Summary for the March 23 to 26, 2008
Abrahamic Family Reunion
Co-Sponsored by TRACK TWO: An Institute for Citizen Diplomacy
With generous support from the Fetzer Institute
Organized and Facilitated by
Joseph V. Montville
Summary Written by Frank Poletti
This is a summary of the second gathering in an ongoing series of conferences that are part of the Abrahamic Family Reunion (AFR) project. These conferences are being organized by TRACK TWO: An Institute for Citizen Diplomacy and are taking place at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. Longtime facilitator of conferences at Esalen Institute, Joseph Montville, is the convener. The Fetzer Institute has provided generous support to make these events possible.
The purpose of the gathering in March 2008 at Esalen was to vet some of proposed educational materials the AFR is developing and nurture connections among an emerging network of individuals and organizations that are working to heal the historical wounds among the three great Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. This event was focused primarily on the California region, although there were a few participants from other areas, like New Jersey, Washington D.C., and Boston. The biographies of all the participants are at the end of this document.
Whenever a group comes together for an extended period of time at Esalen, special moments often arise that spontaneously encapsulate the spirit of the gathering and bring home a deeper message of purpose to everyone involved. At this gathering one such special moment arose that so obviously symbolized the spirit of this gathering that many people in the room took notice of it. After meeting for a few days and discussing the challenges of interfaith healing, a moment came when a Muslim Imam from Oakland named Faheem Shuaibe went up to the flip-chart in the room to give a mini-presentation to the other participants. As he walked up to the chart, Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak spontaneous arose to assist Shuaibe in his presentation. Suddenly, the entire group was watching a Muslim Imam and a Jewish Rabbi working harmoniously to present a topic on interfaith healing. This was one of those symbolic moments that might be called a “hologram”-a part that contains within it the entire meaning and purpose of the larger whole. In one moment the gist of the entire mission of the Abrahamic Family Reunion was on display: to bring together those of different faiths in a human-scaled setting so that so-called enemies can converse with one another, learn from each other, laugh out loud together, and, most of all, heal with one another the old and traumatic wounds in need of so much care, understanding, and compassion.
As the conference began on Monday morning Joseph Montville got things rolling by welcoming all the participants and laying out the agenda for the week. Montville said he wanted to move toward a group consensus for a document on the shared pro-social values among the three Abrahamic faith traditions. Interfaith workers need to get the message across that all these religions share core values, such as the commitment to taking care of the sick and elderly. On this note, Montville mentioned the work of Abdulaziz Sachedina, who is working on a book that will show the Islamic theological compatibility with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Even so, finding a higher ground in shared values will be critical to the success of this project, Montville said. Equally necessary will be the need to follow a well-researched and well-documented process of historical healing. Montville’s extensive background in diplomacy and political psychology has led him to see the immense value in deliberately and carefully revealing the shared historical wounds each of these three groups remember. There is a well-supported theory and practice of reconciliation that is starting to improve the effectiveness of interfaith healing at multiple levels of engagement. This involves the process of acknowledgement, contrition, and forgiveness.
Montville asked the group participants to speak about their interfaith work in the field and on the streets. Christian pastor from Sausalito, California Jim Burklo started by saying that hermeneutics (that is, the method of inter-preting sacred documents) is crucial to interfaith work. Burklo shared about some successes and failures he has experienced in the field with this issue. For example, he mentioned a conference at Stanford University a few years ago at which Burklo said that even moderate Muslims were outraged at the idea of hermeneutics in the first place. For many of them, it was inconceivable that there could be human or cultural influence on the Koran.
In response Montville emphasized that the goal of this project is to steer away as much as possible from thorny theological disputes and instead focus on shared values among the great Abrahamic religions. Even so, Miriam Abu Sharkh mentioned in response to Burklo’s comments that the Islamic texts contain many contradictions and thus hermeneutics is unavoidable. She said the literary tone of the Koran is very flowery, so by necessity it is open to interpretation. She added that a common misconception is that the Koran enjoins women to wear a veil at all times. But this is simply not true. What it does say is that women must veil their eyes. She also noted that in her experience in the Muslim world in recent years, there has been a much greater embrace of hermeneutics as a natural part of the faith. Benina Gould added that we must recognize the immense diversity of practice within the Islamic world, particularly in places like Indonesia where there is lively debate about how to interpret the Koran. Julie Amberg noted that the issue of hermeneutics is no surprise to her because the same cultural divisions over how to interpret sacred scripture exists within the Jewish community as well.
One of the main financial sponsors of this project is the Fetzer Institute, which recently has been funding research into the connection between contemplative practices and cultural healing. One of the conference participants, Esalen board member Sam Yau, shared something of relevance on this issue. As the group took turns going around the room describing recent ups and downs with interfaith healing, the baton eventually came to Yau, who shared a touching story about his own personal journey of interfaith healing. Yau was raised as a literalistic Christian in Hong Kong. He said that even as a child he knew that something was wrong with the exclusive spiritual message that he was being taught-namely that only Christians could attain salvation. But how could this be, Yau thought as a child, if so many millions of Chinese have never and will never even be exposed to Christianity? Many years later in his life as an adult, Yau was on a Buddhist meditation retreat at which time he had a vivid personal experience that led him to see a deeper unity between the Buddhist and Christian teachings. In one special moment of grace, Yau said he was reconciled to Christianity. Yau mentioned that contemplative practices from both East and West can reveal the great spiritual truths of love, healing, and oneness. Yau said that in Christianity the Catholic Father Thomas Keating has revived the contemplative practice called centering prayer as a meditative discipline. In fact, all of the great Abrahamic faiths contain rich contemplative traditions. Overall, Yau emphasized the need to revive the mystical seed within each tradition to help effect healing and reconciliation.
When prompted by a question on the nature of contemplative practice and peak experiences, Esalen co-founder Michael Murphy said that there are a number of keys toward stabilizing such temporary peak experiences so that they can effect long-lasting healing and reconciliation. Murphy said these include: 1) reinforcing and anchoring the peak experience with an intellectual framework; 2) finding and working with an adequate support group with members who have had similar experiences; and 3) engaging in the discipline of continued meditative or contemplative practice, which can help facilitate further mystical openings when the moment is right.
When it was her turn to check-in, Jewish community activist from Oakland, California, Julie Amberg, shared an inspiring story of interfaith healing. A few years ago in Fremont, California, where there is a large Afghan population, a Muslim woman was shot and killed by a seemingly random drive-by shooting. In the wake of the tragedy, the Muslim and Jewish communities pulled together and worked in harmony on the deceased’s burial rights. The local Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) got involved and found common ground with their Muslim counterparts. Amberg said it was an unparalleled bonding experience. Her own experience in hospice work came in handy as she learned a number of intricate and delicate burial procedures, such as how to wash and wrap the body in preparation for the burial. As the two groups worked together and shared their procedures, a great amount of inter-faith knowledge was gained and new found trust was built.
Amberg described another inter-faith process called “Mimuna.” Coming from the region of Morocco, this ancient custom celebrates Muslim-Jewish harmony. Mimuna occurs shortly before the Jewish holiday of Passover, at which time the Jews get rid of their hametz (anything with leavening). They give products containing leaven to their Muslim neighbors for safe keeping during the week of Passover. Then, after it is over, the Muslims bring the leavened products back and both groups celebrate together. Amberg said that a key part of this custom is the equal status contact among participants, which helps break down stereotypes. Overall, it is a very celebratory event that can act as a model for other inter-faith settings, such as the holiday period at the end of the year, at which time Jews and Muslims can work together to educate each other about their own sacred traditions.
Miriam Abu Sharkh commented that it is fabulous for Abrahamic faith practitioners to convene inter-faith religious and cultural ceremonies, but that another much needed way to foster new connections is in the context of non-religious settings. Abu Sharkh said the neutral settings at a work place or in professional networks provide excellent avenues for healing. It is not necessary to always connect in highly charged religious atmospheres. Abu Sharkh mentioned that Numi Tea was founded by an Iraqi Muslim named Ahmed Rahim, who lives in Oakland. He is finding ways to connect with others in the business world. For example, he has supported rock concerts bringing together people from different faiths.
