• Nature’s Friendships

    I am pretty sure there is something irrational about this friendship…

  • Rabbi Segal Travels to Soviet Russia

  • A Little Boy Brings A Rabbi and A Priest Close To Each Other

    My youngest son, Scotty was exactly 2 years of age at the time. Lisa was 7, Michael was 9, and Jeffrey was 11.

    It was July and I had a two-week vacation from the synagogue, My wife, Toby, and I had decided that we would take a family vacation in Biloxi, Mississippi, We would drive from Huston to Biloxi in one day spend 12 days in Biloxi at the holiday, Inn Hotel, and then take one more day to return back to Huston.

    At that time, Toby and I shared one car, a station wagon, and we Decided that all of us would leisurely drive together from Houston to Biloxi, a distance of about 550 miles, in about 13 hours. We decided that We would begin our journey at 6 a.m. so that we might arrive at our hotel  about 7 p.m., before sunset.

    Toby suggested that she drive, since l did not enjoy driving long distances, and I would take care and entertain the children. l therefore brought along a number of children’s books for them to read, or for me to read to them, some games that they could play with by themselves or together, and quite a number of snacks.

    For the first few hours it was quite peaceful. The children slept or snapped. They were quite tired- especially Scotty. But about 10:30 am. They began awakening- one by one. By 11 a.m., they were all awakening – one by one, By 11 a.m, they were all awake and I felt that I was in a ware zone, “Energy” was flowing through all of them, especially Scotty, I had never seem him like this before. He was always quiet and tranquil, subdued and restrained, But Now he excited and electrified, invigorated and stimulated. The other children kept telling him, “Sit Down”, “Keep Quiet”, “You’re rocking the boat”, “You’re annoying us,”, “You’re acting like a baby and a pest.” But the more they chastised and castigated him, the more animated and exhilarated he became.

    I could not control him. He was scampering and scooting all over the rear of our station wagon. He was not interested in me reading to him. He kept pushing my books away. Meanwhile, the other children kept dictating to me, “Keep him quiet. He’s ruining the trip.” It was not the Scotty that I had known for the past two years. It was like a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde scenario,

    At about noon, I told Toby to pull up, “I think he’s eaten something poisonous,” I nervously said to her. “He’s having a serious reaction to something. Maybe we ought to take him to hospital emergency Room.”

    However, Toby tranquilly commented, “We want to get to the hotel before sunset. We’ll get there at that time if we pull up. Just try to humor Scotty and I’ll get us to the hotel in time.”

    Toby seemed oblivious and amnesic of what was happening in the rear of the station wagon. She was merely listening to her Pop Music on her favorite FM station while I was attempting to control the children, especially Scotty.

    The Trip was not an easy one for me, In face, it was like a voyage through Dante’s Hades, especially since our air-conditioning was broken and we had to keep the windows open Scotty seemed to became more and more cantankerous as the minutes blended into hours, and I became more and more frustrated and checkmated as my temper frayed and became thinner and thinner with the passage of time

    Before we embarked on the trip, Toby had suggested that we find a nursery for Scotty when we arrived in Biloxi where he could spend the day while the remainder of the family could enjoy a happy and peaceful vacation, but I had vehemently and passionately opposed that recommendation and proposal because I strongly felt that there should be “family unity” in our vacation Toby did not press her advice before the trip. She merely said, “We’ll discuss it later.”

    We finally arrived at the Holiday Inn about 8p.m. It was just about dark and we had one room with two queen beds  (one for toby and me, and one for Jeffrey and Michael), a cot (for Lisa), and a crib (for Scotty). Yes, the room was a bit crowded, but we were on a limited budget.


    Scotty had been a combination of a volcano and a Tsunami as we drove from Houston to Biloxi, but as soon as we arrived at the hotel he “conked out” and frittered down like an Indianapolis Raceway race car.  Whose fuel gauge arrow was now pointing to “empty”

    Toby put him in his crib and he looked like a cherub, a celestial angel, and I told her to take children into the dining room to get some dinner. The dining room was only about 100 feed from our room so she could always go back to check on Scotty to make sure he was asleep

    However, as the children were finishing their sandwiches Toby told Jeffrey, “Go find Daddy. I don’t know where he is. He was supposed to eat with us but he never came into dining room.”

    Within three minutes Jeffrey returned. “Daddy’s at the check-in counter. He’s talking to the man behind the desk.”

    Within 5 minutes, I was with Toby and the children. I had a big smile on my face. “There two Day-camps for children in Biloxi that take children from ages 1 ½ to 13. They even serve the kids lunch, and the day runs from 7 a.m to 7 p.m. We could bring Scotty there in the morning and pick him up at night.”

    Four sets of eyes rigidly focused on me, and it was Jeffrey who first blurted out. “But, Daddy, you said wanted this to be a ‘family trip’ that even included Scotty. Are you now changing the type of vacation we’re going to have?”

    My face turned red with embarrassment. “Maybe you’re right. We’ll wait until tomorrow morning and see how Scotty is. Maybe it was the length of the trip that got him so riled up and irrigated. Maybe now that we’re at the hotel he’ll be his own old self – quiet and peaceful, placid and claim. Let’s wait until tomorrow.”

