Four Pairs of Interfaith Fellows: Arash + Ramin
Andy Dayton, associate web producer
» download (mp3, 8:32)
You may recognize these two voices from last week’s program, “Curiosity over Assumptions.” We used an excerpt from Arash and Ramin Nematollahi’s conversation in the show, which included as part of audio above. Hearing their conversation, one gets a sense of their bond not only as Iranian-Americans and Muslims, but also as brothers.
Much of their conversation seems to center around the complexity of identity that can come in a pluralistic society. “I don’t have a particular identity,” Arash says, “I’m very proud to be American … but there’s an Iranian part of me that is there, and there’s a Muslim identity in me.” Ramin picks up on this comment, contrasting that experience to the country they were born in, Iran:
“You would say ‘I am Iranian’ and that’s it — case shut. And I’m Muslim because that’s what everyone tells me to be … But in America you have all these different choices. I totally understand what you’re saying, ‘cause I am American, but I’m also Muslim, I’m also all these different things. What does that mean at the end of the day?”
For me, this really resonated with what we’ve heard in the last few months from our “Living Islam” and “Revealing Ramadan” programs. I was especially reminded of Samar Jarrah, who wrote about what makes being an American Muslim unique: “Living in the USA and being exposed to so many different Muslims from so many different countries and cultures made me realize that there are many faces to Islam.” Later in her essay, she writes:
“But being a Muslim in America makes me a better Muslim. A more hopeful one. I have had hundreds of amazing messages of love and support. I have had Americans shake my hands with tears in their eyes asking me to speak more. Just this Saturday morning, I was in the company of a very intellectual group of retired men and women (oldest was 95) who are still wanting to learn about Islam from a Muslim, and for this I am forever grateful to be a Muslim in America.”
Four Pairs of Interfaith Fellows: Sarah + Joanna
Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer
» download (mp3, 5:17)
Sarah Kelman and Joanna Schochet are friends who are half-Jewish on their fathers’ sides. “We’re both halfies,” they say. “By the book I don’t count,” says Joanna.
When Joanna says she doesn’t count, she’s referring to the principle of matrilineal descent in Judaism where Jewishness is passed down through the mother. Not all denominations in Judaism observe this law, but it’s still a very real issue that Sarah and Joanna seem to have wrestled with throughout their lives.
In our latest show, “Curiosity Over Assumptions,” Krista explores the notion that interfaith engagement isn’t just about encountering “the other.” Along the way, people may come to know themselves and their faith traditions differently.
Earlier this year Sarah and Joanna interviewed each other about their experiences as NewGround fellows. Listening to the conversation, I’m struck by how their Jewish identities are still evolving — and how they seem to find connection and comfort in each other stories. Joanna reflects on how her brother (who himself decided to formally convert) once told her that she didn’t “count” as Jewish. Sarah asks, “Do I consider myself Jewish and why and who is it good enough for…and what do I think about that?”
Four Pairs of Interfaith Fellows: Omar + David
Andy Dayton, associate web producer
» download (mp3, 7:30)
Omar Haroon and David Weiner are two friends who met through the NewGround program. Omar is Muslim and David is Jewish, and what I appreciate about their conversation is the sense of coinciding conflict and kinship it gives. They both introduce each other, and as Omar thanks David for his “vote of friendship,” David jokes “we’ll reevaluate at the end of this conversation” — and they both laugh.
Interestingly enough, both David and Omar told stories in whiched they gained insight from the false assumptions of others. Omar gives an account of his trip to Israel, and being mistaken for an Israeli Jew while he was there. David tells the story of a homeless man making an anti-Semetic remark to him, unaware that David himself was a Jew. In both cases, this sort of mistaken identity seemed to give a useful perspective. In a moment of stepping outside of their own identities, they’re given a glimpse of what the world looks like to the “other.”
Find more stories from other Interfaith fellows here. Special thanks to StoryCorps, who recorded these stories in Los Angeles in 2009.
Four Pairs of Interfaith Fellows: Malka + Aziza
Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer
» download (mp3, 5:32)
We’re in the final throes of polishing up our latest production, “Curiosity Over Assumptions: Interreligiosity Meets a New Generation” (yes, we know it’s a mouthful!). Featured in this show are two activists based in Los Angeles, Malka Haya Fenyvesi and Aziza Hasan, whom Krista first encountered in 2007 at an Interfaith Youth Core conference. Together they co-direct an interfaith fellowship program in Los Angeles called NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change.
As production for this show unfolded, we were searching for how to illuminate the lived experience and impact of interfaith programs like NewGround. We wanted to know: “What do these NewGround fellows actually do? What does it look like or sound like?”
The organization didn’t have any audio recordings of their bi-monthly dialogue sessions, so we initially considered interviewing a handful of alumni. Then we discovered four pairs of fellows had actually interviewed each other through StoryCorps, a traveling oral history project. To kick things off, here’s some tape of Malka and Aziza talking about their family histories and memories, and how these legacies speak to the activist work they’re doing in LA.
Earlier this year we used StoryCorps material in another show we produced, “Alzheimer’s, Memory, and Being.” This lovely audio gave the program emotional heft, and our audience noticed. As one listener wrote:
“This morning on the way to the dog park I was completely overwhelmed and moved listening to the two daughters interview their father. The interview was beautiful in its sadness and horrified me in its possible prediction of my relationship with my parents. I had to sit for a long while waiting to clear the tears before I could get out of my car.”
-Brian Coleman, Boca Raton, FL
As producers, we love getting e-mails like this because it tells us that the material we’re putting out there “sings.” Over the coming week, we’ll be featuring excerpts of some NewGround conversations on SOF Observed. Let us know what you think.
*Special thanks to StoryCorps, who recorded these stories in Los Angeles in 2009.
Listen Generously in Your Life — StoryCorps Style
Krista Tippett, host
One of the great figures in public radio, in my mind, is David Isay; and one of the best things on the radio is his project StoryCorps, whose mission is “to honor and celebrate one another’s lives through listening.” This year, StoryCorps has declared November 28, the day after Thanksgiving, as the first National Day of Listening — encouraging all of us to sit down with the people we know, ask them about their lives, and record those conversations.
You’ll find detailed instructions on their Web site for how to do these interviews and why they are important. As David Isay puts it, “By listening closely to one another, we can help illuminate the true character of this nation, reminding us all just how precious each day can be and how truly great it is to be alive.” This project is very much in the spirit of what we do here at Speaking of Faith — so if you give it a try, let us know what happens.