Breaking new ground: Jewish, Muslim groups’ program encourages leaders to see the ‘other’ as friend


Is it possible for Los Angeles Jews and Muslims to talk to one another, to share peacefully at the table?

This is the question that some leaders of both groups locally are asking themselves.

These are the ones who are willing to keep trying, despite the enmity in the Middle East and despite a history of conflict among some leaders in the Jewish and Muslim communities here. Early next month, a new effort jointly organized by the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA) and the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) will be unveiled.

It will not be the first attempt.

Little more than a decade ago, in the warm afterglow of the Oslo accords, a group of Jewish and Muslim leaders in Los Angeles regularly met and talked together in formal and informal groups. Known as the Muslim-Jewish Dialogue, this group of leaders from several organizations hoped to forge a new understanding between the two communities and model the kind of peace moderates on both sides were hoping for in the Middle East.

But despite early optimism, world events got in the way, and the conversation was repeatedly interrupted by news of terror attacks, Israeli settlements and mistrust borne from the faltering Israeli-Palestinian relationship. Then came Sept. 11, 2001.

In the aftermath of that day, with the Western world’s frightened eyes turned on the Muslim community, Los Angeles, too, saw relations between Jewish and Muslim leaders descend into a cross-fire of accusations and distrust. As a result, the official dialogue petered out, becoming largely moribund by 2002.

Local Jewish-Muslim relations, seen for a brief moment as a paragon of interfaith cooperation, continued to deteriorate to such an extent that a few months ago,much of the organized Jewish community united to protest the honoring of MPAC founder, Dr. Maher Hathout, with a prestigious award from the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission.

Symbolically, Hathout’s supporters — not all of them Muslims — sat one on side of the room during hearings over his suitability for the honor, while his mostly Jewish detractors sat on the other side. Hathout got to keep the award.

Daniel Sokatch, who began participating in the dialogue in 2000 after joining the PJA, a social activist group, thought there had to be a better way. As PJA executive director, he was frustrated to see local Jewish-Muslim relationships constantly held hostage by events taking place thousands of miles away.

Sokatch focused on how much Jews and Muslims here have in common, including traditions that emphasize the need to build a better world.

Recently, Sokatch has been working with Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of MPAC, the Los Angeles-based policy advocacy organization, and in early February, PJA and MPAC will unveil NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change.

The program aims to encourage a new cadre of Jewish and Muslim leaders to see the “other” as a friend, said Aziza Hasan, MPAC interfaith program coordinator.

The plan for NewGround is to bring together as many as 30 Jews and Muslims who are in their 20s and 30s for a period of 10 months. Initially, participants will meet with only their own colleagues to confront their prejudices.

When the two groups join together, they will discuss issues ranging from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to immigration to homelessness.

Working with trained mediators, they will also learn how to communicate honestly. Finally, participants will join forces on a yet-to-be-determined civic improvement project, such as homelessness or poverty, said Malka Fenyvesi, PJA interfaith program coordinator.

“I’m delighted, impressed and grateful that such visionary leaders are doing this,” said the Rev. Ed Bacon, rector at All Saints Church in Pasadena and a self-described friend of both Sokatch and Al-Marayati. “I think this offers great promise for Jews and Muslims to come together.”

Rabbi Steven Jacobs, founder of the new Rabbi Jacobs Progressive Faith Foundation and rabbi emeritus at Temple Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills, called the PJA-MPAC initiative “groundbreaking.”

He added: “There’s too much demonization going on, and this program will help break down the fear that exists in both communities.”

Not everyone shares that enthusiasm. Some Jewish leaders question the wisdom of working with MPAC, which they see as unremittingly hostile to Israel and “disingenuous, pretending to be something they’re not,” in the words of Roz Rothstein, executive director of StandWithUs, an Israel advocacy group.

The roots of the distrust hark back to just hours after the Sept. 11 attacks, when Al-Marayati went on a radio talk show and suggested that Israel might be behind the attacks, because, he said, “I think this diverts attention from what’s happening in the Palestinian territories, so that they can go on with their aggression and occupation and apartheid policies.”

Although Al-Marayati has said he later apologized to some Jewish leaders for his remarks, many in the Jewish community continue to distrust both Al-Marayati and MPAC and will have nothing to do with them.

