Stories of Friendship & Faith: The Wisdom of Women Creating Alliances for Peace

April 8, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

opening hearts, opening minds, opening doors

By Brenda Naomi Rosenberg

WisdomWomen_PROMOcover In Metro Detroit, a mostly segregated area of isolated and sometimes hostile communities, with almost every person affected by the failing economy, a devastated auto industry, sky- rocketing unemployment, an area where homes have been devalued by as much as 50%, I saw a spark of hope. A spark ignited with my friends from WISDOM (Women’s Interfaith Solutions for Dialogue and Outreach in MetroDetroit), women who share my passion for opening hearts and opening minds, women who dare to cross boundaries to make friends. Together, we created FRIENDSHIP and FAITH; the WISDOM of women creating alliances for peace, a book that offers hope and the possibility of how we can create peace if we are willing to extend our hands in friendship and formulate meaningful connections.

Twenty nine of us, ages 20 to 80 from seven different faiths -Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Baha’i, Sikh, and Buddhist-collaborated for a year to produce a collection of inspiring stories, stories of creating friendships across religious and cultural divides. Stories that describe everything from surviving flat-out hatred—to the far simpler challenge of making friends with someone of a different religion and race when you share a hospital room; stories that describe making friends at school, overcoming misunderstandings with colleagues at work and even daring to establish friendships that circle the globe; stories that will lift spirits—perhaps even inspire people to spark a new friendship wherever they live.

Our Journey to create Friendship & Faith began on January 24, 2009, when 14 WISDOM leaders gathered for a retreat at the Muslim Unity Center in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, led by the Rev. Sharon Buttry, whose story appears in the book. The retreat was called “Building Bridges”. Together we explored ways to strengthen relationships between women and create innovative projects for the future. To deepen our reflections that weekend, we divided into pairs— I teamed up with Gigi Salka, a Muslim friend and board member of the Muslim Unity Center. Our first exercise was to draw the bridge that connected us. Our bridge was a beautiful rainbow of colors; filled with many of the interfaith and educational projects we had worked on together, including placing a mini Jewish library, a gift of the Farbman family, at the Muslim Unity Center.  I wanted to share not only our bridge-building efforts but all the stories in the room. I proposed a book of our personal stories of how we built bridges across religious and cultural divides, with the hope to inspire others to reach out and to expand the circle of WISDOM.

The group’s enthusiastic response led to a task force focused on gathering stories from dozen of women from diverse backgrounds. Our task force includes WISDOM members Padma Kuppa, Sheri Schiff, Gail Katz, Trish Harris, Ellen Ehrlich, Judy Satterwaite, Paula Drewek and me. We turned to another friend: David Crumm, (founding editor of Read The Spirit www.ReadTheSprit.com, an online magazine, and publisher of ReadTheSpirit Books. David not only published our book, but helped us expand our creative circle. We invited writers from a similarly wide range of backgrounds to help us. Some of the writers are still in college—and some are veteran, nationally-known writers.

As you open the book, you’ll meet my three dear friends; Gail Katz, (Jewish) Trish Harris, (Catholic) and Shahina Begg, (Muslim) who will invite you to sit down with them around a kitchen table. They’ll tell you about the creation of WISDOM – their meeting at an interfaith event, the documentary premier of “Reuniting the Children of Abraham” at Kirk in the Hills Presbyterian Church, and how WISDOM has developed into a dynamic women’s interfaith dialogue organization hosting many successful educational and social-service programs.

Many stories will feel like you’re witnessing events unfolding in your back yard – stories about overcoming tough problems with relationships at school—or finding solutions when families suddenly encounter friction over interreligious marriages. Other stories take you to times and places around the world that you’ll find so compelling—so memorable—that you’ll want to tell a friend – two girls in Iran risking the wrath of religious authorities with their interfaith friendship,  a Jewish woman, child of holocaust survivors, who finds an unexpected friendship when a German couple moves in next door – a Muslim-Hindu marriage that raises cross-country anxiety in India—and a rare true story about an innocent Japanese girl who bravely faced hatred  in an internment camp here and also in Japan during World War II.  You will read the heartfelt stories of personal struggles. One Muslim woman shares her story of how challenging it was for her to start wearing a head scarf after 9/11, and another about how she ended an abusive marriage, stopped wearing her head scarf and started helping other Arab woman in all their relationships. And, some stories like mine show how a lunch with an Imam led to creating an interfaith project  “Reuniting the Children of Abraham”  that has crossed race, faith, cultural barriers and  international boundaries.