Tamar Miller shared next. She described a powerful inter-faith event she helped host and facilitate at Harvard University several years ago. A number of eminent Muslim Imams from Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia participated in a multi-day gathering with Jewish and Christian clergy, in association with the Institute for Middle East Peace and Development and Harvard’s Center for Public Leadership. Miller said that the first few days of the event went as one might expect, as a number of participants wanted to educate others about their point of view and positions and less interested in listening or participating in dialogue. After the group visited a synagogue, a mosque, and a church, participants started to relax and seemed to feel a greater sense of commonality, which was evident in their empathy, curiosity about one another, and increased explicit expressions of fear and anger.
Next, the group engaged with Dr. Sousan Abadian, an independent scholar of collective trauma, on healing the wounds of the past, in which they acknowledged historical and ongoing humiliation. After the conversation about the dynamics of trauma, one prominent Muslim theologian relaxed his former intransigence and said that 80% of the Koran is open to interpretation. He needed the well- planned safety of this inter-faith setting to make such statement openly. Miller noted that Jews and Muslims might say one thing in a hostile atmosphere or for a magazine or TV show, while they might say quite another in a healing context of mutual respect.
On the day the entire group went together to the pluralistic Jewish worship services at Harvard Hillel, Miller said that as the group entered, there was a prayer uttered for the state of Israel. The Muslims in the group politely sat and listened to it. It was remarkably healing for Miller and other Jews to witness the Muslims listening respectfully at such a charged moment in the service.
Next, Miller briefly mentioned her recent consulting work to the first-ever undergraduate dialogue group between Muslims and Jews at Harvard, which they called JaM. One afternoon at a traveling photo-exhibit of the Combatants for Peace project, the group engaged in a fish-bowl exercise, in which both identity groups took turns sitting on the inside of two concentric circles. The Jews went first as they sat in the inner circle and shared their angst and confusion while the Muslims sat on the outer circle and agreed to listen without interrupting. After the Jews shared, the two groups switched positions and then the Muslims spoke while the Jews listened without interruption. During the exercise, each side talked about their own troubles with violence within their own countries and communities. Miller said one key to this fish-bowl exercise was to take opportune moments of silence to help digest the intensity of the content and emotions and to practice deep listening-one of the hardest spiritual practices there is, under complicated and intensely emotional conditions.
Miller summarized a few key points arising from these two venues of inter-faith work. First, she noted how disarming the neutral setting of a secular university is. A number of the participants from the Mid-East shared their surprise at the level of committed religiosity coupled with pluralism in the university, including multiple centers of worship from different traditions and pluralistic worship within each tradition. Second, Miller said that the non-violent communication methods (outlined in Marshall Rosenberg’s book Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life) were extremely helpful in setting the stage for the group to agree on respectful norms for their discussions. Third, Miller said that inter-communal discussions are best managed in stages. For instance, it appears helpful to build levels of trust and comfort before tackling the Israel-Palestine issue. In the case of the undergraduates, however, Miller shared that they were ready to discuss this fairly early in the process of the group’s formation but not without a lot of practical and emotional preparation on the part of the group’s student leaders. Fourth, Miller said an understanding of the nature of trauma is indispensable for this kind of -faith work. On this note, she mentioned her co-authored paper with Sousan Abadian titled, “Taming the Beast: Trauma in Jewish Religious and Political Life.” Trauma can lead to what Abadian calls “toxic narratives”-or deeply ingrained belief systems that reinforce and re-activate trauma. In their place, Miller said we could develop “generative narratives”- that is, stories and rituals that take us beyond the wounds of the past and open us to creating a new future for the Abrahamic Family.
Monday Early Afternoon
Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak from Los Angeles spoke in the afternoon. He described his first amendment website www.JewsonFirst.org, which addresses the erosion of the first amendment right to practice religion freely in a context that separates church from state. Beliak said during the past decade, especially with Bush in office, the Christian Right has moved to weaken America’s tradition of church/state separation, particularly in the military. Beliak described a particular movement within the Christian Right called “Christian Zionism”-which ironically is neither Christian nor Zionist. He pointed out that there have been several distortions of the term “Zionism” over the years, but the proper meaning of the term refers to the re-vitalization of Jewish culture and identity in the 19th century in response to the various forms of nationalism then prominent in Europe. The contemporary movement of “Christian Zionism” has distorted that original meaning and has instead emphasized a messianic message of Armageddon, which will be instigated by war in the Holy Land. Beliak said these Christian Zionists are very aggressive and harbor a truculent form of anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic fervor. Republican Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee and former Speaker of the House Tom De Lay are both Christian Zionists. Many so-called “patriot pastors” in America’s Bible belt fit this description as well, such as John Hagee in San Antonio. Beliak said more information can be found at: www.christianzionism.org
In response to Beliak’s description of Christian fundamentalism, Jim Burklo pointed out that fundamentalists are not growing in overall numbers so much as grouping together into bigger churches. Evangelicals, in particular, are combining into mega-churches. But the overall number is not going up according to research by the Pew Center.
Beliak turned next to describe his work on abating the belligerent settler movement in Israel. To draw an analogy, Beliak said that Jewish settlers are akin to American cowboys during the hey-day of the westward movement. A spirited and aggressive attitude motivates these people, whose core number, Beliak estimated, is around 450,000 people. Although many of them move for strictly economic and demographic reasons, a small minority of around 30,000 of them have a radical cowboy mentality, including being well-armed with guns and ammunition. Beliak said Dr. Irving Moscowitz has funded this settler movement from resources in the United States. Moscowitz has made quite a bit of money in gambling and bingo (in the tens of millions) in southern California, which he uses to fund violence prone settlers in Israel. But in the process, Moscovitz has broken a number of state laws and has yet to be brought to justice. Beliak concluded by saying that the powerful position held by the Jewish population in California makes it a central (but not well known) player in the Mid-East peace process.
Some group discussion followed Beliak’s comments on the settler movement. A number of participants pointed out that most people do not know how diverse the Jewish population is. It includes radical orthodox settlers with a militant approach as well as peace-oriented progressives like Rabbi Michael Lerner, the publisher of Tikkun magazine. Many people also do not know that there are some Zionist settlers whose orthodox beliefs encourages them to defy the laws of the state of Israel. But most of the participants in this conference agreed that this is a very small and fringe group.
As the group discussion continued, the topic turned to the history of Muslim-Jewish relations. Joseph Montville said that the first step in the Abrahamic Family Reunion project is to recover an accurate and psychologically honest history of the relationship between these faiths. A draft paper on the First Crusade (which occurred from 1095 to 1099 during the Middle Ages) was circulated among the participants in this conference toward that end. Montville is currently working on a book that will feature positive historical moments in the Muslim-Jewish relationship: History as Prelude: Muslims and Jews in the Medieval Mediterranean. Montville noted that in the early years of Islam, there was a noteworthy coexistence of Muslims and Jews. This often gets overlooked by historians. These positive precedents provide a springboard for reconciliation efforts today. Overall, the key phrase here is “Jewish-Muslim Symbiosis.” In the past there have been many moments of symbiosis between these two faiths, and there can be in the future as well.
Rabbi Beliak responded to Montville’s comments by saying that we must imagine a different past to imagine a different future. Different histories that feature cooperation among the Abrahamic faiths are being written, and we need to promote them. For example, many do not know that the Jews were treated quite well by the Muslims in Spain and northern Africa in the medieval period. This is a touchstone for better relations today.
