Waiting for your copy of ‘Healing the World’? Meanwhile, you can see and share the movies.

Two Short Movies to Share with Friends about Dr. Gustavo Parajón

EARLIER, we published the announcement of an upcoming biography of public health pioneer and peacemaker Dr. Gustavo Parajón, complete with glowing endorsements from former President Jimmy Carter and Sojourners founder Jim Wallis.

NOWwe have two short movies about the book—and about Parajón’s dramatic life. They’re both easy to share with friends if you are thinking about organizing a small-group discussion about the upcoming book.

Here they are … 

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Introducing ‘Healing the World’

This 2-minute video is easy to find and share via YouTube as part of our Front Edge Publishing channel.

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Scenes from the life ofDr. Gustavo Parajón

This 5-minute video also is easy to find and share via YouTube as part of our Front Edge Publishing channel.

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Care to learn more?

Now is a great time to pre-order your copy of Healing the World from Amazon.

Keep in Touch on YouTube

If you’d like to learn about our occasional videos as we post them to YouTube, please visit our Front Edge Publishing channel and click “subscribe.

‘Now What?’ Join a congregation. Research shows that simple step encourages health and wellbeing.

Illustration generated by AI via DALL-E 2

By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

“After more than two years of pandemic, how can we encourage people to join our congregation?”

That single question pops up in nearly every conversation I’ve had with religious leaders. Everyone who cares about their religious communities is trying to inspire and energize people to reconnect after so many Americans scattered during the height of the COVID pandemic. And that challenge of bringing back existing members is on top of the perennial challenge faced by leaders of every religious group: Finding new members.

After hearing these questions raised with fresh urgency this autumn—because that’s the season, each year, when religious leaders really crank up their programming—I realized that it’s time to share a powerful chapter from our book, Now What? A Guide to the Gifts and Challenges of Aging.

Based on objective journalistic reporting, this chapter summarizes the ever-growing research that shows there’s one terrific reason to join a congregation: It’s good for you! Becoming part of a congregation is a proven predictor of health and wellbeing across our communities around the world.

To date, I haven’t heard many religious leaders preach this message—but it’s both powerful and it’s true.

So, our publishing house decided to freely share this chapter with all of you.

Feel free to read it, to be inspired by it—and to freely share it with others, if you would like.

If you do share it in some other form, we only ask that you properly credit this book’s title and mention its Amazon link.

Click on this image of the book cover to read the chapter with this good news.

Care to read more?

You can order a copy of the entire book—Now What? A Guide to the Gifts and Challenges of Aging—from Amazon in hardcover, paperback or Kindle.

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From Cordoba Spain: The awe-inspiring mystery of creative change lies at the core of our religious traditions

TRULY AWE-INSPIRING FOR MORE THAN 1,000 YEARS. These columns and double-tiered arches, built in the years 785-6, today are among the world’s most-recognized architectural landmarks. Their construction as part of a glorious new mosque was supervised by Abd ar-Rahman, who himself was a refugee from wars in Syria who found a peaceful new life in what is today Spain.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Martin Davis recently returned from Cordoba, Spain, where he took part in the International Association of Religion Journalists conference, “Religion Reporting—the Search for Common Ground among Monotheistic Faiths.” The conference was made possible by generous grants from the Brigham Young University’s International Center for Law and Religion Studies, as well as the  Utah Journalism Foundation and the Khosrow Semnani Foundation.

 

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By MARTIN DAVIS
Author of 30 Days with America’s High School Coaches

The truest statement of religious faith that I have encountered was found in the movie “Rudy,” about an overachieving underdog who against all odds realizes his dream of playing at Notre Dame Stadium—the cathedral of college football.

“Son, in 35 years of religious study, I’ve come up with only two hard, incontrovertible facts,” says Father Cavanaugh to Rudy as he sits in a church worried that he hasn’t done enough to gain admission to Notre Dame. “There is a God, and, I’m not Him.”

It’s a humbling, awe-inspiring moment that fans of the film remember vividly.

The mosaic-decorated mihrab (center) and the interlacing arches of the maqsura (left and right) are in the extension added by al-Hakam II after 961.

Following nearly a week in Spain, my appreciation for that quote has given way to my own mysterium tremendum et fascinans (a frightening and fascinating mystery, as Rudolf Otto describes the experience of the divine) I felt at the Mezquita de Córdoba.

