• 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/

  • 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.