Terrorism expert Steven Emerson, author of “American Jihad: The Terrorists Living Among Us” and a former senior editor at U.S. News & World Report, said he believes MPAC is a “front group, a public relations group for radical Islam.”

PJA, Emerson believes, is being used by MPAC to confer legitimacy on an organization that, he said, hopes to spread Islam and undermine American support for Israel.

Al-Marayati, for his part, said many Muslims regard Emerson as a cynical “profiteer,” who fans fears about Islam for personal gain. Emerson’s characterization of MPAC as radical, Al-Marayati said, ignores the group’s goal of integrating Muslims into mainstream American society, its condemnation of terrorism and support of the two-state solution.

Still, many Jews pay close attention to Emerson’s pronouncements. Following the announcement in July of the county’s award to MPAC founder Hathout, Emerson wrote a harshly critical article for New Republic Online, depicting Hathout, former chairman of the Islamic Center of Southern California, as an apologist for terror groups and strident critic of Israel, who once publicly characterized the Jewish state as “a racist, apartheid state.”

In response, Jewish groups, ranging from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles to the Zionist Organization of America to the American Jewish Committee to StandWithUs, joined forces against Hathout.

Cover Story


From: "Joel Bellman" Date: Thursday, July 20, 20068:39 AM Subject: An Open Letter to Ramona RipstonFriends:I thought you might be interested in seeing the followingletter, which I sent today.Joel Bellman*****************************************Ramona Ripston, Executive Director ACLU of SouthernCalifornia 1616 Beverly Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90026