And it was the words of Córdoba’s most famous son, Moses ben Maimonides, that brought it all together.

That’s a lot to unpack. Let’s begin with the building itself.

The Mezquita de Córdoba—commonly known today as the Mosque-Cathedral—is one of the world’s greatest buildings. Many in the West recognize it instantly from photographs like the ones accompanying this column—even if they can’t name it.

The mosque’s arches and columns, are iconic. To stand in the center of any of the corridors and stare down a row of those columns puts one’s finiteness in perspective with the sense of infinity the corridors create.

In architecture, a building’s vertical space is often used to remind us of the divine. Steeples and minarets and domes all point skyward. But at the Mezquita, it’s these corridors and arches—built on the horizontal plane, that creates the connection with the divine. Whether that was ever the intention is unknowable, but probably wasn’t. The mosque, of course, included a minaret.

For me, however, that experience of the remaining horizontal and vertical planes instilled that sense of the mysterium tremendum Otto described.

Here’s another view to ponder for a moment. My column continues below ...

One’s appreciation deepens when standing upon one of the many black grates that are in the floor of the mosque. Look down beneath your feet, and you’ll see the remains of Roman mosaics that some claim were part of a Roman temple to Janus. Whether correct or not, the mosque clearly was built atop a Roman structure.

It also stands atop the Basilica of San Vicente Mártir, built by the Visigoths in the 6th century AD. There is mystery surrounding this building, too. The latest archaeological evidence of this site beneath the mosque confirms it is indeed from the 6th century, is certainly Visigothic, and certainly Christian, as it shows signs of having been an episcopal seat. Whether it is the Basilica of San Vicente Mátir, however, can’t be established.

The mosque that stands upon these two foundations (and one must wonder if there are still more beneath them) was started in the 8th century, went through several expansions in the Late Antique/Early Medieval period—before it was consecrated as a church in 1236 by the Spanish King Fredinand III.

Still, the work continued, with several chapels built subsequent to the creation of a Renaissance cathedral nave and transept beginning in the 16th century. Though impressive in its own right, this structure appears to some visitors today—myself among them—as more a scar on this grand piece of architecture than an advancement in the building’s character.

Be that as it may, from bottom to top, the history of pagan, Christian, and Muslim heritage is written on this site as geologic time is written on walls of canyons.

I would argue the faith story is still evolving at this site, revealing the influence of agnosticism and secularism. Though often chided as anti-religious, the precise opposite it true of these two modern movements. These traditions recognize the power and beauty and importance of these religious markers, and Córdoba, UNESCO, Spain, and other nonreligious powers have done a remarkable job preserving this treasure.

A monument to Maimonides in Cordoba.

And this brings us to Maimonides.

Born in Córdoba, in 1135 supposedly, Maimonides remains a great influencer of Jewish thought—and his influence extends far beyond Judaism. His description of philanthropy and its levels of purity, for example, remains a driving force in today’s culture.

More important, it can be argued that Maimonides’ demythologizing of religion laid the groundwork for modern-day spirituality. The increasing belief expressed by many, including this author, that the institutions of religion and the prescribed practices thereof ultimately get in the way of the experience of the divine, may well resonate with the great Jewish thinker.

Per the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Maimonides “recognizes that when one is first exposed to Bible stories and the ritual of daily prayer, one may need anthropomorphic descriptions of God and promises of material reward.” The Torah, for example, is delivered in a way that ordinary people can understand it. “If it did not,” the writeup continues, “its appeal would be greatly reduced. But … the purpose of the religion [for Maimonides] is to get one to the point where these things cease to matter and are eventually overcome.”

With that understanding, we can see that for Maimonides, the divine is essence. And anything we do to grasp that moves us further from it.

“Know that when you make an affirmation ascribing another thing to Him, you become more remote from Him in two respects: one of them is that everything You affirm is a perfection only with reference to us, And the other is that He does not possess a thing other than His essence …”

What does this all mean?

For me, an individual who long ago gave up the practice of faith within any religious institution following years of study within those institutions, I came to appreciate that reaching a connection with the divine rests not in trying to name and define something on the vertical plane of existence. That’s a plane that by definition we can’t understand.

Rather, we encounter that essence on the horizontal plane. In moments that defy description and are beyond our ability to explain. Moments when we, ever so briefly, move outside ourselves into a deeper, spiritual realm.

For this writer and journalist, the Mezquite de Córdoba and the teachings of the city’s greatest intellectual native son, were a spiritual revelation.