Monday Late Afternoon and Evening
In the afternoon and evening the group watched two videos. The first was of a dialogue that occurred at the Washington National Cathedral between former Catholic priest James Carroll and Cathedral Dean Samuel Lloyd. Montville wanted to get the group’s feedback on whether this dialogue piece would be a good teaching instrument for inter-faith dialogue, particularly as a complement to the feature-length movie the group watched that night called Constantine’s Sword.
The documentary movie Constantine’s Sword, made by Academy Award-nominated directory Oren Jacoby (see http://constantinessword.com/), is an adaptation of former Catholic priest James Carroll‘s nonfiction book of the same name. A former anti-Vietnam war activist and current journalist for The Boston Globe, Carroll delves into Christianity’s history to learn how a faith founded on peace could come to be used as a rationale for aggression from the fourth century CE until today by European and American political and military cultures. Carroll also explores the Christian-Jewish relationship from its origins in ancient times up through the Catholic Church’s failure to protect European Jews while Hitler was in power. The film also examines the dangerous encroachment of militant evangelical Christianity in the armed forces, particularly the Air Force Academy, where Jews like Michael Weinstein have been forced to take action to ensure their first amendment freedom to practice their religion free from harassment.
After watching both videos, the group discussed them. Rabbi Beliak pointed out that it’s one thing to learn about a topic that is potentially upsetting for the first time, but it’s quite another to have the inner skills to know how to emotionally process that same topic. Constantine’s Sword contains plenty of eye opening information and emotionally charged (and touching) scenes, thus it will be challenging for many Jews and Christians to take it all in. Facilitated process or discussion sessions afterward would be a good idea. Beliak added that he thinks the movie’s central figure James Carroll has the charisma and inner goodness to launch the film into a stature that could really counter Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ. In some respects Constantine’s Sword can be understood as a counter-response to Gibson’s film. In fact, in the shorter video dialogue with Carroll that the group watched before the movie, Carroll insightfully points out that Gibson’s film (which debuted in February 2004, a few months before the Abu Graib prison scandal broke in the news) portrayed such a gratuitously violent rendition of Christ’s suffering that it in effect provided a larger social preparation or subconscious justification for the Bush administration’s pro-torture policy. Carroll also noted that a few days after September 11th, Bush used the loaded term “crusade” to describe his war on terrorism. It almost goes without saying that both Gibson’s movie and Bush’s verbal blunders have contributed to greater wounding among the Abrahamic faiths.
David Bossman spoke next about the films as he noted that for many reasons James Carroll can be viewed as an insider to both the Catholic church and the military, and thus his critique of his own tradition carries more weight and authority. Bossman has used Carroll’s book in his classes at Seton Hall. Echoing Beliak’s sentiment, Bossman said that Carroll’s overall benevolence is apparent throughout the film and should touch many who watch it. Bossman mentioned that the current Pope Benedict XVI reflects the increasingly authoritarian trend in the church, which is gradually attempting to reverse the progressive spirit of Vatican II. For example, many European nations are now embracing the legalization of homosexual rights, but all the while the Catholic church has been attempting to block this. As he spoke with poignancy in his voice, Bossman said it took way too long for one of the Popes to finally visit a Nazi concentration camp in recognition of the Holocaust. It wasn’t until 1979 that Pope John Paul II made an act of reconciliation by kneeling in prayer while he visited Auschwitz. Then, in 2000 he visited Israel and publicly apologized for the persecution of Jews by Catholics over the centuries and deposited a note pleading for forgiveness in a crack in the Western Wall. Pope Benedict XVI also visited Auschwitz recently in May 2006.
Imam Faheem Shuaibe shared some broader comments in response to the films. First, he said that Karen Armstrong’s popular books on the world’s religions have done a respectable job of treating Islam with some balance and integrity. Second, because at the time of this conference Barack Obama had just recently given a major speech on racism in America, Shuaibe commented that Obama’s speech was laudatory. In particular, Obama exemplified what the Abrahamic Family Reunion is trying to do: to put a human face and a sobering lens on all of the division, hurt, and misperception that is still so apparent in the relationship between African American culture and mainstream America. Shuaibe said Obama’s speech translates well to many other areas in need of healing. With respect to the deep wounds addressed by Carroll’s Constantine’s Sword, Shuaibe said a key concept that has helped him put historical wounds in a psychological context is “resentiment.” Shuaibe said the New Testament scholar Dr. James Breech describes this concept in his book The Silence of Jesus. Resentiment is a resentful sentiment that masquerades as love. It contains a denial of the other’s humanity and dignity.
Aziza Hasan responded to the films by pointing out Carroll’s deep sense of personal responsibility for what has happened in history. She said that because the issues in the film are so painful, a good follow up discussion would really help it as an inter-faith tool. She added that the film may not be suited for Muslim audiences because they might be confirmed in the pre-existing view of the sinfulness of Christians, which is so prominently displayed in the film.
Two Jewish participants, Tamar Miller and Julie Amberg, said they found the movie quite healing for them and their audiences. Miller said she had already gathered a mixed group to view the Carroll movie at a Temple in Boston. The critical self-reflexivity Carroll displays was inspiring for Miller’s own wish for her community to be similarly self-reflective and courageously honest.
Overall, the group seemed to concur that the films need guided facilitation for conversations afterward, and possibly even a study guide as an accompaniment. There were also mixed reactions about the movie’s effectiveness in certain inter-faith dialogue settings, because it may lead to finger pointing at Christians. Some in the group, like Sam Yau, suggested that the film might be more powerful if it had some more positive healing images to complement the self-searching historical honesty.
Lastly, Beliak and Montville mentioned the shorter movie Sister Rose’s Passion as another excellent option in this genre. Jim Burklo said the book and DVD The Faith Club is also good for inter-faith work. And Eric Nelson said that the Fetzer Institute has three films on love and forgiveness. So, there is a growing list of options to use.
On Tuesday morning a couple of new participants joined the group for the day: Rabbi Haim Ovadia and Maha El Genaidi. Ovadia shared first about his unique family lineage, which includes blood from several countries in the Middle East. Ovadia recently wrote a short essay about the inter-linked nature of Islam and Judaism titled, “The Bridge with Islam.” Ovadia said that one of his main tasks is to educate Jewish leaders of the deeper historical ties between Jews and Muslims. He echoed comments from Monday’s discussions that Muslims treated Jews better than the Christians did in the past. One of Ovadia’s missions is to broadcast the fact that for centuries there was a strong tradition of tolerance and acceptance in the Muslim world for the Jews. In short, Jews don’t need to build a new bridge between Jews and Muslims. They just need to re-discover the bridge that was used for centuries.
Ovadia also shared an upbeat success story about an inter-faith music jam session that he participated in recently in Austin, Texas. Both Jews and Muslims participated in a fabulous evening of music that showed that synergy among musicians is a pathway to broader synergies among peoples and nations. On this note, Ovadia said his goal is to establish a Sephardic cultural center in Los Angeles with an emphasis on Islamic music.
Maha El Genaidi followed Rabbi Ovadia by describing her background. Although she was born in Egypt, she has lived most of her life in the United States. She is currently the CEO of Islamic Networks Group (ING) and is a tireless speaker who also trains speakers. She has written several handbooks and training manuals in the 15 years of her organizational work. She said she started doing interfaith outreach shortly after the Persian Gulf War and the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993. Ever since, she has been reaching out to public schools, especially social science classes in high schools. She noted that she is not an academic nor a cleric, but a lay activist. El Genaidi has been working with Julie Amberg to build an inter-faith speakers bureau. As she reflected on the goals of this conference, El Genaidi said it’s crucial not be over-focused and narrowly defined by the conflict between Israel and Palestine. The goal of educating Muslims and Jews here in the United States provides her with plenty to do.
