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.

The Power of Choice

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


Sister Jenna, spiritual leader, author, radio and TV personality, renowned speaker and founder of the Meditation Museum I & II:

Before I began my spiritual journey, over twenty years ago, I had no interest in spirituality of helping humanity from the inside out. I was driven more towards success in business, the ownership of beautiful things, and the prestige of important relationships. Then one day, I had a vision and experience of Light. And, without my asking, I found myself in a completely different way of seeing myself and the world around me. It was one that was focused on inner treasures, fine-tuned through silence, and in relationship with a Source beyond material possessions. It touched a truth in me so deeply that it transformed my whole story. 

In 2013, I began the America Meditating Radio Show. The intention was to highlight everyday Americans, and others around the world, living their truth and as a result, inspiring others to do the same. To hear the story of another, and see their courage and triumph offers hope. I have interviewed hundreds of folks, from celebrities to survivors, politicians to artists. All responded to a moment in their lives that invited them to change, let go, create newness. This has given me deeper insight and conviction while journeying: the proof that each and every one of us can do better, and live our truth fascinates me.

During my visit to India earlier this year, one of the first questions posed to me was regarding the presidential election in the United States. It was clear that this election was already having a global impact. I sat with the question during early morning meditation, and felt a #TangibleHope arise. There was a way that concerned citizens of the world could come together on a neutral platform and discuss not what was most important to the candidates, but what was most important to us. So, an alliance of friends formed the movement, Meditate The Vote. 

The primary aim of #MeditateTheVote is to invite individuals, Americans and abroad, to explore the power of choice and how important it is for us to gain deeper awareness of who we are. The current presidential election is focused on dis-empowerment, of candidates and citizens. One of its goals is to incite the need for external forces in power to re-deliver what means the most to us. However, in order to truly know what does mean the most to us, and who holds it for us, we need to ask ourselves the critical questions we continue to wait for others to answer:

Are you powerful enough to affect change? What do you value most about America? Do you believe in your self-worth, and how does your life model that belief? Is there a way for us to engage in conversation without creating separation or division? If so, how?

These questions serve as the foundation for engagement with the #Meditatethevote initiative. Events have taken place throughout the country in museums, coffee shops, community spaces, homes, and Universities. The movement has engaged various genres of folks from around the country. Black, white, rich, poor, republicans, and democrats have all participated.  All events introduce and offer the tool of meditation, an exercise in how best to interpret the scenes and folks we encounter.  The intent is to stimulate a broader view of choices and how best to make a decisions that’s beneficial for all. 

These are hopeful times and we are being challenged to raise our way of thinking and being. I believe the story of humanity is being tested everywhere and we are being called to ask ourselves the right questions, so that we can experience deeper answers of who we are. Our inner judgments and fears are rising, to give way to a deeper understanding and compassion. We are receiving countless opportunities to choose to come from resistance, or love. More people are recognizing this choice, and more are finding the courage to love. This is #TangibleHope.

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Sister JennaSister Jenna is a spiritual leader, author, radio and TV personality, renowned speaker and founder of the Meditation Museum I & II in metropolitan Washington, DC. Selected as one of the Empower a Billion Women 100 List of Most Influential Global Leaders Empowering Women Worldwide and served as a principal partner with the Oprah Winfrey Network and Values Partnerships on the Oprah Winfrey Belief Team, a community of individuals from diverse spiritual, cultural and faith backgrounds, and as an influential connector, she coordinated bringing on-board organizations and thought leaders to engage in this global dialogue on Belief.

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.

Why Mourning #Orlando in Diverse Communities is Powerful and Necessary

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Community members gather in Phoenix, Arizona for an interfaith vigil.

By Sari Heidenreich, Regional Coordinator, URI North America

With Sunday’s shooting in Orlando, Florida, our hearts break. We mourn. We grieve. We weep.

In this difficult time, we are grateful for those creating opportunities for ALL of us to be together, mourn together and heal together.

“Through our tears, we connect to those who suffer, and we humanize a situation caused by the dehumanizing actions of others.”

These are words from the Rev. Victor Kazanjian, Executive Director of the United Religions Initiative, a global grassroots community of people who stand for the equal inclusion of all people, not in spite of, but because of — and in appreciation of — our differences.

We are a community built on the conviction that there is power and beauty in our diversity. We believe that we – people of all religions, spiritualities and convictions – need each other, to bring peace, justice and healing to our world.