The mosque-cathedral’s history from bottom to top represents the imperfect attempts by humans to understand and control the way others think about the divine. Not necessarily failed efforts, but rather efforts wrought of humans and their power trying to define the undefinable and force others to accept it. Efforts that begin well-meaning, gain clarity and power, but ultimately fall under the weight of the next movement.

The sense of eternity created by the mosque’s horizontal design, however, creates for all an opportunity to place ourselves in a moment of infinity, and recognize our ultimately limited space in it.

Rather than try and define that experience, we accept it for what it is, on our plane in our time, and move forward.

That is religion at its purist, Mainmonides suggested.

It’s no surprise, therefore, that a trip to his land brought me to the realm of the mysterium facinans.

In the realm of spirituality, sometimes, it’s best just to be fully in where we are, and appreciate those moments whenever so briefly we move outside ourselves.

Finding the divine, it turns out, isn’t all that hard.

It’s all around us. If we just sit still, and be.

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The ceilings of the Renaissance nave and transept were completed by Juan de Ochoa in 1607.


PHOTOGRAPHS with this column are courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and can be shared with others. You will find most of them featured in the Wikipedia page about the Mosque-Cathedral and the photo of Maimonides on his Wikipedia page.


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Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Care to read more?

ARE YOU INTRIGUED by this column from Martin Davis? You will also enjoy his book: 30 Days With America’s High School Coaches.

Martin Davis is a journalist living in Fredericksburg, Virginia, where he is the Opinion Page editor of The Free Lance-Star in his hometown of Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Mother Teresa: Inspiration from ‘The First Great Televised Saint’ keeps flowing through new books and a movie

This illustration is from the new documentary, Mother Teresa: No Greater Love. If you click on this image, you will visit the movie’s home page, where you can find out about tickets in your area.

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Planning to see the movie Oct 3 or 4?

Our tip is: Don’t miss the new book about Teresa.

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By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of Read The Spirit magazine

As biographer Jon M. Sweeney puts it: Mother Teresa is the world’s first televised saint. That’s an important spiritual truth. We feel we know her because we’ve seen her in action—many, many times over the decades.

So, it is fitting that the 25th anniversary of her death—a date that also is her annual global “feast” on the Catholic calendar—is linked to the debut of a major new movie about her life and two new biographies of the saint. Because of the worldwide scope of the faithful who look to her for inspiration, Teresa was canonized (officially recognized as a saint) by Pope Francis on September 4, 2016.

In his new biography, Teresa of Calcutta: Dark Night, Active Love, Sweeney writes:

Mother Teresa was a woman with a quiet presence but not a quiet personality, and this unnerved some people. It also led directly to her fame and influence. She intuitively knew how to make the most of that fame to support the causes of her charism.

Click the cover to visit the new book’s Amazon page.

Who Is Mother Teresa?

Born in Albania in 1910, Teresa is best known for her work in India, where she established the Missionaries of Charity, a religious order of women based originally in Calcutta. The Vatican custom of honoring its officially recognized saints includes declaring a global “feast day” for celebration and remembrance, which was set for Teresa as September 5, the day she died in 1997 at age 87.

While originally made famous as “Mother Teresa of Calcutta,” her order of nuns continues to spread around the world and now is active in 133 countries. Her sisters manage homes for people dying of HIV/AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis. They also run soup kitchens, dispensaries, mobile clinics as well as orphanages and schools.

In the 1960s, Teresa “debuted” in homes across the UK in a special made-for-the-BBC documentary film produced by the famous journalist Malcolm Muggeridge. After that prime-time splash, Teresa never left the global media spotlight.

In the two decades before her death, Teresa was always near the top in the Gallup Poll of most admired people in the world. And, two years after her death, she topped the Gallup List of Most Widely Admired People of the 20th Century, out-polling everyone else by a wide margin. Today, men, women and children around the world continue to be inspired by her life, which is what rapidly pushed the case for her canonization.

This week, with a major new movie and new books debuting, even the secular world is seeing her continuing legacy.

“Over the past week or so, I’ve been seeing all these pieces about Mother Teresa coming my way through social media,” said the Chicago-based Catholic author Chris Stepien (who is online a lot right now because his own best-selling book about Jesus’s youth, Three Days, is debuting in Audible audio this month).