As the discussion continued, Miriam Abu Sharkh chimed in with some important comments. She mentioned that non-religious factors (poverty, oppression, political corruption, environmental distress, etc.) likely contribute just as much as ancient religious antagonisms to the wounds between the Abrahamic faiths. Abu Sharkh encouraged the group not to isolate these contributing factors from the overall focus on religious reconciliation. She noted, for example, that many of the 9/11 suicide bombers came from Saudi Arabia, a country that still lacks basic democratic freedoms. So, if we are going to theorize about the factors contributing to the rise of militant Islam, then Abu Sharkh suggested we should consider the fact that the political opportunity structure in Saudi Arabia is tightly shut. Open political protests, such as the recent protests against the global journey of the Olympic torch, rarely, if ever, happen in Saudi Arabia, so alienated people turn to terrorism. In this respect, terrorism is as much a politically motivated act as it is an expression of the wounds among the Abrahamic faiths. Furthermore, Abu Sharkh mentioned that the corruption in Saudi Arabia is appalling, including rich princes who flaunt their wealth without care. So, it is no wonder that al Qaeda obtains so many recruits in this country. In response to Abu Sharkh’s comments, Joseph Montville noted Larry Wright’s Pulitzer prize winning book The Looming Tower, which describes how Ayman Zawahiri and Sayyid Qutb were driven to radical terrorism by being tortured in Egyptian prisons.
Aziza Hasan shared next about her background and work in interfaith contexts. Hasan said she had a Christian mother and a Muslim father, so in a humorous sense, we might say that she has been doing interfaith work her entire life! Hasan handed out materials, including the most recent Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) Report. Hasan is the Inter-Faith Relations Director at MPAC and co-directs a Muslim-Jewish Dialogue progrm in Los Angeles. NewGround is a joint endeavor between MPAC and the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA) and brings members of both faith communities together for frank, substantive dialogue. Facilitated conversations, explore issues at the personal, local, national and global levels. New Ground doesn’t shy away from discussing the tough topics such as, identity, gender, pluralism and Israel/Palestine. Dialogue sessions are based on the premise that honest communication forges meaningful relationships; from these grow camaraderie and genuine friendship. In response to a question from Julie Amberg, Hasan said that most Muslims do not know about the distinctions in Judaism between Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox, but the young professionals in New Ground learn about these aspects of the faith. Hasan said her work is not just educating young adults about the details of the two religions. Instead, much attention is paid to emotions and conflict resolution, such as the ability to tolerate discomfort and stay engaged in conversation about difficult topics. With respect to how to engage in effective dialogue, Hasan said that she employs two approaches: first, to emphasize points of connection and shared values; and second, to emphasize the big differences that cause so much frustration. Hasan agreed with others in the group that inter-faith groups need to work up to discussing the loaded Israel-Palestine issue. Lastly, Hasan made the point that on many occasions individuals compare the best of their own faith traditions to the worst aspects in another religion. To be truly fair and balanced is always a challenging goal in her work at New Ground.
The group discussed the issue of Wahhabism briefly. Joseph Montville said the House of Ibn Saud supported Ibn Abd al-Wahhab as part of a political bargain in the 18th century. At that time, inspired Wahhabis went on raids and murdered Sufis and Shia. Rabbi Ovadia mentioned Khaled M. Abou El Fadl’s book The Great Theft on this topic, which points out how the Wahhabi faction has become the official face of Islam. Unfortunately, pro-Wahhabi scholarship gets tremendous funding in the Islamic world.
The Tuesday morning session concluded with some comments from Benina Gould. She noted that the media spins and distorts language so often that one project for this group could be to broadcast new phrases that gain traction in the popular culture. For example, “terrorist”, “Muslim radical”, and “militants” all have certain well-established connotations. Thus, if we want to foster a new way of thinking about the Abrahamic faiths, we will need to come up with new terms that catch on.
On Tuesday afternoon Montville invited the participants to provide feedback on the first draft of documents he has compiled that display the shared pro-social values of the three Abrahamic faiths. Montville named a few essential values that all the traditions share: care for strangers, the preciousness of human beings, care for the elderly and unwanted, and the alleviation of violence. As he listed these values, he noted that in Judaism the value of philanthropy is also highly regarded. Montville said his focus with the shared values project is psychological, with a particular emphasis on Abraham Maslow’s notion of the hierarchy of needs and values in which the higher values arise as a society moves beyond the basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter. Montville noted that most international diplomacy lacks basic psychological insight into the nature of healing, and thus the AFR intends to spread greater sophistication and awareness in this regard.
During the course of the discussion on values, the idea of a wikipedia website for the Abrahamic Family Reunion arose. This would be a searchable database of the history, theology, values, and current work of this project. On this note, Jim Burklo mentioned that the Tanenbaum Center has done much of this interfaith work already, which can be accessed at their website. They have lists of scriptures side-by-side showing the shared values.
David Bossman agreed with Burklo that having references to specific scriptural passages for the shared values should help. Bossman recommended the book Variations in Value Orientation by Florence Kluckhohn and Fred Strodbeck. These authors surveyed various human activities in social and historical contexts and derived a set of common values.
As the discussion continued, some felt that shared values could not be separated from theology. Jim Burklo and Maha El Genaidi said this conversation necessarily entails doing some theology. El Genaidi thought the first draft of the Muslim values was good, but that the tolerance and pluralism sections could be worked on some more. David Bossman responded that if we narrow the documents to American Christians, Jews, and Muslims, then the shared values will be more apparent and less open to theological dispute.
Benina Gould and Miriam Abu Sharkh agreed that some typically Buddhist values like compassion and non-violence are not featured enough in the Abrahamic faiths. Thus, it would be a great help if the shared values documents featured these important values. Buddhists use the word “compassion” whereas the monotheistic traditions use the word “love.”
Gould added that the values documents should be tailored for either academic or general public audiences, because they have different needs. Abu Sharkh noted that George Bush interprets the main value in Christianity as freedom and sees the spread of freedom as the spread of Christian values.
Jim Burklo noted that courses in comparative religion are taught at age appropriate levels in his Sunday school programs. Burklo’s church even has a “God in San Francisco” field trip for the Sunday school students, in which they take the kids to the Vedanta Society and other multi-faith locations.
Julie Amberg said her synagogue has a similar inter-faith education program as part of their Sunday school curriculum. Amberg and Maha El Genaidi knew each other before this conference and are doing inter-faith work together regularly.
In response to the values discussion, Imam Faheem Shuaibe presented a 5-letter acronym “EVEDA” that addresses the issue of how to change the undesired behaviors of those in the Abrahamic faiths.
Values (view/vantage point)
Disposition (demeanor/display of attitudes)
Shuaibe described the flow of movement through these core stages. He said that we must go backward to the original “E” for environment, if we ultimately want to change behavior. Shuaibe said the pro-social values must be fully integrated into the environment to get the changes we want. In Islam ma’ruf is the term for universally positive values, such as justice, love, and compassion. Shuaibe said that if these values are experienced directly in the environment, then they will grow naturally over time. But the key is to go back to the original “E” and work forward through the letters in the acronym.
Rabbi Beliak and Maha El Genaidi both agreed that having a reference tool of shared values is a great idea, but that in addition, there needs to be superbly trained facilitators to embody those values-to live them in daily life.
Tamar Miller added that people need a simple tool with common values. We live within a largely unconscious worldview, so it is important to identify already existing values and assumptions and work to make them come alive through sharing personal stories.
As the Tuesday afternoon session came to a close, there was a “light bulb moment” that many in the room became excited about. Rabbi Beliak shared that a man named Jihad Turk could not make it to this conference. Beliak noted that his first name “jihad” is a word that has taken on such an immensely negative connotation in the West. But Beliak pointed out that the original meaning of “jihad” is “God wrestler” and furthermore, that the word “Israel” means “spiritual wrestler” or “one who wrestles with God.” In this interesting overlap of nearly equal meanings there is the potential for finding a deeper unity among these religions. The name Jacob (“God wrestler”) was re-named as Israel. And “amalach” means “struggle with the internal enemy.” Overall, the proper meaning of struggle in both Islam and Judaism has been projected outward when, in fact, the original meaning was inwardly focused.