Read our book with a friend or neighbor. Meet us online at our www.FriendshipAndFaith.com web site.  Look for our stories on www.ReadTheSpirit.com.,and our book on www.Amazon.com.  We would love to come to your congregation or organization and present our program 5 Women 5 Journeys, an insightful exchange about our faiths, beliefs and challenges as women. If you are interested in organizing a congregational –wide “read” of this book contact: Gail Katz at gailkatz@comcast.net

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Islam Siddiqui Appointed

April 1, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

President Obama on Saturday announced the recess appointment of 15 political appointees whose nominations had been stalled by Republicans.

DrIslamSiddiqui “The United States Senate has the responsibility to approve or disapprove of my nominees. But if, in the interest of scoring political points, Republicans in the Senate refuse to exercise that responsibility, I must act in the interest of the American people and exercise my authority to fill these positions on an interim basis,” Obama said in a statement.

“Most of the men and women whose appointments I am announcing today were approved by Senate committees months ago, yet still await a vote of the Senate. At a time of economic emergency, two top appointees to the Department of Treasury have been held up for nearly six months. I simply cannot allow partisan politics to stand in the way of the basic functioning of government.”

The 15 newly appointed nominees are:

* Jeffrey Goldstein: Nominee for Under Secretary for Domestic Finance, Department of the Treasury
* Michael F. Mundaca: Nominee for Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy, Department of the Treasury
* Eric L. Hirschhorn: Nominee for Under Secretary of Commerce for Export Administration and head of the Bureau of Industry and Security, Department of Commerce
* Michael Punke: Nominee for Deputy Trade Representative – Geneva, Office of the United States Trade Representative
* Francisco “Frank” J. Sánchez: Nominee for Under Secretary for International Trade, Department of Commerce
* Islam A. Siddiqui: Nominee for Chief Agricultural Negotiator, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative
* Alan D. Bersin: Nominee for Commissioner, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security
* Jill Long Thompson: Nominee for Member, Farm Credit Administration Board
* Rafael Borras: Nominee for Under Secretary for Management , Department of Homeland Security
* Craig Becker: Nominee for Board Member, National Labor Relations Board
* Mark Pearce: Nominee for Board Member, National Labor Relations Board
* Jacqueline A. Berrien: Nominee for Chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
* Chai R. Feldblum: Nominee for Commissioner, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
* Victoria A. Lipnic: Nominee for Commissioner, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
* P. David Lopez: Nominee for General Counsel, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

In a post to the White House blog that accompanied Obama’s announcement, spokeswoman Jen Psaki wrote that the president “was no longer willing to let another month go by with key economic positions unfilled, especially at a time when our country is recovering from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.”

Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution gives the president the right to unilaterally fill any vacancy that would normally require Senate confirmation when the Senate is in recess.

Unlike appointments that are confirmed by the Senate, recess appointments only last until the end of the next session of Congress, which right now would mean until the end of 2011.

Obama had been widely expected to recess appoint Becker and Pearce to the labor relations board. As Jason Linkins wrote in the Huffington Post on Friday, GOP opposition to Obama’s nominees had left the board with only two of its five members, which has led to a lot of one-to-one ties.

Some of the other appointments are to critical positions, such as the two Treasury candidates whose nominations had been stalled.

And some were being obstructed for particularly outrageous reasons. As Ryan Grim recently reported for the Huffington Post, the two trade nominees — Bunke and Siddiqui — were being blocked by Kentucky Republican Sen. Jim Bunning because he is opposed to a tobacco-related law passed by the Canadian Parliament.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), was particularly eloquent on that matter on the Senate floor two weeks ago: “The Senator from Kentucky has said he doesn’t have any objection to these nominees. He’s only blocking the nominations as leverage against the President and [U.S. Trade Representative Ron] Kirk. That is pure obstructionism.”

Obama nevertheless shied away from what would have been some more controversial recess appointments. He did not unilaterally install any of his blocked nominees to the Justice Department, including Dawn Johnsen, his nominee to run the Office of Legal Counsel, and Chris Schroeder, his nominee to be assistant attorney general for legal policy — both of whom are beloved by progressives but reviled by Republicans. He also chose not to recess appoint one of his senior Treasury nominees, Lael Brainard, nominated for undersecretary of international affairs, who has run into some tax issues.

