A funny thing happened when the rabbi met the pastor!

A woman rabbi from the mountains of Colorado and a man famous as an evangelical preacher from the conservative heartland of western Michigan? A connection between such a pair sounds unthinkable! Yet, Rabbi Jamie Korngold of Boulder didn’t earn her reputation as “The Adventure Rabbi” simply for holding worship services outdoors. Jamie is fearless and—across an interfaith divide that few would have crossed—she was determined last week to seek out preacher and best-selling author Rob Bell in a Colorado bookstore.

Neither would call their brief encounter a full-blown friendship, but they exchanged signed copies of their new books—and who knows? Both Jamie and Rob are involved in a red-hot national conversation about just how far the boundaries of Christianity and Judaism can be expanded. Jamie showed her courage that evening at the bookstore and we welcome her story, today, as she writes about their exchange that night. Perhaps this story will encourage you to cross such boundaries.

She picked up the title “Adventure Rabbi” for innovative programs that have drawn thousands of Jewish men, women and children to the Rockies for outdoor encounters with their faith. A few Christians have tagged along in recent years as well. As a rabbi, Jamie’s experience with thousands of restless families led her to write a new book, “The God Upgrade,” designed to kick start an honest debate about our faith—and our doubts about a lot of what passes for religious doctrine, today. She heard about the firestorm of criticism Rob Bell touched off with his new book, “Love Wins.” She recognized a kindred soul and was determined to meet him. Here’s what happened as a result of her determination!

Summoning Courage and Celebrating Integrity

By Rabbi Jamie S. Korngold

When I went to hear Rob Bell speak at the Boulder Bookstore, I arrived early—thinking there might be protesters to get around, but there were none. Only eager fans, patently awaiting Rob’s arrival. I know that Rob has been besieged by hate mail and threats, which make the hate mail and threats I receive seem like loving valentines. But what I saw at the Boulder Bookstore was a completely different part of the situation.

What I heard at the bookstore were people saying things like, “Rob, that’s what I always thought, but to hear a clergy person say it is incredible!”

And, “Rob, I always wondered about people who worry so much about hell in the hereafter but pay so little attention to the hells like sex slavery, that exist in this world. I am so relieved to hear you speak about that contradiction.”

People who don’t think there is a place in religion for them, came to hear Rob reassure them that there is a place for them. These people who are disturbed by evangelicals who claim that Gandhi can’t possibly be in heaven, heard a different message from Rob: “Love wins.” He told them: There is room for everyone. There is room for you!

My experience of Rob is that he has created space for honest conversation. He points out that some things clergy claim as “fundamental” and “dogma” are not necessarily even part of our original traditions. He gives us room to speak honestly about what we believe and what we wonder about.

When I walked toward the Boulder Bookstore, there in the front window was my new book, “The God Upgrade,” positioned right next to Rob’s book, “Love Wins.” I thought to myself, this is how it should be. Minister and Rabbi, Christian and Jew, standing side by side initiating a new conversation. Inviting people to be heard without hostility.

After Rob signed my copy of “Love Wins,” I handed him a copy of “The God Upgrade.“

I signed it, “To Rob, Thank you for your courage and integrity.” I hope he read it on his flight home or at least glances through it. I think he will discover that we are asking many of the same questions as we invite people to join the honest conversations that our books dare to begin.

CARE TO READ MORE? Here’s an in-depth interview with Rabbi Jamie Korngold at ReadTheSpirit—including links to related stories about the unfolding national dialogue involving Jamie, Rob and others.

Please help us with Friendship and Faith!

As readers, we welcome you to contribute your own stories of cross-cultural friendship. (NOTE: There are helpful tips under “We’d like to publish your story”)

You can help in many ways! Purchase our book “Friendship and Faith,” which is packed with dozens of stories by women about their real-life experiences with cross-cultural friendships. Bookmark this page—or subscribe via the link in upper right. If you’re on Facebook, please click the “Recommend” button below to share this story with friends. 

(Originally published at www.FriendshipAndFaith.com)

What happens when a college class hosts a seder?

Each week Friendship and Faith publishes stories encouraging cross-cultural friendship. For Passover 2011, we invited women to share ideas about creative seders (the Passover ritual meals) that have shaped their lives.
Last week, we shared Brenda Rosenberg’s story “Making Peace the priority at Passover.
Today, we welcome retired Macomb County Community College Professor of Humanities Paula A. Drewek. You can read more about Paula’s fascinating life in our collection of stories—the book featured at right.