    That night everyone slept well, but at 7am Scotty was up and awakened everyone. Toby suggested that I take him to the pool and let him walk around in the shallow water. So, we both put on our bathing suits and I took him to pool.

    However, Scotty refused to remain in the shallow water. He kept running to diving board, laughing vigorously, and then jumping into the 8-foot deep water. However, he could not swim. So, I had to jump into the water and pull him out. But as soon as I pulled him out he would laugh at me, run back to diving board, and jump into the water again I would have to go into the water and pull him out. It was like Paganini’s Moto Perpetuo Op.11 for violin, or Rimksy, Korsakov’s The Flight of the Bumble Bee, or Johann Strauss’ Perpetuum Mobile. He just kept going on and on. He did not stop or quit. It was obvious that I was going to get tried before he did. My exhaustion was going precede his.

    After 15 minutes I felt like a mouse on treadmill. It was obvious that Scotty could continue this for the better part of the morning or may be for the better part of the day, However that was way beyond my physical or mental endurance time.

    I quickly pulled him out of the pool, dried him, picked him up, carried him to our room, and officially and dictatorially promulgated, “Let’s all get dressed. We’re going to visit the two children’s camps and register Scotty in one of them He’ll be much happier there. He’ll have friends his own age with whom he can play. Otherwise, he’ll be bored with us all day. There, he’ll have a scheduled program. Here, he’ll run around like a chicken without a head.”

    Toby and the three children looked at each other as if saying. Daddy has finally admitted that Scotty has to be ‘sacrificed’ for the mental tranquility of the majority. Scotty will be happy in camp and we’ll be happy that’s he’s in camp.

    Immediately everyone dressed, went to have breakfast, and by 9.am. We were in the Station Wagon off to the first camp.

    It was only mile from the hotel but as soon as I saw it felt as if a dagger had been plunged into my heart. The supervisor took us around the “camp” but a strong smell of urine filled my nostrils as he took us into the “rest area” where about 10 small children were in cribs – and most of them were crying. The cribs were very dusty and it was quite warm in that room. We listened to the Supervisor for about five minutes as he described the “assets” of his camp, and then I said, “Well get back to you later.” Meanwhile, Scotty was doing his best to release himself from my hold.

    We reentered the station Wagon and all at once the kids and Toby said, “That place is terrible; that’s not a camp. That’s a dump. The parents who send their kids there must hate them.  The Board of Health should shut that place down immediately.”

    I then exhaled as if I had been vanquished and asked, “what’s the name of the other camp?’’

    Toby meekly replied, “Holy Angels of St Michael’s Roman catholic Crunch. It’s not far from here. ”

    For a moment I frowned. I did not want a priest or nun attempting to proselytize my son. But they had the right to institute any program they so desired. It was the camp of a Catholic Church. If I did not want any religion taught to my son then I should not send him there. It was not my choice to tell the priest or the num how to run their camp. By enrolling my child in their camp I was telling them that their Children’s programs were satisfactory for my child – even if he was Jewish.

    I was not happy about that thought but I knew that I could not last any lengthy period of time with Scotty on that vacation in his present frame of mind. He was super-energetic, overflowing with exuberance, a human dynamo.

    Therefore, I said to Toby, “let’s investigate and see what they’re offering there.”

    The children laughed and we were off to the champ of the Holy Angels of St. Michael’s Catholic Church.

    It only took us 10 minutes to get to the St. Michal’s Roman Catholic Church. It was truly a modern church built in the round. It looked as if it had been build in the five years and outside of the church was a sign directing people to the camp for the “Holy Angels.” It was on the church’s property behind the church.

    It was obvious that I was not enthusiastic about sending Scotty to a Catholic Church. I had a feeling that one day he would come home singing.

    “Onward Christian Solders,”

    Then, “Jesus Loves Me,”

    Then, “Amazing grace,”

    Then, “Are You Washed In the Blood of the lamb?”

    Then, “Just A Little Talk With Jesus,”

    Then, “Rock of Ages,”

    Then, “What A friend We Have In Jesus”

    Yes, the church was beautiful, and when I saw the champ it was obvious that is was very modern, and the children there where having a good time and enjoying themselves; however, I had the fear that there would be an attempt to instill Catholic religion in my 2 year old Scotty.

    Then an elderly nun approached us. She must have been close to 80 but she stood tall and erect and had a warm smile on her face. She introduced herself as sister Maria and asked us the name of the Catholic Church we attended.

    Sheepishly I replied,  “We are the Segals from Huston but we don’t attend Catholic Church. We’re Jewish. We merely wanted to have our young son Scotty attend camp while we vacation in Biloxi,” And I pointed at Scotty as I spoke to her.

    However, he grabbed her long skirt and began pulling on it, But Sister Maria forcefully took his hand away from her skirt, smiled at him, and softly said to him as she bent down toward him, “At our champ we act with love and respect. We do not pull skirts, pinch people, or act nasty toward them. We show everyone love.”

    It seems as if Scotty was startled by her words and her demeanor and quickly walked away from her and grabbed into my leg, as if for protection and safekeeping, security and asylum.