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Leaders gather in Reno, Nevada to mourn the Orlando shootings.

In the good times, we need each other to build programs that educate students in the Golden Rule, to care for our homeless neighbors, to support refugees and immigrants. And, on days like today, we need each other to cope with our grief.

I have heard many complaints that vigils and prayers are not enough. And I agree that, if we stop there, they are not. But today, tomorrow, in the coming days, we need to BE together. Together, people of various beliefs and backgrounds around the world create safe places for all to mourn. And only together can we “awaken to our deepest truths…to manifest love and justice among all life.” When we gather together, we tap into the power of mourning in community –  a power that transcends our individual capacities. We tap into something deeper.

In being in a place where what is unique about each person is appreciated, we come up with solutions — previously unseen — to help heal our communities.  We inspire one another and come one step closer to making our world a place where peace, justice and healing prevail.

“As our hearts break, let them break open as we extend our love to all those who were affected, and our solidarity to those who feel increasingly vulnerable as the targets of hate and bigotry,” Kazanjian wrote on Sunday.

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Rev. Erin Tamayo of the Arizona Faith Network speaks at an interfaith vigil in Phoenix, Arizona.

Today, many URI members and other interfaith organizers around the United States, are creating these spaces:

  • In Sebastian, Florida, the interfaith intentional community Kashi dedicated their Sunday Evening Arti and prayers to all the victims and their families.
  • In Phoenix, Arizona, Mayor Greg Stanton, Equality Arizona, and allied organizations and faith leaders, including members of URI Cooperation Circles Sun Devils Are Better Together and Arizona Faith Network, convened a candlelight vigil in solidarity for the victims.
  • On Sunday, the San Francisco Interfaith Council invited faith leaders to assemble at Harvey Milk Plaza for a vigil to honor, remember and pray for the victims who lost their lives.
  • In Toronto, Ontario, Toronto’s Church and Wellesley village hosted a multifaith vigil attended by hundreds of community members. Toronto MP Rob Oliphant spoke at the gathering, denouncing the violence against the gay community whilst also denouncing anyone blaming the violent tragedy on the Muslim community. He shared, “While I heard the news and the numbers of those fatalities kept growing in the morning, my body reacted and I had two impulses,” he said” The first he said was to reach out to his gay and lesbian friends and seek solidarity with those who have experienced homophobia. “But my second response was to reach out to my Muslim brothers and sisters to say hate can never be met with hate; hate has to be met with love… We know better than anyone else that it is by love that we are saved.”
  • The community of Bainbridge Island, Washington, including URI member Interfaith Council of Bainbridge Island/North Kitsap, gathered Monday for a community vigil and to write messages on scrolls that will be sent to both Orlando and Charleston.
  • Multifaith leaders in Reno, Nevada gathered on Sunday to condemn the shooting and to light lamps in honor of those who have passed.
  • The Tri-Cities Interfaith Council in Fremont, California will gather Thursday for interfaith prayers and remarks before moving to stand together near the road as a visible reminder that they refuse to stand for these hateful actions.
  • On Thursday, the Sundial Bridge NorcalOUTreach in Redding, California will sponsor a vigil in solidarity with the communities, families, and victims of the massacre.
  • In Cary, North Carolina, the Community Peace Project and Islamic Association of Cary hosted an interfaith and community vigil on Monday.
  • The Interfaith Alliance of Idaho gathered on the steps of the state capitol in Boise Sunday for a vigil and a call to exercise love and not hate.
  • In Austin, Texas, interfaith leaders and the LGBTQI community gathered Sunday at the Texas State Capitol for a vigil.
  • In Olympia, Washington, Interfaith Works, Capitol City Pride, and Unity in the Community held a vigil Sunday at Sylvester Park.
  • In Kingston, Ontario, Anglican Bishop Oulton sponsored a vigil Monday at Springer Market Square and encouraged parishes and individuals to contribute to an interfaith book of condolences that will be sent to the mayor of Orlando.

There are many more interfaith vigils and events than can be shared in this post; to read about them click here for a full list. WeAreOrlando.org is also a website that has been setup to track vigils, of all kinds, happening across the United States; follow that link for more information.

In these days, may we mourn and grieve and weep together. And, in these spaces and many others, may we also be inspired to act together, for the well-being of our communities, our countries and the world.