Dear Ramona:I write with a heavy heart, as a long-time ACLU member ofmore than 30 years' standing, to express my most profounddisappointment and strenuous disagreement with the ACLU ofSouthern California's decision to honor Salam Al-Marayatiwith a "Religious Freedom" Award at this year's upcomingGarden Party on September 10http://www.aclu-sc.org/Events/101851/. I'm not sure when heand MPAC would legitimately deserve such recognition, but itmost certainly is not a time when MPAC is falsely blamingIsrael for defending herself in a two-front war launchedwithout provocation by Islamic terror organizations with thesupport and sponsorship of two rejectionist Islamic nations.As a consequence, this will be the first ever Garden Partythat I intend to boycott, and I will urge all of my friendsto do the same.I've known Salam personally for nearly 20 years. Underordinary circumstances, I can tolerate his posturing onMPAC's behalf as the voice of "moderate" Islam, although hisactual political positions are scarcely distinguishable(except in tone) from those of most of the anti-IsraeliMuslim world. Today, Israel finds herself under fiercemilitary attack across two internationally recognizedborders by guerrillas from Hamas in Gaza, and from Hezbollahin Southern Lebanon. In both cases, Israel had unilaterallyrelinquished territory (even dismantling settlements andevicting Israeli citizens), and watched while free anddemocratic elections welcomed violent extremists into thepolitical fold, and in Gaza even put them in charge. Andthen, rather than moderating their behavior and assuming theresponsibilities of civilized governance, these groupsinstead took the opportunity to mobilize and mount armedassaults that killed and captured Israeli militarypersonnel.The inevitable and entirely predictable military responsehas called down terrible death and destruction throughoutthe Hezbollah strongholds in southern Lebanon, bringing ruinto large portions of a nation that sought no war withIsrael, but which has been effectively hijacked byextremists supported and controlled from Syria and Iran.The blood is entirely on their hands, yet when even Arabnations like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan were able, atleast initially, to recognize and condemn Hezbollah'saggression, MPAC has once again laid the blame squarely atIsrael's doorstep. In a July 16 communiquehttp://www.mpac.org/article.php?id=378 MPAC willfullydistracts us from the real issue by asserting, "Regardlessto the role of Iran and Syria in this conflict it isillegitimate for pro-Israeli sympathizers to skirt fromIsrael's responsibility for escalating the level of fightingwithin the region," and then for good measure makes apositively Orwellian bid for spin control by adding that"MPAC also calls upon all those who are engaging in ananalysis of the current situation to cease the use ofIslamic terminology to explain this very clearly politicalnarrative."In a July 19 communiquehttp://www.mpac.org/article.php?id=380 MPAC calls on "allpeople of conscience" to oppose a congressional resolutionin support of Israel and instead "to demand an immediate andunconditional ceasefire and condemn the continued Israeliaggression against the Palestinian and Lebanese people." Init Salam is quoted as saying, "We must make our voices heardin order to do all that we can to bring an end to thismerciless round of violence, and to restore the sanctity ofall civilian life."Not a word, of course, about the culpability of Hamas andHezbollah, not to mention Iran and Syria, in fomenting andexacerbating this crisis. Last Friday, Hezbollah leaderSheik Hassan Nasrallah blustered, "You Zionists, you wantedan open war and you will have it." Today, Hezbollah'sapologists are pleading for relief and rescue from thecalamity it brought down upon itself, but it is universallyrecognized that any ceasefire leaving Hezbollah's weaponsand warmaking capacity intact would be merely setting thestage for a future attacks and ongoing suffering andcivilian casualties on both sides.Salam's statements are perfectly consistent with MPAC's,CAIR's (Council on American-Islamic Relations) and otherMuslim propagandists' post-9/11 efforts to recast the globalstruggle against radical Islamic terrorists as somehowhaving little or nothing to do with Islam per se, when intruth it has everything to do with Islam in its mostvirulent and dangerous form. We are meant to believe this issimply one more post-colonial liberation struggle, like somany others long sentimentalized by the Left -one in whichIslam plays at best an incidental part - rather thanproperly recognizing it as the epicenter and flash-point ofradical Islam's war on the West, war on modernity, and evena nihilistic war against itself.It is particularly repellent to me that not only Salam, butRabbi Beerman and Rev. Regas are similarly to be honoredwith this award - when all three recently participatedtogether in the farce of MPAC's " Interfaith Vigil to Endthe Occupation" following the initial attacks on Israel. Toreiterate: Israel no longer occupied Gaza or SouthernLebanon. Free elections had been held, after which Israelwas attacked first from those territories withoutprovocation. And amid all the crocodile tears shed by MPACover civilian casualties, it is Hamas and Hezbollah whosecrete their weapons and mount their rocket and missileattacks from within civilian neighborhoods, using thePalestinian and Lebanese populations as both willing andunwilling "human shields," and who target civilian, notmilitary, areas inside Israel.Hezbollah and its sponsors have put civilians on both sidesof this conflict squarely in harm's way - and yourprospective honorees have turned the situation on its headto cast the principal victims as the aggressors. At thiscritical juncture, these three are those whom the ACLU ofSouthern California has seen fit to honor in the name ofreligious freedom? For shame, Ramona. For shame.In frustration and sorrow,Joel BellmanSubject: RE: No Honor for MPAC's Al-Marayati Date: Thu, 20Jul 2006 12:38:30 -0700 From: "Bellman, Joel" To:Elizabeth -I will look forward to that. I've been getting anunbelievably enthusiastic response from everyone to whom Ihave sent it (virtually all on the Left).Back in 1978, she kindly took the time to write me a verythorough two-page personal letter attempting to defend theACLU's position on the Nazi Skokie march, which as you knowcost the ACLU many members (including me for a couple ofyears, as I think you and I once discussed). That said, Iwas disappointed that she focused relentlessly on the issueof whether Nazis should have free speech rights, not on thespecifics of how they should be allowed to exercise them inthis unique situation - thus entirely missing the point,because I agreed with her that they should have thoserights. But for me, it was instead a time/place/mannerissue, and that didn't include a residential street whereHolocaust survivors would be forced to see uniformed Nazismarching past their front windows. I know the courtseventually agreed with the ACLU position (anyone can bewrong), but I objected to the way she mischaracterized theobjections that many of us had to the ACLU position.I mention all this because I will be very unhappy, again, ifRamona responds with boilerplate about the right to dissent,the need to maintain open dialogue, etc. etc. - and does notsubstantively address my objection to singling out forspecial honors this particular trio - and most especiallySalam and MPAC which he represents, when they are engagingin such an outrageous and disingenuous media blitz in themiddle of a terrible and entirely unnecessary shooting warwhere his constituency are clearly the aggressors.Of course they all have their rights to speak, which Icontinue to defend. I am explicitly objecting to the ACLU ofSo Cal decision to pay them special tribute in the midst ofthis deplorable propaganda campaign.Cheers,Joel

When Faiths Jam


At the Southern California Islamic Center last Saturday night, only Shawn Landres dared utter a four-letter word. That word was, “kumbaya.”