    Commented, “Mr. and Mrs. Segal, I’d like you to meet Father Coughlin. He is the head of our camp during the summer. He will tell you how during the summer the camp is merely attached to the church but there is no church indoctrination. There is no religious instruction. It is for the entire community – Catholics, Protestants, Jews, atheists, secularists, agnostics – people of all, or no, religions. It is just a communal camp, and Father Coughlin shook his head as if in agreement. He, too, smiled and remarked in a comical manner, “It’s merely a money making project to help pay our yearly expenses.”

    The priest sounded most cordial and congenial, jolly and jovial; however, his name, Father Coughlin, struck a chord of doubt and questioning in my mind because six months earlier I had given a series of six lectures in our Adult Education Program on “Anti-Semites In Jewish History,” and one of them had been Father Charles Coughlin, A catholic Priest at royal Oak, Michigan’s National Shrine of the Little Flower Church.

    Forty million American regularly listened to his weekly radio broadcasts in the 30s and he received as many as 80,000 letters a week. However, he was an avid anti-Semite, eventually even rationalizing some of Hitler’s and Mussolini’s polices toward the Jews.

    True, the Vatican, the Apostolic Delegation in Washington, D.C., and the Archbishop of Cincinnati wanted him silenced, but his superior was Detroit Bishop Michael Gallagher who refused to mute him. In face, he supported him, and the Church did nothing because it felt that any action on its part in favor of the Jews would cause in schism amongst American Catholics.

    Coughlin blamed the depression on an “International conspiracy of Jewish bankers.” In fact, he preached that Jewish bankers were behind the Russian Revolution of 1917, and on November 27, 1938, Coughlin stated, “There can be no doubt that the Russian revolution….” Was lunched and fomented by a destructively Jewish influence.” Marxist atheism, he preached, in our land, was a Jewish plot against America.

    In addition to those comments, in a 1938 rally in the Bronx in New York, Coughlin said, “When we get through with the Jews in America they will think the treatment they received in Germany was nothing.”

    On December 18, 1938, 2000 of his followers marched in New York protesting a potential asylum law that would have allowed more Jews, including refugees from Hitler’s persecution, into the United States. They loudly chanted, “send Jews back where they came from in leaky boats,” and “Wait until Hitler comes here.” In face, it was even stated by American officials that Coughlin received indirect funding from Nazi Germany during this period. During this time, Coughlin fought a radio battle with Rev. Walton Cole, a Unitarian minister from Toledo, Ohio.

    Finally, after America was attacked by Japan at pearl harbor on December 7, 1941 the Most reverend Edward Mooney, Archbishop of Cincinnati, on May 1, 1942, ordered Coughlin to stop his political actives and confine himself to the duties of a parish priest stating that he would be defrocked if he refused, Coughlin actually complied with that order and remained the pastor of the Shrine of the Little Flower Church until he retired in 1966.  (He died in 1979.)

    Yes, Sister Maria and Father Coughlin both stated that the camp during the summer was religion-neutral, or, better still, a religious; however the name Coughlin gave me the jitters and the heebie jeebies. Then Sister Maria added, “Scotty can stay here from 7 am.  Until 7 pm.”

    I must admit that when Toby and I heard that, our eyes lit up.

    Then Sister Maria added, “We will even serve him breakfast and lunch. The breakfast usually consists of breakfast cereal and fruit and milk, or hot waffles, or pancakes and syrup, and hot cocoa or hot chocolate.” I knew that Scotty loved that.

    Then she added, while smiling at Scotty, “And he’ll surely love our lunches. We often have bacon or ham, or shrimp or lobster or catfish or frogs’ legs, or crawfish, or pork, He’ll lick his fingers.”

    However, I lowered my head and apologetically replied, “It won’t work. We’re Jewish as I told you, and he can only ear kosher food. We follow the dietary laws of the Bible.”

    Father Coughlin quickly moved his hand toward me as if saying “Don’t Worry, I know what you’re talking about.” He then authoritatively stated, “You’re referring to Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 where the Bible states kosher meat must come from animals that have split hooves and chew its cud and kosher fish must have fins and scales.”

    When he said that, I knew that he was a different Father Coughlin. He was bending over backwards to make us, and Scotty, religiously comfortable at his camp. And sister Maria chimed in, “We can give him for lunch peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and mixed vegetables. There are loads of kosher foods we can give him” I remember studying about those biblical kosher foods when I was studying to become a nun, many years ago” – and she too was smiling “We can even get for him bagels and lox sandwiches,” She then turned toward Toby and added, “Don’t worry Mrs. Segal, We’ll have plenty of kosher food for him.” And after hesitating for about five seconds she added, “I remember a Mr. and Mrs. Cohen who were friends of my parents they played card every Saturday night with my parents. They played cards every Saturday night with my parents. They kept Kosher and they used to get their kosher meat from New Orleans once a month. Don’t worry,”

    Scotty Won’t go hungry here. We’ll take good care of him,” and she emphasized the word “good.”

    During our conversation, as time went by, Father Coughlin and Sister Maria were elated and jubilant, happy and exultant when I told them that I was a rabbi in Houston. Father Coughlin even felt that there was now a bond that united us. He even felt that there was now a bond that united us. He even stated, “I’m going to take personal care of Scotty,” and sister Maria added, “I’ll personally check all his food to definitely make sure that they’re kosher. God gave the Jews the kosher laws that they should be honored and fulfilled, not broken and violated. You can be sure that Scotty will be under my personal supervision.”

