Confluence of Holy Days

Compassion and Confluence

President Jan Garman asked for a moment of remembrance for those who died five years ago on September 11, 2001. She went on to remind us that out of the tragedy of the 9/11 attack, WTB was born, evidence that good can come out of bad and that compassion can heal deep wounds.

Gay Montague urged us to be aware of the gift of compassion. After the devastation of 9/11, compassion filled the streets of New York City and spread across the country and the world. Out of that darkness came light when Danya and Betsy created a bridge to share compassion with one another. Gay asked that each of us recall one instance when we offered or received compassion, or felt its lack, and share that memory with someone sitting near us. After this sharing, Gay reminded us that compassion is what connects us here in this room, and we need to share that with the larger world.

Joan Burstyn called our attention to a new book, The Tent of Abraham: Stories of Hope and Peace for Jews, Christians, and Muslims, published by Beacon Press. The three authors (a Christian, a Muslim and a Jew) use Abraham’s tent, which opens in four directions, as a symbol of an all-inclusive approach to religion. The authors’ goal is to create a way to deepen understanding among Muslims, Christians and Jews by speaking to the heart and the spirit about questions of profound spiritual, emotional and religious significance.

Joan reminded us that after next year, the confluence of Ramadan and the Jewish holy days will not occur again for 30 years. She also noted that during this season, holy days are being celebrated in Bahá’í, Christian, Hindu, Native American, and other religions. The coming together of these holy days on the calendar should have significance in our lives, so Joan asked us to share with one another how our own faith traditions are related to compassion, to an awareness of others in our communities.

Islam—Farah Haq

When Farah was a child, Ramadan meant only fasting, hunger and thirst. As an adult she sees it as purifying her behavior. She fasts not only from food, but also from bad language, from wasting time, from argument, from love of money. Charity is required of every Muslim during this time, but the Arabic word for charity actually means purification, as love of money is corrupting and decreases our love for others. Farah sees Ramadan as preparation for a spiritual marathon: she gets in shape, becomes a better person, and proves herself in different ways by correcting herself and by atoning, worshiping, praying, and asking for guidance.

Judaism—Ann Eppinger Port

Ann explained that the holy month of Tishrei, the seventh month in the Hebrew calendar, begins with the holiday of Rosh Hashanah. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur bracket ten days of atonement, when one makes amends for any unkindnesses of the past year. It is a time for introspection, looking back at mistakes and making resolutions to change. Tradition says that on Rosh Hashanah, God writes in the Book of Life the names of those who will live and those who will die, and how they will die, during the coming year. A person then has the next ten days to try to influence God’s decision in a positive way through repentance, prayer and good deeds and through fasting on Yom Kippur, so that when Yom Kippur ends and the Book of Life is closed and the person’s fate is sealed, the outcome for the next year will hopefully be a positive one. Sukkot, celebrated four days after Yom Kippur, is a joyous agricultural festival, celebrated in a temporary hut, called a sukkah, that is decorated with crops from the harvest.

A week later, Simchat Torah marks the completion of the annual cycle of Torah reading. During the course of the year, the entire Torah (the five books of Moses) is read, in portions, from beginning to end, and as each portion is read, the Torah scroll is wound forward to the next portion. On Simchat Torah, the last Torah portion is read, and then, amid singing, dancing and celebration, the scroll is rewound to the first chapter and begun anew, symbolizing a never-ending cycle that has no beginning and no end.

Ann explained that during the single month of Tishrei, these holidays take people into the spiritual realm through prayer, repentance and direct communication with God, yet they also root people firmly to the earth through both physical abstinence (fasting) and physical bounties (celebration of the harvest).

Hindu—Smita Rane

Smita talked about her celebration of Diwali, the Festival of Lights. As a child, she saw it as being a time of special foods, new clothes, visiting, and competition among neighbors for the best decorations. As an adult, she sees it as a time to share good fortune. She donates food and invites homesick, international college students to share her holiday meals. Lord Ganesha, the source of all gifts, sits under her Christmas tree. As a child in India, she was able to share in many celebrations of other religions; now she is fortunate to share her celebration with WTB, her new family.

Native American—Sandy Bigtree

Sandy, a Mohawk woman, spoke of the connection that traditional peoples feel to the land. They do not pray but rather give thanks for the Creator’s blessings. They have gratitude for the water and for all of life. The equinox is important. Sandy gave us information about an event on Tuesday, September 19, that will feature speakers Jane Goodall, Oren Lyons, Tom Porter, Michael Johnson, Wendy Gonyea, Robin Kimmerer, Andy Mager, and Denise Waterman and that will include food, artisans, music and dancing.