Yes, the evening brought together about 150 Jews, Muslims and Christians for a night of prayer and music at the center, which had never before hosted such a gathering.

And yes, it began with a drum circle.

But if the faithful had one thing in common, underneath their kippahs and collars and hijabs, it was that not one of them wanted this night confused with those circa-1970-“Free to Be You and Me” warm and cuddly attempts at interfaith dialogue. No, this was Faith Jam 2006.

And the biggest difference between those previous attempts at ethno-religious harmony and this one? This one seemed to work.

Musician and community organizer Craig Taubman had wanted such an event to be part of the weeklong “Let My People Sing” celebration. The Passover-themed musical happenings took place in synagogues and community centers throughout L.A. An interfaith component, he told me, fit the theme: “Passover is about liberation, and we’re enslaved by our hatreds.”

Organizing took finesse. Taubman tapped Landres, director of research at Synagogue 3000, to use his ample interfaith Rolodex. He brought on 16 Jewish, Christian and Muslim groups as co-sponsors, including Abraham’s Vision, IKAR, Muslim Public Affairs Council, the Omar Ibn Al Khattab Foundation, and the Progressive Jewish Alliance.

The Islamic Center came on board enthusiastically, according to its religious director, Jihad Turk. But there were conditions: grape juice, not wine, for Havdalah; no dancing; appropriate dress; and no overt mention from the Christians of Jesus as God or the messiah. The center vetted the gospel choir’s songs, and in the program its name, The Christ Our Redeemer A.M.E. Church Choir, became COR A.M.E.

Another concern was overloading the event with Jews, a drawback of interfaith dialogues past. Landres compiled three R.S.V.P. lists and cut off the Jewish respondents in order to ensure equivalent amounts of Muslims and Christians. By 8 p.m. the place was full, the drumming had stopped, and Turk quieted the crowd with the traditional, piercing Muslim call to prayer.

The evening had three acts. First came ritual. Taubman and Rabbi Naomi Levy of Nashuva, another co-sponsor, lit the traditional Havdalah candle, woven together from three wicks.

“This night and nights like this are so long overdue,” Rabbi Levy said. “Tonight we pray to come together to celebrate our differences and treasure our oneness.” (The rabbi also happens to be my wife, but no person of any faith seemed to hold that against her.)

The Rev. Wilma Jakobsen of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena gave a brief sermon, urging the audience members to work within their faith traditions to help the poor and oppressed.

Then Turk invited everyone to shed their shoes and join the center’s men and women for the traditional evening prayers, or isha, men shoulder to shoulder in front, women behind them. “We hope to get a better understanding of who the Other is,” Turk said.

Several Jews migrated over to the prayer room and lined up as the prayer leader led the worship. It was the full-on experience — standing, kneeling, bowing — just what you see on the evening news but with, yes, some Jews and Christians sprinkled in. I mentioned to a woman standing nearby that the young man leading the prayers, Abdelwahab Ben Youcef, was almost unnaturally handsome.

“Oh, he’s an actor,” she said. “He played one of the Palestinian terrorists in ‘Munich.'”

After the ritual came the main program: the music. The Christ Our Redeemer gospel choir lit up the room, followed by Ani Zonneveld, a Muslim recording artist and head of the co-sponsoring Progressive Muslim Union. Then came the Yuval Ron Ensemble, whose Middle Eastern music, with its organic blending of Muslim and Jewish roots, enthralled the crowd (their CD table did brisk sales) and MC Rai, a Tunisian-born Muslim hip-hop artist. Two comedians, the Jewish Beth Lapidus and the Muslim Maz Jobrani provided comedy breaks.

And afterward came the mingling.

Why was this night different from all other attempts at interfaith dialogue?

First, the crowd skewed young. Because the agenda was largely musical, the night brought out young Jews and Muslims, the demographic that wanted a fun night out, not a lecture.

Second, the ritual wasn’t dumbed down. People who knew their stuff conducted Havdalah and the Muslim evening prayer, without abridgment or reinterpretation. I asked Landres why that was — and that’s when he said the word.

“We’re not doing ‘Kumbaya’ where we all get together and hug,” he said. “This is the way a new generation does dialogue.”