    However, Scotty was not interested in our conversation. He was interested in Sister Maria’s long robe, and he was pulling on it. “No, no, we don’t do that here, Scotty,” Sister Maria warmly but sternly chastised Scotty as she took him firmly by the hand. “Mrs. Segal, I’m going to take Scotty now to the younger children’s section and introduce him to the other boys and girls. You’ll see, he’ll love it here, and by the time he leaves he’ll be tranquilized. ”

    But as she began directing him toward the children’s camp Scotty attempted to kick Father Coughlin, However, Sister Maria grabbed Scotty firmly, and authoritatively informed him, “At Angels of St. Michael’s Camp we don’t kick Father Coughlin,” and she emphasized the word “don’t.” We hug Father Coughlin.”

    I turned toward Sister Maria, Shook my head, and sympathetically commented, “I wish you luck with him. I don’t know what got into him. He never was like this before.”

    We left Scotty with Sister Maria and Father Coughlin and the camp counselors, and every morning we would have him at the camp at 7 a.m as they opened it’s doors, and we would arrive at camp at exactly 7 p.m, the last ones there, as they were about to close the camp.

    Unfortunately, every night, Sister Maria had a report for us. “Once again he tired to kick Father Coughlin. For some unknown reason he doesn’t seem to like him. But we’ll straighten him out;” or “Today he refused to get out of the pool when it was rest time, but a counselor went in for him and got him out;” or “He pulled my hood of my head and I had to chase him around the camp before I could get it back; however I know that deep down in his heart he loves me and Father Coughlin very much.”

    Every evening during the first week we would get a negative report about Scotty when we would call for him at 7 p.m. However, beginning the second week the reports were getting much better. He was hugging Father Coughlin; he was following the counselor’s instructions; he Would often approach Sister Maria to give her a kiss. A metamorphosis was taking place. We couldn’t believe, it, but it was making our vacation more enjoyable and pleasurable.

    Then, on the fourth day of the second week at champ, at about 11 a.m. while we were still at the hotel, I received a call from sister Maria when I was lounging at the pool. The only time she would call us was when she had a major problem with Scotty and she wanted our permission to treat him “in a proper manner.” Now, we thought another major problem had arisen with Scotty. I don’t know why, but I thought that he had struck over backwards, but we can’t change him. He’s like cement. You can’t change the stripes of a zebra. Scotty is Scotty.  We’ve done our best – but it was not good enough.’

    I answered the phone and Sister Maria quickly said to me, “We have a major problem with Scotty today.” I waited for the boom to fall. I waited for a litany of violations of chap rules that Scotty had broken. My heart was racing quickly. But Sister Maria interjected, “Today, we had a problem.  The food truck that comes every day and brings our order for today’s lunch broke down and the food did not arrive. We therefore have to serve everyone from food we have our pantry, and the only thing we have is bread and canned sardines. So, all the children are going to have sardine sandwiches and a glass of milk. However, then I thought of Scotty. Is he permitted to eat sardines? Are they kosher? Do they have fins and scales?  So I opened a can of sardines and I could see the fins.  But I’m 79 years – of age, and my eyes are not very good.  I could not tell if the if the sardines have scales.” She hesitated for a moment and then added, “We all love Scotty very much and we want him to be able to properly follow the rules and regulations of his Jewish religion. During the past two weeks he has developed and matured into a very loving and lovable child. Do you know if the sardines have scales and are kosher? If not, I will have one of the counselors drive to the supermarket to purchase a special can of tuna fish for Scotty.”

    The tempo of my heartbeat began to slow down, “You are very kind, considerate, and compassionate, Sister Maria,” I said to her, “You are big hearted and warm – hearted.  You are truly a messenger of God.” Then I smiled and softly added, “Don’t worry. Sardines have scales and are Kosher, and Scotty loves them. He’ll probably ask for a double portion”

    Thank You, Thank you, “she responded jubilantly. “He’ll be able to eat with the other children when they have their lunch and will not have to wait until we get him something else. He now loves to eat with the other children, be with them, and play with them. “

    At the end of the two weeks I thanked Father Coughlin, Sister Maria, and the Counselors for making it possible for Toby and me, Jeffrey, Michael, and Lisa to enjoy our vacation in Biloxi, and for Scotty to enjoy his vacation at the angels of St. Michale’s Church Camp.  They had “converted” a potentially tension – filled vacation into a very pleasant and enjoyable one – for all of us. Both Toby and I shook hands with Father Coughlin and Sister Maria, and Toby gave Sister Maria a strong hug and a warm kiss

    A week after we returned to Houston I wrote a letter to the Catholic Bishop who was in charge of the Catholic Churches in Biloxi.


    Dear Bishop,

    This summer, my wife, 4 children, I spent our vacation in Biloxi, Unfortunately, my 2- year – old, Scotty, was over energetic and did not enable the remainder of the family to enjoy our vacation, So, my wife and I decided that Scotty should attend day camp where counselors had regimented programs that would probably tame this exuberance and allow him to enjoy his summer.

    We are not Catholic, In fact, we are Jewish— and I am a rabbi in Houston; however, I would like you to know that your staff, led by Father Coughlin and sister Maria, bent over backwards for scotty so that might enjoy his summer and still be able to continue observing his Jewish traditions.