The United Religions Initiative is the world’s largest network of grassroots interfaith peacebuilders, with 787 member groups in 95 countries all working with coalitions of people of multiple religions, spiritual expressions or Indigenous traditions to create cultures of peace, justice and healing. To find out how to get involved, click here

What’s Love Got To Do With Dismantling Islamophobia?

What’s Love Got To Do With Dismantling Islamophobia?

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Islamophobia in the United States is not new. However, studies compiling FBI data, such as the one conducted by Georgetown’s Bridge Initiative, state that, today, U.S Muslims are five times more likely to be the victim of a hate crime than they were before 9/11 – a startling statistic, to say the least. For Rev. Will McGarvey and the Interfaith Council of Contra Costa County (ICCCC), a United Religions Cooperation Circle, the antidote to this fear and hate based sentiment is simultaneously simple and complex: love.

 In a conversation with Rev. Will McGarvey, he reminded me that more than half of Americans who say they hate Muslims have never actually met a Muslim. The Reverend and his colleagues have set out to change this statistic, by implementing a“Love Your Muslim Neighbors” program in California’s San Francisco Bay Area, where “loving” your Muslim neighbor is not passive, but rather an active commitment.

Over the course of nine “Love Your Muslim Neighbor” events held at a variety of different Christian congregations, the ICCCC has initiated and facilitated crucial discussions on some of the major misconceptions regarding Muslims, with up to 200 participants. The interreligious exchanges vary from panel discussions hosted by American Muslims of different ethnicities, religious sects, gender identities, and so on, to more intimate and informal conversations where non-Muslim community members voice curiosities they have always had but have never known how or whom to ask.

Changing the hearts and minds of people is no easy feat – but it can be done. At one of the events, a community member shared that she feared all American Muslims wanted to implement Sharia Law. However, upon engaging with her Muslim neighbors at one of these events, she realized her information sources had completely misled her.


“It took meeting a real Muslim, or a few of them, to understand that there’s an Islamophobia industry in our culture that perpetuates these lies about Muslims,” said Rev. Will McGarvey.


The “Love Your Muslim Neighbor” events are just one of the many ways URI Cooperation Circles and other interfaith peacebuilders across Canada and the United States are creatively and impactfully invoking the type of change that is most difficult to sustain: change within hearts and minds.

The list of solidarity events is heartwarmingly long and includes programming, such as the Silicon Valley Interreligious Council‘s “Hands Around the Mosque” gathering, which brought over 250 community members together to demonstrate solidarity with their Muslim neighbors, the Interfaith Center at the Presidio‘s panel discussion: Political and Religious Extremism: Creating an Effective Response, the Missoula Interfaith Collaborative‘s recent partnership with “Standing Alongside America’s Muslims” and the Sun Devils are Better Together‘s continuous “Meet a [Insert Faith Tradition]” campaign promoting interreligious relationships, among many others.

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© Sun Devils Are Better Together

Moving forward, Rev. Will McGarvey hopes to partner with other places of worship, particularly Masjids (mosques), so that relationships among community members can deepen and the program’s reach can expand.

If you are interested in hosting, collaborating with, or learning more about “Love Your Muslim Neighbor,” contact Rev. Will McGarvey with the Interfaith Council of Contra Costa County by emailing eye4cee[at]gmail.com. For more information on the program, click here and to watch a “Love Your Muslim Neighbor” panel discussion, click here.


Written by Anissa Abdel-Jelil, URI North America’s Communications and Outreach Coordinator.

Rothko Chapel Mourns the Loss of Slain Awardee Berta Cáceres

Rothko Chapel Mourns the Loss of Slain Awardee Berta Cáceres

Rothko Chapel Mourns the Loss of Slain Awardee Berta Cáceres

Human rights activist Berta Cáceres was assassinated March 3, 2016 in her hometown of La Esperanza, Intibuca in Honduras, a loss felt strongly in Houston’s Rothko Chapel, where she had been honored last November. The Rothko Chapel awarded Cáceres, along with Mirian Miranda, with the 2015 Óscar Romero Award in recognition of her heroic efforts in the area of human rights.

The Chapel held a vigil in honor of Berta’s life and witness on March 4.

