Archive for July, 2009

Article in Catalan!

Natalie Reverdin Effront’s article published in the Eglesia Evangelica de Catalunya! Read “El Que Importa Es La Comunitat” 


Article in Glasgow Jewish Telegraph!

Great news! Rabbi Aharon Soudry and the interfaith delegation from Glasgow were featured in the Glasgow Jewish Telegraph (July 3rd issue)!Article, Glasgow Jewish Telegraph Rabbi Soudry is quoted in the article: “Of particular importance was the 21st Rabbi Marshall T. Meyer Interfaith Retreat in Stony Point Centre, which deals exclusively with immigration and its manifold problems both for the state and the immigrants themselves. “

“As the workshops took place all over NY, we were able to visit the city and its famous tourist spots. I was recommended a trip to Ellis Island to learn the history of immigration to the US, the Statue of Liberty and the Jewish Heritage Museum.  The latter was particularly moving and informative for most of the participants who were not familiar with the enormity of the Shoah.”

International Delegations Depart


Ven. Rewatha Thero at 1 Police Plaza

Ven. Rewatha at 1 Police Plaza

Pam Simons

The first James Parks Morton International Visiting Fellows Program at the Interfaith Center of New York drew to a close with the knowledge that we have personally and spiritually connected with our new faith leader friends from Barcelona, Spain and Glasgow, Scotland. We hate to see them go.  From June 15 to 24, 2009, we learned a great deal about how our respective cities cope with immigration challenges and how we can better work to improve social justice. When we thought we in New York were doing things well, we saw through the eyes of our sixteen faith leaders that we weren’t. And our new friends have experienced several ah-hah moments in their week where they saw roads to self-improvement
Our visiting delegates got a good taste of what is happening in the US in terms of immigration. In our Rabbi Marshall T. Meyer retreat June 16 and 17, they heard the difficult stories immigrants whose families are often torn apart due to deportation. They admired the fact that immigration activists recognize the power of religious leaders and seek to tap it. They were surprised at the religious and ethnic diversity in Queens. They listened with envy to US religious leaders describe the ease with which they establish and build new places of worship, to the number of lawyers defending civil rights in the city Human Rights office and to the passion mental health advocates on a borough immigration task force bring to their job.  And most of all, knowing we are a country of immigrants, they marveled that we are still struggling with how best to fully include newcomers into our society.
They also brought new perspectives to the table, pointing out where we could do better. A recurring comment was the gap between what city and state government offers immigrants and the actual grassroots outreach. Glasgow Councilor Irfan Rabbani pointed out to a state court district attorney that the government at all levels in Scotland takes the initiative in many instances where the US does not. As an illustration, Glasgow Sikh Ravinder Kaur Nijjar was refused entrance to several city buildings during her week in New York because she, like other baptized Sikhs, wears a kirpan, a ceremonial dagger or sword that is a religiously mandated article of faith.  City spokespersons say the US Sikh community has not complained of being excluded from city buildings, so they offer no religious exemption. It is a matter of pro-active engagement.
What do we really mean by integration, questioned Scottish Inter Faith Center youth coordinator, Magdalen Lambkin. Despite our diversity, does every person in New York City really feel comfortable in every borough and can they move fluently through all sections of society? Catalan interfaith magazine editor Manuel Perez presented New York City’s contradictions: Wall Street and Harlem, Ellis Island’s open door to European immigrants and the airport double-checking of his delegation’s sole Muslim. 
What is most apparent throughout our week of roundtables, conferences, religious services and even a visit to a jazz club is that the ICNY is doing a lot right. Where city and state governments are challenged to connect with immigrant communities, ICNY builds bridges between religious leaders, their communities and government agencies, such as the court system. We think we have earned the respect and friendship of our foreign friends. We look forward to increased ties and future fellowship trips to their cities to continue building bridges.
As Glasgow Muslim leader Dr. Salah Beltagui observed at the Closing Symposium, we all must continue to improve our systems, to do as Muslims call it, the good deed.  The work is never over.

