The Dark Side and the Bright Side

“What gives you #TangibleHope in the world today? How do your values and/or belief systems come into conversation with this #TangibleHope?”

Rabbi Frydman, Rabbi to the Congregation P’nai Tikvah in Las Vegas:

On the bright side, there is a lot of resilience in the world. People suffer tragedies, atrocities and unbelievable things and they go on to live meaningful lives. Children are molested. Women and children are raped. Men, women and children are tortured. And yet they go on. I recently attended the Dignity Awards Dinner sponsored by the Program for Torture Victims in Los Angeles. You would not believe the stories we heard at the dinner – stories of people who wear their scars on their bodies and in their hearts, but they keep going and they inspire others with their courage.

On the dark side, there is a lot of brokenness is our world. People suffer tragedies and become vicious vengeful perpetrators of atrocities. Perpetrators of atrocities are not generally innocents. Rather, they are victims who have not received much of break in life, or if they did get some breaks, they were not able to use the opportunities to heal and start over.

Sometimes a person crosses from one side to the other and that gives me hope.

The dark side and the bright side are connected through people who have suffered and make lemonade out of lemons, and people who have suffered and turn lemons into poison that poisons themselves and the world around them. Sometimes a person crosses from one side to the other and that gives me hope. I once met a police officer who grew up in a very tough neighborhood. When she was a teenager, she got in trouble with the law and did time in juvenile hall.

With the help of amazing role models and staff who were willing to go out of their way to help her, this young woman made her way out of juvenile hall and onto probation. Eventually she enrolled in the police academy and she became an officer. During a difficult time in my community, this young police officer guarded our facility during religious school.

This African American Christian observant police officer had become a role model for our multi-racial Jewish children and teens.

We were very lucky that there was no actual violence on our site, but we faced another problem, which was that our students came to love and admire the officer and they didn’t want her standing outside making sure we were safe. They wanted her to come inside and hang out with them during their breaks. This African American Christian observant police officer had become a role model for our multi-racial Jewish children and teens.

Sadly, and tragically, we also experienced difficult and tragic models among our congregants. There was a suicide and there was also a drug overdose. It is not the same as having a member of your community commit atrocities against others, but it is along the same lines of changing from the dark side to the light; only it is going in the other direction.

There is nothing redeeming about the dark side when it leads to atrocities, but it is part of the human experience. The fact that the boundaries are porous and people can go from one side to the other gives me hope even though some people use that porous to go toward the dark side, because that also means that those on the dark side can return to the light.

I recently heard about a man from Rwanda who was a perpetrator during the Rwandan genocide. His former wife was a member of the opposite tribe. After the genocide was over, the man escaped to another part of the world where we believe he has a new life. His former wife helped him to escape, but she does not want to ever see him again because of the atrocities he committed against her tribe. At the same time, she supports him having a new life. Compassion has replaced hatred for her, and hopefully for the man as well.

People can turn from darkness to light in the same lifetime.

These stories give me hope that people can turn from darkness to light in the same lifetime and people can give each other an opportunity to start over even when one person has treated the other person very badly. This are not easy realities, but it gives me hope to know that there are those who have succeeded in accomplishing these things. It gives me hope that others can also succeed in making the turn from the darkness to the light.

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Rabbi Pam

Rabbi Pamela Frydman serves Congregation P’nai Tikvah in Las Vegas. She chairs Rabbis for Religious Freedom and Equality in Israel, a project of Hiddush. She is a leader of Save Us From Genocide (SUFG), a campaign to raise consciousness about Yezidis and Assyrians facing genocide, and the Beyond Genocide Yezidi Campaign to help Yezidis wishing to resettle in the west. SUFG is the recipient of a United Nations Association, Bay Area Chapter, Global Citizen Award. She is the author Calling on God, Sacred Jewish Teachings for Seekers of All Faiths.

Every Tuesday, the #TangibleHope Diaries series features responses from North American grassroots peacebuilders on what gives them tangible hope in the world today. See you next week! Learn more here.

Coalition of URI Cooperation Circles Recognized for Raising Awareness about the Plight of Yezidis and Assyrians

Updated on 12/07/16

The “Save Us From Genocide” (SUFG) and Beyond Genocide campaigns have been selected to receive a United Nations Association (UNA) Global Citizen Award for its consciousness-raising efforts on behalf of Yezidis and Assyrians facing genocide in Iraq and Syria. The award was presented by the UNA-USA East Bay Chapter in October 2016  at the International House at UC Berkeley, and in November 2016 at Temple Emanu-El in San Francisco. 

These four URI Cooperation Circles — the Interfaith Council of Contra Costa County (ICCCC), the Marin Interfaith Council (MIC), the Silicon Valley Interreligious Council (SiVIC), and the Interfaith Center at the Presidio (ICP) — have been working in concert with the United Religions Initiative (URI) since early 2015 to raise awareness about the plight of Yezidis and Assyrians facing genocide at the hands of so-called-ISIL and to focus a spotlight on the assertive action needed to halt these atrocities and support the affected communities as they seek peace, justice and healing.

