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Young, Jewish, Proud

An amazing statement of intention and possibly, hopefully, finally, the generation that will lead us to a lasting peace in the Middle East alongside young Palestinians just like them.

http://www.youngjewishproud.org/

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.

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Passover in Kampala

Chag Sameach.  It means “joyous festival” and is a popular greeting during Passover.  With the Jewish celebration of freedom here again I recall our very special Passover seder in Kampala, Uganda.  I posted this as the very first story on my blog back in May 2008.  My story also ran in the Denver Post in spring 2007.

http://www.denverpost.com/search/ci_5534210

Cinematographer Paul Hillman and I are heading back to Kampala, Uganda again in June to do more video production for BeadforLife (http://beadforlife.org.)  It is our third trip.  This time we are focusing on the NGO’s market linkage program where women in the war torn villages near Lira and Gulu are getting assistance bringing their shea butter product to consumers.  What makes this extraordinary is the backstory.  All the women were refugees from the brutal reign of Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army.  For 19 years he and his men (many of them children) burned villages, raped women, killed men and abducted boys and girls in a senseless civil war.  With his retreat into the Congo these women have now returned from the refugee camps to their villages and are trying to get back on their feet by manufacturing shea butter which is a popular ingredient in cosmetics.  BeadforLife is linking these women to markets.  Other NGO’s are starting to do this on a small scale in Congo and Sudan which also have been wreaked by terrible hardship and civil war.  We are heading to the villages and expect the material to be powerful and compelling.  If you want to read about Kony and his murderous band of thugs in Congo today here is an article from the New York Times.   

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/28/world/africa/28congo.html?ref=global-home

For more on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com


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The Faith Club Part 4

Over the course of reading the book “The Faith Club” many things resonated with me but one statement from Ranya, the Muslim woman, sums things up.  “Once you can see things from both sides you’re on the side of compassion and humanity.”  Another thing that impressed me was a bit of wisdom from my friend, Cheryl, during a walk last weekend.  “Don’t judge a religion by the people who practice it.”  How simple, yet how profound, these statements are.  Cheryl’s remarks reminded me why I strayed from religion in the first place and Ranya’s thoughts reminded me why I came back.

As a high school student, attending Episcopal School and singing in a Catholic choir I often asked myself if there was room in Christianity for a more open minded view.  Surely there was more than one path to God.  I struggled with the notion of a God who condemns those who don’t accept him or causes good people to suffer.  I recall when I was producing television at KAKE TV in Wichita, Kansas, we had a family with many children appear one day on our noon talk show.  There was love and joy all around.  A short time later we were shocked to learn that a fire had swept through their home and taken the lives of several of their children.  One of my colleagues remarked that God must have been punishing them.  I shut her out.  God reveals himself in many ways but he doesn’t kill babies.  I’ll never believe in a God of vengeance.  To me that notion belongs to fundamentalists and extremists who monopolize the dialogue and make the possibility of understanding impossible. 

But by closing my mind at that moment wasn’t I disrespectful of her ideas, however farfetched?  Could we have possibly understood each other better if we had dialogued on the subject rather than agreed to disagree?  That’s what is so impressive about the women in “The Faith Club.”  Over time they realized that there were more things that united them than divided them.  They were able to embrace the faiths of each other, put it out on the table and recognize a God of all humanity.  Suzanne, the Christian woman, described religion like college degrees.  “One person might earn a BA in literature while another earns one in history.  They’re equally educated, though differently educated.  The real test is how they apply that knowledge in their lives.”  I’ve finished reading “The Faith Club” and as I come to the end of this high holiday journey of faith I’m committed to going out in the new year with my mind more open.  There are connections and contradictions in all faiths and I must not only listen but also hear.

And I must remember that if I am open, God shows up in the most unexpected places.  The truth doesn’t only reveal itself in church or temple but sometimes under the stars at night.  During my high school years I sang in a choir called Na Kani Pela which performed every Sunday at Our Lady of Peace Cathedral in downtown Honolulu.  During the summer before I went to college we went to Makawao, Maui for a concert.  It was one of the last times we would all be together as a group and as we had done so many times before, we sang.  The song that night was a Latin hymn called “O Magnum Mysterium.”  As we began our harmonies a silver rainbow appeared in the sky and when we finished it slowly faded away.  It was quite miraculous.  I will always believe God was there that night reminding me to recognize the beauty in all faiths and remember the universal truths that connect us to one another and our humanity.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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The Faith Club Part 3

Three years ago I was on the road in Buenos Aires, Argentina during Rosh Hashanah.  As is my custom when I am traveling I find myself a service wherever I am.  One year I celebrated Rosh Hashanah in Wilmington, North Carolina while covering a hurricane.  Another time I spent Passover in Kampala, Uganda where we substituted Indian naan for matzah.  There was Yom Kippur in Savannah, Georgia and a seder at a college in Walla Walla, Washington while working on a story about Bigfoot.