    Yes, Lunches often consisted of non-kosher meats of fish for the other campers, but the camp saw to it that Scotty had kosher substitutes. In fact, I was even once called by Sister Maria to check as to whether sardines were kosher because she told me that her failing eyesight did not allow her to distinctly notice whether the sardines had scales necessary for kosher fish.

    Father Coughlin and sister Maria and their counselors constantly showered him with love and affection, tenderness and understanding so that at the end of the two weeks that he was at the camp Scotty was one of the best behaved children at the camp – and all the children and counselors loved him. They had converted him being a “Satan” to being an “angel.” He truly became an “Angel” of St. Michael’s at your champ, and for this both Toby and I are indebted to your staff.

    But I want to pinpoint two extraordinary people at your champ: Father Coughlin and Sister Maria. They both possessed the sprit of the late Pope John XXIII his relationship to the Jews.

    When he became Pope in 1959, he removed the word “perfidious” from the Good Friday prayer that referred to Jews because he felt it was an insult to them. He also removed the word “Faithless” from the prayer for the conversion of the Jews because he felt it was an indignant expression referring to the Jews.

    And when he met with a Jewish delegation he said to them, “I am Joseph, your brother, “ and he was very influential in developing the Papal doctrine “Nostra Acetate,” (In our Age), that started that Churches no longer looked upon the Jews as rejected or accursed by God.  He wanted to develop good relations with Jews because he realized that his God, Jesus, was born a Jew of a Jewish mother, Mary.

    And during World War II, he issued baptismal certificates that were responsible for saving many Hungarian, Romanian, and Slovakian Jews whom the Nazis had already decided were to be killed in the Nazi Concentration Camps.  In fact, the Chief Rabbi of Buenos Aires Said of Pope John XXIII, “He was man created in the image of God.”

    One of his major activities as Pope was to develop good relations with the Jews.  For too many Centuries the Church had developed a strong animosity for the Jews.  John XXIII wanted to change that: from hatred to love, from distrust to trust, from ill will to friendship, from hostility to affability.

    Pope John put into practice the statement made by Jesus to the person who asked him, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment of the law?” and he replied, “ ”Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ All the Law and prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:36-40)

    Father Coughlin and Sister Maria put into practice Jesus’ word “Love thy Neighbor as thyself” which were originally stated by God to Moses (Leviticus : 19:18).  That principle is the energy and fuel that makes life livable and worthwhile. Father Coughlin and Sister Maria felt that they had a mission to help Scotty enjoy his two weeks in Biloxi and to mold him into a more lovable human being – and they achieved their goals.

    My wife and I are indebted to those two, to your Church, and to your champ.  I can assure, you that they helped develop a strong and good relationship between the Catholic Church and the Rabbi from Houston.  To Father Coughlin and sister Maria, their New Testament is not merely a book to be read before bed, but a guidebook whose instruction should be followed – and they put into practice the 2000 year old instruction that Jesus gave to his followers: “Love they neighbor as thyself”.

    Thank you very much. You can be very proud of your Catholic staff.

    Rabbi Jack Segal


    Lessons Learned

    1)     The world needs more warm hearts and fewer hot heads.

    2)     Close your eyes to the faults of others and watch the doors friendship swing wide.

    3)     We are on the wrong track when we think of friendships as something get – rather than something to give.

    4)     Friendship is the only cement that will hold the world together.

    5)     The best recipe for making friends to be one yourself.

    6)     A good friend is like a tube of toothpaste — he comes thought in a tight squeeze.

    7)     A friend will strengthen you with his prayers, bless you with his love, and encourage you with his hope.


    Excerpt from You Can’t live on Hope Alone, but You Can’t Live Without it by Jack Segal
    To purchase this book, contact The Beth Yeshurun Gift Shop at (73) 255-802 or giftshop@bethyeshurun.org.





  • Hackers Making a Difference

    Houston’s second annual Hackathon wrapped up on Sunday, June 1 at the Houston Technology Center.  In all, there were 18 projects ranging from a hardware device to reduce “hot car” fatalities to an app aimed at giving a face and voice to Houston’s homeless.  The big winner?  An app that turns your city into a cultural scavenger hunt.  The Boniuk Foundation awarded the $2,000 grand prize to CultureHunt, which made the best of their 24 hour coding sprint and impressed the judges with an innovative way to encourage people to learn about the many religious and cultural traditions in our city.

  • Being Interfaith Literate: A Guide To Online Interfaith Etiquette

    Original Post from The Christian Muslim Forum found here

    One criticism occasionally directed at Interfaith Dialogue is that it has the potential to involve a lot of theoretical chit-chat with little substance or practical application in the real world. Open and constructive communication is, however, the foundation of good relationships between people of different faiths. It is the basis of everything that follows. If we’re not able to speak to people who uphold different beliefs without getting red-faced and in a huff then any sort of joint Interfaith event or venture will be rendered impossible. For that reason we have to become Interfaith Literate. This means understanding the potential effects of the words we use, learning to use inclusive language, and developing ways of diffusing negatively-charged conversations.

    This article focuses on the etiquette of interfaith conversation, particularly within an online setting, as many of us are introduced to interfaith dialogue through social media or organisations such as the Christian Muslim forum.