That Obama would use his recess appointment powers isn’t a surprise. According to the Congressional Research Service, President George W. Bush made 171 recess appointments; President Clinton made 139.

Until Saturday, Obama hadn’t made any — despite Republican obstruction so intense that even Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in early February essentially begged Obama to do an end run.

“Frankly, I think the President should recess all of them — all of them,” Reid said of Obama’s stalled nominees. “There are scores of them being held up for reasons that have nothing to do with anything dealing with these people or how they will function once in office.”

There are still about 200 judicial and civilian nominees being held up, some of them for some pretty amazing reasons. And the Senate is in recess until April 12.

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U.S., Turkey Launch New Trade, Investment Forum

December 24, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

2009-12-21T113419Z_2140208691_GM1E5CL1I6101_RTRMADP_3_EU-TURKEY

Turkey’s EU Affairs Minister Egemen Bagis (L) talks to Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu during a news conference at the European Union Council headquarters in Brussels December 21, 2009.    

REUTERS/Francois Lenoir  

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States and NATO ally Turkey launched an initiative Monday aimed at boosting trade and investment ties, but said there were no plans for the two countries to negotiate a free trade agreement.

“We can … build on what is a good trade and commercial relationship and make it a much more robust one,” U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said at a press conference with Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan.

The initiative creates a new Cabinet-level forum to discuss ways to expand bilateral trade and investment flows and to try to resolve disputes when they arise, similar to one the United States has with China.

“This framework … will be an important vehicle for expanding trade and investment and creating new jobs for the workers and the people” of both countries, said U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke.

The announcement followed a White House meeting between President Barack Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan to discuss Iran’s nuclear program and U.S. plans to send more troops to Afghanistan.

Obama told reporters he believed Turkey, a predominantly Muslim country and long-time U.S. ally, could be an ‘important player’ in moving Iran toward resolving its dispute with the West over its nuclear program.

Erdogan said Turkey stands ready to do whatever it can to achieve a diplomatic solution on the nuclear issue.

Turkey, which has applied for membership of the European Union, is the United States’ fourth-largest trading partner in the Muslim world and 27th overall.

U.S-Turkey trade has dropped from a record of nearly $15 billion in 2008, but there is every reason to expect the two countries can surpass that “when the world economy gets back on its feet,’’ Locke said.

Babacan said the two countries would seek suggestions from business on how to increase trade in areas ranging from energy to agriculture to military equipment.
He downplayed the chances of Ankara using the forum to press Washington to reduce high U.S. tariffs that Turkey faces on textiles and some other exports.

Kirk said the initiative was not intended as a stepping stone to talks with Turkey on a free trade agreement. (Reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Chris Wilson)

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U.S., Turkey Launch New Trade, Investment Forum

December 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States and NATO ally Turkey launched an initiative Monday aimed at boosting trade and investment ties, but said there were no plans for the two countries to negotiate a free trade agreement.

“We can … build on what is a good trade and commercial relationship and make it a much more robust one,’’ U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said at a press conference with Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan.

The initiative creates a new Cabinet-level forum to discuss ways to expand bilateral trade and investment flows and to try to resolve disputes when they arise, similar to one the United States has with China.

“This framework … will be an important vehicle for expanding trade and investment and creating new jobs for the workers and the people’’ of both countries, said U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke.

The announcement followed a White House meeting between President Barack Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan to discuss Iran’s nuclear program and U.S. plans to send more troops to Afghanistan.

Obama told reporters he believed Turkey, a predominantly Muslim country and long-time U.S. ally, could be an “important player’’ in moving Iran toward resolving its dispute with the West over its nuclear program.

Erdogan said Turkey stands ready to do whatever it can to achieve a diplomatic solution on the nuclear issue.

Turkey, which has applied for membership of the European Union, is the United States’ fourth-largest trading partner in the Muslim world and 27th overall.

U.S-Turkey trade has dropped from a record of nearly $15 billion in 2008, but there is every reason to expect the two countries can surpass that “when the world economy gets back on its feet,’’ Locke said.

Babacan said the two countries would seek suggestions from business on how to increase trade in areas ranging from energy to agriculture to military equipment.
He downplayed the chances of Ankara using the forum to press Washington to reduce high U.S. tariffs that Turkey faces on textiles and some other exports.

Kirk said the initiative was not intended as a stepping stone to talks with Turkey on a free trade agreement. (Reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Chris Wilson)

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