After nearly four decades of educating young men and women about world religions, Paula knows a lot about the challenges of preparing a model seder and the educational experience surrounding the meal.
Here is her story:

Celebrating a seder
in the Classroom

By Paula A. Drewek

For many years in my class on Comparative Religions at a community college north of Detroit, I offered students an opportunity for extra credit by participating either in a classroom celebration of Succoth (in the Fall term) or the Passover seder (in the Spring term). Naturally, I was never short of volunteers since extra credit is usually seen as an easy way to earn points. However, arranging a seder in the classroom for a group of 35 students was never really easy.

Preparation involved familiarizing oneself with the Haggadah, the text that guides participants through the ritual meal and tells the story of Passover. Students had to make sure that all participants had copies. They had to collect and bring in the essential foods and implements for the meal, finding yarmulkes and tallit for the men participating, finding recipes for such things as charoset, choosing from among a dizzying array of matzah breads, and even remembering to add Elijah’s Chair to the Seder table.

My students were unusually resourceful. Some found the edition of the Haggadah that has been produced by Maxwell House coffee since the 1930s, while others located a contemporary Internet Haggadah featuring modern-day equivalents for the 10 plagues. Then, participants had to master difficult words in Hebrew such as afikomen, karpas, rahtzah.

The foods often were as challenging as the texts. The idea of four cups of kosher wine was always a hit with students—but, truth be told, since this was a school, we had to make do with grape juice. The ritual foods varied. The egg and the shank bone of lamb were indisputable, as was the matzah bread. No group had difficulty finding these items. However, the bitter herbs ranged from horseradish to Romaine lettuce or parsley. Salt water as a reminder of tears shed during slavery in Egypt was easily procured.

The largest variable was how to concoct charoset, representing the mortar used in building Egyptian edifices as slaves. The combination of ground apples, walnuts and drops of red wine was made very palatable with the addition of cinnamon—and made for a nice spread on the matzah bread. 

We enjoyed eating and sampling all the special foods. The entire class would become very familiar with the oft-repeated phrase: “Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, King of the universe …” reaffirming Jewish monotheism. As always, white tablecloths dressed our table and fine plates were used for the special foods. To the seder plate were added other goodies so that class participants would have some sampling of Jewish foods.

At the close, the teacher would check to see if Elijah had appeared through the open door, presaging the Messiah’s coming. If not, the door was closed. No one dressed up to act the role of Elijah.

We always had a wonderful time with the service and the socializing, and the transition from “learning by listening” to “learning by doing” was appreciated. I doubt that the book of Exodus was ever so “alive” for students of religion.

Please help us with Friendship and Faith!

As readers, we welcome you to contribute your own stories of cross-cultural friendship. (NOTE: There are helpful tips under “We’d like to publish your story”)

You can help in many ways! Purchase our book “Friendship and Faith,” which is packed with dozens of stories by women about their real-life experiences with cross-cultural friendships. Bookmark this page—or subscribe via the link in upper right. If you’re on Facebook, please click the “Recommend” button below to share this story with friends. 

(Originally published at www.FriendshipAndFaith.com)

Making Peace the priority for Passover

Each week, Friendship and Faith publishes a story encouraging cross-cultural friendship. Sometimes we publish a personal story (and we’d like you to share your story with us). Sometimes we share a great idea for making new friends. This week, interfaith peace activist Brenda Rosenberg shares a great idea:

Making PEACE the priority for Passover

By Brenda Naomi Rosenberg

Passover is one of my favorite Jewish Holidays. I have precious memories of celebrating the Holiday as a child with my brother, parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents. My grandparents were orthodox and our Seders lasted until almost midnight. As much as I loved staying up hours past my bed time—and hearing the amazing story of our exodus from Egypt—helping my mother arrange the flowers and set the table with our special Passover cloths, napkins, silverware and dishes, was my favorite part of the holiday. So I was delighted when Elyse Foltyn called and asked me to decorate one of  the 23  holiday tables for Temple Beth El’s first ever “The Passover Table.” That’s what Beth El calls this creative showcase of ideas for families decorating Passover tables, which also is a popular fund-raiser for the religious school.

As a passionate peace activist, I wanted my table to speak to the concepts of Passover that are the most meaningful to me. Passover is not meant to be merely a celebration of a Jewish victory in our past; the observance also inspires us to extend that liberation to the whole world. Each year, as we move through the ritual meal, the readings and the spirited discussions around the Passover table, we are reminded that we have that power to liberate and bring peace to our world.