    1. Be prepared for disagreement.

    Before we start, we should acknowledge the fact that Interfaith interactions are going to be uncomfortable and awkward at times. The stereotype of cosy meetings with tea and biscuits is often a far cry from the reality. When disagreements happen (and they certainly will), we shouldn’t panic, declare the situation a hopeless cause, and simply give up. Disagreement is not necessarily a bad thing. After all, a debate where everyone has the same view is essentially a mutual appreciation society. When we all agree, we have a tendency to become rigid and self-congratulatory; smug even. Being among people with different beliefs can actually help us in our personal attempts towards humility. It also gives us an opportunity to reflect on our own beliefs and hopefully become more flexible and understanding as a result.

    2. Be positive.

    Whether we are speaking face to face with someone or communicating via social media, we should aim to create a space where people can be open and honest. We should acknowledge the fact that the other person is allowing themselves to be vulnerable as they share their experiences and we shouldn’t abuse that position. As such, blunt statements like ‘you’re wrong’ should be avoided. Accusations like these make us defensive and reluctant to share.  As a way of avoiding such direct comments, Interfaith worker Peter Adams recommends that we, ‘look for the good rather than something to disagree with.’ In this way we promote positive dialogue rather than confrontation.

    3. Be inclusive.

    Interfaith is as much about self-exploration and the individual as it is about larger groups of people getting along. As interfaith participants we should recognise that no two individuals interpret religious doctrine or experience the world and/or God in the same way. Therefore, we should avoid using sweeping statements like ‘we believe this’ or ‘you believe that.’ Both create and promote a counterproductive dichotomy of ‘Us and Them’. Rather, it is often more useful to speak about our own personal beliefs using ‘I believe’ or ‘I think.’ In this way, as Imam Jamal Rahman (one third of the Interfaith Amigos) says, we can ‘get to know each other on a personal, human level. That’s the best way to overcome the divide of different theologies.’ (view full video) Interfaith starts from within – opening up our hearts and then reaching out to others as fellow individuals.

    4. Be mindful.

    Adopting inclusive language goes hand in hand with an increased awareness of how our words can be interpreted or misinterpreted. We might think that using a nifty war metaphor such as ‘go into battle’ or ‘confront the enemy’ will pack a powerful rhetorical punch but it will probably just be interpreted as unnecessarily aggressive and undermine anything positive that we wanted to say. In particular we should avoid “loaded” words such as ‘infidel’ or ‘kaffir.’ Strong verbs like ‘deny’ or ‘reject’ are also common culprits of discord and are counterproductive to interfaith discourse.

    4. Be responsible.

    Becoming interfaith literate means that we develop an acute sense of responsibility when we interact with others. Whether we are in a closed group, private conversation or public space, we should conduct ourselves as if anyone can hear or read what we say. That could include friends, people from the same denomination, and crucially, those who don’t share our views. Therefore, we have to think, do our words target or ridicule people with different beliefs? Are they a ruse to unite certain groups against another group? Any divisive tactic goes against the very essence of interfaith which is an all-encompassing and inclusive way of interacting that allows us to transcend human-made boundaries and make personal connections with people from all faith and non-faith backgrounds.

    5. Be clear.

    We’ve all had arguments where one person is upset about what was said while the other was angry about how it was said. No matter how long the argument continues, the two people are never going to be able to resolve the problem unless they recognise that they’re talking about entirely different things. For that reason, it’s important to make it clear which aspect we’re commenting on during interfaith interactions. Are you challenging certain ideas or the way those ideas were expressed? This pre-emptive clarification is particularly useful in online conversations which are particularly prone to misunderstandings.

    We should also bear in mind that English is not everyone’s first language and so we should allow for translation issues. If someone isn’t a native English speaker, they’re not necessarily going to able to express nuance. Words like ‘faith’ and ‘religion’ might be used interchangeably or strong words like ‘must’ might be used in the place of a softer ‘should’ for instance. If we keep that in mind, we can avert unnecessary upsets.

    6. Be kind.

    When someone makes a faux pas, we should be kind rather than pouncing on that person
    They might not have realized how their words would be interpreted or they may still be getting to grips with the concept of Interfaith.  We’ve all said things in badly phrased ways or completely misjudged a situation. This is how we learn. If we all knew how to communicate perfectly with each other from the get go, they’d be no need for interfaith dialogue in the first place! Mistakes are an opportunity for everyone to learn: for the person who made it and for those who respond to it.

    7. Be thankful.

    There’s always a part of us that wants to have the final word when we leave a discussion. Our ego creates a desire to ‘win’ at all costs and it tries to achieve this by putting others down.

    Instead, we should show gratitude and thank the other person for the opportunity of speaking together. Perhaps you had polar opposite views and things got a little messy. But there’s no reason to end a conversation on a low. Showing gratitude is one way, in Peter Adams words, of ‘treating each other seriously, even when we don’t agree.’ Even ‘disastrous’ conversations give us something to reflect on and alert us to areas where we can improve.

    We can also take the opportunity to apologize for any misunderstandings or wrong assumptions. Showing gratitude and offering apologies are great ways of showing mutual respect and mean that everyone leaves the discussion feeling appreciated.