Surely the service on Rosh Hashanah morning at the Libertad synagogue in Buenos Aires was one of the most memorable of all.  The truth is I did not understand a word.  It was all in Spanish and Hebrew.  What set it apart was the trio of cantors, two men and a woman, whose harmonies throughout the entire service made it seem more like musical theatre.  Tears streamed down my face.  It was so very beautiful.  And then there was wonderful Mania who made this stranger feel welcome.  The four hours flew by.  It was the most inspiring high holiday service I had ever attended and I long for my spirit to be filled again the way it was on that day in Buenos Aires.

One of the things that always gives me pause during the Jewish holidays is the idea that Jews all over the world are saying the same prayers at the same time.  I get goosebumps to think that on the day I’m saying the closing line of the Passover seder, “Next Year in Jerusalem,” it is also being said by my family in Israel.  As the ominous prayers are recited on Yom Kippur and “the gates begin to close” on the day of atonement that same urgency is being felt on continents half a world away.

The communal nature of these moments appeal to me.  In the book “The Faith Club,” Ranya, a Muslim, Suzanne, a Christian, and Priscilla, a Jew, came together for years to discuss and dissect their respective religions.  They invited each other to their homes and services and tore down the walls that divided them.  They pushed through their fears and differences to find similar truths in all of their faiths.  They agreed that God was loving and forgiving, that prayers were calls to action in all of their traditions, and that goodness and evil co-exist but light triumphs over darkness.  They concluded that human decisions, not God’s, cause suffering in our world and that dogma gets in the way of spirituality.  I feel like I’m in lockstep with these women when it comes to faith.   

How good would it be if we could all come together like these courageous women?  Wouldn’t it be something if we could leave our comfort zones, whether in our homes, in our churches and temples, or even in our countries and celebrate our faiths with people who are different than we are.  My richest experiences have been praising God in unfamiliar places, praying wherever I am, and worshipping with strangers.  Shalom. Ah Salamu Alaykum.  Go in peace.  At the end of the day, no matter who says it or where in the world it is said, we all wish for blessings and peace.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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The Faith Club Part 2

My son, Kyle, was born with a bump on his head and it terrified me.  As a first time mom I was certain he would become gravely ill and I would not be able to hang on to him.  Perhaps it was the postpartum imbalance of hormones but I found myself crying in the shower.  Then and there I surrendered.  I conceded I could not do this parenting thing all by myself.  As a new mom there were so many things out of my control.  How could I keep this tiny person safe?  I asked God to help me.  It was the most direct communication I ever had with a higher power.  The bump went away just like the doctor said it would, but it was a new beginning in my walk with God.

I have not been the most observant person.  Walk with God, I’ve told my children.  That’s all that matters.  But it does create a sense of “religious homelessness.”  Suzanne, who is Christian, used that phrase in the book “The Faith Club” to describe the difficulties faced by Ranya who is finding her way as a Muslim in America.  Her family was chased out of Palestine and she was unable to find a mosque that felt like a fit for her family.  I too, have felt rudderless along the way.  Organized religion has seemed rigid to me.  I love the pomp and tradition, the music and the fellowship, but I never really feel at home in any one house of worship.  I can be as inspired in a church as in a temple.  So I’ve chosen a more spiritual journey.  I’m a Jew but I find meaning in all the faiths of the world.  At their heart aren’t they all about goodness? 

As a high school student at St. Andrew’s Priory in Honolulu I drove Father Blackmon crazy with all my questions.  Why does God let bad things happen to good people?  A virgin birth?  Are you kidding?  He finally told me that some things you just need to believe.  But no one faith seems to have all the answers.  It was impossible for me to understand why my friends Orin and Bekki lost their seven year old son, Brian.  Or why the young twenty something rabbi could not offer me comfort when I lost a pregnancy and fell apart in his office.  Or what it meant when I saw my deceased father in my room with his arm stretched out to me shortly after his death.  In the book “The Faith Club” Ranya talks about how you just say a prayer and you can become a Muslim and chart your own course with God.  I like that idea.  We can shape our relationship with God.  We can see God in the beauty of the universe.  In the unconditional love of a mother, a child, a dog.  Or even in a bump on the head.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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The Faith Club

