After the brouhaha surrounding Maher Hathout, the Muslim spokesman who received a human relations prize last month amid protests by some Jewish groups, the state of interfaith relations in Los Angeles may appear to be at a low point.
But in fact, that is not the case, as evidenced last week, when Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Bahá'ís and more gathered at Sinai Temple for a dinner honoring Rabbi Paul Dubin, one of the founders of the Interreligious Council of Southern California. Interfaith dialogue is "at a high point," said Dubin, 81, seated at a small, round table during the evening's cocktail hour. "Fifty years ago, interfaith relations really consisted of (conversations between) Christians and Jews. Today, we have more than 10 faith groups in this Interreligious Council," said Dubin, who helped create the council nearly 40 years ago.
Nearby, two Hindu monks wrapped in orange cloth, representing "the fire of the spirit," huddled together. A Catholic priest, dressed in black with the traditional white collar, greeted a Buddhist in a brown robe and jade prayer beads.
A Sikh wearing a white gown and turban surveyed the room with satisfaction. "People need to see us like this more -- doing things together," she said.
During dinner, Jihad Turk, vice president of the Interreligious Council, sat beside a Holocaust survivor, discussing ways to deal with extremist elements within religious communities. "My father is Palestinian, and my name is Jihad," Turk said. Nevertheless, he has come to realize that "Islam and Judiasm share so much in common. We truly are close kin."
At another table, in between bites of salmon, sweet potato and asparagus, an Episcopal priest was talking about a trip he had taken to Israel with Jews, Christians and Muslims. Across from him, the Rev. Albert Cohen, a delegate to the council who represents Protestant churches, explained why the board decided to honor Dubin.
"We wanted to have a dinner, and we wanted to build it around the person we loved the most," Cohen said. "Rabbi Dubin relates to everybody."
"In our religion," chimed in Dr. Jerome Lipin, a Jewish pediatrician, "we'd call him a mensch."
As dessert arrived, Rabbi Elliot Dorff, rector of the University of Judaism, gave the keynote address.
"If we believe each of our religions is true, then how is it that all the other religions aren't false?" he asked.
Dorff suggested a few ways we might believe in our own religion without negating others.
Humans are not omniscient, so we can recognize that our own knowledge is limited, he said. Also, if we all were intended to have the same views, then we would have been created the same. The fact that each of us is unique suggests that every one of us has an element of the sacred within.
Next, Dubin took the spotlight.
"I want to tell you why I have felt so strongly about participating in interfaith meetings and dialogues," Dubin said. "It can be summed up in one word: pluralism. By pluralism, I mean not the toleration of another faith -- I hate that word, 'toleration' -- I mean respect and acceptance."
After a standing ovation, the Rev. Gwynne Guibord, president of the Interreligious Council, announced, "Our time has ended. Go in peace."
The guests dispersed into the halls of the temple. Some visitors peeked into rooms, hoping to get a glimpse of the main sanctuary.
"This is quite the place," one said on his way out into the chilly night.
-- Sarah Price Brown, Contributing Writer
Sukkot huts inspires home building for homeless
While many Los Angeles Jews commemorated the second day of Sukkot by eating outside in their temporary dwelling created just for the holiday, Wilshire Boulevard Temple members took the edict of the holiday even further.
On Oct. 8, some 300 members -- adults and children -- at the temple's two locations partnered with Habitat for Humanity of Greater Los Angeles to help build real dwellings for low-income families.
Adults helped build housing frames, which will be used in the homes of "partner" or low-income families. The children sewed 400 pillows and made 400 welcome home signs. The congregants put together 800 outreach kits for PATH (People Assisting the Homeless) and they fed 140 families at the temple's food pantry.
"The Festival of Sukkot commemorates the temporary shelter Jewish ancestors lived in during their years of wandering in the desert and represents the building of shelter," said Rabbi Stephen Julius Stein of Wilshire Boulevard Temple in a press release. This first-time partnership between Wilshire Boulevard Temple and Habitat "helps to raise awareness and support of the need for affordable housing for local families."
Habitat strives to eliminate poverty housing through advocacy, education and partnership with families in need to build simple, decent, affordable housing. Since 1990, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Los Angeles has built more than 180 homes, transforming the lives of hundreds of individuals. In the fall of 2007, the organization will host the Jimmy Carter Work Project, Habitat for Humanity International's preeminent event. The project will bring Carter, his wife, Rosalynn, and thousands of volunteers from around the world to Los Angeles to help build or renovate 100 homes.
"It was a very productive day as regards to Tikkun Olam at Wilshire Boulevard Temple," Stein said.
For more information, visit www.habitatla.org.
-- Amy Klein, Religion Editor
Shop for a breast cancer cure
With Breast Cancer Awareness Month in full swing, M"&"Ms, KitchenAid appliances and Coach key chains have consumers seeing pink. Mattel has launched a new Pink Ribbon Barbie as a way for adults to talk with kids about the disease. Dyson is featuring a limited-edition pink vacuum cleaner and Seagate has jumped on the Susan G. Komen Foundation bandwagon with a pink external 6 gigabyte hard drive.
Locally, the newly opened Nordstrom at Westfield Topanga will feature Fit for the Cure, a special bra-fitting event on Oct. 21. Wacoal will donate $2 every time someone gets fit for a bra, as well as an additional $2 for each Wacoal, DKNY Underwear or Donna Karan Intimates bra purchased during the event. Also, Vons and Pavilions stores are hoping to help generate $6 million as part of Safeway's fifth annual Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign, with proceeds from sales of pink ribbon pins and pink wristbands at checkstands going to services for patients and research. The grocers will also donate funds from purchases of specially marked products, and are making a free download of Melissa Etheridge's song, "I Run for Life," available to its customers.
Other retailers running special sales promotions include Aveda, Lady Foot Locker, Payless ShoeSource, Target and Bed Bath & Beyond.
-- Adam Wills, Associate Editor