Girls gather in Syracuse to learn “The Power of One Girl”

Women Transcending Boundaries (WTB), a Cooperation Circle member of the United Religions Initiative, hosted a gathering called “The Power of One Girl” on April 21 in Syracuse, New York. The event was co-sponsored with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

By Barbara Bova, WTB Secretary

Cindy Rahrle, who planned this wonderful and inspiring event, formally welcomed the girls and adults at 2:20 pm. Girls from various schools and churches were seated at round tables; ladies from WTB and LDS church shared a table as the program began.  Inspirational statements and decorations brightened the hall, and each table held a snack basket.

Cindy warmly welcomed the girls and expressed her commitment to each of them and her faith in “the power of one girl.” Sue Savion, president of WTB, also welcomed the girls and adults: she read the WTB mission statement.

Ella Neville, SUNY Cortland student, spoke about her experiences with Seeds of Peace and Letters of Love. She explained how she became involved with Seeds of Peace, and how her participation in Seeds of Peace Camp (as a camper and now a counselor) has changed her life and taught her how to make a positive difference in the lives of others. Ella is also active in Letters of Love, in which teenagers write and send letters to other kids in trying circumstances (such as residents of refugee camps or victims of violence). She urged girls to get involved and shared a motto she lives by: “Do whatever you can, with whatever you have, wherever you are.”

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Profiles of Women Who Make a Difference: Symi Rom-Rymer

During the month of March, as we celebrate Women’s History Month, URI North America is spotlighting four exceptional women involved in Cooperation Circles in the North America region. This is the fourth story of the series. Follow these links to read the profiles of Satya KalraLisel Burns, and Kay Lindahl.


By Robyn Lebron

Sometimes in life, an unexpected experience can cause a person’s life direction to change. Many times, it happens without realizing that one’s inner calling is also taking shape. This is what happened for Symi Rom-Rymer.

Symi is a phenomenal young woman that shows us that, it doesn’t matter what your age is, you can make a powerful impact in the world. She is a freelance project manager and journalist who works with and writes about minority communities in the United States and Europe. She’s been published in The Huffington Post, The Jerusalem Post, and The Christian Science Monitor, among other publications. She speaks three languages and has used that ability to take her interfaith and intercultural work to many different places in the world. Symi has also been working with a United Religions Initiative Cooperation Circle, The Unity Walk DC  since 2016.

As a child, Symi heard stories about her great-grandfather’s 1911 journey from Russia to the United States, and those powerful stories stuck with her. But Symi really became passionate about multi-faith issues while in Paris for graduate school in 2005. A controversial new law was passed stating that Muslim women could no longer wear the burqa in public places.

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Profiles of Women Who Make a Difference: Kay Lindahl

During the month of March, as we celebrate Women’s History Month, URI North America is spotlighting four exceptional women involved in Cooperation Circles in the North America region. This is the third profile of the series, follow these links to read the profiles of Satya Kalra and Lisel Burns.


By Robyn Lebron

To Listen is Divine

Kay Lindahl has been described as an inspired presence with passionate energy. Kay Lindahl has been described as an inspired presence with passionate energy. . Her entry point to interfaith was her deep interest in, and passion for, spiritual growth and community building. The unfolding of her journey has been fed by these passions and guided by spirit, which has led her to be involved in incredible projects, both personally and professionally, as a consultant, author and speaker. In the process of following these promptings, her connection to different people and organizations has continually expanded.

Most of Kay’s life experiences have evolved organically, as she explored the myriad of paths that she felt led to walk in her search for spiritual growth and meaning. For the past twenty-seven years the daily practice of Centering Prayer has been transforming her life by strengthening her relationship to Source. Kay describes what it is to her, “Centering Prayer as a form of silent prayer in which the intention is to be in the presence of the Presence.”

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Young women from US, Kenya, Israel brought together in Cooperation Circle program

This story is from the Center for Religious Tolerance, a URI Cooperation Circle based in Florida doing work around the world. 