Bahá’í—Sabra Reichardt

Sabra spoke about the Bahá’í celebration of the birth of the Báb, a prophet in the line of Muhammad. The Báb recognized the enormous spiritual strength of the Native Americans. He stressed the unity of all mankind, teaching that we all are the leaves of one tree, the waves of one ocean, the flowers of one meadow.

Buddhism—Bonnie Shoultz

Bonnie told us that the Dalai Lama will speak in Buffalo on September 19 and then in New York City. Bonnie teaches meditation at the Justice Center, and she related the story of a woman she met there. This inmate had studied Buddhism as a teenager and remembered that the Dalai Lama encourages individuals to practice the faith they were born into because all religions lead to the same end and inspire the same compassion.

Protestantism—Jan Garman

Jan said that World Communion Sunday, which is not a major holiday, commemorates the Last Supper, a time when Christians remember that Jesus was about love, compassion, and reconciliation. On World Communion Sunday, all branches of Christianity celebrate a practice that unites them.


Joan asked us to share what the confluence means to each of us personally, and how we apply its meaning to the problems and opportunities of our own time.

Kathy Mezzo reminisced about friends celebrating both Christmas and Hanukkah when these holidays fell on the same day last year. They shared Kathy’s Christmas tree and her friend Helene’s menorah candles and prayers. At the Franciscan convent, Buddhist friends helped her through a difficult time and enhanced her own Catholic faith. She explained that Saint Francis stood for simplicity and peace. He wanted to return to the word of God in a world and church that had become increasingly corrupt. He stressed connection with nature and compassion for the rest of the world (instead of a self-centered, narrow view). He stressed focusing on now, not on what was done by whom in the past. We need to follow his example in order to speak soul to soul.

Joan added that St. Francis’s compassion extended to the community and the natural world. He is a model for the world today to counteract the destruction of the environment.

Joi spoke about the equinox, celebrated by spiritualists. What she found particularly interesting in today’s program was the relation of the equinox to the holy days of Judaism. In both traditions, gratitude for the harvest is being expressed.

Peggy Thompson was pleased that the upcoming Al Gore lecture sold out so quickly. She finds it wonderful that young people want to attend. They care for the planet and the environment. Their interest is a sign of optimism for the future, and she hopes that we and they will make a commitment to carry out the necessary changes.

Magda Bayoumi said that although we all are children of God, He did not make all of us the same. He made us Jews, Christians, Muslims, or members of other faiths, and He wants us to get along with each other, to become enriched through our interactions with each other, to grow up and be part of each other’s lives.

Janet Donoghue distributed information about Deepak Chopra’s Alliance for a New Humanity, formed to address issues of poverty, injustice, war and hatred. Deepak Chopra lists seven principles that can be implemented alone or by groups. Just as there are cells of terrorists, there can be cells of peacemakers. He says the world is as we are; to change the world and therefore the course of history, we must go within and change ourselves. Janet would be happy to hear from anyone who wants to join her in such a cell.

Betsy Wiggins had looked up confluence in the dictionary and found that it refers to a series of things coming together. WTB itself is a confluence of women of different ethnicities, beliefs, ages, and walks of life coming together, and we are already making a difference in the way we reach out, in the way we educate each other. Betsy said she is regularly asked, What is WTB’s secret? She said that the secret is us. We have a synergy not found elsewhere, a synergy that comes from within. She thanked all of us for our part in WTB and for the messages we take to our friends and workplaces, and she looks forward to eventual expansion.

Ann referred to the Tent of Abraham website, which offers ideas about how groups of people can celebrate the confluence. A suggestion that Council members have been discussing is a walk that would stop at a mosque, a synagogue, and a church and that would include everyone: men and children as well as women. Magda pointed out that children from the masjid already visit other congregations and love it. Danya Wellmon suggested having this event at the end of October, but additional suggestions will be accepted.

Danya reported that our teen group now has 25 girls and has expanded to North Syracuse, Liverpool and Cicero. Joan talked about intergenerational learning among Native Americans, in which teens are matched up with octogenarians, and other age groups are similarly matched up with each other. It would be wonderful if we could meet with this teen group and get their input on what we should do.

Smita said that international students, with whom she works at Syracuse University, frequently find adjustment difficult. When asked why they do not mix with American students, they respond that there are cultural differences and that Americans do not understand their accented English. She asked that we initiate conversation with international students whenever and wherever we meet them.

Gay concluded our discussion by asking us to stand in a circle. Women took turns reading 12 prayers representing the diversity of religions. Then we closed up our circle with interwoven arms and connected hearts.