  • An Interfaith Adventure

    What Happens When a Muslim, Jew, Christian, Atheist and Agnostic Travel the World Together? Victor, Josselin, Samuel, Ilan and Ismael are atheist, agnostic, Christian, Jewish and Muslim, in that order. With religious tolerance in mind, the five twenty-something French students, decided to travel across the world.

    posted 28 May 2014: Original story link 

    Victor, Josselin, Samuel, Ilan and Ismael are atheist, agnostic, Christian, Jewish and Muslim, in that order. With religious tolerance in mind, the five twenty-something French students, decided to travel across the world from July 2013 to June 2014 for their Interfaith Tour. The goal? To raise awareness of the many interfaith projects already out there making a difference.

    Global Voices (GV): After your journey around the world, you have now begun a tour of France to share your experiences. How has the project been received in France so far?

    Victor (atheist): The tour was well received in France, better than we imagined. People in France are interested in inter-religious topics and the international component that we provided. Many people come to see us at the end of our talk to thank us, they were moved by the work we achieved during this tour and the hope it gives them. The impact in the media was also quite impressive. A French daily newspaper called us to tell us that the article about our trip on their Facebook page was the most shared and commented of the past two years, ahead of articles about Barack Obama or François Hollande.

    GV: Long trips and close quarters with others often lead to self-introspection and additional personal changes. Has your view of your faith evolved during the trip? If so, how? 

    Josselin (agnostic): My faith has not changed, although it has been questioned at times. Because of my particular belief, agnostic, within the scope of the project, people often believed that I was looking for a religion to adopt, but it was not like that at all. The tour, in fact, strengthened my agnosticism because I believe in God, or in this case the being I call God, without seeing myself belonging to any religion or current religious practices. After this trip, I am even more convinced that we all have the same God and that for instance, Christians and Muslims simply take different paths to reach God.

    Samuel (Christian): My Christian faith is always evolving because it is a relationship. It changes, mutates, evolves. Traveling around the world is always an opportunity for internal change. I have not been subjected to too much radical questioning with the exception of three months in Asia from December to February, from Mumbai to Jakarta to Tokyo, Beijing and Kuala Lumpur. This region is a desert of Christian communities and it can be difficult not to feel alone. These are great moments of poverty that allowed me to root my faith in the good soil, which does not require a favorable context to bear fruit.

    Ilan (Jewish): The Torah says “VéAhavta IreHa KamoHa” (Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself). This command is the foundation of life in society and it has guided me throughout the tour. The constant back and forth between our inner-selves and others has fed my life experiences. Through encounters with the Other, I reinforced my sense of belonging to the Jewish community, its unique history and its universal values. The trip has definitely ”converted” me to this brotherhood but I never forgot who I am and where I come from. This dual action – self-doubt and identity reinforcement – seems fundamental to me when we project ourselves when we meet other people. This action is independent of how beautiful and rewarding the meetings with others are.

    Ismael (Muslim): I am not sure if I’d say that my faith has evolved, but one thing is for sure: This trip has opened my world much more than I thought. We often talked about inter-religious themes during this tour and during my two years as a member of the Coexist Association. As a Muslim, I was always happy to work with people of different faiths.  However, with people in my own community, and by that I mean Muslims from other denominations than Sunnis, I was not as open and a bit suspicious. During this tour, I had the opportunity to see how the global Muslim community was divided and how urgent it was for me to get involved in both the intra-religious and the inter-religious aspect of our work. But I have hope that we can do better because I will always remember that day after a Friday prayer at the great mosques of Muscat in Oman when  I unknowingly prayed next to an Ibadi and a Shiite by my side.  That day reinforced my belief that when we want to live together, we can always find people willing to help us in that endeavor.


    For more information visit http://www.interfaithtour.com/en/

  • Houston Hackathon Idea Challenge

    The Boniuk Foundation is happy to sponsor the upcoming City of Houston Hackathon on May 31 and June 1. Over the course of 24 hours, hundreds of Houstonians will come together and work on technology projects to improve our quality of life.

    In keeping with our mission, our foundation is very interested in ways that technology can promote tolerance and cross-cultural exchange. Houston is the most diverse city in the country. Who knows what an open hackathon could produce?

    Here’s the challenge:

    We are looking for the best technology ideas that promote cross-cultural exchange. Please submit no more than 500 words below. Explain your idea, and what the app will accomplish. The best entries win $250 cash prizes and get published on the Houston Hackathon website. Winners will be notified by May 31.

    Deadline: May 2, 2014

    Need some help getting started? Here are a few sample ideas:

    • A web application that allows people to post media highlighting unique cultural practices native to a region with content that can be browsed on a map.
    • A system to coordinate disaster relief efforts between religious organizations of different faiths.
    • An app that creates an index of cultural sensitivity, based on questions and responses.

    If you have any questions about this challenge, please contact Yan Digilov at yan@firestarter.org.