Stepien said, “Most of what I’m seeing come across social media is pointing to the new movie, but of course I’m also interested in the new books.” During a Zoom interview this week, Stepien stood up at this point and walked over to his desk. “I want to show you something. Just look at this: Look at this shelf.” He pointed to a small number of books he likes to keep handy for inspirational reading. Then, he lifted down two of those books: Both about Mother Teresa.

Next up, Stepien plans to read Sweeney’s new biography, which just arrived on his doorstep this weekend.

I asked Stepien, “Why does this woman who lived most of her life halfway around the world mean so much to you today in your life in Chicago? Describe for our readers the intensity of the inspiration you clearly are drawing from her life and example.”

Chris paused a moment before he answered and the first thing he said was, “She had this darkness of the soul and yet she persevered.”

“OK, so Jon Sweeney’s book is perfect for you,” I said. “That’s a central theme in his book.”

Chris went on: “And, when she spoke, she spoke—well, she spoke peace. She spoke mercy.”

“And the intensity of the inspiration that you feel? Put that into words,” I asked.

“OK, remember that these are just my own words,” Chris said. “As a Catholic, the Vatican probably wouldn’t want me to put it quite this way. But I see her as almost a reincarnation of Jesus in our world today. Reincarnation isn’t a good Catholic word, but it describes how much I see Jesus in her. Mother Teresa encourages us to be merciful, to be understanding of others, to meet people where they are. That’s what Jesus did. That’s how Jesus lived his life. That’s how strongly I feel about how she embodied his example for all of us.”

‘A Pivotal Moment in Making Her Case’

In that off-the-cuff description of the inspiration he draws from Teresa, Chris Stepien perfectly describes central themes in Jon Sweeney’s new biography. In Sweeney’s book, Teresa shines brightly despite having experienced decades of a deep spiritual darkness in her own prayer life—and despite the flak she took from outspoken critics who chided her over the years. That’s why Sweeney’s subtitle is Dark Night, Active Love.

“She experienced this darkness—this ‘dark night’ experience in prayer—for so many years and yet she was a person who had an impact that far outreached any of her contemporaries,” Sweeney said. Living a life of faith, despite those years of doubts and spiritual struggles, became a central argument in the case presented to Vatican officials for Teresa’s official recognition as a saint.

“The world knows her dark night story because it was made public by Brian Kolodiejchuk, the postulator of her cause,” a Canadian priest who became the main promoter of her case for canonization upon her death in 1997, Sweeney said. “And I do recommend that people who want to know even more about Teresa get his book, Come Be My Light, where he publicly shares this part of her life.” That 2009 book’s subtitle is, The Private Writings of the Saint of Calcutta.

“In that book, he did a beautiful, sensitive job of presenting the dark night experience, knowing that this revelation would shock the world,” Sweeney said. “And that was a pivotal moment in the making of her case. I’ve never met Kolodiejchuk but I’m a fan of his work. Of course, there were some others who knew about this dark-night experience before his 2009 book came out. So, why wasn’t this made more public before his book? Because I think that it really took the authority of the official champion of her cause to share this with readers around the world—to explain it in a way that they would take seriously. And now it has become an important part of her legacy.”

I said to Sweeney: “And what’s so powerful about that for ordinary folks is that no matter how isolated and alone we feel in our lives, we can look to Teresa and see how she carried on despite those doubts, right?”

“Yes,” he said, “We realize that she accomplished so much in her life, even though she was experiencing this darkness. It adds to her story for so many people.”

A Skeptical Journalist Promotes Her Story

In the middle of Sweeney’s book, he describes Teresa’s dramatic debut in global media in the 1960s, which began with a visit from one of Britain’s best-known skeptical journalists Malcom Muggeridge. He was curious about this woman’s work in Calcutta and arranged to spend five days filming in India with a BBC crew.

Then, some incidents during the production—including the way the black and white images of her were captured on film—convinced Muggeridge that there was something miraculous about Teresa and her work. His enthusiasm made the BBC’s 50-minute Something Beautiful for God a sensation, followed by a book Muggeridge published about her. At the time, he was a Protestant and eventually he converted to Catholicism.

Sweeney compares this story of sudden stardom to what happened to the Trappist monk Thomas Merton after he published his 1948 best-seller The Seven Storey MountainAlmost over night, Merton inspired a wave of young men to declare their desire to become monks just like him. And, for her part, Teresa’s order of women boomed as a result of the media coverage.