Cáceres was raised in a violent climate in Central America in the 1980s. Her mother, a midwife and social activist, cared for refugees from El Salvador and taught her children to defend disenfranchised people. Cáceres became a student activist and in 1993, she cofounded the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH). In the last few weeks, violence towards Cáceres, COPINH, and the communities they support, had escalated. On February 20, 2016, Cáceres, COPINH, and the community of Rio Blanco faced threats as they carried out a peaceful action to protect the River Gualcarque against the construction of a hydroelectric dam by the internationally-financed Honduran company DESA. On February 25, 2016, another Lenca community supported by COPINH in Guise, Intibuca was violently evicted and destroyed.

Cáceres spent the past 20 years fighting to protect indigenous communities. Honduras experienced a growth in environmentally destructive megaprojects have displaced indigenous communities since the 2009 military coup that was carried out by graduates of the U.S. Army School of the Americas. Almost 30 percent of the country’s land was earmarked for mining concessions, creating a demand for cheap energy to power future mining operations. Repression of social movements and targeted assassinations are rampant in Honduras. Human rights organizations report there have been more than 10,000 human rights violations by state security forces, and most murders go unpunished.

The Chapel stands in solidarity with the COPINH and the Fund for Global Human Rights in demanding an immediate investigation into Cáceres’ murder. For information on how to donate to her family, please click here. To help COPINH, please click here.

Regarding Terrorism: From a Muslim, Jew, Christian, and Sikh

Regarding Terrorism: From a Muslim, Jew, Christian, and Sikh

Regarding Terrorism: From a Muslim, Jew, Christian, and Sikh

As we review events going back to September 11, 2001, and before, we observe with horror an increase in the incidence of terrorism on our planet. We observe much of that emanating from the Middle East, the home of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. We observe a tradition from India, Sikhism, that has sought since its inception to wage peace, being targeted by violent ignorance in retribution for acts of terrorism not committed by Sikhs.

This editorial brings together a Muslim, a Jew, a Christian and a Sikh to provide some perspective. Dr. Aslam Abdullah, the leader of one of our local mosques, shares: “As a Muslim who believes in the absolute power and wisdom of the divine for giving His guidance to humanity, I am horrified when I read that people who confess to be Muslim by name are involved in terrorist attacks.  Surely such people do not understand what it means to submit to God to attain peace… Speak, I will, write, I must, confront those who advocate violence, I shall and use every opportunity to challenge terrorists, I do.  But in a world where leaders and parties often use their self-serving agenda to define terrorism and the nature of the fight against violence and injustice, I am left bewildered… Can we Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists and everyone else come together to stand for each of us and to fight the menace with a quality of compassion, rather than using religious or nationalistic labels to vent our fear and our anger, serving only political agendas?”

As the representative of the Anti-Defamation League, Executive Director, Jolie Brislin shared the following statement: “The cruelty and brutality of terrorism is evident wherever it occurs. The horrific terrorist attack of Easter Sunday in Lahore targeting Christians and children deserves special condemnation in a seeming never ending stream of terrorist events. This one because of when it happened and whom it targeted leaves one nearly speechless. It targeted Christians on a holy day and seems to have deliberately targeted children, of whom there were many among the murdered.”

My brother, Teji Malik, a Sikh, recites from his holy scripture, the Guru Granth: “Allah created us all from one light.  So whom shall we call good and whom shall we call bad?” He goes on to share: “It is rather strikingly clear that these terrorists, so-called God-lovers, have made their god into a piñata whom they hit when they engage in their terrorism… Little do they understand but they are also killing their own god through these horrific actions… we of the Interfaith Council of Southern Nevada are heartbroken with wet eyes which refuse to get dry.”

As a Christian, I stand with my fellow human beings in crying out, praying and redoubling my commitment to interfaith peacemaking. As Chair of the Interfaith Council of Southern Nevada, I observe how good it is when people of faith come together for the purpose of waging peace, seeking in humility a culture of compassion and mercy. Every Fall and every Spring, we bring together youth from across the Valley at our Camp Anytown, to wage peace.  Every one of our youth, early on, recognize their own pride and their own prejudice. Three days into Camp Anytown, everyone is singing the blessing of our common humanity.

Violence only leads to further violence; this is the teaching of all traditions of peace and the witness of history. May we have the courage to root out the causes of violence in our own hearts and thereby be the change that will one day transform the world.

We close with two quotes from the Buddha: “Overcome evil by good.” “All tremble at violence; all fear death. Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill.”

Aslam Abdullah, Muslim

Jolie Brislin, Jew

Teji Malik, Sikh

Gard Jameson, Christian

All Board Members of the Interfaith Council of Southern Nevada