My URI Trip to New York City: Visiting the UN, Meeting Fellow Leaders and Understanding the Global Power of Interfaith Work

Anjaana Bhairo traveled to the United Nations as part of a URI North America program to help connect young adult interfaith leaders to the United Nations and each other and to promote World Interfaith Harmony Week, International Day of Peace. Bhairo is a member of the University of Rochester Interfaith Chapel, a Cooperation Circle member of the United Religions Initiative.

By Anjaana Bhairo

It’s amazing to think that it has already been a week since I met some of the most amazing people in New York City! I have so many memories from this trip that it is going to be hard to summarize all the experiences, feelings and lessons I learned during my three days in New York City. However, I hope that this travel journal can at least share a snippet of how impactful, exciting and transformative the trip has been for me.

Thinking back now, I have realized that I have so many memories from this trip that were both amusing and inspiring. My favorite memory was watching Rico, a participant from Las Vegas, eat Indian food for first time. Another favorite of mine was observing Hassan, a participant from Tri-City Interfaith Council in the San Francisco area, experience snow for the first time. Both experiences reminded me of how each of us came from different walks of life, yet we all shared a similar vision and desire to achieve interfaith cooperation and acceptance. While, Rico’s and Hassan’s experience definitely left an imprint on my memory, a moment that I will always remember and cherish was learning about what each participant had accomplished back at home. Continue reading “My URI Trip to New York City: Visiting the UN, Meeting Fellow Leaders and Understanding the Global Power of Interfaith Work”

Kids4Peace Seattle Helps Show Religion As A Force For Good

Kids4peace seattle

This piece was written by URI North America Storytelling Intern Robyn Lebron. You can read more of her work here.

URI North America is thrilled to welcome one of our newest Cooperation Circles. We know that we are stronger together!

 

KIDS4PEACE, Seattle, WA

  • Contact Person: Jordan Goldwarg, Northwest Regional Director, info@k4p.org
  • Mission Statement: Transforming Divided Societies into Communities of Lasting Peace. Kids4Peace is a grassroots interfaith youth movement dedicated to ending conflict and inspiring hopein Jerusalem and other divided societies around the world. To achieve this mission, our programs build interfaith communities that embody a culture of peace and empower a movement for change. [For complete Mission Statement visit “Mission” ]
  • Website: www.k4p.org/chapters/seattle/
  • Areas of Focus: Youth, youth leadership development, youth diversity education
  • Program Areas: K4P Seattle runs three programs that focus on four key areas: 1) Interfaith education 2) Dialogue & Leadership skills 3) Social change 4) Community building.

Continue reading “Kids4Peace Seattle Helps Show Religion As A Force For Good”

Youth camp works to end bias, bigotry and racism: “Ten years ago, I had never met a Muslim.”

Camp Anytown

This piece was written by URI North America Storytelling Intern Robyn Lebron. You can read more of her work here

URI North America is thrilled to welcome one of our newest Cooperation Circles. We know that we are stronger together!

CAMP ANYTOWN  – Las Vegas, Nevada

  • Contact Person: Rico Ocampo, Program Director,  campanytownlv@hotmail.com
  • Mission Statement: Our mission statement is “To create communities based on inclusivity, respect, and understanding through youth leadership and empowerment.”
  • Areas of Focus: Youth, youth leadership development, youth diversity education
  • Website: www.anytownlv.org

“We value youth because Anytown works from the premise that we live in a multicultural society and that young people are the nation’s future. Therefore, youth need to be sensitized to the experiences of diverse groups if- as decision makers- they are expected to make fair judgments in improving the quality of life for the entire nation regardless of ability, ethnicity, faith/religion, and gender.”

When Rico Ocampo, Camp Anytown’s Program Director, first heard about URI, it was at a conference in San Diego.

“I didn’t have a full grasp of what URI was … it kinda blew my mind!” Ocampo went onto to add that, because of that experience, he now knows he can reach out to others and learn from their programs.

Continue reading “Youth camp works to end bias, bigotry and racism: “Ten years ago, I had never met a Muslim.””