Beginning in 2016, these four URI Cooperation Circles have also been working with the Board of Rabbis of Northern California on a project called Beyond Genocide (BG) to help Yezidis wishing to remain in Iraq and those wishing to seek asylum elsewhere.

Individual religious and community leaders across the faith spectrum have lent their names and support at critical junctures to both the SUFG and BG campaigns, including members of URI cooperation circles around the world.

“We are so grateful for the work that a collaborative group of United Religions Initiative Cooperation Circles has been doing to bring light to these atrocities,” said Rev. Victor H. Kazanjian, Jr., Executive Director of URI.  “URI firmly supports the rights of these and all people to practice their faith and spirituality free from violence and oppression. This is a powerful example of URI’s long-held belief that grassroots interfaith activities have the ability to affect global change.”

SUFG has called attention to the tragedies befalling Assyrians and Yezidis by holding a press conference, and by writing to, and conferring with, U.N. and U.S. government officials. They also maintain an informational website and provide speakers for religious and educational programs. Additionally, they join in solidarity with affected communities, and offer support to Yezidi religious leaders and Yezidi and Assyrian lay leaders as they cope with, and address, the atrocities facing their respective peoples.

BG also calls attention to the tragedies befalling Yezidis and they maintain an informational website and provide speakers.

Sally Mahé, URI Director of Global Programs and Organizational Development represented URI during the November award ceremony.

“The award reads, ‘Global Citizen Award 2016, Humanitarian Hero for Achievements to Support the Most Needy. Save Us from Genocide. Beyond Genocide.” said Sally. “The persevering work of Rabbi Pam Frydman and Reverend Will McGarvey inspires this multi-year ongoing effort to bring the desperate and horrific plight of the Yezidi and Assyrian communities into view and provide much needed support. The Interfaith of Council Contra Costa County CC, Marin Interfaith Council CC, Silicon Valley Inter-religious Council CC, Interfaith Center at the Presidio CC, together with the Board of Rabbis of Northern California, URI’s UN representative Monica Willard, and URI’s global network are part of this collective effort. URI celebrates its vital network of connection that allows for this kind of collective effort to invigorate hope to bring these genocides to an end before it is too late.”

Sari Heidenreich, URI North America Regional Coordinator, extended her congratulations to the coalition. “Rabbi Pamela Frydman has been working tirelessly with this coalition to bring awareness of the plight of the Yezidi and Assyrian people,” said Sari. “She and her partners are excellent examples of what it means to follow that voice in our head that says ‘You must take action’ in the face of injustice. People like Rabbi Pam and the members of the Interfaith Council of Contra Costa County, the Marin Interfaith Council, the Silicon Valley Interreligious Council, and the Interfaith Center at the Presidio give me tangible hope that we can create a world where everyone can live in peace.”

For more information and to participate in this ongoing effort, go to:

BEYOND GENOCIDE http://www.norcalrabbis.org/yezidi-fundraiser/

SAVE US FROM GENOCIDE https://www.yezidis-assyrians.org

The “Ask a Muslim” Series: A Space for Courageous Conversations

“Can Muslim women lead prayer?” “What is Sharia law?” Can you be gay and Muslim?”

These are but some of the questions Muslim panelists are asked during monthly Ask a Muslim gatherings co-hosted by The Markaz Arts Centre for the Greater Middle East, an Affiliate of The United Religions Initiative (URI) North America in Los Angeles.

Once a month, this collaboration with Muslims for Progressive Values (MPV), invites members of the public to listen to, and engage with, a diverse group of Muslims responding to a variety of prompts, such as “Islam 101,” “Women in Islam” and “LGBTQI and Islam.” Participants are encouraged to ask clarifying questions without the fear of feeling ignorant. Ask a Muslim seeks to counter the islamophobia presented in the mainstream US media by putting faces and stories to the life experiences of Muslims in the United States and beyond.

Co-organizer Jordan Elgrably, founder of The Markaz, describes these events as conversations and safe spaces that foster “an ongoing open dialogue for debate and understanding around today’s pressing questions about Islam.” The vision for this program came from a real need Jordan identified within his community and beyond.

“In this country, we don’t talk about race, religion, politics, with great depth – we need safe places for public conversations,” he said. “We need to peel away our onion layers with each other and talk honestly about our fears and confusion.”

Los Angeles is not the first place this series has taken place. This past summer, Ani Zonneveld, founder and director of MPV, brought Ask a Muslim to the Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva. During her time at the HRC, MPV hosted tables for passerbys to spend a moment with the Islamic scholars and Imams who traveled with MPV as part of their “ImamsForShe” initiative. This project facilitated meaningful, one-on-one connections between strangers and helped break down barriers that had previously existed between people.

The Ask a Muslim series employs the age-old peacebuilding tactic of using open and honest conversations as a tool for dismantling stereotypes and challenging implicit prejudices. It aims to change people’s hearts and minds about Muslims by creating a space where participants are encouraged to reach within themselves and ask what is truly on their mind – free of judgment from other participants.