On Wednesday morning the group watched two DVDs and discussed them. The first one is a compilation of excerpts from a fear-mongering and highly distorted view of Islam titled Obsession, which has been circulated widely in the past year or so. The second DVD is a more balanced look at Islam that attempts to respond to the first. It is titled, Truth over Fear: Countering Islamophobia.
After watching the Obsession DVD, the group entered into a discussion about it. Aziza Hasan and Rabbi Beliak started by explaining to the group that the Florida State Attorney General is encouraging law enforcement and other state officials to see it. As a result, Beliak has been working with another Rabbi from Los Angeles to obtain a meeting with the Florida Attorney General to see if they can stop him from distributing and promoting it.
Beliak said the best way to counter-act this DVD is to meet with the foundations that funded it and distributed it. Many people received Obsession in the mail as a free gift simply because they were on certain mailing lists. As Beliak described Obsession he pointed out that much of the footage and style is formulaic and repeats what many fear-generating movies attempt to do with heart-racing music, etc. Many right wing Jewish organizations that want to stir anti-Muslim fear and hatred helped fund Obsession. Right wing Christian groups, like Christians United for Israel, have promoted the DVD as much as possible.
Aziza Hasan said MPAC is working with groups in the LA area to raise funds to more powerfully respond to the Obsession DVD. MPAC has included presentations around the nation including Los Angeles, Dayton, Houston, D.C. San Francisco, and Wichita.
Joseph Montville said he received the Obsession DVD because he subscribes to The Forward. Montville agreed with Beliak that the DVD simply re-cycles frightening scenes from other movies and hypes them up with music. This is similar to the TV show called Sleeper Cell, which spreads the ridiculous idea that there are Muslims in America waiting to jump out of the closet and shoot. Powerful Republicans like David Braug, author of the anti-Muslim book Stand with Us and executive director of Christians United for Israel (CUI), have worked to help distribute Obsession. Montville estimated that the DVD was sent to around 100,000 people, based on the size of one mailing list.
Rabbi Beliak added that the US Air Force Academy invited some of the same names associated with Obsession to come and speak at their campus. Unfortunately, there was no rebuttal or balanced treatment. Other military academies have seen these types of films as well.
Imam Faheem Shuaibe spoke next with a longer and more context-setting response to the Obsession DVD. He started by laying out the acronym PIIIIC.
Shuaibe said that the progression through this pattern is basic to human nature and is not specific to any given culture. He gave an historical example to help explain:
Problem: King George
Impulse: The founding fathers
Idea: European enlightenment
Culture: Culture of western democracy
Shuaibe listed several cross-cultural examples that could fit this model. One could just as easily fill it out this way:
Problem: Wounded German pride and economic devastation after WW I
Impulse: Deny the pain and shame of losing WW I
Idea: Hitler’s Mein Kampf
Institutions: The Third Reich
Culture: Germany in the 1930s and 40s
Shuaibe said that a disease metaphor works well when describing these social problems as well. Today, radical Islam is like a virus that is highly contagious, and we need an anti-viral medicine right now.
Shuaibe returned to the concept of resentiment that he discussed on Tuesday. He said that the condition of resentiment highly distorts one’s values and worldview. When one is plagued by resentiment, one will deny the value of what one really desires. Speaking metaphorically: If one can’t get the grapes, then they must be sour. As it turns out, many Muslims want the power they perceive America to have. The grapes are the White House and the Twin Towers. But since they don’t have those grapes, they call them sour by denigrating America as much as possible. Thus, Shuaibe said, there is a conflict between the desire for power and impotence to obtain it. There is a deep envy of the other who is so powerful. Then, this is further rationalized by cherry picking violent verses from the Koran. But deep down, radical Muslims will not admit they are envious of America’s power; they will just denigrate it.
Shuaibe pointed out that many other groups have resentiment. Extreme Zionism is sick with it as well. And there are many more examples from history, such as the Christians who embarked on the Crusades in the Middle Ages. At present, the extreme Muslim Jihadists are the ones getting the most media attention and hype. But they are only the latest rendition of a much deeper historical trend and general susceptibility in human nature. Unfortunately, resentiment is infectious.
Shuaibe suggested that to really deal with radical Islam and all such manifestations in other members of the Abrahamic Family we must work our way backward through the steps represented in the acronym PIIIIC. This larger process will be inter-generational and take many years, but it is the only real solution.
Tamar Miller thanked Shuaibe for acknowledging the threat of radical Islam. She appreciated that he did not brush it off. Miller responded to Shuaibe’s overall model by pointing to her own understanding of trauma. We must understand and fully transform historical trauma in order to move people out of victimhood. The certitude that characterizes all forms of fundamentalism is, in part, undigested trauma. Miller said that many Jews are still quite traumatized. Their internal story or worldview is that they are all alone and everyone is against them. But this is just a traumatized script that needs to be updated and re-written. Knowing that a new story is possible is part of healing trauma.
Michael Murphy responded to Shuaibe’s presentation by mentioning Larry Wright’s book The Looming Tower. Murphy found its study of Osama Bin Laden and al Qaeda quite insightful.
After the morning break, the group watched a second DVD titled Truth Over Fear: Countering Islamophobia, which is a more balanced response to the distortions in Obsession. The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) put it together, and the group watched a condensed version of it before discussing it. This DVD presents a more positive and well-rounded view of the Muslim community. For example, it mentions Minnesota’s Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison, who took his oath on the Koran when he joined the House of Representatives in January 2007. He is the first-ever Muslim Congressman in the United States.
Miriam Abu Sharkh made a number of comments in response to the DVD. She said that the producer/director may want to extend the content beyond strictly Islam in order to show that other areas of the world have “terrorists” and violence as well, such as the recent turmoil in Burma, which has a large Buddhist population. Abu Sharkh went on to emphasize the economic and political (not exclusively religious) factors that seed radical Islam. For example, Abu Sharkh thinks Hamas came to power primarily due to political corruption. Although historical wounds among the Abrahamic faiths clearly play a role, Islamic militancy also stems from widespread political oppression and is influenced by the global geo-politics of oil. Given that so many Americans are under the false impression that all Arabs want to destroy their country, Abu Sharkh pointed out the irony that at the top levels of government most Arabs nations are willing collaborators with America. Overall, Abu Sharkh said we need to reframe the issues more inter-nationally such that all moderates in both America and in the Arab nations come out and condemn violence. Moderates around the world need to unite and show a common front.
A few members of the group voiced their concern that the Islamophobia DVD is not as effective as it could be. Dulce Murphy and Julie Amberg both commented that the mood, setting, music, graphics, and pacing of the DVD did not strongly contrast with the Obsession DVD. In fact, it was eerily similar to it in places, thus creating confusion when there should be stark clarity and contrast among these two DVDs, which have very different missions about how to represent Islam.
The issue of just how fast interfaith activists can change the current situation was discussed. Benina Gould and Imam Shuaibe agreed that it will take at least three generations to create the desired changes. But Joseph Montville affirmed that we can do specific things to accelerate the process. The old adage “time heals all wounds” is not so true after all, Montville said. Instead, well-intentioned acts of healing are what heal wounds.
Lastly, Tamar Miller said we could help accelerate the process along the lines Montville described by coining a pithy and catchy descriptor of the overall project-something like “Soft Power,” coined by Joseph Nye. A new meme-that is, a quickly disseminating cultural form-is waiting to be born.
Wednesday Early Afternoon
In the afternoon Tamar Miller took a turn facilitating the group. She laid out the context for the Abrahamic Family Reunion Project by synthesizing the discussions and organizing frameworks for various strategies the project is inclined to undertake. The starting point is the intellectual and theoretical framework of political psychology toward reconciliation and healing that Joseph Montville has developed. Coupled with the growing network of organizations and people who are already doing interfaith work, this framework is convincingly alive. The AFR project is well on its way to figure out what people and this wonderful network will do to fill in knowledge gaps and work collectively in the future.