What Landres seemed to mean was: There was no dialogue. We didn’t have to sit in a circle and look into the Other’s eyes and tell him how we feel. No one led a pointless discussion about Mideast peace — as if we have any say in it.

“It’s just breaking the ice,” Turk told me, “and music goes beyond words.”

Actually, I noticed only a modest amount of real mixing. Most people hung with their own, enjoying the music, baklava, mint tea and enhanced bottled water beverage. The reviews were positive.

Islamic Center members Nadim and Gita Itani — he’s Lebanese, she’s Iranian — pronounced it good.

“It’s unprecedented,” said Nadim, a 30-something architect. “And it’s about time.”

The apparent success of the enterprise gave him hope.

“It’s foundational,” he said. “Singing beside a Jew as we close the Sabbath, that’s when you get goose bumps.”

A young Palestinian American who only wanted to give his name as Muhammed — “I work in the entertainment industry,” he explained — said the Havdalah ritual he witnessed touched him, too.

“We have to all get together,” he said. “People who are opposed to this kind of night, they shouldn’t even be in this country.”

Now that kind of intolerance? It’s a beautiful thing.

 

7 Days In Arts


Saturday

Let’s make a deal? Monty’s offering you one you can’t refuse. Continuing today and tomorrow is the 31st annual Merchant of Tennis/Monty Hall/Cedars-Sinai Diabetes Tennis Tournament. You might have missed last night’s cocktail reception, but that’s no reason to skip today’s tournament. Plus, Sunday’s championship finals take place at that earthly Valhalla — the Playboy Mansion.$450 (tournament entry fee). Mountaingate Country Club, 12445 Mountaingate Drive, Los Angeles. $150 (championship). Playboy Mansion, Beverly Hills. (310) 996-1188.

It’s got the trappings of a good murder mystery, but Col. Mustard stays away in Robert E. Sherwood’s “Idiot’s Delight.” Colorful characters go about their business while stranded in a Fascist Italy hotel on the eve of World War II.8 p.m. (Thursday-Saturday), 7 p.m. (Sunday). $20. Runs through Oct. 19. Lillian Theatre, 1078 N. Lillian Way, Hollywood. (323) 960-5521.

Sunday

What with the kids back in school, it’s dawned on youthat you actually miss the little buggers. Indulge this tender moment and takethem with you to Park Labrea’s seventh annual Art in the Park Art Fair andFestival, featuring a children’s “fun field” with art workshops and children’sart display. 11 a.m.- 5 p.m. Free. 6200 W. Third St., Los Angeles. (323)549-5580. www.artinthepark.com .

Jews, Muslims and Christians come together for some interfaith dialogue at the Laemmle Fairfax. The program includes a screening of Ruth Broyde-Sharone’s 18-minute documentary, “God and Allah Need to Talk,” as well as performances by Palestinian violinist Nabil Azzam, Iranian entertainer Mitra Rahbar, Ladino music singer Stefani Valadez and the Yuval Ron Trio with percussionist Jamie Papish.Noon-3 p.m. $10 (suggested minimum donation). 7907 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (310) 837-2294.

Monday

Don’t let the title fool you. Those who love a parade shouldn’t attend Alfred Uhry’s “Parade” expecting baton twirlers atop toilet-papered flatbeds. It’s called irony, people, and Uhry uses it well. His Pulitzer Prize-winning musical tells the tragic tale of Leo Frank, a Brooklyn-born Jew living in Georgia, who was executed for a crime he didn’t commit. The show kicks off the Musical Theatre Guild’s eighth Broadway in Concert season at the Alex Theatre tonight.7:30 p.m. $35. 216 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale. (818) 243-2539. Also Sept. 21, at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. $38. The Janet and Ray Scherr Forum Theatre, Countrywide Performing Arts Center, Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza. (805) 583-8700.

Tuesday

Short and sweet, “The Ice Cream Man” screens today at the Silver Lake Film Festival. That’s short, as in not feature length, and sweet, as in ice cream. Written and directed by Dylan Rush, the film tells the story of a turf war between ethnically divergent Venice Beach ice cream vendors.11:30 a.m. $10. Vista Theatre, 4473 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (866) 468-3399.