I’ve spent the last two days in temple celebrating Rosh Hashanah but for some reason this year I’m not feeling it.  Perhaps it’s because I only show up for the high holidays and each year it’s the same story of Isaac and Abraham and Hannah and Peninah.  My Jewish experience is so limited.  Rabbi Mo is at the top of his game with sermons about living in the moment and about coming home to family.  I hoped my 15 year old grasped his lesson about how everything you do affects those around you.  But still the year 5770 is not stirring me like Days of Awe in the last few years.  So I decided to do something different.  My friend Kathy, suggested I read the book “The Faith Club” so during these 1o days I’m reading it and really thinking about how I feel about religion.  My friend Susan MacCaulay who has a website called “Amazing Women Rock(http://amazingwomenrock.com) out of Dubai said she’d link to my musings. 

“The Faith Club” is a book written by three women, Ranya Idliby who is Muslim, Suzanne Oliver who is Christian and Priscilla Warner who is Jewish.  It is a very honest recount of their meetings over time and their exploration of what unites and divides them.  I love this book for its candor.  The women are fearless in their desire to confront each other and grow in interfaith friendship and understanding.  They beat down stereotypes and shared controversial points of view.  We are told never to talk about religion but they did and it was transcendent.  As I write this I’m only on page 80.  I have lots to read but I’m inspired to write and search for greater understanding. 

On the way back from temple today my son Kyle and I were arguing.  Why was I wasting his time making him go?  Why can’t we go to the temple by our house where his friends go?  For that matter why can’t he just be Christian?  I feel a great connection to Israel and the Jewish culture but I’m finding it difficult to pass it along to my children.  I was never raised Jewish because my father suffered too much during the Holocaust.  His parents were killed in the concentration camps.  I came back to my heritage and to Judaism when I became a mother.  I didn’t want my children to grow up in a vacuum.  My father tried to talk me out of it because he felt I would be persecuted.  My parents went a long ways to spare me the pain of being Jewish in what they perceived was an anti-semitic world.  They sent me to an Episcopal School and I sang in a Catholic choir.  To this day I love the traditions of the Catholic Church and in some ways I envy born again Christians for the way their faith fills them and for their one way certainty.  At the same time my Jesus envy ends when my kids say “come Lord Jesus be our guest” at the dinner table every time my Lutheran in-laws come to visit or when there is so much hate and dogmatic thinking in the name of religion.  What would Jesus do?  Certainly not kill doctors at abortion clinics.  I don’t believe there is just one way and all religious zealots make me want to scream.  Why can’t we all just get along?

I will continue to blog on this subject as I read the book.  It is my project during these Jewish holidays.  I wish I had a faith club to help me process this so perhaps if anyone reads my blog we can dialogue and learn more about each other’s faiths.  I wish for the courage the women in “The Faith Club” have to speak openly and honestly and I would love to find like minded people who would enjoy sharing their journeys as well.  I’m just getting to the portion of the book where Ranya speaks of the difficulties in being Muslim in America.  Tonight in Denver, Najibullah Zazi and his father, Mohammed, were arrested as part of an ongoing terror investigation.  I’m sure it’s making a moderate Muslim like Ranya cringe.  Fear and misunderstanding.  As all faiths go through the year we need more to unite us rather than divide us. 

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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30 Minute Seder

I love Passover.  The Jewish holiday is meaningful, joyous and delicious.  I look forward all year long to the celebration around the table with friends and family.  What’s not to love about a dinner that lasts all evening and ends with the poignant words “next year in Jerusalem.”  It is always a memorable night.  So imagine my surprise when I saw the advertisement in the New York Times Magazine for “Passover redefined… for today’s Jewish Family!  For $5.95 you can purchase the 30 minute seder, a Haggadah that blends brevity with tradition.  “You Saved Our Seder!” shouts Beth C. of NYC.   A little frog on the ad says it’s all about “making Passover fun” and best of all, it’s rabbinically approved.  Perfect for the family on the go!! 

Have we become so busy that we can no longer spend a few hours at a special meal?  Are we so consumed with our Blackberry’s, IPhones and multitasking that we can’t sit still and enjoy our friends, families and faith?  The ad says it keeps the high points intact, but what about the nuance.  Shouldn’t there also be time for reflection on relieving suffering and working against injustice and leaving a trail of goodness in the world?  Shouldn’t we contemplate the bitterness of oppression that the Jews experienced and that still lingers in the world today?  Is there even time to welcome Elijah and find the afikomen?  My late Nana would say “oy vey.”

For more information about Vicky Collins visit http://www.teletrendstv.com