One of my favorite passages from the Haggadah (the book that tells the story) asks us to “remember that you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Indeed, it commands us positively: Thou shalt love the stranger. As I prepared for this event at which so many people were sharing Passover ideas, I thought: What could be more fitting than incorporating Peace into the table we would design together? Maybe someone else will carry this idea into their home and the wider world. Today, with the publication of this story, I’m sharing the idea even further.

Not having children of my own, I enlisted my extended family; my niece Marlo Scott, her son Aiden 11 and daughter Ava 13 (the only person I know who has a lager collection of peace signs than me) and Carrie Doelle, my adopted daughter, her son Anthony 4 and daughter Gigi 5.

We called our table PASSOVER for PEACE. Everything was in colorful paper and plastic—a real kids table. We transformed nine feet of white paper into our table cloth and began drawing peace signs and printing the word peace in ten different languages. The kids personalized the pillows used to recline at the Seder table with their names. Ava drew a new cover for our Rosenberg family Haggadah. We cut out doves for napkin rings. Shiny white plastics plates were layered on angles to form a Star of David and placed on top of lime green paper placemats. Plastic frogs (representing one of the plagues that infested the Egyptians) surrounded the dish that holds the salt water used to dip vegetables. Carrie added white doves, Marlo quince branches and her beautiful candlesticks. I added my Kiddish cup filled with PEACE wine, and a Seder plate purchased in Jerusalem. We even created a new tradition: a matzo for hope.

We are deeply concerned about our world, and feel nothing is more needed than peace, so we are recreating our table for this year’s Passover celebration with the hope that others will join us in dedicating their Passover tables, Easter tables—all holiday celebrations and even weekday dinners to bringing peace to our world. You’ve heard the story today. You’ve seen the images.

What can you create as a sign of peace?

Please help us with Friendship and Faith!

As readers, we welcome you to contribute your own stories of cross-cultural friendship. (NOTE: There are helpful tips under “We’d like to publish your story”)

You can help in many ways! Purchase our book “Friendship and Faith,” which is packed with dozens of stories by women about their real-life experiences with cross-cultural friendships. Bookmark this page—or subscribe via the link in upper right. If you’re on Facebook, please click the “Recommend” button below to share this story with friends. 

(Originally published at www.FriendshipAndFaith.com)

Dr. Meg Meeker: Men don’t ‘get’ women’s friendships

MEG MEEKER is a best-selling doctor with years of experience as a Mom, a wife, an active member in her congregation and community. She writes as a veteran physician with a specialty in medical care of children, adolescents—and their parents, which she explains is really one of the central vocations for a pediatrician if we’re honest about the specialty. Her earlier book focused on advice to fathers; her new book is “The 10 Habits of Happy Mothers: Reclaiming Our Passion, Purpose, and Sanity.”

THIS WEEK, you can read a longer interview with Dr. Meg Meeker in ReadTheSpirit, but we asked Meg to talk specifically about the nature of friendships among women, the focus of our Friendship and Faith project. Such friendships rank high in the top 10 habits for happy women. Here’s what Meg told us …


As women, we all need a couple of friends in our inner circle who are never surprised by anything we say, who never judge. We need women who can step into the midst of our lives when we feel out of control and chaotic—and they will still love us. These are the few women in our lives who we can call at 3 a.m. when we need to tell someone: “My life is falling apart! Help!” And they respond. These friends have to be women because they understand us emotionally, spirituality and physically. I’m talking about the friends who’ll keep us standing up during that day when we feel we just can’t stand up. These are the core friends who are essential in life—not many, maybe one and at most three or four. I’m not talking about how many friends we have listed on Facebook. I’m talking about the inner circle of friendships among women.

Women are relational. We bond with each other in ways that are different than men making friends with other men. You can see this as early as young girls playing together or high-school friendships. Girls braid each other’s hair; they do each other’s makeup. Girls and women bond through talking and touch.

Guys ask us: Why do you do that? Guys bond through activities like sports or working on a project together—or just watching a football game. Two men who are friends can spend a whole afternoon watching a game, never say a word to each other through the whole thing—and they go home thinking they’ve just had a terrific time together. But that’s not the experience of women. We need to talk, to listen, to look at each other, to share. As we feel closer to another woman, we show that by divulging some of our innermost thoughts. Men who are friends may never do that, but that’s what women need to feel deeply connected to a friend.

