Americans tend to associate Muslims with violence. As a result, as one Muslim said to me, when people find out you’re a Muslim, they want you to “apologize for something you didn’t do.”

In contrast to the U.S., where Christians tend to dominate the culture but are largely required to abide by our laws, some Muslim-dominated countries offer little pretense of freedom of religion. In Egypt, for example, one can see a jobs advertisement headed “Coptic Christians need not apply.” Indeed the 2011 Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life ranks Egypt in the top 5% of all countries with “both government restrictions and social hostilities involving religion.” In sum, religious minorities around the world suffer from mild to severe repression or persecution as they try to live their everyday lives and practice their faiths.

Lumiere’s film Faith and Freedom will show the hurdles such minority religions face and the ways they strive to leap them.

In order to allow our audience to empathize with how some practitioners of minority religions feel, we’ll go inside the lives of several members of two religious congregations–a Sunni mosque in Paterson, New Jersey, and a Coptic Orthodox Church in El-Matariya, Cairo, Egypt. We’ve chosen to explore individual lives in depth on the premise that being able to live one’s everyday life fully is the foundation of an open society. It means being able to live your life as you define yourself, not as others define you, and being able to assume a life free of unwarranted prying or interference by government or other institutions. As one of our characters from the Paterson mosque explains, “We’re being defined by others; we’re not being allowed to define who we are.”

Yet we believe that being allowed to define who you are is essential to true religious freedom.

The verité filmmaking we prefer doing will allow us to spend time with selected men and women who attend the Paterson, NJ, mosque and a handful of members of the Coptic congregation in El Matariya. We’ll see them at their jobs, on the basketball court, cooking and eating meals with their families, worshipping together or praying alone. The characters will be showing their own lives and telling their own stories.

We believe this kind of filmmaking can take viewers at least one step toward feeling what it is like to live in another’s skin, even one different from oneself. In an era in which Americans fear our economy might never recover and fear our political system grows ever more dysfunctional, in which greed plagues our bankers and pedophilia our priests, it is tempting to roll all our fears into one form: Islamophobia. The long-denied possibility of true freedom can also push Egyptian Copts to be even more fearful of Muslims, or Muslims of Copts. But once we can begin to conceive of, indeed to undergo the experience of living in another’s skin, then perhaps we can begin to overcome the fears all human beings seem to harbor.

Then perhaps our film will be a small bridge over the chasm of religious conflicts that divides each of our countries, and the world.

This is why I began producing films nearly two decades ago on the porous border between religion and politics in the U.S., the first example being a 6-hour documentary series on the rise of the American religious right after World War II: With God on Our Side. Since then I’ve produced other films on American evangelicals’ interaction with American culture and politics—for PBS, Channel 4 UK, Arté, and various U.S. cable channels. Producing other films having nothing directly to do with religion also led me to Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Russia, where religious strife simmered constantly behind the story I was telling, whether it was based in Kano, Kandahar, or Chechnya.

 

I make these films foregrounding or backgrounding religion because I want to understand how other people’s minds work. I want to get to the heart of how religious differences drive economic and political forces that seem to have little connection with religion. I also make these films because they fulfill me personally. They are premised on my belief that a person’s religious needs are at the heart of his or her identity, whether or not he or she exercises or nourishes the needs. They are also premised on my belief that the three Abrahamic faiths’ core principles dedicated to monotheistic worship, the cultivation of human spirituality, and the furtherance of human justice unite them far more than theological nuances differentiate and divide them.

—-

Calvin Skaggs, founder and president of Lumiere Productions, has produced or directed over 30 dramas and documentaries for television and theatrical exhibition. His first theatrical feature, On Valentine’s Day, was the official American entry in the Venice Film Festival; his hip-hop drama Fly By Night won the Sundance Filmmakers’ Trophy in 1993. He has executive produced two major documentary series for PBS—With God On Our Side and Local News—and produced numerous films for Discovery, PBS, HBO and Channel 4 UK. Before founding Lumiere, Skaggs earned a Ph.D. from Duke University, and served as Professor of English and Cinema at Drew University.

Coffee Shop Religion: Interfaith of the Everyday

Author Saumya Arya Haas. Photo from Google Images.

by Saumya Arya Haas
from Huffington Post

I never learned much about religion until I started hanging out at Muddy Waters Coffee Shop on the corner of Lyndale and 24th in Uptown, Minneapolis.

I was raised to be a priestess (of Hinduism), grew up surrounded by world scripture and philosophy, and was taught by learned scholars and mystics. But my religious education didn’t really begin until I started talking — and listening — to other people from other ways of life. I had a great foundation but it had to evolve beyond what I could experience as an individual. Understanding is a journey, and it’s nice to have company if you can get it.

When Muddy’s opened in the late 80s, it was grungy, grubby and the bathroom was frightening. The only food on the “menu” was Pop-Tarts and SpaghettiOs. Punks, goth kids and all the other wonderful misfits of Minneapolis risked splinters from the rickety picnic tables to enjoy caffeine and conversation in precious Midwestern sunlight. I would come with my friends but talked to everyone. I got over my fear of homeless people and started seeing them as just people. Some reminded me of the wandering sages of my almost-native India, people who lived by choice or necessity on the fringes and accumulated hardship wisdom the rest of us shied away from.

All the scriptural education in the world is not worth one good hour-long conversation with a stranger about their beliefs.

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