In Teresa’s case, wave after wave of media continued to celebrate her life. This year, at least two new biographies are debuting. In addition to Sweeney’s book, the other frequently mentioned new book is To Love and Be Loved by Jim Towey for Simon & Schuster.

Who doesn’t enjoy a true hero’s story?

As a long-time journalist, author and editor, Sweeney is gracious about recommending many other books about Teresa, especially Kathryn Spink’s 2011 book, Mother Teresa.

“I’m happy to recommend other books about here. There’s always room for more books about Teresa,” Sweeney said in our interview.

Stepien demonstrated that dramatically in his home office in Chicago where he has two within easy reach—and soon will have a third on his shelf: Sweeney’s book.

Here at ReadTheSpirit magazine, we chose to highlight Sweeney’s book over Towey’s new book for one simple reason: Sweeney’s book is an accurate, balanced story of her life that’s perfect for general readers to finish in one or two evenings, depending on how fast they read. For example, Spinks’ book is 368 pages; Sweeney’s is 184 pages—exactly half the length of Spinks’ work.

The concise style and the fresh journalistic perspective in Sweeney’s book also means that it’s a perfect cross-over book for non-Catholics who want to quickly learn more about this spiritual hero. And if you’re wondering about that phrase “spiritual hero”? Well, that phrase is appropriate because “heroic virtue” is one of the traditional standards in the canonization process.

Whatever your faith: Who doesn’t enjoy a true hero’s story?

Overall, then, we’re saying: Sweeney’s book is a perfect choice for Catholics and non-Catholics who want to spark a discussion with friends in their congregations. The book is easy to read, explains the heights and depths of Teresa’s journey, and will prompt a lot of conversation.

As we closed our interview, I asked Sweeney what he hopes readers will take away from his book.

“I hope that readers remember not just this extraordinary person and a few things she did,” Sweeney said. “I hope readers will appreciate and remember what an impact her life and her legacy has on our global culture, writ large. I hope readers will think about how and why she had this enormous impact and learn from her example.”

 

Howard Brown on: Why should we all join in interfaith bridge building?

Free to download from the Shining Brightly discussion guide …

Interfaith bridge building: Why do we do this work?

We are sharing with our readers the three major themes of Shining Brightly by Howard Brown—along with some inspiring samples from the book and parts of the book’s discussion guide.

Howard’s interfaith bridge building is a core commitment that springs from the Jewish tradition of tikkun olam, or repairing the world. He has worked tirelessly to help combat the rise of hate fueled violence in our world. Recognizing the powerful truth that friendships can prevent conflict and often whispers are more powerful than bombshells, Howard has served through Jewish nonprofits in California, Michigan and across the U.S. While living in California, he was honored with the Lloyd Dinkelspiel Young Leadership Award from the San Francisco Jewish Community Federation and became part of the National Young Leadership Cabinet of the Jewish Federations of North America. He and his wife Lisa both were selected to complete the multi-year Wexner Heritage Foundation fellowship in Jewish leadership. In Michigan, he was elected board president of the American Jewish Committee’s regional office in Detroit. Nationally, he has served on the International Board of Governors of the American Jewish Committee. Howard was awarded the Activist of the Year award for the southeast Michigan Jewish community in 2019.

Among the interfaith endorsements for his book:

“Together we can shape history.’ That’s a core belief that animates longtime interfaith bridge-builder par excellence, Howard Brown. The global challenges are so profound that we need all hands-on deck. Shining Brightly, shows how one person, despite facing life-threatening challenges, can help to heal our troubled world by reaching out to other communities at home and abroad. That makes this book such timely and valuable reading.”
David Harris, CEO of the American Jewish Committee 

 

Click on this image to download a printable and shareable version.

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Care to learn more?

This is a perfect moment to become one of Howard’s growing global community of friends by ordering your copy of his book.

Here are other articles we have published, exploring the launch of this book:

Take a look at the book’s Foreword: ‘Shining Brightly’ Foreword by Dr. Robert J. Wicks: ‘Learn anew about the American Dream’

We ask these timeless questions at each New Year: ‘Who shall live and who shall die?’ In this moving and inspiring column, Howard Brown writes about the powerful spiritual resources in our religious traditions that can help families struggling with cancer renew their resiliency.

A true story from Howard Brown’s ‘Shining Brightly’: Rosh Hashanah heralds new hope for friendship across our communities!