Miller summarized the project’s mission:
The Abrahamic Family Reunion (AFR) is a coalition of organizations that bases its work on the radical notion that all peoples seek and deserve dignity. AFR offers a grounded psychological approach toward reconciliation of troubled Abrahamic relationships by emphasizing our shared values through the study and then healing of historical conflicts and traumatic losses.
Most participants in the room thought this was a great starting statement for the AFR but it might get modified in the future. In particular, it will be necessary at times to tailor the language and publicity materials of AFR depending upon what particular constituency it is trying to work with. The term “Abrahamic Family Reunion” has a nice ring to it, but it is not a viable term for all groups and settings.
Next, Miller described two areas for AFR in the near future:
1) Filling in knowledge gaps: Continue to develop academic papers, research, educational videos, conferences, and a web presence.
2) Taking Near-term Action Steps: Share best-practices and resources among AFR members. Create a more efficient mechanism for disseminating these and other insights.
After the group brainstormed various issues, it came to a loose consensus captured in this phrase:
The next step is to improve our ability to tell our story about our theory of healing and change succinctly through vignettes and anecdotal stories. We aim to leverage the effectiveness of existing interfaith organizations by educating them about Joseph Montville’s theory of historical healing that involves acknowledgement, contrition, and forgiveness. The added value AFR brings to this ongoing work is to make the network members as effective as possible.
Michael Murphy noted that during Esalen Institute’s work in the 1980s to foster healing between Russians and Americans, they came up with a simple and cogent phrase that captured the essence of their work:
Together, Russians and Americans are breaking through to new human potentials.
This pithy phrase was the cornerstone concept behind a whole slate of activities and outreach programs that brought together Russians and Americans during a time of demonization between theses nations at the higher levels of government.
Lastly, Montville said Jerusalem should be the natural and potently symbolic center of the Abrahamic Family Reunion project.
Wednesday Late Afternoon
The final session of the conference was facilitated by Esalen board member Sam Yau, who led the group in a brainstorm session to identify the AFR’s strengths and weaknesses. After a rousing discussion, the group came to a loose consensus that AFR’s strengths include:
International leadership and connections
The theory and practice of healing history
Connections to political establishments
Connections to academic institutions
A budding interfaith network
Healing potential of the Esalen property
As the conference came to a close, Joseph Montville summarized some of the areas where the AFR is already moving forward:
1) Developing educational materials and guidebooks for community work, such as the Crusades paper and pro-social values paper.
2) Curriculum development at graduate theology schools. Some schools that have already been contacted include: Boston College (where there will be an AFR-oriented course this fall); Union Theological Seminary, Auburn Seminary, and the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in New York; and the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA. The Washington Theological Consortium is also being contacted.
3) Identifying AFR-friendly text books, such as Has God Only Have One Blessing? by Sister May Boys and Constantine’s Sword by James Carroll.
In conclusion, Montville said the AFR is now building a broader context and climate so that politicians and religious leaders will be supported in taking risks for peace. The work of AFR is advancing on many fronts and creating a ripple effect that will continue to build.
List of Relevant Websites
David Crumm’s website on interfaith
The Center for Progressive Christianity
The Marin Interfaith Council
The Tanenbaum Center
Joseph Montville is director of the Beyond Fundamentalism seminars sponsored by the Esalen Center for Theory and Research and TRACK TWO: An Institute for Citizen Diplomacy. He also is director of Toward the Abrahamic Family Reunion, the Esalen program to promote Muslim-Christian-Jewish reconciliation. Montville also chairs the board of TRACK TWO. He is Senior Adviser on Interfaith Relations at the Center for Global Justice and Reconciliation, Washington National Cathedral, and a Distinguished Diplomat in Residence at American University. He is also Senior Fellow at and chair of the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution, George Mason University, and Senior Associate and adjunct professor at the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at GMU. His expertise includes conflict resolution: East Central Europe, the Baltics, the Middle East, South Africa, Northern Ireland, Russia, Canada, and Latin America. Montville founded the preventive diplomacy program at Washington, DC’s Center for Strategic and International Studies in 1994 and directed it until 2003. Before that he spent 23 years as a diplomat with posts in the Middle East and North Africa. He also worked in the State Department’s Bureaus of Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs and Intelligence and Research, where he was chief of the Near East Division and director of the Office of Global Issues. Montville has held faculty appointments at the Harvard and University of Virginia Medical Schools for his work in political psychology. He defined the concept of “Track Two,” nonofficial diplomacy. Educated at Lehigh, Harvard, and Columbia Universities, Montville is the editor of Conflict and Peacemaking in Multiethnic Societies (Lexington Books, 1990) and editor (with Vamik Volkan and Demetrios Julius) of The Psychodynamics of International Relationships (Lexington Books, 1990 [vol. I], 1991.
Miriam Abu Sharkh is currently residing at the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law at Stanford University. She holds a grant by the National Science Foundation of Germany (Deutsche Forschungs-gemeinschaft) to study the evolvement of worldwide patterns of gender discrimination in the labor market with a special focus on Arab countries.
This research builds on her previous work as a Post-doctoral Fellow at the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law as well as her dissertation on “History and Results of Labor Standard Initiatives”(“Summa cum Laude”, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany – joint dissertation committee with Stanford University). It also draws on field studies in Gaza and the West Bank on the social movement dynamics of the first Palestinian uprising (Intifada).
Before returning to the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law, she was employed by the United Nations. As the People’s Security Coordinator (P4) at the United Nation’s specialized agency for work, the International Labour Organization (ILO, Geneva, Switzerland), she analyzed and managed large household surveys from Argentina to Sri Lanka. She also worked for the Arab region for the Report on the World Social Situation for the United Nation’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs in New York. Prior to that she was a consultant for the German national development agency (Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit, GTZ) in Germany. Abu Sharkh has written on the spread and effect of human rights related labor standards, as well as on welfare regimes, gender discrimination, child labor, social movements and work satisfaction. She has traveled extensively, both professionally and privately, loves to dive and sail and speaks English, German, Spanish and French as well as rudimentary Arabic.
Julie Amberg is a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist whose practice has focused, in part, on cross-/multi-/inter-/intra-cultural dynamics; working in mental health, medical, and research settings. Her work combines direct service with “macro” practice in areas of biopsychosocial and policy research, community relations, and advocacy. During her career she has also devoted her skills to reproductive healthcare, rape crisis, and disability rights research and advocacy. She serves on the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), and is a founding member of its coalition with the Islamic Networks Group, serving, as well, on the JCRC’s Inter-Group Relations Committee. She is involved in a number of other Jewish community organizations, including synagogues and an invitational leadership development program of the American Jewish Committee. She has conducted diversity awareness and sensitivity trainings for the Contra Costa County Chamber of Commerce.
Amberg has served on the Board of Directors of Bronx Independent Living Services and the Alliance for Mainstreaming Youth with Disabilities, the Committee on Disability Rights of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, and the Berkeley Public Library’s Disability advisory Committee. She holds an A.B. in Interpersonal Communication Behavior from Brown University, where she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and an M.S.W. from the University of Michigan, in addition to three years of advanced, post-graduate training in individual and couples psychotherapy at The Psychotherapy Institute and the Women’s Therapy Center and Couples’ Clinic.