All across the US and Canada, grassroots interfaith groups are making strides to break down these barriers and create safe spaces for the deep conversations of which Jordan speaks. The Love Your Muslim Neighbor panel discussions hosted by the Interfaith Council of Contra Costa County CC facilitates crucial conversations, within a variety of church congregations, regarding some of the major misconceptions regarding Islam and Muslims, with up to 200 participants. Additionally, InterfaithWorks Cooperation Circle, based out of Syracuse, NY, hosts an Interfaith Dinner Dialogue series, wherein participants gather over a free meal to discuss questions posed by a facilitator and share their experiences regarding faith and spirituality with friends and strangers alike. Examples of such events continue with: Kashi Ashram Cooperation Circle, an interfaith intentional living community hosts “Listening Circles,” the Arizona Faith Network Cooperation Circle, hosts community discussions on local issues, their most recent one being on Environmental Racism, and the National Peace Academy‘s “Truth Telling Project” aimed at implementing and sustaining grassroots, community-centered truth-telling processes to share local voices, to educate America, and to support reconciliation for the purposes of eliminating structural violence and systemic racism against Black people in the United States.

By intentionally creating spaces conducive to open and honest dialogue, each of these initiatives creates opportunities for people, from a variety of different backgrounds, to show up, engage and take ownership of their learning.


Anissa

Anissa Abdel-Jelil joined the URI North America as the Communications and Outreach Coordinator in May 2016, after a seven-month fellowship with the organization. She brings with her a passion for social justice and storytelling. Her international and interfaith upbringing, paired with her academic journey, opened her eyes to the community-based peacebuilding work taking place all over the world. Her experiences in the fields of international human rights and humanitarianism, health, wellness and intercultural bridge building have equipped her with a hybrid lens for problem solving and clearly communicating complex information. Anissa’s combination of work and volunteer experience and language, graphic design and social media skills will allow her to make a meaningful contribution to the URI North America team. Throughout her time with us, she hopes to emulate the creativity and resilience she sees throughout URI’s network.

jordan picJordan Elgrably is an award-winning social entrepreneur, producer, writer, editor & the founding director of The Markaz, Arts Center for the Greater Middle East, in Los Angeles. A curator and producer of public programs, Jordan is of Moroccan and French heritage. He has been passionately committed to strengthening Arab/Muslim/Christian and Jewish relations for many years. In addition to The Markaz, which he co-founded in 2001 as the Levantine Cultural Center, he founded the New Association of Sephardi/Mizrahi Artists & Writers International in 1996 and Open Tent Middle East Coalition in 1999. He was a producer for the Dalai Lama’s World Festival of Sacred Music in 1999, 2002 and 2005. As well, he has launched several original initiatives, among them the Sultans of Satire: Middle East Comic Relief; Beirut-LosAngeles.org; CelebratePalestine.org; and New Voices in Middle Eastern Cinema, with funding from the Golden Globes/Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Jordan attended the American University of Paris (formerly ACP) and was based for a number of years in Paris and Madrid, where he worked as a journalist and associate producer for TF1. His essays, articles and stories have appeared in many anthologies and periodicals. He is a member of PEN Center, the international advocacy organization for writers and journalists, the Los Angeles Press Club, and the Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association. In 2008, the L.A. Weekly featured Jordan Elgrably in its People of the Year issue and he received the Local Hero Award from the Foundation for World Arts and Culture; in 2011 and 2014, he was an Annenberg Alchemy Fellow; in 2013 and 2015 he was nominated for the James Irvine Leadership Award. In 2014 he received an American Express Award and in 2015, the Rachel Corrie Conscience and Courage Award from the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. He is a 2016 Ariane de Rothschild Foundation Fellow. Jordan lives near San Luis Obispo with his wife and son.

ani picAni Zonneveld is founder and President of Muslim for Progressive Values (MPV). Since its inception, Ani has presided over MPV’s expansion to include chapters and affiliates in 12 countries and  19 cities. She has organized numerous interfaith arts and music festivals, participated in many interfaith dialogues and is a strong supporter of human rights and freedom of expression. She is the brainchild of Literary Zikr – a project that counters radical Islam on-line and co-editor of MPV’s first book, an anthology titled “Progressive Muslim Identities – Personal Stories from the U.S. and Canada”; she has contributed to many forewords and numerous anthologies too many to list; is a contributor for HuffingtonPost, OpenDemocracy and al-Jazeera, and recently gave her TEDx talk titled – Islam: As American As Apple Pie; and the subject of a documentary title “al-imam” featuring Ani’s activism works. As an award winning singer/songwriter, she utilizes the power of music and the arts in countering radicalism as she speaks-sings her message of social justice and peace from a progressive Muslim woman’s perspective, and is the first woman to release an English Islamic popalbum in the U.S. in 2004. Born and raised Muslim from Malaysia and based out of Los Angeles, Ani spent a good portion of her formative years raised in Germany, Egypt and India as an Ambassador’s daughter. Her exposure to different politics, religions and cultures has shaped her inclusive worldview.