  • Arab-Israeli Becomes Valedictorian at Technion

    Now employed at Carmel Hospital, Dr. Mais Ali Saleh was valedictorian of her medical school class; says time management is her secret to success.

    by Abigail Klein Leichman on September 9, 2013

    Original Post

     You’ll find Israeli-Arab physicians on staff at every Israeli hospital. But only Carmel Medical Center in Haifa can boast that its newest Israeli-Arab obstetrician-gynecologist, Dr. Mais Ali Saleh, recently graduated No. 1 in her class at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, one of the country’s top medical schools.Just getting admitted to one of Israel’s five medical schools demands near-perfect test scores and a dazzling personal interview. Graduating at the top of the class is quite a feather in the cap of this 27-year-old Muslim from a village near Nazareth, who was not fluent in Hebrew when she began her studies.Though she won an academic award of excellence from Israel’s parliament in her first year of medical school, Ali Saleh tells ISRAEL21c that her secret was not just smarts.‘I think the main thing is to divide your time wisely between study, work and personal life,” she says. “I didn’t just learn material right before a test. I was constantly reviewing. If you study little by little, you internalize it better. And I made time to have fun. At four or five o’clock I’d finish studying, close the books and go to the sea.”Considering that she held down jobs all through seven years of medical school and internship — as an instructor in a psychometric exam prep course, an educator in the Technion’s Student Advancement Center and a research assistant in the clinical biochemistry laboratory – time management was critical.Ali Saleh also got married while in the midst of her studies. She began dating Technion medical student Nidal Mawasi in 2006 and they wed in 2009, a year after his graduation. The couple lives in Haifa and expects their first child at the end of October. Ali Saleh intends to continue working at the hospital half time and in a community practice half time.Always dreamed of being a physicianAli Saleh grew up in the mixed Muslim and Christian village of Yafa an-Naseriyye (Jaffa-Nazareth), population 18,000.

    “From the time I was five years old, I wanted to be a doctor,” she says. “I was never interested in anything else.” Her parents fully supported this goal.

    The valedictorian is seated at far right.
    The valedictorian is seated at far right.

    She decided on her future specialty when she was still in high school, seeing that there was only one female physician in her village. “Most women prefer a female doctor for childbirth and to treat intimate medical problems such as urinary incontinence,” she explains.

    Language was a barrier she had to overcome when she began at the Technion’s Ruth and Bruce Rappaport Faculty of Medicine. She had learned Hebrew at school, but was not fluent.

    Ali Saleh chose not to avoid this hurdle by studying in Jordan, as some other Israeli-Arabs do. She was determined to go to an Israeli medical school for the better quality of instruction and greater employment opportunities after graduation.

    Earning superior grades on admissions exams was key, though she modestly insists scores alone do not provide the full picture.

    “Getting high achievements in the psychometric exam doesn’t make you a better student,” she says. “You need to solve many complicated questions in a very limited time, and this is a major obstacle for both Jewish and Arab students.”

    She was hardly the only Israeli-Arab to make the grade. “The Technion medical school has about 35 percent Israeli-Arab students,” she says.

    Overall, Arab students make up some 20% of the university’s student body, paralleling their numbers in the Israeli population. While Ali Saleh was at the Technion, three others from her hometown village were also students there.

    Other Technion standouts

    Last year’s Technion valedictorian was Arza Haddad, a Christian Lebanese woman who earned a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering. Technion biology student Lina Mahoul, a 19-year-old Arab Christian from Acre (Akko), earlier this year won The Voice Israel television singing contest.

    Prof. Hossam Haick, a Christian Arab chemical engineer at the Technion’s Russell Berrie Nanotechnology Institute, grabbed headlines for inventing the Na-Nose device that detects serious diseases by analyzing breath samples.

    And Arab-Christian couple Reem and Imad Younis, who met as students at the Technion, run an international neurosurgery products business, Alpha Omega, from Nazareth.

  • Teens hear story of a former neo-Nazi skinhead

    Found in The Jewish Herald Voice

    Thursday, Feb 27, 2014

    Original Post

    The Jewish Federation of Greater Houston teamed up with the Anti-Defamation League and three Houston-area congregational religious schools to bring high school students together on Wednesday, Feb. 26, at Congregation Emanu El for the annual Spring Teen Collaborative Religious School Program.

    More than 200 high school students from Congregations Emanu El, Beth Yeshurun and Brith Shalom heard the inspirational story of Frank Meeink’s “Journey from Hate to Harmony.”

    Meeink became a neo-Nazi skinhead at age 13. By 18, he was roaming the country as a skinhead leader and neo-Nazi recruiter, with gangs that would beat people indiscriminately. In Illinois, he had his own cable-access TV show, “The Reich.” He finally was arrested and convicted of kidnapping and beating a member of a rival skinhead gang.

    While in prison, he befriended men he used to think he hated. After being released from prison, Meeink tried to rejoin his old skinhead pals, but couldn’t bring himself to hate those whom he had come to know as his friends. Now a noted speaker and author, he also has been featured on national news and talk shows.

    The students were fascinated by Meeink’s story and were inspired by his ability to turn his life around, despite the hardships and challenges he faced during his life.

    At this program, Meeink’s book, “Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead,” was on sale. He was available after the program to sign his book and speak to students.

    Congregational schools come together for shared student programs a few times throughout the school year.

    The ADL introduced Frank Meeink to the Houston Jewish education community, helping his story to be told. This program was made possible by the Edith and Sidney Goldensohn Fund of the ADL’s Fund for the Future Southwest Region.

    For information about these programs, contact Lisa Klein at 713-729-7000, ext. 330, or LKlein@houstonjewish.org.

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