Our Hearts Are Heavy, but We Must Keep Sharing Our Light with Others

That’s me with the late Samantha Woll (in the middle) and Kari Alterman, then-Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) Detroit, at an event in 2014 promoting peace and combatting antisemitism. At that time, Samantha was an AJC board member and I was president of the board.

‘They hate me—but they don’t even know me.’

Author of Shining Brightly

Our world is imploding and exploding—all at the same time.

Where I live in the Midwest, we still are reeling from the trauma of two vulnerable neighbors murdered in their homes—and, yes, we are mourning them like true neighbors.

On October 14 near Chicago, 6-year-old Wadea al-Fayoume was brutally killed (and his mother Hanaan Shahin was severely injured) by an Islamophobic landlord—and on October 21 my friend Samantha Woll, a prominent Jewish and interfaith leader in Michigan, was murdered in her Detroit home.

Initially, Samantha’s death was reported around the world as a potential antisemitic hate crime, since religious and racial hate crimes are at an all time high in the United States. Detroit Police investigators now say the crime likely was not a hate crime—but the shockwave has convulsed the entire southeast Michigan interfaith community, nevertheless.

Samantha was “our friend,” so many of our Christian, Muslim, Hindu and other neighbors have been publicly saying in notes of sorrow and tribute, ever since her death.

One of our mutual friends—the Rev. Kenneth Flowers, who is nationally known as one of Detroit’s most influential African-American pastors—told The Detroit Free Press this weekend:

“We were just devastated,” Flowers, whose work has been influenced by Coretta Scott King, said of Woll. “She left a legacy of bringing people together, whether it was Blacks and Jews, Muslims and Jews. … She was just a loving person, a kind person, someone who I could see as a major leader of Black Jewish relations going forward. It’s just a tragedy, but I believe her light will shine again because when we come together, Blacks and Jews and Muslims and Jews, it will cause her light to illuminate.” 

Our unique interfaith community is respected around the world because of our remarkable diversity, originally fueled in the early 20th century by the auto industry. We are known for our long history of building resilient, long-lasting relationships. One reason so many people knew Samantha across this region was that she served as the board president of the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue in Detroit.

In the wake of Samantha’s death, public gatherings in her memory have drawn crowds of people from every race and religious background. Those gatherings have included dozens of writers who have contributed to www.ReadTheSpirit.com magazine, and Front Edge Publishing books, over the past 16 years.

So, this week, all of our ReadTheSpirit community of readers and writers are taking a moment from our regular weekly coverage to reflect on the challenge we all face of confronting hate—and renewing our hope and constructive community relationships even in the midst of horror, violence and sorrow.

Before Samantha’s death, I already had decided to devote the 50th episode of my Shining Brightly podcast to this theme. The ongoing wars between Russia and Ukraine and Israel and Gaza— overlaid with alarming FBI reports of the all-time-high level of hate crimes across the U.S.—have been a spiritual, emotional and moral weight on my shoulders.

Perhaps your heart is heavy, too.

You can listen to my reflection, below, in my Podcast Episode 50, as I talk through these challenges and offer some helpful suggestions for re-engaging in our vitally important interfaith work.

Also, today, please look below for several of the resources our community of writers have published, as we have worked together for many years.

Please consider ordering one of those books to lighten your heart, this week (all of them are inspiring and packed with constructive ideas). And please share this column with friends via social media to spread this light just a little farther into our often all-too-dark world.

Here’s Podcast No. 50:

Remember, I recorded this message before Samantha’s death, but ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm nevertheless urged me to share it as part of this special issue today:


And Now, Please Take a Step With Us—
Shine a Little Light

As I said, above, please consider ordering one of the following books to lighten your heart—all of them include practical advice as well as inspiring stories. And please share this column with friends via social media to spread this light just a little farther into our often all-too-dark world.

Want to meet many of Samantha Woll’s friends? Many of the women with which Samantha worked in Michigan’s interfaith community contributed stories to Friendship and Faithwhich is available from Amazon in paperback or in an inexpensive Kindle edition as well that you can start reading right away. This is a book about making friends, which may be the most important thing you can do to make the world a better place, and transform your own life in the process.

Want to meet some of Samantha Woll’s spiritual heroes? Get a copy of Daniel Buttry’s Blessed Are the Peacemakers, which also is available in paperback and in Kindle. Buttry is an internationally known peacemaker and interfaith trainer who worked for many years in some of the world’s most dangerous hot spots—but Dan’s home base is the same southeast Michigan community where Samantha lived and worked. In Blessed Are the Peacemakers, Dan shares inspirational profiles of men and women whose light continues to shine every day in our world.

Want advice on “unplugging extremism”? Award-winning journalist Bill Tammeus lost a close relative in the 9/11 terrorist attacks and writes about the long legacy of such trauma in families in his memoir, Love, Loss and EnduranceThen, he concludes his book with a practical list of ways each of us can contribute to “unplugging extremism.”

Want help rediscovering your resilience after a traumatic loss? Mindy Corporon now is helping people nationwide cope with trauma and lingering grief. Her memoir is Healing a Shattered SoulMindy also is Founder and Co-CEO of Workplace Healing, which offers a series of programs and online tools to help people coping with these issues in their workplace.

And finally: Want to learn practical ways to keep shining your light—even in the face of catastrophic challenges? Please, order a copy of my own book, Shining Brightlywhich is available in hardcover, paperback and Kindle versions via Amazon.

I speak to audiences nationwide on these themes regularly—both through my weekly podcast and in person at conferences, retreats and other events. Because I want to be as practical and helpful as I can in sharing ways to restore your resilience and hope—I also offer three free “downloads” that you can get on this page of my website. (Just scroll down on that page and look at the dark-blue box marked “DOWNLOADS.”)

Currently, I am offering three, free guides related to today’s column:

  • Mentorship: Why should we become mentors?
  • Survivorship: Keys to resiliency when confronting cancer?
  • Interfaith Bridge Building: Why do this work?

Yes, you can make a difference!

Throughout my life—and nearly every week today—I’ve seen small actions lead to remarkable outcomes. So, if you’ve read this far, become a part of this movement. In fact, I’ll give you a preview of something to look for in coming months.

The truth is that peace and understanding come from getting to know other people—just as I am inviting you to do throughout this column, today. Once we start learning about each other’s stories, those ugly and hateful instincts begin to fade. Each of us can choose not to hate.

That kind of healthy community often is just one new friend away.

Already, I am planning a future podcast that will take this week’s theme—”They hate me—and they don’t even know me”—and will turn it around with the headline:

“They love me—because they got to know me.”

C’mon: The first step to getting involved in our community is to connect with one of our writers through our books. We’re all hoping to hear from you.

I know for a fact: What I call Shining Brightly is a force multiplier for good in our troubled world.

May Samantha’s name and memory be only for a blessing for all who knew and loved her.

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  1. Edward McNulty says

    Thanks for sharing this message (and an) of hope, David. (I was so busy finishing Visual Parables last week that I skipped your post–sorry.) It’s encouraging that in the face of the darkness of the two murders Howard mentions, he is sticking to the name of his podcast “Shining Brightly.” He’s so right that hatred is ignorance–“They Hate Me, But They Don’t Know Me.” And there so many barriers getting to know each other. It’s good to see the cluster of folks around ReadtheSpirit reaching out and getting to know at least a little bit about each other. Keep up your good work of fostering this.