You know something important is happening when the same good idea springs up independently on three continents. In Kenya, Israel and the United States, girls and young women are exploring the history of women’s rights, discussing the issues that face them today, and forging a new activism. In 2018, CRT will bring representatives from three successful local programs to Washington, DC to launch the Seeds of Change project.

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Cooperation Circles invites others to Women’s Empowerment Weekend


The Oracle Institute, a Cooperation Circle member of URI, is excited to announce its summer retreat, A Women’s Empowerment Weekend, and to invite interested members of other Cooperation Circles to join us as we explore the Divine Feminine with speakers from various faith traditions. Attendees will also participate in a full moon ceremony, yoga, meditations, dance, shared storytelling, and an archetype association practice on our beautiful campus in the Blue Ridge Mountains.



A Requiem of Hope


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

Shirin Ganji, Member of the Newmarket and Area Interfaith Council


Verily, with hardship comes ease (Qur’an 94:5)

In my faith, I am reminded that misfortune is only a challenge of your character, and that there is rarely any difficulty that is not followed by relief. However, when faced with adversity, hope becomes questionable. It becomes the product of a constant self-struggle of whether to move forward or remain stagnant. But most of all, in any given moment it can be conjured up and it can be temporary.

However permanent or fleeting hope may be, it is, above all, empowering. In my experience, it has assisted me through moments of grief and distress.

Recently, I was on a road trip to Las Vegas, in which my purse with all my belongings including my passport, driver’s license, health card, SIN card, and credit cards were all stolen. Instantly, the desire for adventure came to an abrupt end, shrouding the night with concern and worry as I had a return flight to catch the next day. My friends accompanied me through this turn of events, and assisted me in every possible way. They inspired me to find hope in the matter and aided me in all the necessary procedures about reporting a stolen passport.

After searching all night, and slowly losing confidence in the search, they held my hands and each prayed with me for my safe return home. We each came from different backgrounds and belief systems but regardless, it ignited a beautiful expression of intent. It calmed me down, and deep in my heart everything felt like it was going to all wrap up nicely.

I retrieved a temporary passport from the Canadian embassy and managed to board a domestic flight to San Francisco, only to be faced with another road block. The airline had told me that, in order to go home, I was going to have to wait a day and cash up $2000. Out of fear of not being able to afford the trip back home I broke into tears in the middle of Union Square.

While sobbing in public, a homeless man from across the street made his way to the flower booth just outside the subway and purchased a flower. He offered me the flower and said: “Please don’t cry, everything will work out. I promise.” A man who seemed to have nothing consoled me in an attempt to spark optimism amidst a seemingly dark situation. I thanked him dearly, hopped on the train and called my booking company to get on the next plane to Toronto. Eventually, everything worked out! I got back home safely, and a month later, to my surprise, the Las Vegas airport sent me my purse with all of my belongings, as someone had returned it to the airport.

Throughout this experience, my hope was cultivated by the friends and strangers, from different identities, who supported me in my time of need. The questions of what I believe and who I believe in is left out of the equation. This is what inspires hope in me and in humanity: when we focus on the problems in front of us, and learn to lend a hand to every person who needs it.

What gives me tangible hope today is the collaboration between different faith groups and communities assisting each other in times of chaos and turmoil. Just as I was offered assistance through my journey, others require the same kind of treatment. Acknowledgement of this cause already insinuates a certain degree of awareness and how important it is to spread hope around the world.


Shririn Ganji is the co-founder of the Undergraduate Religious Studies Student Association, geared toward historical understanding of different religions and a more practical understanding of how religion is integrated in the public sphere. She received an Honors B.A from the University of Toronto, specializing in World Religions and Philosophy. She derives most of her inspiration learning about the various religions and cultures that exist in the world, and how many of these traditions are linked, and intertwined together.

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 “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 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;;; 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.