Program Highlights for JPM International Visiting Fellows

At the NY Buddhist Church

With Rev. TK Nakagaki at NY Buddhist Church


Visiting delegations from Barcelona and Glasgow

  • Attended the 21st Rabbi Marshall T. Meyer Retreat for Social Justice- “Immigration: From Estrangement to Engagement” from June 16-17th.  Here, they interacted with over 70 diverse grassroots religious leaders from NYC concerned about immigration reform in an interfaith context.
  • Met with the Queens Borough President’s Immigration Task Force, visited a Hindu temple and Sikh Gurdwara in NYC’s most diverse borough.
  • Visited Harlem Community Justice Center and learned about problem solving courts, religious leaders as mediation, juvenile justice and parole re-entry programs.
  • Toured Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty and encountered where over 12 million immigrants entered the United States from 1892 to 1954 .
  • Experienced additional houses of worship including an Upper West Side synagogue , West African and African American mosques and an Episcopal church in Harlem.
  • Attended a roundtable discussion with Judges from the New York State Unified Court System and learned how religious community leaders and court officials address the needs of New York’s diverse communities.
  • Experienced the Tribute World Trade Center Walking Tour which includes the personal accounts of survivors, lower Manhattan residents,  recovery workers, volunteers who assisted in recovery and family members
  • Participated in open discussions with city officials, including the NYC Commissioner for Human Rights and members of the NYC police department about their experiences with religious communities and public policy. 
  • Explored the various museums displaying the religious, cultural and historical experiences that have occurred throughout the American landscape , such as the Jewish Heritage Museum and the National Museum of the American Indian.
  • Participated in a public symposium in which they shared their reflections


Who’s Who: JPM International Fellows

JPM International Visiting Fellows Biographies

Glasgow Delegation (Selected by the Scottish Inter Faith Council)

Salah Beltagui
Dr. Beltagui became the Convenor of the Scottish Inter Faith Council in October 2007. He was a founding member of SIFC and Vice chairman of the organisation since 2004. Salah is also vice convenor of the Muslim Council of Scotland and is a member of the Muslim Council of Britain. He is on the Executive board of the Council of Ethnic Minority Voluntary Sector Organisations. He is a member of the Public Involvement Group at the Chief Scientific Office of NHS Scotland. Professionally, Salah has a BSc from the University of Alexandria and a PhD from the University of Glasgow, both in Mechanical Engineering. He has held senior research and lecturing positions in Universities and research institutions in Britain, Egypt and Oman.

Rita (Henrietta) Docherty
Henrietta Docherty is member of the Baha’i Faith and has served on national Baha’i elected institutions for 20 years. She has been involved in interfaith for many years but more specifically in the past 2 years with the Scottish Inter Faith Council (SIFC) (representing the Baha’i Council for Scotland), and serving as its executive for that time.

Pramila Kaur
Chief Executive, SIFC. Pramila brings a wealth of experience in the area of equality, diversity, research, campaigning, policy development, sustainable development and training.  She has a Masters in Business Administration and a Bachelor in Laws (LLB). In her spare time, she supports the work of the following external organizations through their Boards of Management: The Inter Faith Network for the UK, Glasgow Anti Racist Alliance and Womankind Worldwide.

Magdalen Lambkin
Magdalen Lambkin Represents the SIFC Youth Steering Committee on the Executive Committee. She is a PhD candidate in the field of Inter-religious relations and has a Masters degree in Interfaith Studies from the University of Glasgow.

Sharon Newall
Sharon Newall has been a volunteer with S.I.F.C., and she is currently studying for a masters in Interfaith Relations (MTH). Formerly she completed an MA in philosophy, and with a fine art contingent to the course went on to work for Sothebys briefly. She had three sons, and then returned to University to do a Bachelor in Divinity (BD). She worked briefly with socially excluded and emotionally disadvantaged children.

Ravinder Kaur Nijjar
Ravinder Kaur Nijjar has made a vast contribution in the field of interfaith. She has been an ambassador for her own community (Sikh) and her selflessness, dedication and commitment in taking interfaith and equality initiatives forward has brought her respect from many communities and organizations. During the past 16 years she has worked tirelessly to bring faith communities together within Scotland, UK and also currently in Europe.

Mohammed Irfan Rabbani
Councillor Irfan Rabbani is the Executive member for Equalities in Glasgow City Council’s decision making body.  He chairs the Equalities Network Forum, as well as chairing the City Council’s Equalities Commission, which he established in 2008. He is convener of the Glasgow Forum of Faiths which was congratulated on its work in creating important linkages between faith leaders and city officials by the Interfaith Center of New York.

 Aharon Soudry
Rabbi Soudry is the leader of the Garnethill Hebrew Congregation in Glasgow. He was born in Morocco, and lived in Israel for 10 years before coming to Britain in 1975.  For many years Rabbi Soudry has taught Judaism to students of the Glasgow University Divinity Department and to local secondary school pupils.  Last summer, the Scottish Interfaith Council invited Rabbi Soudry to explain and illustrate the role of music in the Jewish liturgy.

