SARAH – Spiritual and Religious Alliance for Hope

This profile was last updated in 2007

Mission Statement:

“SARAH was established as a group of interfaith women committed to making a difference in our community. We have created a group where we can discuss and expand our experiences of women’s spirituality in the home, community, and the world. We want to learn about one another’s cultural and spiritual foundations in order to enrich our own lives, and together improve our community. We can learn all of this from each other through dialogue, community service, guest speakers, and book discussions. We know that collaboration is essential to creating miracles and, like a good parent empowers her children, so do we empower the community to make a real difference towards peace and understanding.”(1)

The Birth of SARAH

After the events of September 11, 2001, the Orange County Human Relations Commission hosted an interfaith dialogue series among Jewish, Christian, and Muslim men and women to encourage tolerance and understanding. Because the dialogue was so productive, the participants decided to continue the bonds they had made with a trip to Mexico to build a home for the organization Corazon. It occurred to Sande Hart, one of the participants of the dialogue, that the men and women involved with the group dealt with conflicts of interfaith issues differently. The women took more of a proactive and healing approach when discussing controversial topics. While in Mexico, she realized how strong the connection was between the women, regardless of their religious backgrounds. She says, “In fact, it was because of our cultural and religious backgrounds that we experienced this bond. We quickly realized that we were closely connected and, as women of the community, we had not only an obligation but the immense power to make a difference together.”(2) Hart asked the women to get together for a meeting at her house in August 2002, and they have met ever since, establishing lasting trust, love, and friendships while combating fear and prejudice. Because the original members came from the three Abrahamic religions, it made sense to call the group SARAH, the wife of Abraham. The name is also an acronym for Spiritual And Religious Alliance for Hope. The women of SARAH come together to learn about one another’s religious traditions and cultural customs, to promote peace and understanding, and also to give women more possibilities for leadership and service work in the community. Hart explains, “We empower women by providing them with opportunities, whether it’s through the website, being involved in a SARAH event, or making a peace tapestry. We create opportunities for women to be empowered, to express themselves and to find some healing.”(3)

SARAH Sisters’ Meetings

The women of SARAH come from many different faiths, yet they all call each other sisters. Between 10 and 20 women meet monthly to discuss topics of faith, empowerment, and peace. Women typically meet in their homes, as there is more warmth there and “it is more culturally enriching when a Jew can go to a Muslim home or a Muslim goes to a Jewish home.”(4) SARAH sisters have adopted the United Religious Initiative’s 21 principles to adhere to at every meeting in order to maintain respect and trust. Meetings begin with an opening interfaith blessing and a candle lighting ceremony. Then the women have the opportunity to share personal stories and learn about each other’s traditions. According to SARAH’s website, “Each meeting has taken on a life of its own. Each woman contributes her experiences, vision, suggestions and love.” For some meetings, the women of SARAH discussed lifecycle events and rituals in their respective traditions, from birth to marriage to death. They have also planned a series of sacred site visits to a synagogue, a Baha’i center, a church of Latter-Day Saints, and an American-Indian healing service. SARAH women have shared religious holidays with one another, a recent example being a Ramadan feast held in a Muslim sister’s home.

SARAH’s Peace Tapestries

In addition to meetings, SARAH sisters sponsor peace tapestries, which are presented to groups or organizations that host events supporting peace, love, and respect. As stated on SARAH’s website, each tapestry has its own personal character because “Every participant has to visualize what peace is before they create it with their hands on fabric as the spirit moves from the heart to the hands.” After the tapestries are hung on public display for six to eight months, SARAH women ask that they be rotated among organizations with the goal of creating a network of peace and love around the country. Hart explains, “Peace tapestries serve a great purpose because they empower the women who are making them; we empower ourselves because we let other women in the community know that we’re there; we empower the people that receive the tapestries by giving them the tools to reach out and express appreciation and thanks to somebody they want to give the peace tapestry to next.”(5)

Successes and Challenges

Even at the first SARAH meeting, Hart noticed how much a group of multicultural women could accomplish. The idea for the first meeting was for each participant to choose a woman of her own heritage who she would like to emulate and share this role model with the other women present. Hart had invited a Lebanese friend and an Israeli friend to the meeting; both had been affected by the conflict between the two countries in the 1980’s. Both had lost their mothers in the past year, and chose them as the women they wish to be like in their lives. By the end of the meeting, these two ‘sworn enemies’ were embracing, weeping together on Hart’s couch having found common ground. “They were able to look past one another’s backgrounds, and when they left the meeting, there was love going on,” Hart recalls.(6) This experience, she says, has taught her “how easy it is to make a difference in the world when you come from the heart.”(7) With the recent events in the Middle East, Hart can only hope that SARAH’s hard work will have paid off, and that these women can gather again with love instead of hatred. Besides the challenge of getting those women back together on that couch, SARAH faces various identity questions, as it is not easy to label such an organization. Additionally, Hart believes it is difficult to decide how to focus the energies of the women involved with SARAH. She is still unsure of whether SARAH will remain a dialogue and community service organization, or if it will expand to become a non-profit with funding and dues. As of now, any woman is free to attend SARAH meetings and events if she wishes. If all that SARAH has accomplished in four years is to allow women to overcome stereotypes and make friends through participation in extraordinary meetings, it would be enough, according to Hart. Kathy Sandoval, a SARAH sister, has found that, in times when the injustice in the world seems to mask the good, “[SARAH sisters] must shine brightly for each other and for a world that doesn’t want to lift its face and see this light.”(8)

SARAH on the Web

Although homemade, SARAH’s website contains a vast supply of information and resources for anyone interested in interfaith and service work. Some highlights:
– A list of upcoming religious holidays and where they are being celebrated in the community.
Links to interfaith organizations in California and around the world.
– A webpage for kid’s empowerment.
– A list of community service organizations and ideas for service work.
– An account of a recent panel discussion which SARAH had been asked to participate in.
– A multi-religious book list geared towards women.
– The DVD documentary of the interfaith group in Mexico in 2002.
– A webpage dedicated to SARAH peace tapestries.

Notes

1. SARAH Website. http://www.sarah4hope.org/mission_statement.htm. Accessed 23 July 2006.
2. SARAH Website. http://www.sarah4hope.org/sarah’s%20story.htm. Accessed 23 July 2006.
3. Hart, Sande. Phone interview on 24 July 2006.
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid.
7.Sacred Stones Website. http://www.sacredfeathers.com/STONES/contributors.htm. Accessed 26 July 2006.
8. SARAH Website.