Wednesday

With the High Holidays approaching, do you know what you’ll be putting on the table? Perhaps you should let Sur La Table help you out. Chef Judy Bart Kancigor offers a cooking demonstration titled “Not Your Grandma’s Rosh Hashanah Dinner,” based on her cookbook “Melting Pot Memories.” On the menu: Layered Hummus Eggplant, Braised Turkey Breast Pinwheels With Spinach and Exotic Mushroom Stuffing, Southwestern Sweet Potato Tzimmes in Chile Pockets and Cream Puff Taiglach Towers With Honey Almond Caramel Sauce.6:30 p.m. $45. Farmers Market, 6333 W. Third St., Los Angeles. Also tomorrow in Santa Monica. (866) 328-5412.

Thursday

Milla Jovovitch performs punk covers of klezmerfavorites and Adrien Brody ventriloquizes in Greg Pritikin’s new film, “Dummy.”Opening this week, the offbeat romantic comedy about a nebbish who still liveswith mom and dad follows his endeavors in learning the art of ventriloquism andin wooing his unemployment counselor. Some are hailing it “My Big Fat JewishWedding,” while others point to some disappointing clich├ęs. We leave it to youto decide who the dummy is. www.artisanent.com.

Friday

Give peace a chance? Maybe after today’s outing. Currently on display at Jack Rutberg Fine Arts is “Requiem for War: Paintings by Hans Burkhardt.” The works, which span the years 1938-1993, use abstract expressionist symbolism to reflect his responses to the Spanish Civil War, World War II, the Vietnam War, Desert Storm and the conflicts in Latin America and the Middle East.10 a.m.-6 p.m. (Tuesday-Friday), 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (Saturday). Runs through Sept. 30. 357 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 938-5222.

Love and Loyalty


We would always say that we were the ambassadors of love and happiness, causing people to smile as they passed by us, the chemistry almost touchable.

At that point, the fact that he was a Jew and I was an Italian Catholic didn’t seem to make much difference. We were in love and that was all that mattered.

As we traveled through our relationship and through the past two and a half years, we overcame many of the obstacles that couples face. We also embraced the issues that arose due to our interfaith relationship, knowing that it was an important and vital component, not something to put off or take lightly.

Our discussions about religion began early on and became a running dialogue. We started off slowly, trying to discuss this delicate topic without hurting any feelings, but soon realized that if the relationship were to proceed, the hard questions needed to be asked. How do you want your children to be raised? Can you accept symbols such as a Christmas tree or a menorah that reflect the other’s religion? Do you feel that you can be true to yourself and your faith if you have a partner who is of a different religion?

Having asked these questions, we knew that the answers were nowhere except within. We read, we discussed, we attended seminars about being interfaith, and we learned about each other. Through this and because of this, our love and relationship continued to grow.

David voiced to me during one of our many discussions that he felt very strongly about having his children bar or bat mitzvahed. Knowing that his father was a Holocaust survivor who has since passed away, I understood and empathized with his strong feelings about this, and I began to think. Raising Jewish children was not something I ever had to consider before, and when I met David, I initially assumed that we would do "both."

I then began to think more about David’s desires in regard to what I viewed as my greatest hopes for my future children: that they be kind, moral and believe in something larger than themselves. If these were the things that I regarded as most important, and if my spouse had such strong feelings, then getting there through Judaism rather than Christianity would be OK. Not always easy or natural for me, but OK.

You would think that any tension and unhappiness that arose regarding our interfaith relationship and its future would come from my family, since I had decided to raise my future children Jewish. However, it proved to be the opposite. My mother, although not happy with the decision, was supportive, realizing that these were my decisions to make, understanding that she would still play a significant role in her grandchildren’s lives. David’s mother, however, despite the sacrifice that I had decided to make for him, believed that it wasn’t enough and that he should still marry a Jewish woman. Her unhappiness with our growth as a couple soon became obvious and vocal. She expressed to him her belief that there must be a common base in order for a relationship to survive — and that base needs to be religion.

Slowly, the constant pressure, comments from and discussions with his immediate family began to chip away during two years of soul-searching, discussions and resolutions until David became torn and conflicted between our love and his loyalty to his family and religion. I understand that his family only wants the best for him. However, I also believe that there doesn’t need to be a choice between love and loyalty; that the two can co-exist if both people are willing to compromise in some way.