Stories from Korea: Building Relationships for a More ‘Glocal’ World

Hersheyth Aggarwal  traveled to South Korea to attended the URI Korea Youth Peace Camp alongside URI young leaders from around the world. Hersheyth invites us into his experience by sharing his reflects below.

The URI Youth Peace Camp in Korea was an amazing experience. The focus of the camp was to discuss the concept of global citizenship and learn about Korean culture. The first couple of days in the camp we went to the Sea of Japan and saw Naksana Temple, the border, and a Korean War Memorial museum. Then we returned to Seoul where we visited the Korean National Museum, a Won Buddhist Temple, a Mormon Temple, and a Cathedral. Almost every day we also broke up into discussion groups in the evening and each discussion group made a presentation to show on the final day.

Continue reading “Stories from Korea: Building Relationships for a More ‘Glocal’ World”

High School Interfaith Activists Organize for a More Tolerant Future

Across the country, interfaith activism is spurring in high schools across the country. These grassroots activists are inspiring their peers to learn about different religions through clubs that promote dialogue and service.

In 2014, Sophomore Jaxon Washburn found himself with a diverse group of friends at Arizona College Prep School in Chandler, Ariz. At lunchtime, they ended up discussing each other’s cultures, backgrounds, and beliefs. These conversations led to a desire to start a formal interfaith club. Soon, the World Religion and Tolerance Society (WRTS) was born.

Continue reading “High School Interfaith Activists Organize for a More Tolerant Future”

VIDEO: World Interfaith Harmony Week at the United Nations

Leah Schwartz traveled to the United Nations as part of a URI North America-sponsored program for young adult interfaith leaders. This trip occurred during World Interfaith Harmony Week. Schwartz is a member of the University of Rochester Interfaith Chapel, a Cooperation Circle member of the United Religions Initiative.

The following video encapsulates my experience at the UN for World Interfaith Harmony Week with the United Religions Initiative. I hope that by watching my story you can get a sense of the jam-packed two days I spent at the UN with other members of URI Cooperation Circles and URI United Nations Representative Monica Willard. The video includes images and videos from a high-level panel for the 55th Commission for Social Development, a tour of the UN, and a side event titled “Global Citizenship in Eradicating Poverty.” The video is mediated via Snapchat, an application that allows users to create digital stories.

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Read reflections from other trip participants here and here

How my trip to the UN changed me

Jaxon Washburn traveled to the United Nations as part of a URI North America-sponsored program for young adult interfaith leaders. This trip occurred during World Interfaith Harmony Week. Washburn is the founder of The World and Religion Tolerance Society, a high school interfaith in Arizona and a Cooperation Circle member of the United Religions Initiative. 

Recently, I had the tremendous fortune of traveling to and attend the 55th Commission for Social Development at the United Nations in New York City.

This took place as part of a celebration for World Interfaith Harmony Week put on through a grassroots non-profit organization that I am a part of called the United Religions Initiative. The whole journey was an unreal experience and greatly expanded my own perspective on the world, youth engagement, and of course, the increasing importance of the values of interfaith in the world today.

World Interfaith Harmony Week is celebrated during the first week of February, and my trip was the first three days of the global week of interfaith observance. After a long, yet occupied plane ride in anticipation of the impending experience, I touched down in New Jersey at the Newark Airport. From there, I took a shuttle bus directly to our in Times Square. During the ride, I was happy to engage in some conversation with a group of Belgian tourists, the topics ranging from where we had traveled to relevant politics. Already at that point, extreme diversity was completely apparent everywhere I looked. After reaching the hotel, I explored Times Square and the bustling city surrounding me.

New York could only be compared to some massive organism that never slept and was always on the move, breathing in and out massive crowds of cars and humans alike.

Culture shock is a highly accurate description of the feeling I experienced at that time. No matter where I set my gaze, a myriad of ethnicities, persons, and languages were present. Having an internal radar of all things religious, I often found myself guessing or identifying nearby individuals according to their faith. Whether walking or driving through the city, one could easily spot many Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus and Buddhists. I was in awe, both of the towering edifices crammed in such close proximity to each other, as well as the multitude of hosts they contained. New York could only be compared to some massive organism that never slept and was always on the move, breathing in and out massive crowds of cars and humans alike.