And: Howard Brown shows us the power of mentors to pay it forward, generation to generation 

Download printable and shareable resource guides for discussing Shining Brightly:

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A true story from Howard Brown’s ‘Shining Brightly’: Rosh Hashanah heralds new hope for friendship across our communities!

By HOWARD BROWN
Author of Shining Brightly

Dr. Al-Hadidi (left) with Howard Brown

I got my favorite shofar from a Muslim friend who carried it halfway around the world to present it to me as a gift.

I have other shofars. Most Jews do—and most of us are thinking about these “ram’s horns” this month as we are approaching the Jewish High Holy Days, when the unforgettable blasts of shofars summon our fresh commitment to renewed life in the year ahead of us. In the traditional Jewish calendar, the year 5783 will begin with Rosh Hashanah, which literally means “head of the year,” after sunset on Sunday, September 25.

This year, I will be thinking especially of the shofar that sits in my office near my desk—the shofar brought to me from Morocco by my friend Dr. Mahmoud Al-Hadidi. Dr Al-Hadidi is a physician specializing in pulmonary intensive care, which has placed him on the front lines of the pandemic. He is also Chairman of the Board for the Michigan Muslim Community Council (MMCC). Dr. Al-Hadidi also has worked with me through the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Committee for Michigan (MJAC).

Like my friend, I have been involved in building interfaith bridges for many years. This year, however, I can’t help but feel the heavy weight of so many painful divisions all around our world. I’m carrying all of that in my heart as I get ready for these milestones. So, in this troubled year? Believe me: Hopeful rays of light are welcome wherever I can spot them.

This is deep spiritual work we are called to do every year. As Jews approach Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which follows 10 days after the new year celebration, we are required to make amends—as best we can—with anyone we have harmed in the past year. You may not be Jewish, but just stop and think for a moment about how you would approach such a solemn challenge if you had to make a list—literally make a list—and start reaching out to each individual. If you are an observant Catholic, think of it as approaching confession once each year. What a list you may have accumulated!

This tradition of asking forgiveness and making amends is one of the most powerful annual obligations in Judaism—because it is an affirmation that we believe the world can be healed, repaired, made whole again. We do this, each year, because we believe it really can make a difference.

In all of my writing these days—especially in my new memoir Shining BrightlyI’m focusing on the many ways each of us can find hope each day. Yes, our world is badly broken right now. I’m well aware of the crises. But, I don’t choose to linger over these great chasms that have formed between people. I choose to focus on how we can always keep calling out to others across whatever divide we find between us. I choose to spend my energy on hope and healing. If you’re not Jewish, you’ve at least heard of this pillar of our tradition: tikkun olam. It means that God is calling us always, every day, to find ways to “repair the world.”

The services for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur normally draw the biggest attendance to Jewish congregations, every year. In the midst of the COVID pandemic, many may join services virtually this year—but some will show up in person. Between the Internet and personal attendance, the crowds will be vast.

While these services are so long that they try the patience of children (and, to be honest, many adults)—there are moments of great wonderment in these traditions that even the youngest girls and boys will never forget.

As a small child, of course, I didn’t know too much about the ancient traditions unfolding around me in those services. I didn’t understand all the tensions circling our globe in the iciest depths of the Cold War. I couldn’t have explained the crucial obligations of tikkun olam and all the hopeful inspiration I draw, today, from our tradition. I was just a little kid who had a chance to sit next to my father waiting, waiting, waiting for that moment when the shofar was blown.

I would stand up in our pew, holding onto Dad for balance to see the shofar raised—and blown.

What a sound!

Eventually, I learned the names of the tones:

  • Tekiah, a single long blast
  • Shevarim, a trio of sounds
  • Teruah, a whole series of sounds

And then the Tekiah Gedolah—the “great tekiah” when the sound was held, and held, and held. I would actually check Dad’s watch and count.

The blowing of the shofar is a call to the Jewish people to awaken, repent and bless God—and each other in the coming year.

To receive any shofar as a gift is truly an honor. The reason I hold this particular shofar from Dr. Al-Hadidi so dear—quite literally, it’s a daily visual reminder at my desk—is the impulse that led him to reach out toward me with this gift.