For women, friendships develop through face-to-face time together and that’s one of the reasons women are so lonely today. We stay electronically connected to one another. We text. We use the cell. Email. Facebook. But that’s not the kind of intimate, face-to-face experience we need.

When we’re together in person we can fully read another woman. We can see our friend’s facial expressions, watch her eyes, we can hug or touch her hand. We’re responding to each other on many levels. Friends, men or women, may have coffee with each other. But, women have many ways to spend time together that aren’t as common for men. We may walk together. We find other ways to spend time together.

When we stop doing that because our lives are too busy, we lose that deep satisfaction in life that comes from our intimate relationships with friends. There’s a void in our lives and I don’t believe that women can substitute for that lack of friendship with other women by placing those expectations on the men in our lives. Generally, we can’t connect with male friends on that level we can experience in friendship with women. It’s true: There is a woman-to-woman thing we share in a good friendship. Once we are up front about admitting that, and once we begin spending time on the woman-to-woman friendships that can bring such satisfaction in life, then we can free ourselves from placing all those expectations on other people in our lives. Our relationships with our husbands and our children become lighter and richer and more enjoyable because we’re not trying to substitute for our women friends in those relationships.

We need our friends to help us get through those early child-rearing years and then through those middle years when teens are so tough. As we age, we need women helping us through the empty-nest years when nobody understands the changes in our world. As I’m seeing with my own mother, many women outlive their husbands—so we need friendships with other women for longetivity. In the end, we may be left with just women together as friends. Our friendships with other women are an essential part of all the different phases of our lives.

YOU CAN READ an in-depth interview with Dr. Meg Meeker in ReadTheSpirit this week.

Please help us with Friendship and Faith!

As readers, we welcome you to contribute your own stories of cross-cultural friendship. (NOTE: There are helpful tips under “We’d like to publish your story”)

You can help in many ways! Purchase our book “Friendship and Faith,” which is packed with dozens of stories by women about their real-life experiences with cross-cultural friendships. Bookmark this page—or subscribe via the link in upper right. If you’re on Facebook, please click the “Recommend” button below to share this story with friends. 

(Originally published at www.FriendshipAndFaith.com)

Honoring the women behind the Triangle Shirtwaist fire: Here’s why publishing our stories matters!

STRONG-SPIRITED JEWISH AND CATHOLIC WOMEN gathered because all were involved in New York shirtwaist factories and supported the 1909 strike. Note: Two men appeared at this labor gathering, but sat in the back of the room. Women ran this movement!

THE DEADLY TRIANGLE SHIRTWAIST FACTORY FIRE on March 5, 1911. Workers could not escape and plunged to their deaths or died in the blaze.Friendship and Faith promotes cross-cultural friendship by inviting women to publish their stories about friendship. March 25, 2011, is the centennial of the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York that killed 146 workers and ranks as one of the worst industrial accidents in U.S. history. The fire also is a horrific milestone in the American labor movement. While other news media report on the history of the fire this week, we’re focusing on the friendships among these women behind the fire.

The fire came just a little over a year after the huge shirtwaist-workers strike of late 1909, when 20,000 workers took to the streets in a long series of clashes that included jail time for some of the strikers. The whole movement was led largely by Jewish women, working side-by-side with Christian women and some men, as well. The ninth-floor sweatshop that proved so deadly in the Triangle fire was staffed largely by immigrant girls and women—mainly eastern European Jews and southern European Catholics. Despite all the dire warnings raised in the 1909 strike, the Triangle factory ignored all safety measures.

These were tough, smart, courageous women driven by a sense of justice! They formed diverse friendships both in the sweatshops where they worked—and in their after-hours activism. These are our grandmothers and great grandmothers in the work of forming cross-cultural friendships. AND, they wrote about it! They published their stories, just as we are today. Cornell University has established one of the best online collections of original texts for the centennial of Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. Within that collection, Cornell has published an extended series of memories from a former Triangle employee and labor activist: Pauline M. Newman. She survived the fire because, after years of working at Triangle, she had moved on to work as a labor organizer by the time of the blaze.


Pauline M. Newman (1887-1986) remembers the power of a single story!