After being very much overwhelmed by the change of scenery, I joined with the small group of other youth representatives I was staying with, and after getting dinner in an Irish pub, we retired for the night.

The next day, we all awoke bright and early and took off to get our proper identification for our impending day at the United Nations. Our hotel being on 41st Street, we walked several blocks through the city, even passing through Grand Central Station, before we got to the identification building so that we could get certified to enter the United Nations itself. After a process of handing over our papers and getting temporary lanyards with our official U.N. ID’s, we went through various security checkpoints to get properly screened. Being the foremost center of international diplomacy, the security was far more intensive and rigorous than I had ever before experienced.

After briefly surveying the inner room, we quickly walked to the meeting room where we would observe our first of two meetings. This session was titled “Promoting Integrated Policies for Poverty Eradication: Youth Development in the 2030 Agenda” and was attended by various representatives from all over the world.

Finally, stepping out of security after being deemed clean of any contraband items, we stepped into the central courtyard of the United Nations. The morning air was crisp and after a brief photo shoot in front of the various symbolic statues and outdoor works of art, we stepped through the grand entrance of the main UN building. After briefly surveying the inner room, we quickly walked to the meeting room where we would observe our first of two meetings. This session was titled “Promoting Integrated Policies for Poverty Eradication: Youth Development in the 2030 Agenda” and was attended by various representatives from all over the world. They all spoke about how their country was focusing on increasing socioeconomic development in their youth and women through social programs, education, and various empowerment projects. China, Madagascar, Portugal, Uruguay, Iran and others all voiced their reports on the development of such efforts in their respective countries.

Afterward, our group got a quick lunch in one of the cafes in the building and then took part in an interactive discussion regarding youth delegate programs in the United Nations. There, various youth representatives from countries such as Australia, Bulgaria, Ukraine, the Netherlands and others were able to share some of the successes, challenges, highlights and obstacles they had faced in taking part in their country’s Youth Delegate programs.

We toured the remainder of the United Nations building that we had access to. We were able to view gifts and international artwork, as well as exhibits.

Afterward, we toured the remainder of the United Nations building that we had access to. We were able to view gifts and international artwork, as well as exhibits dedicated to the history of the United Nations, tragedies such as the Holocaust, and modern epidemics such as sexual violence and the conflicts in the Middle East. Every item had a story, and every story made a special impression on those who experienced it, myself included. Following a full day there, we soon retired back to our hotel rooms for a few hours before joining together again to end the night with a group dinner at a local Italian restaurant.

The final day as the other members of my group departed, I was finally able to really tour New York and make special visits to its foremost tourist spots. The Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, the Memorial for the World Trade Center, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the New York Public Library, the Holocaust Museum, and Central Park were all destinations I quickly make stops at before finally catching my shuttle to the airport and embarking on the plane ride home.

I returned from New York, the United Nations, and the trip as a changed individual. While there, my perspective became more global and my worldview enriched, with several meaningful relationships fostered with those I had spent time with there.

Jaxon (2nd from right) with other URI members visiting the United Nations for World Interfaith Harmony Week.

In the end, I returned from New York, the United Nations, and the trip as a changed individual. While there, my perspective became more global and my worldview enriched, with several meaningful relationships fostered with those I had spent time with there. I am very grateful for the opportunity I had to take part in this trip. The experiences I had and the impact it has made on me are something I am confident can only come once in a lifetime. With the help of the United Religions Initiative, I will forever remember World Interfaith Harmony Week in reference to the lasting relationships I created, and the meaningful lessons I learned while there.

Now, more than ever, I am committed to working towards a more inclusive, global, and understanding society. These are values I believe in, and thanks to organizations, such as URI and the United Nations, those values have a chance towards changing many more lives, just as they have my own. In the end, I am confident that we are all better together and I know that together, it is truly possible for peace to prevail on earth.

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Read reflections from other trip participants here and here.

The Helpers are Working Together, Inshallah!

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

Anissa Abdel-Jelil, interfaith activist, artist, and URI North America Communications and Outreach Coordinator responds:

For as long as I can remember, my father would complete every sentence I said with the phrase “inshallah,” reminding me that everything I planned to do would get done with a little help from Allah – that is, if God willed it to happen.