This was no casual souvenir of a holiday. Dr. Al-Hadidi took very seriously our interfaith work together. This shofar was selected, transported and given with a great deal of intention. I was invited to Dr. Al-Hadidi’s home to hear Michigan’s U.S. Senator Gary Peters speak to an interfaith audience of Muslims, Christians and Jews. In the midst of the program, I was asked by Dr Al-Hadidi if I would say a few words representing the Jewish community of southeast Michigan. I am the past board president of the American Jewish Committee Detroit (www.AJC.org) and now a current board member for the Jewish Community Relations Council–American Jewish Committee Detroit (www.jcrc-ajc.org).

I thanked Peters for the U.S. Senate’s adoption of legislation to crack down even further on antisemitism, because we all were concerned about the huge increase of harmful acts against Jews across our country. But I went a step further and urged that the legislation also include islamophobia as both religious-ethnic minority groups face the same forms of hatred. Jews and Muslims must shoulder this hateful burden together—along with allies all across America.

“Hate cannot be tolerated,” I said. “Our children are born to love. Hatred is not born in us. Hatred is learned, acquired and a choice that is propagated in our communities. We must stand against it—together.”

As that event came to a close, another friend Bushra Alawie, former Detroit FBI Community Outreach Agent, asked me to come speak with Dr. Al-Hadidi.

To my sheer surprise, Dr. Al-Hadidi told me of his family trip to Morocco. While visiting a small Jewish area of Marrakesh, the doctor met one of the last Jewish street vendors in that area whose history stretches back more than 10,000 years. The doctor immediately thought of me, he said.

Even though he is Muslim and was traveling in one of the world’s great centers of Islamic culture—he was thinking of me. He wasn’t my doctor, but he had become a dear friend through our peacemaking work together across our religious boundaries. And, he was aware that I had been struggling with—and thankfully recovering from—stage 4 colon cancer for several years.

What did the doctor know about the complexities of our Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur traditions? Not a lot. But he did know that the shofar is a potent symbol of renewal, a cherished reminder of hope—and its sound stirs our commitment to keep reaching out to others.

I was so surprised and humbled as he presented that shofar, I barely recall what I said to him.

Did he know all of our customs and liturgies and traditions? No. But he deeply understood the foundations of both of our traditions—a call to recognize that we all are children of God and must mend the divisions that separate us.

That’s why I display that particular shofar in my home office.

That’s why I look at that shofar—not just at the high holy days—but every day.

Half a world away from Michigan in a tiny market stall in the midst of a family vacation, Dr. Al-Hadidi suddenly thought of me and, from that spark, he made a simple decision to buy a little gift and carry it halfway around the world.

His choices continue to shine brightly in my life—and in the lives of all who know him.

As we approach the Jewish New Year 5783 and I prepare my own prayers of thanks for the blessings I have received over the years, my friend’s name is on my list.

And that’s why shining brightly is such an important idea—because those rays of light just keep on traveling far beyond where we ever could have guessed.

By reading this story today, I have just given you Dr. Al-Hadidi’s gift. His ray of light—from far away Morocco to me in Michigan—is now shining on you.

Will you reflect that light in our world? Will you send that hopeful ray just a little further? Share this column on your social media or via email.

That’s the idea of Shining Brightly.

And with that, join me in wishing the world:

Shanah Tovah!

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Care to learn more?

This is a perfect moment to become one of Howard’s growing global community of friends by ordering your copy of his book.

Here are other articles we have published, exploring the launch of this book:

Take a look at the book’s Foreword: ‘Shining Brightly’ Foreword by Dr. Robert J. Wicks: ‘Learn anew about the American Dream’

We ask these timeless questions at each New Year: ‘Who shall live and who shall die?’ In this moving and inspiring column, Howard Brown writes about the powerful spiritual resources in our religious traditions that can help families struggling with cancer renew their resiliency.

A true story from Howard Brown’s ‘Shining Brightly’: Rosh Hashanah heralds new hope for friendship across our communities!

And: Howard Brown shows us the power of mentors to pay it forward, generation to generation 

Download printable and shareable resource guides for discussing Shining Brightly:

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In ‘Shining Brightly,’ Howard Brown shows us the power of mentors to pay it forward, generation to generation

Three decades ago, Howard Brown became the Jewish Big Brother to Ian, forming a relationship that far exceeded the hopes of the agency’s experts.

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“We’re not given life to see how much we can get—
We’re given life to see how much we can give.