Evan P. Anderson is the Deputy Director of the Center for Global Justice and Reconciliation at Washington National Cathedral. In this capacity, he is actively involved in peacemaking and reconciliation initiatives around the globe. His work emphasizes inter-religious dialogue, interfaith relationship building, and Track II diplomacy as mechanisms for creating peace and reconciliation. He is currently involved in initiatives that are helping to build bridges between Islam and Christianity. Prior to joining the Cathedral, Mr. Anderson worked as a legal management consultant and assisted lawyers and law firms in issues pertaining to conflict resolution and personnel management. Anderson also has eleven years experience in politics, having worked first as a policy advisor to two Governors in the State of Florida and then as a Cabinet Aide to Florida’s Education Commissioner. He holds an M.S. in Counseling and post-master’s certificate in Organizational Counseling, both from the Johns
Haim Dov Beliak serves as the Director of HaMifgash: An On-Going Conversation Among Jewish Intellectuals a non-profit foundation whose current projects include classes and two projects: www.JewsOnFirst.org – that seeks to address the erosion of the first amendments rights by the efforts of the Christian Right. The other project, The Coalition for Justice in Hawaiian Gardens and Jerusalem www.stopmoskowitz.org is now on hold. Beliak teaches Torah at Leo Baeck Temple to adult learners since 1991. He was born in Munich, Germany and grew up in Mason City, Iowa and Phoenix, Arizona. He is a graduate of Hebrew Union College and is an ordained rabbi. He has an A.B. degree from Occidental College in philosophy and geology. Beliak studied in the Talmud Department of Hebrew University at the Givat Ram campus and at Merkaz HaRav, 1970-1973. He is a student of the North African Jewish communities of the 6th to 11th Century and wrote his rabbinic dissertation on the El-Mahdia and Kairwon communities. In 1980-81 Beliak studied at the Institute for the Study of Contemporary Jewry in area of Holocaust studies. He produced a monograph entitled: “Negotiating with the Devil: Death Marches, Industrial Capability, and Saving Lives – 1944-45.” Currently, he is writing a book on the rescue of Jewish children during the Holocaust entitled: Lost Train. In 1988-90 he embarked on a second formal career in education as a Jerusalem Fellow in Jerusalem, Israel. For seventeen years Beliak was the Chaplain of The Claremont Colleges and Hillel Director. He is a founding member of Rabbis for Human Rights in Israel. He remains active with that group and its various projects. Beliak is a long time participant in Muslim, Christian, and Jewish dialogue. Along with Professor John Hick, Beliak participated in and published on this subject in 1985. He served on the board of the Progressive Jewish Alliance (www.pjallicance.org) and since 9/11 on the Board of the Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace www.icujp.org. He is currently a graduate student in education at the Claremont Graduate University, where he is completing his Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration on the topic: “What Counts as Knowledge? Beyond Totalism – The Work of Emmanuel Levinas and Pierre Bourdieu.” Beliak was the rabbi of Beth Shalom of Whittier and Adat Chaverim of Los Alamitos, California until June of 2007. He also worked at the Metropolitan Detention Center and the Terminal Island Federal Prisons as a chaplain. He resides in Los Angeles with his wife and three children.
David M. Bossman, S.T.B., M.A., M.S., Ph.D., is Professor in the Graduate Department of Jewish-Christian Studies at Seton Hall University and Executive Director of the Sister Rose Thering Endowment. Bossman is the author of numerous articles, essays, and book chapters, and has been Editor of Biblical Theology Bulletin since 1981.
Rev. Jim Burklo is an ordained United Church of Christ pastor and author living in Mill Valley, CA. His book, OPEN CHRISTIANITY, is a primer on progressive Christianity – an expression of the faith that takes the Bible seriously because it doesn’t have to take it literally. He serves on the national board of The Center for Progressive Christianity and speaks on behalf of the movement nationwide. He coordinates its annual Pluralism Sunday event, celebrating religious pluralism on Pentecost in churches around the world. His new book, BIRDLIKE AND BARNLESS: Meditations, Prayers, Poems, and Songs for Progressive Christians, will be published soon by St. Johann Press. He has pastored churches in Sausalito, San Mateo, and Palo Alto, CA. He was the founder and Executive Director of the Urban Ministry of Palo Alto. He spent nearly a decade as the ecumenical campus minister at Stanford University. His blog site is www.tcpc.blogs.com/musings and his personal website is www.openchristianity.com.
Maha El Genaidi is Founder & President of Islamic Networks Group (ING) and
Chief Executive Officer. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, ING is a national educational outreach organization with affiliates and partners in 20 states, Canada and the United Kingdom. ING promotes interfaith dialogue and education about world religions and their contributions to civilization by annually delivering thousands of presentations and other educational programs in schools, universities, law enforcement agencies, corporations, healthcare facilities, and community centers. Reaching hundreds of groups and tens of thousands of individuals a year at the local, grassroots level, ING is building bridges among people of all faiths. Maha has spoken to hundreds of schools, churches, synagogues, police departments, corporations and other public agencies; has appeared on numerous television and radio programs, and is author of seven training handbooks on outreach for American Muslims as well as eight training modules for public institutions on “developing cultural competency with the American Muslim community”. She’s also currently active with many state and federal governmental agencies, and is a former commissioner on Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamante’s Commission for One California, Santa Clara County Human Relations Commission, and an Advisor to California’s Commission on Police Officers Standards and Training for cultural diversity and hate crimes. She’s also the recipient of numerous civil rights awards, including the 2002 “Citizen of the Year” Award from the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. Maha received her B.A. in Political Science & Economics from the American University in Cairo (AUC). She is married and lives in Santa Clara, California.
Benina Gould received her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the Fielding Institute, Santa Barbara. California. She was awarded a Carnegie Fellowship at the Belfer Center for International Studies at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and Mellon Grants from the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, UC Berkeley. She is Director of the Social Transformation Program at Saybrook Graduate School in San Francisco and a visiting scholar at the University of California, International and Area Studies. Her most recent book is Living in the Question? A Critical Oral History of the Berlin Wall Crises. At present Benina is conducting research on the role of the Internet for Muslim Youth with colleagues at Pesantrens in Solo and South Sulawesi, Indonesia. The purpose of the research is to examine the stereotype that “madrasas are the breeding grounds of fundamentalism” and to understand “the students who say ‘no’ to fundamentalism.” This research has also taken place in the Islamic community in California and in Pakistan. The outcome of this research will further our understanding of the next generation of Islamic youth. Benina is also consulting to the development of curriculum for Junior and High School students on the “Religious Basis of Peace Studies” a long-term project with the Ministry of Education in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Aziza Hasan Co-Directs NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change. The program is a joint endeavor between the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) and the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA) and brings members of both faith communities together for frank, substantive dialogue. Facilitated conversations, explore issues at the personal, local, national and global levels. New Ground doesn’t shy away from discussing the tough topics such as, identity, gender, pluralism and Israel/Palestine. Dialogue sessions are based on the premise that honest communication forges meaningful relationships; from these grow camaraderie and genuine friendship. Aziza also coordinates inter-faith relations for MPAC by working with religious leadership in Southern California in the areas of social justice, community education and outreach, and youth engagement. She has led numerous workshops for international scholar forums, at conferences, university/college campuses, civic and religious groups on inter-faith dialogue, community organizing, and youth leadership training. Aziza has given various speeches to audiences across the country that included introductions to Islam, forgiveness and peace in Islamic tradition, and conflict resolution in Muslim communities. She has appeared on CNN, National Public Radio, KCRW, Arabic Radio and Television, The Mennonite, The Jewish Journal, InFocus, The Wichita Eagle, The Newton-Kansan, The Halstead Independent, Hutchinson News and The Bethel College Collegean. Her undergraduate and graduate background is in history, social science and conflict resolution. While at Bethel, a four-year liberal arts school in Kansas, she was active in student government, debate and forensics, and social justice organizations. During her two years as the first Muslim Student Body President at Bethel she organized numerous teach-ins, speaking events and charity fundraising projects. She is experienced in Small Claims Court mediation, and coaching individuals and leading groups in conflict resolution. Her two years of AmeriCorps service gave her hands-on experience in community organizing and group problem-solving.