FIREMAN POSES in the rubble of the ninth-floor Triangle sweatshop after the fire.One evening I was walking home from a long day’s work. It was summer. But by evening the air was a bit cool and I rather liked the walk home. The sights were familiar, the usual signs of poverty and all the resulting misery therefrom. As I saw the little children playing in the gutter, the men and women looking tired and drab, the dark and filthy tenements I thought: Dear God, will this ever be different?

When I got home I sat down and wrote: “While at work I am thinking only of my own drab existence. I get discouraged and a bit low in my mind—every day the same foreman, the same forelady, the same shirtwaists, shirtwaists and more shirtwaists. The same machines—the same surroundings. The day is long and the task tiresome. In despair I ask: Dear God will it ever be different? And on my way home from work I see again those lonely men and women with hopeless faces, tired eyes; harassed by want and worry—I again ask: Will it ever be different?”

I wrote more of the same and when it was done I decided to send it to the Forward. Of course I did not expect it to be accepted or published. I did not think it was good enough for publication. I was not a writer and I knew it. But, I did want to express my feelings and get them down on paper. There was satisfaction in doing just that. I put the article in the post and did not give it another thought.

A few days later, it was a Saturday, as I was approaching the Triangle factory I noticed a number of my fellow workers holding the Forward and pointing to something, and when they saw me they all shouted congratulation and hailed me as a conquering hero—for my piece was published! I could hardly believe it! But there it was, my name and all. This I believe was one of the highlights in my life. Perhaps a minor one compared with what was to follow in the years ahead. However, at the time it was an achievement I did not anticipate.

Encouraged by the success of my first attempt to give expression to my thoughts and feelings I tried again and again and each time my articles and stories were accepted and published. I became “famous” almost over night.

In a small way I became the voice of the less articulate young men and women with whom I worked and with whom later I was to join in the fight for improved working conditions and a better life for us all.

THE COST OF THE FIRE: This photograph was taken on the day of the fire in 1911 as police began loading the bodies of victims into coffins.

Please help us with Friendship and Faith!

As readers, we welcome you to contribute your own stories of cross-cultural friendship. (NOTE: There are helpful tips under “We’d like to publish your story”)

You can help in many ways! Purchase our book “Friendship and Faith,” which is packed with dozens of stories by women about their real-life experiences with cross-cultural friendships. Bookmark this page—or subscribe via the link in upper right. If you’re on Facebook, please click the “Recommend” button below to share this story with friends. 

(Originally published at www.FriendshipAndFaith.com)

Women know: Water flows through world religions

Have you heard the news?
This month, women around the world are crossing cultural barriers to connect—through water. This makes a great deal of sense because patterns of poverty around the world unjustly fall on women, which means that finding clean water often falls on the shoulders of women. When daily life depends on something so basic—conflicts can arise over water rights or bridges can be built so everyone can reach fresh water. That’s one reason the life-giving symbol of water runs like a shining stream through the world’s great religions. Water is a universal part of life.
, we’re giving you another great idea to build cross-cultural friendships: Wherever you live around the world, organize a local program about women and water! That’s what we’re doing.
If you live in Michigan,
join us on the evening of March 17 for “Water, Women and WISDOM.”
(Like this idea? Another recent idea was a January story about getting together to discuss the angels that run through our religious traditions.)


JAN KATZ is our Jewish speaker on water. (We’ll also welcome Christian, Muslim and Hindu speakers on March 17.) Jan is a licensed water-treatment professional building an underground “green” home in northern Michigan for her seven grandchildren and two cats. “Water crosses all boundaries,” Jan writes. “Every living being requires clean, safe water to survive. I am looking forward to sharing the story of water and how perceptions about water affect the lives of women and children.” Looking for good information online? Jan recommends Clean Water Action “to stay on top of water issues.” She also frequently uses the Nature Conservancy website. Then the U.S. EPA site about water for kids “is interactive and has great resources for teachers, especially the ‘Water Cycle’ video.”

NAJAH BAZZY is our Muslim speaker. She’s a nationally known Transcultural Clinical Nurse Specialist and is founding chair of the non-profit Zaman International. “What propelled me to work on clean water is the realization that, in places like Africa, women and girls are the water fetchers and can spend entire days just collecting the family water,” Najah writes. “That means there’s no time left for education and opportunity. Plus, in many parts of the world, walking the long pathways to fresh water puts women at risk. The second big reason I’m working on water is that so many preventable deaths are caused by water-borne illness. I want to tell people about a program Zaman is co-sponsoring in Africa as part of our humanitarian outreach. We’re building an entire water system, including wells, sanitation and water recycling. As we build, we’re also educating villagers about water-borne illness.”