Rev. Kamburawala Rewatha Thero
Recently appointed Chief Monk of Great Britain by the Sri Lankan Sangha Council, Rev. Thero has a resident full time teaching position of Buddhist Meditation Studies and Buddhist Philosophy.  Rev. Rewatha is a member of the Faith Liaison Advisory Group, the Religious Leaders of Scotland, and Scotland’s Buddhist Vihara- the first ever Theravada Buddhist Temple in Scotland in 2002.

Barcelona Delegation (Selected by UNESCO Catalonia)

Manuel Perez Browne
Mr. Perez has a Degree in Journalism and a Master’s in the History of Religions. He is the Director of the magazine “Dialogal” specialised in religious diversity and published by the UNESCO association for Interreligious Dialogue. He has collaborated with different local media on these subjects. He is also a member of the Interreligious Dialogue Department of the UNESCO Centre of Catalonia for whom he develops programmes on mediation and conflict prevention related to religious faith. He is particularly involved in work in the Catalan local areas of Badalona and Blanes.

Josep Pera Colome
Born in Badalona in 1965, he studied Catalan and Romance Languages. He has been an active member of Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya since 1979. Until 1987, he was actively involved in the cultural and associative life of the town of Badalona. From 1987 to 1992, he was the local President of the CDC in Tiana. In 1992 he took on responsibilities within his party at a national level when he collaborated with the General Secretary. He worked at the Ramon Trias Fargas foundation, was Councillor of the CiU at Barcelona Local Council from 2003 and was a member of the Barcelona Regional Council. Since July 2007, he has been Councillor for Citizenship and Social Cohesion at Badalona Local Council.

Oscar Craviotto
Coordinator of the International Network on Religions and Mediation in Urban Areas, he is also Programme Coordinator of the Department of Interreligious Dialogue, UNESCO Centre of Catalonia. A graduate in Theology (SITB, Buenos Aires, Argentina) and in Philosophy (University of Buenos Aires, Argentina), he has been an adjunct professor at the Baptist Seminary in Buenos Aires and editor at Ediciones Kairos in the same city. Currently he is a member of the Barcelona Mennonite Church, where he also collaborates in the Peace and Mediation Service.

Mohammed Halhoul Debboun
Mr. Halhoul is spokesperson for the Islamic Cultural Council of Catalonia, which has a pro-Moroccan tendency and brings together different local Muslim communities to represent their rights and interests before political parties, media and public institutions. Among other things, the Council seeks to train the leaders of Muslim communities to act knowingly within Catalan society.

Berta Natalia Reverdin Effront
Nathalie Reverdin is a Swiss female pastor of the Catalan Evangelical Church (a united church made up of Presbyterians, Methodists, Congregationalists and Lutherans) who lives and works in Rubí. She is very active in defending women’s rights, both within religious communities and in society  at large. As president of the UNESCO Association for Interreligious Dialogue, she has long helped to promote pioneering initiatives such as the Catalan Parliament of Religions and the introduction of a secular approach to the teaching of religious curricula in schools.

Montserrat Castella Olive
Monserrat is the first president of the newly created Catalan Coordination Center of Buddhist Organizations, which aims to organize Catalonian Buddhists to present their tradition and contribution to society. She is a Buddhist texts translator and professor of Buddhist theory and practice at the Center for the Study of Religious Traditions. Montserrat has been very committed to interfaith dialogue, and currently is organizing an interfaith march for peace.

Jaime Aymar Rogalta
Born in Barcelona in 1957, he is a priest of the Archdiocese of Barcelona and holds a PhD in art history from the University of Barcelona (1993). He is a professor in the Faculty of Philosophy and in the Faculty of Communication, both at the Ramon Llull University, where he has taught courses in history, art history, aesthetics and iconography, and courses on media for educators. Between 1998 and 2005, Fr. Aymar was dean of the Faculty of Philosophy at the Ramon Llull University. He is currently rector of the parish of St. Francis of Assisi in Badalona. Since September 2008 he has been director of Radio Estel, the archdiocese of Barcelona’s station, and of the weekly religious culture publication “Catalunya Cristiana”.