During her time working for Inter-Faith Ministries, in Wichita, KS, and as an active member of the MPAC Wichita Chapter, she worked on multiple educational and political issues. Aziza chaired the MPAC Political Action Committee, which successfully organized political forums for one of which the Kansas Governor, Kathleen Sebelius, was the main speaker. She also authored the More Alike than Different Project, a joint effort by Wichita, Ks organizations such as the local MPAC Chapter, Inter Faith Ministries, and the National Conference for Community Justice. The project was made to be duplicated and to educate the community about the basic tenants of Islam and dispel misconceptions about the religion. More Alike than Different was presented to several different businesses personnel, schools, government employees, and social service agencies.
Tamar Miller manages and consults to public, academic, and private sector social change organizations with a focus on the contemporary Middle East, including a new media effort, The PeaceBeat, whose byline claims … some good news, some of the time. Tamar was co-director of the New England regional office of The New Israel Fund; VP Education and one of three founders of an international company, American Higher Education, Inc. and Partner in Middle East Holdings, a business development firm based in Boston and Dubai. Tamar was Executive Director of the Institute for Social and Economic Policy in the Middle East at Harvard University where she managed programs on policy research, technical assistance, people-to-people peace making, and track II diplomacy. She was director of Leadership Development for the Institute, facilitating yearlong dialogue and action of 10-15 Fellows a year from Israel and nine Arab and Muslim countries. Earlier in her career, she directed social service programs in New York, Jerusalem and Cambridge for disturbed adolescents, pregnant and parenting addicts, and families of psychiatric patients. She was an organizer in Ethiopian, Yemenite, and Moroccan disenfranchised communities in Israel, early in her career. Tamar holds a BA in Philosophy and Judaic Studies, a Master of Social Work from Yeshiva University and a Master of Public Administration from Harvard University. She is currently active on the board of directors of Parents Circle, IPCRI (Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information), and the Alliance for Middle East Peace.
Carol Miskel began working with The Russian-American Center (now TRACK TWO) in 1997. She has helped coordinate conferences involving the former Republics of the USSR, and working with Esalen’s Center for Theory and Research helps coordinate projects co-sponsored with TRACK TWO. From 1982-1994 she was in the entertainment retail business, owning a compact disc and video store in San Francisco and three video rental stores in the San Francisco Bay Area. From 1979-1981 Miskel was the marketing director of Blume, Middag and Associates, a West Coast entertainment promotion and marketing company for music recording companies. After college and until 1977, she was in the music publishing business for shelter Records in Hollywood, California and published songs for artists such as Tom Petty, Leon Russell and Phoebe Snow.
Dulce Murphy is a founder and was a director of the Esalen Institute Soviet American Exchange Program that began in 1980. Murphy then became the president and executive director of The Russian-American Center (TRAC) in San Francisco, a continuation of the same program. For the past twenty-eight years she has been on the cutting edge of non-governmental Russian-American relations. In the spring of 2004, The Russian-American Center changed its name to TRACK TWO: An Institute for Citizen Diplomacy, that expands its mandate as a non-profit organization to include other countries, teaming up with our Russian colleagues to that end. Track-two diplomacy involves non-governmental individuals and groups that aim to fill the moral and intellectual voids of official peacemaking leadership. TRACK TWO’s major goal is to re-humanize relations that are dysfunctional, working to make relationships better.
Michael Murphy, USA, is the co-founder and Chairman of Esalen Institute and the author of both fiction and non-fiction books that explore evidence for meta-normal capacities in human beings, including Golf in the Kingdom and The Future of the Body. During his forty-year involvement in the human potential movement, he and his work have been profiled in the New Yorker and featured in many magazines and journals worldwide. A graduate of Stanford University, he was one of the first Americans to live at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry, India in the mid 1950s. In the1980s, he helped start a successful Soviet-American Exchange Program, which was a premiere diplomacy vehicle for citizen-to-citizen Russian-American relations. In 1990, Boris Yeltsin’s first visit to America was initiated by Esalen. His other books include The Life We Are Given (co-authored with George Leonard), The Kingdom of Shivas Irons, Jacob Atabet, An End to Ordinary History, In the Zone: Transcendent Experience in Sports (co-authored with Rhea White), and The Physical and Psychological Effects of Meditation.
Rabbi Haim Ovadia was born in Israel in 1965 to parents from Iraq, ordained as a rabbi by the chief rabbi of Israel, BA in Judaic studies from Bar Ilan University in Tel Aviv and MA in Hebrew literature from UCLA. He is currently the rabbi of Kahal Joseph in Los Angeles a mainly Iraqi Jewish synagogue. He writes for the Jewish Journal and teaches at the American Jewish University (AJU) and the Academy for Jewish Religion (AJR) of California.
Imam Faheem Shuaibe Imam Faheem Shuaibe is a highly respected and well-known national leader in the Muslim African American community in America. He is the local spiritual leader of Masjidul Waritheen in Oakland, California, and serves as the Director of its school system, the Mohammed Schools of Oakland–primary, elementary, middle, and high schools. Imam Shuaibe has been part of several distinguished delegations that have taken him around the globe on various educational, religious, interfaith, and peace missions. He has contributed his efforts to delegations in Rome, Italy, Sudan, Malaysia, Egypt, Caribbean, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. Imam Shuaibe enjoys broad recognition receiving proclamations and the Keys to the City in several municipalities across the country, as well as the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity’s Notable Citizen Award. Faheem is currently working with an “A list” of intellectuals, professionals, religious leaders and career diplomats on the “Abraham Family Reunion Project,” a national interfaith project. The Institute for the Advance Study of Black Family Life and Culture has inducted Imam Shuaibe into the African American Intellectual Royal Family along with other well-known black scholars such as Dr. Asa Hilliard and Iyanla Vanzant. Also, he is the President of New Africa Investment Group and Board Member of Islamic Networks Group (ING), an international interfaith education organization. Imam Shuaibe has been recognized by Black Business Exposition Ltd. as one of the 101+ Men Making A Difference. Imam Shuaibe’s lectures have been a source of inspiration to elementary and high school students across the country and their communities. He has been a vital source of information for large and small companies and organizations including The Commonwealth Club of San Francisco CA, AT&T, Chiron Corporation of Emeryville CA, Yale University’s School of Law, Howard University, University of California at Berkeley’s Department of Affirmative Action, Fordham University, New Jersey Institute of Technology, New York University, University of Washington in St. Louis, Xavier University, and Buffalo State College. Imam Shuaibe supports interfaith organizations wholeheartedly. His comments on contemporary issues are cited by the Muslim Journal, The Wall Street Journal, The Oakland Tribune, The San Francisco Chronicle, The San Jose Mercury News, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, USA Today, and many others. Additionally, he is recognized as a consultant and has been utilized on documentary film projects for PBS.
Sam Yau is a recognized business leader and strategist, known for delivering rapid value creation and strategic repositioning in turnaround situations. His diversified career has spanned many industries, including semiconductor, specialty retailing, computer hardware and software, medical management and for-profit education. His career culminated in his appointment in 1995 as the chief executive officer of National Education, a leading education corporation. Under his leadership, the company’s enterprise value increased five fold to a billion dollars within two years, prior to being acquired by Harcourt Brace. After National Education Corporation, Sam decided to leave the business world and embarked on a journey of self-discovery for personal and spiritual growth, through reading, workshops and contemplative practices. During this period, Sam frequently attended Esalen workshops and in 2005 became a trustee of Esalen. Sam immediately led Esalen’s strategic planning efforts in affirming Esalen’s vision and articulating its strategic imperatives in personal and social transformation. Sam also spearheaded a series of reforms in the culture, structure and processes of the Esalen board to significantly improving the effectiveness of the Esalen board. Sam currently serves on the board of directors for SRS Labs (NASDAQ:SRSL), a leading provider of audio, voice and surround sound solutions and Multi-Fineline Electronix, Inc. (NASDAQ:MFLX), a leading global service provider for the design and manufacture of flexible interconnect solutions. Sam is a past Chairman of Forum for Corporate Directors, Orange County, California.