GAIL KATZ is WISDOM co-founder and president. She’s eager to hear women from four faiths share from so many different perspectives on water. “WISDOM’s mission involves both education and community service, so I hope our program gives people in metro Detroit more knowledge so they can take action and make our world a better place to live. The lack of clean water impacts women and children world wide.” Gail (who is not related to Jan Katz) also points out that men are welcome at this public event.

NUHA ALFAHHAM is coordinator of our interfaith panel on water. “I’m very interested in the issue of water not only for its necessity of every living thing, but also for its central role in many practices and religions,” Nuha writes. “In the Islamic faith, many verses throughout the Quran describe the importance and the functions of water, whether it is for purification, for it’s life giving characteristics, for spiritual significance or for mere beautification and contemplation. As stewards on earth, humans are required to protect this precious resource, and women have been instrumental in issues related to water, its availability and protection. This forum will demonstrate how local women of the different faiths are addressing water issues near and far.”

Please help us with Friendship and Faith!

As readers, we welcome you to contribute your own stories of cross-cultural friendship. (NOTE: There are helpful tips under “We’d like to publish your story”)

You can help in many ways! Purchase our book “Friendship and Faith,” which is packed with dozens of stories by women about their real-life experiences with cross-cultural friendships. Bookmark this page—or subscribe via the link in upper right. If you’re on Facebook, please click the “Recommend” button below to share this story with friends. 

(Originally published at www.FriendshipAndFaith.com)

Why do ‘they’ look so different? Let’s look inside …

This week, Americans are celebrating with Egyptians over the peaceful transfer of power in that historic country with a large Muslim population. But, Americans also are anxious about planned congresssional hearings that will target Muslim leaders and congregations in the U.S. The Friendship and Faith project is not interested in political divisions. We don’t take sides on such issues. We make friends.

We are always looking for ways to build authentic friendships in spite of whatever tumult we find around the world. We peacefully build briges. This week, we’re sharing a story from our book, which we hope you will purchase (at right) to help support our work. We also welcome your stories!

We’re sure you’ll see why this story is so timely. It’s called …

The Hardest Thing I’ve Ever Had to Do

by Gigi Salka

Gigi is Muslim and the mother of three children living in Bloomfield Hills. She is an active volunteer in her community.

The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life was to walk into my child’s school for the first time after I began wearing the headscarf that is distinctive for Muslim women. My son was in fifth grade at the time.

This all happened in February 2003. My husband and I finally decided to perform the pilgrimage, the Hajj. We had wanted to make the Hajj for years but, each time, something would come up. There always seemed to be so many reasons why we shouldn’t go. The kids were too young. My husband couldn’t leave work. It was a very serious decision. As Muslims we like to say that, when you go on the Hajj, you come back home the way you were born. It’s like all your sins are erased and you’re opening a new book in your life. For me, I knew that meant I would start wearing the headscarf.

I had not been wearing the headscarf and, because I hadn’t worn it, I didn’t stick out so obviously as Muslim in public. Just look at me and my kids—white, blond hair—we kind of blend into the American environment. But the question of wearing the headscarf had been weighing on my shoulders for some time. I grew up in America, attended university, had a successful career, married a loving husband and began raising my family. God has blessed me with so much. I wanted to start wearing the headscarf regularly as a sign of my faith, but I didn’t have the strength.

It wasn’t a big struggle for me to decide whether I should wear it. I wanted to wear it. I had already begun to change how I dressed. I only wore long skirts or pants and long-sleeve shirts. It is all about being modest; in dress, in attitude and in self-presentation. In my opinion, the headscarf was just another step toward greater modesty, but I could not garner the strength to put it on and wear it regularly. The biggest problem for me was the idea of facing people I had known for a long time—now wearing the headscarf. That’s hard for many American Muslim women, I think. I know it was for me.

When we went on the Hajj, though, I knew that I’d definitely want to start covering my hair. As the Hajj season nears each year, the excitement in the Muslim community grows. People start talking about who is going on the Hajj this year, and how they are preparing for this once-in-a-lifetime trip. Every year I remained at home, yearning to join the pilgrims, but this year was different: There were so many friends planning their trip that it was impossible to stay away. Although, in retrospect, it was probably the most inopportune time, my husband and I decided at the last minute to perform the Hajj that year. We were so late in deciding that we wound up Federal Expressing our passports, and we didn’t get our travel documents until we got to the airport. We were hurrying around and weren’t even sure that we’d be able to make the flight, but finally, we did get on the plane. This was a rushed trip, but I felt a sense of inner peace and security that I had never felt before. God gave me patience.