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By HOWARD BROWN
Author of Shining Brightly

Among the dozens of endorsements I have received for my new book, Shining Brightly, one note that is especially close to my heart is from Cari Uslan, CEO of Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles:

Shining Brightly is Howard’s testament to the transformative power of mentorship. In 1993, he became a ‘Big’—a Jewish Big Brother—to Ian and truly made a difference in his life. Our staff members are proud to have matched these two incredible people and to have supported their growth—and we are so happy to learn in this book that the scholarship provided by our organization helped Ian afford college and pursue his dreams. Howard exemplifies the efforts our mentors make to transform the lives of youth, and how in some special cases they go above and beyond and become family for life.

Back in the early 1990s, when we first met, I was only Ian’s “Jewish Big Brother” on a carefully monitored trial basis. Today, I simply call Ian “my brother”—because our relationship has extended and strengthened through cross-country moves, various academic degrees, job changes and shared family milestones. Ian now is an essential part of our family.

All that love and the inspiring adventures we’ve shared in life sprang from a generational commitment to mentorship. That’s why my wife Lisa urged me to consider volunteering as a “Big Brother” in the first place. That’s why I followed her advice and signed up. And that’s why, today, Ian shares that same value and is a mentor to our college-age daughter. It’s a circle that keeps turning, knitting one generation to another.

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

What I’m saying here, and in Shining Brightly, is that mentorship is in my DNA—and that value can be passed along through families and through entire communities.

My book opens with the harrowing story of my Bubby Bertha, who embodied a true American Dream. A century ago, she managed to escape the grinding poverty and deadly antisemitism in Eastern Europe largely because other family members and friends who had left that region remembered to keep in touch and “pay it forward” for others who were left behind in the shadow of violence that eventually would build into the Holocaust. Bubby Bertha made it to America long before Nazis rose to power and the Holocaust could ensnare her. And, as a result of her daring odyssey to reach America—I eventually became part of her living legacy. I grew up to become one of the successful early Silicon Valley pioneers because I shared in the simple principles of mentorship: We don’t live successful lives alone. We always make time to befriend and help others. We always pay it forward.

And so to this day, one way I pay it forward is by mentoring students at Babson College. I’m proud that Babson wins the top rating from US News each year for the best college program on entrepreneurship. One way I have given back to Babson was by serving for years as the head of the college’s worldwide alumni organization. And, in Shining Brightly, I share some downright astonishing stories about how Babson’s founder Roger Babson embodied and taught this concept of joining with others to make the world a better place. You’ll likely find yourself turning down the corners on some pages involving Babson’s life to share those gems with others. That’s why you’ll also find a dozen long-time Babson leaders endorsing this book.

But I want to be clear about this. The value of mentoring is not all about achieving success in business, although that is one outcome.

The conscious choice to care for each other, to pay it forward and to form mentoring relationships also is crucial to surviving traumas such as cancer—another major theme of my book that I wrote about last week. That lesson of healthy mentorship became especially powerful when I had to conquer aggressive stage IV cancer not just once—but twice in my life! The “cancer whisperers” who helped to save my life transformed me into a committed cancer whisperer myself. Serving as a cancer-survival mentor—a “cancer whisperer”—is now an essential part of my daily life.

In 2022, this is such a timely message. In today’s world of conflict where selfishness is often celebrated as a winning strategy—I’m sharing with the world a potent antidote to that dangerous message.

If you come away from my book with any message, it will be this:

“We’re not given life to see how much we can get—
We’re given life to see how much we can give.

That’s true from start to finish in the true stories I tell in these pages.

Want to read some of the keys to mentorship, which I listed as part of the discussion guide for Shining Brightly? Scroll down.

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And here’s my brother Ian celebrating with me today …

 

Free to download from the Shining Brightly discussion guide:

Why should we become mentors?

Over three weeks, we are sharing with our readers the three major themes of Shining Brightly by Howard Brown—along with some inspiring samples from the book and parts of the book’s discussion guide.

Click on this image to download a printable and shareable version.

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Care to learn more?

This is a perfect moment to become one of Howard’s growing global community of friends by ordering your copy of his book.

Here are other articles we have published, exploring the launch of this book:

Take a look at the book’s Foreword: ‘Shining Brightly’ Foreword by Dr. Robert J. Wicks: ‘Learn anew about the American Dream’

We ask these timeless questions at each New Year: ‘Who shall live and who shall die?’ In this moving and inspiring column, Howard Brown writes about the powerful spiritual resources in our religious traditions that can help families struggling with cancer renew their resiliency.

Download printable and shareable resource guides for discussing Shining Brightly:

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