6/23 DA Office and Ground Zero

Aharon Soudry

1. Community Outreach Programme.  NY County District Attorney’s office

This court has a mandate to deal with civil matters such as small claims or landlord-tenants’ disputes… as opposed to Pat Gatling’s that is involved in criminal processes.  The Outreach Programme’s object is to inform the community at large about people’s rights.  It is done via faith leaders who disseminate the message to their flocks, schools, youth groups and anyone willing to take advantage of what it offers.  It is to prepare the vulnerable society members as to the dangers and pitfalls out there and how to avoid the conmen who for a handsome fee will for example promise the Green Card.  This Roundtable symposium is beneficial to both court and public.  The sharing of experiences and the learning from one/another is immensely helpful to prevent the criminals from preying on their victims.

The process of the Roundtable is illuminating and I would say that here too preventative medicine is more important than the cure of sickness.  It also makes the criminals realise that a little crime in their eyes could for the judicial system be a major one.  It is a great idea that the Roundtable analyses scenario cases that impact their gravity on the participants.

The task of the Roundtable is also to ensure we know there are addresses for referral in the event the DA’s office is unable to help.

What I found encouraging is not only the element of symbiosis between Court and Public, but that the Roundtable participants were eager to learn and impart of their knowledge.

2. Ground Zero

I prepared myself for the worse.  Walking towards it, however, made me forget it momentarily, till I saw an unusual and incongruous sight: a large empty space in central NY!

This is prime land, why is it empty?  I raised my head and saw a dozen cranes stretching upwards.  This is Ground Zero, my heart sunk and the anxiety came back.  I must leave politics aside.  The disaster hit everyone equally thus bringing everybody together to try and understand why this happened.  There is a logical guiding line behind the hall of remembrance layout: a video documents employers/employees’ happiness prior to 9/11.  They are ordinary people doing the best for themselves.  Through no fault of theirs nearly 4000 people died leaving behind shattered families and communities.  The Hall of the Missing is traumatic and paralysing.  It’s no longer numbers and statistics but real lives taken away.  The downstairs gallery is about visitor’s reaction leading us to the inescapable conclusion: a dialogue is of the essence.  We keep saying “we must learn from our experience” which is just a cliché.  Let’s begin to learn to learn.  The disaster galvanized people to act.  So proud to see the NY interfaith banner displayed and Sarah Sayeed’s reflections.

Gallery 5 is a testimonial room, the gallery of learning and hope.  It is about the past, present (learning) and future (application of lessons so painfully learnt).  I felt it finished with the element of triumph: we go on, we rebuild, you won’t defeat us, we’ll overcome your hatred and engage you in a dialogue.  Thus there will be hope for you too.  On the way out of the museum I looked again at the empty space and Wordsworth’s Westminster Bridge came to mind (apology for paraphrase): Earth has not anything to show more sad and sinister.  Dull would he be of soul who could pass by a sight so touching in its past glory and majesty and not shed a tear and meditate on who are we?  What are we?  Where did we all come from?  What’s our destiny?  It is in your hands and mine to make a better future and leave a descent world for our descendents.

6/22 Diversity in Worship but Unity in Action

Salah Beltagui

On Sunday we attended some church services and visited a Buddhist “Church”.  This led me to reflect on the three days, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  During these three days, I attended congregational prayers in a mosque, a synagogue, a church and in open air.

These prayers have so much difference in style, sermons and actions.

They were held in buildings which were so much different from each other.  The mosque is converted small house, men were praying in the main room and some were in an adjacent room, women in another room.

The synagogue had a large hall where people sat, sang then moved and danced.

The church of St Mary has a proper church building with good space and seating for the worshippers.

The extra open air service in the Park and the distribution of food for the homeless was an enjoyable action as much as it is a real community leading piece of work.

The places of worship were an indication of the community. However, without going into more details, I would like everyone to reflect on the diversity we have been through, and think of the most distinctive features of these three actions.

The sermons in all cases were enjoyed by everyone and were all of a high quality in that they were topical, with relation to health or father’s day. There was good exchange with the audiences.

My main conclusion is that with all these variety the final spiritual effect is the same and they all should lead to making life better for those attending and those receiving help from them.

This confirmed my understanding of Inter Faith work as the motivation of people of faith into social action.

The visit to the Buddhist Church has raised a critical point in the language of the interfaith dialogue– that not all religions have God as the creator or supreme power, and the monk indicated his discomfort as he listened to this language. I hope we find a way to deal with this problem.

In contrast to this we noted the use of the word Church in naming the temple. We were told that this was done to make it more familiar and appealing to the people, especially after what happened to the American Japanese during the Second World War.