As we were hurrying around and getting ready to go, a Muslim friend came to visit and say goodbye. When I saw her, I suddenly had all these questions. I asked, “When am I going to put my headscarf on? The imam is coming with us on the plane, so should I put it on before I get on the plane? Should I put it on over there in Saudi Arabia? Or, when I’m coming home? How do I wear it right?”

So many questions!

She said: “Just put it on! Get it over with!”

So, I put it on as we went to the airport. Women wear the headscarf throughout the entire Hajj in Saudi Arabia. Then, when we were coming home on the plane, once again there were all these questions! I kept asking my husband: “Do I keep it on? Do I wear it when I get off the plane? What am I going to do?”

He was of no help. “It is your decision,” was the answer he repeated over and over again.

I got home and basically stayed at home for a week. I kept worrying: What do I do? I can’t take it off and, if I go out wearing it, what will people think when they see me for the first time? Then, soon, I had to face going into my children’s school. I’m very active there. I couldn’t stay away. There was a parent meeting I had to attend. Coming back from the Hajj, I did feel spiritually rejuvenated and stronger as a Muslim, but on that first day walking toward the school, I couldn’t stop asking myself: How will people react?

I hadn’t planned anything that I might say to people. If they asked questions, I would try to answer them. That’s how I am. But I really didn’t know what I would say to explain it all as I drove up that day. Our school is designed so there’s a parking lot and then there’s a loooong sidewalk that leads up to the school. There’s no way around it. You have to park and walk up this loooong sidewalk.

I parked my minivan and I made that walk very sloooowly.

No one at the school knew I had gone on Hajj or that I would start wearing this scarf. And on that first day that I went to the school, I knew that my son’s teacher had gone on maternity leave while we were away, so I didn’t know the new teacher at all. I was nervous.



All of the above!

People don’t know how to react when you make a change like this, so it puts more of a burden on you to break the ice. They wonder: Am I supposed to say something? Or not say something? Respond to this change? Or ask something? Or is it offensive to ask questions?

Finally, I reached the door. I walked into the school and, as soon as you walk in there’s this media center where people congregate for meetings. As usual, people were gathered there.

I saw a friend and I walked right toward her. And she said: “Oh, Gigi! You’ve covered your hair!”

I didn’t know what to say. I just said: “Yeah.”

She surprised me. She asked, “Are you making a political statement?”

I didn’t expect that question! I was still so nervous. I answered very slowly: “Nooooo. No, I’m not.” That thought never even crossed my mind, I was only trying in my humble way to fulfill a spiritual desire that I had worked so hard to attain.

I suddenly realized: They’re looking at me and they’re wondering why I’ve just made this change. This was when the memory of 9/11 was still fresh in everyone’s mind. So many things ran through my mind. Then, I just began to talk to my friend. I described the Hajj and what it meant to me. I explained to her how it was a spiritual rejuvenation and how I felt so much closer to my Creator during this time. I explained how I felt a sense of calm, peace and happiness upon my return. She listened.

We were friends—so she listened. And we remained good friends after that, because she was open. I remember that: She listened to my story. My life has changed since I began to wear the headscarf. Life does get a little bit harder when you decide to do this. You do have to keep wondering: Am I representing my faith properly? I know I’m just one person, but I do feel the weight of this commitment of wearing a visible sign that I am a part of the Muslim community.

I explain this to young women that, once you put on the scarf, your life does change. When people see you out in public, if you make a bad impression out there like you’re rude to someone—well, the people who might see that misbehavior in public don’t think: Oh, there’s a rude woman. Because of the headscarf, they think: Oh, there’s a rude Muslim!

This is a life-changing decision. It is a real responsibility to be a Muslim in America. I can’t believe that it has been six years since the Hajj. A lot has happened over that time, but a lot is still the same. I still volunteer at school and in my community. I have taken a greater role in publicly representing the beauty of my faith—to correct the many common misconceptions about Islam. My relationship with my Creator has grown stronger and has given me the inner peace I need to get through life. My headscarf is just another step in my spiritual journey.

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(Originally published at www.FriendshipAndFaith.com)