SARAH Cooperation Circle Welcomes New Advisory Council Member


Rupsi Burman

“When I wear this pin I remember that I am a woman of my community, dedicated to creating a safe and harmonious environment with my daily actions” 

Earlier this month, Rupsi Burman, founder of Hope in Life Foundation, a Multi-Region Cooperation Circle and chair of the Orange County Task Force – Cities for CEDAW Program, was welcomed onto SARAH’s, the Spiritual and Religious Alliance for Hope Cooperation Circle, Advisory Council.

During the process, she pledged to remember her role as a woman of her community, dedicated to creating a safe and harmonious environment with her daily actions.

SARAH Cooperation Circle
Members of SARAH welcome Rupsi Burman to their Advisory Council

SARAH’s purpose is to “empower the community, learn from each other, and enlighten one another. To create a culture of peace.” They are Southern Calfiornia Based, but their work knows no boundaries. If you are interested in forming a SARAH Circle in your community, click here.

To learn more about their peacebuilding work, click here.

Cooperation Circles celebrate women this March

March is Women’s History Month in the United States and some North American Cooperation Circles are celebrating! These celebrations also coincide with United Nations International Women’s Day on March 8.

The purpose of International Women’s Day is “to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities,” according to the day’s website.

The theme of 2015 is “Empowering Women – Empowering Humanity: Picture It!

If your Cooperation Circle of URI North America Affiliate is celebrating but not highlighted here, emails Regional Coordinator Sari Heidenreich at

Interfaith Council of Southern Nevada

Las Vegas, NV

Event: “What is Christian Science? Who is Mary Baker Eddy?”

More information.


Rothko Chapel

Houston, TX

Event: Mending Bones: Walking a Bone Labyrinth

mending circle“To commemorate International Women’s Day, step inside a unique labyrinth on the Rothko Chapel plaza and engage in the ancient practice of walking contemplation. Installed by artist Jo Zider, this labyrinth is composed of ceramic “bones” that invite participants to consider violence against women, and what role we might all play in compassionately ending it. In the center of the labyrinth, place a bone in the healing circle as a prayer or indication of your intention. The labyrinth is available during Chapel hours.”

Event: From Dictatorship to Democracy

“Learn the skills and methods needed for nonviolent political change from the people who trained the leaders of the Egyptian, Burmese, and Georgian revolutions, among many others. Jamila Raqib, Executive Director of The Albert Einstein Institution leads a workshop in the Rothko Chapel with extensive opportunity for dialogue and networking; lunch is available for purchase. The Albert Einstein Institution was founded by Dr. Gene Sharp in 1983 to advance the study and use of strategic nonviolent action in conflicts throughout the world. It has been responsible for the translation and dissemination of some of the most influential texts on nonviolent action, including Dr. Sharp’s From Dictatorship to Democracy, which have been studied among resistance movements worldwide.” More information.

Event: 17th Annual Women’s Interfaith Seder

“The Passover seder is a ritual meal that recounts and celebrates the Exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt and their journey to freedom. This Haggadah or liturgy is a feminist text, focusing on the women of the Exodus and notable contemporary Jewish women. Some Biblical scholars believe that Jesus’ last supper was a seder because Jesus was Jewish and the event occurred during Passover. More recently, the story of the Exodus figured prominently in the American civil rights movement. The seder themes of oppression, liberation, and remembrance are universal and timeless, so women of all faiths will find this to be a meaningful experience.” More information. 

Event: Women’s History Month Dinner Series

“We’ve organized a series of small dinners to take place during Women’s History Month. Guests will gather in the homes of women of Muslim faith background to enjoy a meal and conversation. Women of any age are welcome!” More information.

Voices for a World Free of Nuclear Weapons CC

original_GenderVoicesInitiative: With the support of the URI Multiregion and United Nations Association of San Francisco, “the UNA Gender Crosstalk is an online community where the crowd-sourced voices of the genders will weave a tale of love and wit, remaking humanity’s vision of itself in the process. Through this new lens, the human race will see itself as the intelligent, generous and capable species that we are, giving us the trust and confidence we need to cooperate on pressing global matters…Participate yourself by writing a short message (150 words or less) to be voted on by others.” Join in!