A fresh idea that works: Organize a group of explorers, set out together … and friendship will follow

The stories in our book are about forming cross-cultural friendships and some writers share proven ideas. One example comes from Edith Broida, a retired teacher, who describes a terrific idea: the formation of a Museum Group. Read her story today and think about whether this idea might work for you.

Here is Edith’s story …

My earliest memory of an interfaith/intercultural experience was when I was in the eighth grade. I had a great friend whose name was Connie, and she and I would talk about our differences; I was Jewish, and she was Greek Orthodox. This was after World War II, and everyone at that time was very conscious of being American. America was a melting pot, and Connie and I decided we would go to each other’s church and synagogue.

I remember sitting there—the church was so new that there was still sawdust in the lobby—and suddenly, I smelled something. I leaned over to Connie and said, “Oh, no! I think the church is on fire!” She looked at her mother, and they smiled at each other: What I was smelling was incense! It just shows how we don’t know much about each other’s faiths, and how useful it would be to know more.

I went to a mostly Jewish high school until, in the tenth grade, my family moved to a blue-collar neighborhood. Suddenly I was different, and people would say things that they didn’t know were demeaning to me. But my parents had moved a lot—seven times in my 12 years of school—so I was used to being different. At Wayne State University I joined a Jewish sorority, and later, I married a Jewish man.

Many years later, when an Arab-American Museum opened in Michigan, I came up with the idea of The Museum Group. I thought: We already have the Charles Wright African-American Museum and the Holocaust Museum in the Metro Detroit area. What would happen if I gathered a diverse group, and we would all go to one another’s museums? With Deborah Smith-Pollard, an African-American woman, and Renee Ahee, a Lebanese-American woman, we formed The Museum Group. It wasn’t Jews with Jews, blacks with blacks or Arabs with Arabs; we were all together.

In all three museums, we found an emphasis on American history—how the people came to America, and what they achieved. But if there is one thing that every group has in common, it’s that it has experienced suffering. Maybe, if we learn more about how and why everyone has suffered, it would make all of us more compassionate.

At the Charles Wright Museum, we learned that when Africans were put onto the slave ships, they were given salt pork—a food staple that was so different from that in their regular diet that many of them died. The museum even had a simulation of a slave ship rocking, and we could hear moaning. It gave us a good idea of what it might have been like to be a slave.

After visiting the Charles Wright Museum, we went out to eat, which was our practice—this time at Ruby’s Kitchen on Woodward, where we ate fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy. After all of our museum explorations, we ate ethnic food and allowed time to talk.

The Museum Group grew, and some, unknowingly, said things that ruffled feathers. Knowing this, I held a meeting at my house. I was disturbed that people were becoming uncomfortable with one another. As we talked and shared our feelings—becoming quite emotional—we said that if we can’t get along, there’s no hope for the rest of the world! We were now far more sensitive to how people felt, and the following year, we decided that it wasn’t just our ethnic backgrounds that made us who we were, but also our religious backgrounds. We decided we should also visit one another’s place of worship.

First, we went to a Lebanese-Christian church, and there, I was surprised that the services weren’t that different from my own Jewish services. We then went to a church in Detroit, and it was great, with everyone dressed up and singing joyously. The pastor met with us afterward and arranged a brunch with hummus, bagels—food that he thought would be pleasing to all of us. We also went to an evening service at my temple. What I noticed was that the religious leaders in each of these places went out of their way to make us feel welcome.

I once read an article in Real Simple magazine, an interview with women who were 100 years old or older. In this article, one woman said, “If there is a God, he is the God of everyone.” And I thought: How true and logical this is. No one—whether Islamic imam or Catholic priest or Orthodox rabbi—can possibly own God. My temple has even taken out pronouns that refer to God as “Him.” I liked this elderly woman’s wise statement because it really spoke to a universal God.

Since most of the women in The Museum Group are professionals or traveling retirees, it’s often hard for us to get together. Forming such a group is a challenge, but we have learned how valuable it is to visit historical museums and religious institutions together. We discover that we’re not as different as we think!

In America, millions of immigrants did not know English when they arrived; they encountered prejudice; they faced enormous challenges; this is such a widespread story for so many families. Millions began here, in the U.S., as part of a first generation, learning the language and struggling through menial jobs—hoping to see that their children’s lives would be better than their own.

I’d like to see our Museum Group become a model that is duplicated in school groups, PTAs, church groups, women’s clubs and other organizations. Many of us have experienced great success in America. We need to learn our respective stories and broaden our world.

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(Originally published at www.FriendshipAndFaith.com)

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