We, as a couple and as individuals, had reached a place where we both felt that we were being true to ourselves as well as to our religions. However, David’s growing inner conflict was something he could no longer resolve or even understand, and it hindered our growth. Knowing that this was something he needed to resolve within himself in order for our relationship to survive, we decided that it would be best for him to work it out alone. We decided to split up, putting our relationship and love to the ultimate test.

Being without him fills me with a tremendous sadness, as does the uncertainty of whether or not our roads will join together once again. I don’t know if the resolution of his inner conflict will reunite us or keep us apart. However, I understand that this is a journey I cannot take with him, and I can only pray that he finds the strength that I know he has within himself to find his own truth. I look at this as a time for answers, knowing that God has a plan.

If our love is as true and as strong as we believe, we will find our way through this and will be stronger for it — once again bringing smiles to other people’s faces as well as to our own.


Lia Del Sesto is a freelance graphic designer and professional vocalist from Providence, R.I. Reprinted courtesy of InterfaithFamily.com, a member of the Jewz.com Media Network.

ADL Passover seder for the schools in Los Angeles Unified School District


All evening Taumisha Freeman sat dutifully, listening to the story of the Exodus out of Egypt, tasting matzah (“It needs salt”), reciting the plagues, without any expression. It was hard to know if she was bored or if, given the fact that she had never been around anything Jewish before, it was just too strange to be here at this intergroup Passover, sponsored by the Pacific Southwest regional office of the Anti-Defamation League.

But Freeman, a junior at Crenshaw High School, who worships at Mosque 27 in Los Angeles, finally cracked up when “Chad Gadya” was sung. Her table was assigned to make the sound of the ox –what in the world does an ox sound like?–and finally, after the cats and the dogs and the geese and the whatever took their turns, her table attempted a gruff “moo,” causing Freeman to break into big bellyfuls of laughter. Who can resist this song? Certainly not any of the 250 teenagers who were in attendance that night.

For the fourth year in a row, the ADL has held a Passover seder for the schools in Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) that participate in Children of the Dream, a program that brings Ethiopian Israelis to L.A. and L.A. inner-city students to Israel, to promote interethnic dialogue and understanding.

A world-renowned program that has been highly successful since its inception in 1992, the ADL initiated the seders to expand on the common theme of oppression. This year’s seder was held on March 23 at Temple Israel of Hollywood, where Rabbi John L. Rosove, playing an African hand drum, and Cantor Aviva Rosenbloom, on guitar, led the service.

Also at the head table, under the big blue banner of the ADL, was Speaker of the Assembly Antonio Villaraigosa; David A. Lehrer, ADL regional director; Howard Sherwood, an ADL board member; William S. Lambert, Children of the Dream’s founder; and the elegant Dr. Gloria Haithman, Spiritual Assembly leader of the Baha’is of L.A., who appealed to the multicultural crowd with her own story of repression.

Participating LAUSD schools were the Downtown Business Magnet, Los Angeles and Sherman Oaks Centers for Enriched Studies, Bravo Medical Magnet, and Jefferson, Jordan, Kennedy, Hamilton, Crenshaw and Venice high schools, along with a local Catholic school, Sacred Heart. The Hamilton High contingent brought along the school’s magnificent Gospel Choir.

“I truly believe that all students should participate in some kind of multicultural activity,” says Patricia Bayard, a social studies teacher at Crenshaw, who was sitting with Freeman and two of her other students. This is Bayard’s second seder, and although she still hasn’t gotten used to the matzo crumbling into tiny bits every time she takes a bite, she believes this kind of event promotes a better understanding among diverse groups. “It isn’t a lecture, but a chance to hear, to observe different things,” she says. “Some students are too shy [to participate], but they do observe, and it makes a difference.”

Junior Angela Norris, 17, a student in Crenshaw’s gifted magnet, believes the interchange of races and faiths is a good one, but she wouldn’t mind if people came to her neck of the woods, too. “I think it helps; I think everything with other cultures helps,” says Norris, who had never attended a Jewish holiday service. “It’s good for me to come here. [I have] a better understanding of their culture, the same as if they went to my church, they’d have a better understanding of mine.”

ADL take note: Next year in South Central.

For more information about the Children of the Dream program, call Bette Weinberg at the ADL, (310) 446-8000.Charlotte Hildebrand Harjo, Staff Writer