I would say things like “I’m going to the store.” And he would say “Ghouli inshallah” (Say inshallah). “My flight gets in at 10 p.m.” And he would say “Ghouli inshallah.” It didn’t matter how big or small of a plan I was making, my father would tell me to say inshallah (God willing.)

So, when tragedy or struggles come, not only do I look for the helpers, as Mr. Rogers’ mother suggests, but I look for potential partners. I ask, “Who can I team up with to get the job done?”

For some, referencing the Divine in every sentence you say is a foreign concept or doesn’t resonate with their worldview. For me, it was a constant exercise in humility and a reminder that I have a partner with me at all times during my social change work – and that partner is Allah. So, when tragedy or struggles come, not only do I look for the helpers, as Mr. Rogers’ mother suggests, but I look for potential partners. I ask, “Who can I team up with to get the job done?”

Over the course of the past few weeks, hate crimes against marginalized groups have increased, natural disasters have devastated communities, and some law enforcement officers have not been held accountable for the violence they have inflicted on civilians. Needless to say there are enough injustices to leave us permanently frustrated and devastated. However, in those same weeks, I’ve witnessed strangers come together in person and online to build nonviolent coalitions to support those who are at the frontline of many of the social justice movements taking place in the United States.

In my experience, if I choose to see them, the helpers are out there and, if I look closer, I notice they’re working together. 

Friends and acquaintances have invited me to join capacity-building listservs, where folks share everything from best practices for effective community organizing to their own professional legal and health advice. It seems as though every scroll through Facebook introduces me to another crowdfunding campaign for an important cause, such as securing supplies for the water protectors that continue to camp at Standing Rock during the Winter and supporting those who were deeply affected by the fire in Oakland this past weekend. In my experience, if I choose to see them, the helpers are out there and, if I look closer, I notice they’re working together. 

Knowing that there are people out there whose skills complement mine and whose gifts are necessary to getting the job done gives me #TangibleHope. It teaches me that the social change necessary to make our communities healthier, happier and more just, can only be fostered in community and in partnership.

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anissaheadshotsmallphoto

Anissa Abdel-Jelil is the URI North America Communications and Outreach Coordinator. 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 and introducing her URI’s interfaith grassroots network. Based out of the San Francisco Bay Area, Anissa uses art as a tool for advocating for social justice. 

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

 

Finding Tangible Hope in Keeping Tradition Alive

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

Leah Schwartz, young adult interfaith activist responds:

Last year when I was studying abroad in Barcelona my host family asked how I could put my body through the process of fasting for Yom Kippur. I began to question what meaning it had, especially when I wasn’t performing the rite with my family and friends at home. However, I was soon reminded of my grandfather and his commitment to Judaism despite the anti-Semitism that he faced in his lifetime.

Although sometimes it seems foreign to practice Jewish rituals in a secular(ish) environment, whether it be at college or abroad, I like the idea that that these holidays and traditions somehow connect me to my grandfather and my ancestors.

My grandfather was a holocaust survivor and a venerated member of the Jewish community within Caracas, Venezuela.

When I was ten years old, on Mother’s Day, my mother received a call that her father had been hit by a bus in Caracas that ran a red light. The family festivities were interrupted and she quickly made arrangements to get to Venezuela. Later that week he passed away.

I never got the chance to ask him what it was like to be in a labor camp or how he stayed devoted to the idea of Hashem, G-d, in such a bleak circumstance. It felt wrong that, after all he had been through, he was robbed of his life in this way.

The Jewish High Holidays give me time to to not only reflect on this life event and how it affects me, but also its larger societal context. In this time of reflection, I feel Tangible Hope wash over me.

I have the power and the agency to keep a tradition alive that was once under the threat of being wiped out.

I have hope that I can continue to pass on these customs one day when I have children of my own — that I have the power and the agency to keep a tradition alive that was once under the threat of being wiped out. I have hope that, through interfaith work, I can contribute to creating a more inclusive atmosphere where no one feels threatened due to their origins or practice.

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Leah Schwartz Tangible Hope Diary

 

Leah Schwartz is a senior at the University of Rochester. She is an intern at the university’s Interfaith Chapel and President of the Students’ Association for Interfaith Cooperation.

 

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.