In response to the divisions that emerged during the recent elections, many women have come together to form unity and a more peaceful world. They began taking on leadership roles, with over 25,000 women contacting Emily’s List about running for office. This is one small example.
But the pattern of women stepping up to create harmony during difficult times is not a new phenomenon. Many women around the world have worked hard to help provide equal opportunities and healthier environments so that individuals, families, communities, and nations can strive. Over a decade ago, Gail Katz, a Jew, Shahina Begg, a Muslim, and Trish Harris, a Catholic, reached out and brought other women together to form WISDOM (Women’s Interfaith Solutions for Dialogue and Outreach in Metro Detroit) which officially became a 501 (c) 3 in May 2007.
The 9/11 attacks and the Iraq War had caused a polarization as turmoil escalated in the world between and among the various faith traditions. In the belief that women could come together and form an interfaith movement where we could listen to each other, respect each other’s differences, and then take action towards change, these inspiring women started a beautiful circle of sisterhood that has gone on to present many empowering programs.
I met one of WISDOM’s co-founders, Trish Harris, through Padma Kuppa, who’s running for a seat in the Michigan House of Representatives. Trish is a Catholic like myself, and she definitely has a lot of wisdom to contribute to the world. In the book Friendship & Wisdom, she writes, “There is something distinctive about how women work together. We tend to take the time to build the relationships first, and then work on solving the problem.”
Friendship & Wisdom features true stories from over 50 remarkable women. One of the woman who shares her story in the book is Padma. Padma is a Hindu American and community activist working for social justice and understanding. Born in India, she arrived to the U.S. to start kindergarten in 1970 on Long Island. Returning to India with her family in 1981, she finished high school and college while living in a mainstream Hindu culture. Returning to New York in 1988 as a foreign student, she, her husband, and their two children have made Troy, Michigan their home since 1998. Padma is a founding member of the Troy-area Interfaith Group, as well as the Bharatiya Temple’s Outreach Committee.
Padma starts her story with profound words (page 89):
One of my favorite Bible verses from 1 Corinthians: “Faith, hope and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” This is a lot like passages in Hindu scriptures, including these words from the Maha Upanishad: “The whole world is a family.” There also is a prayer of peace in the Rig Veda that reads, in English: “May all be happy. May all be healthy. May all be prosperous. Let no one suffer.”
The Foreword by Barbara Mahany was also touching:
Day after day I wake up with my chest feeling hollowed. The space in my heart hurts so much, so immeasurable, I can’t fathom how to contain it. I shuffle down the stairs of my old shingled house, look out the windows into the quiet dawn, into the leafy arbors, and wonder how in the world can I stitch a single thread into the tatters of this world, this oozing brokenness all around?
And then the stories of this book landed on my desk. This, I knew right away, is where the answer lies: In ordinary-extraordinary stories of women who reach across doorways, and hallways, and kitchen counters – who see beyond burkas and veils and prayer beads and venerations.
Being in the presence of these women, you know there’s something special at work that you want to be a part of. Wisdom received from anyone is very important. With women, their wisdom allows them to see in another woman what she herself might not be able to see or articulate so clearly. When I opened the book that Trish had gifted me, I saw these words: “Weam, thanks for helping to change the world – one relationship at a time.”
I’m grateful for women like Trish and Padma and others who help make communities a better place. May their sisterhood circle continue to grow, prosper, and embrace the whole world.