This profile was last updated in 2007
History of WISDOM
During the summer of 2006, violence erupted in the Middle East. In Metropolitan Detroit, the war raging between Israel and Hezbollah caused tensions to rise between local Muslim and Jewish communities. In the midst of it, four women–a Muslim, a Jew, a Protestant, and a Catholic–began to discuss how to respond. Each wondered: “How do we bring women of diverse faiths together to benefit the community and to learn about different religions?” (1) WISDOM began to form when Peggy Kalis, a Protestant, invited Shahina Begg, a Muslim, to work with her to develop a yet-undefined interfaith project. After Begg agreed, Kalis met Gail Katz, a Jew, at an interfaith event in Detroit called “Reuniting the Children of Abraham” and invited her to join the two other women. Upon hearing of their alliance, Trish Harris, a Catholic, joined efforts to brainstorm what kind of project to create. The four women began to meet and discuss faith, religion, families, and personal challenges. At first, they just met for coffee. And then they started getting together for dinner. By the end of the summer, they had decided to expand the conversation. In August 2006, they organized an event called “Women’s Interfaith Build” in cooperation with Habitat for Humanity. Approximately fifty-five women from a wide range of religious traditions (Muslim, Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, and Baha’i) worked together to help build a house. This project built the foundation for a new organization called Women’s Interfaith Solutions for Dialogue and Outreach in MetroDetroit, or WISDOM. As of December 2006, WISDOM reports having one hundred members (2).
Choosing a Name: WISDOM
In the beginning, the four women referred to their coffee meetings as “a woman’s project” (3). After a few months, they decided to call themselves WISDOM: Women’s Interfaith Solutions for Dialogue and Outreach in MetroDetroit. The acronym summarizes the goals and commitments of this young organization. According to Katz, “‘solutions,’ ‘dialogue’ and ‘MetroDetroit’ were important to our mission of reaching out and getting to know women of ‘other’ faiths in order to make a difference locally” (4).
Since WISDOM’s house-building project, the group has used the metaphor of homebuilding to describe their work as “repairing the world” (5). WISDOM invites women from various faith traditions to work together in service and interreligious dialogue. Their mission statement reads: “With tensions in the Middle East, Iraq, and Darfur constantly in the news, and with communities of faith in Metro Detroit becoming more and more segregated from each other, we want to empower Women’s Interfaith Solutions for Dialogue and Outreach in MetroDetroit (WISDOM) to give women opportunities to listen to each other, respect each other’s differences, and take action towards change…We invite you to join our journeys towards celebrating Detroit’s religious diversity, while expanding and intensifying our knowledge about each other in order to dispel myths, stereotypes, prejudices, and fear that exist with lack of understanding” (6). The four co-founders of WISDOM hope to:
– Organize community service projects that “repair the world;”
– Provide “women a chance to dialogue with women of different faiths whom we don’t usually meet in our sheltered circle of friends and family;”
– Develop opporunities for education about religions at various places of worship;
– Encourage women to more fully understand the religious traditions represented in the Detroit metropolitan area (7).
Peggy Kalis, Shahina Begg, Gail Katz, and Trish Harris are the co-founders and leaders of WISDOM. Kalis is a member of the Church of Today West. As a Manager of Community Services with Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, she has been able to connect WISDOM with various service organizations in the area. Begg is a member of the Muslim Unity Center. She has invited members of WISDOM to the mosque, so that women can learn about Islam in a welcoming environment. Katz, a retired ESL teacher and long-time advocate for interfaith work, is a member of Congregation Beth Shalom and a vice-president of the Jewish Community Relations. She reports that being a part of WISDOM has “added to my desire to know more about my own religion, Judaism, and to increase my knowledge about other world religions” (8). Harris is a member of St. Hugo Catholic Parish.
The four founders are committed to planning events that benefit the local community and encourage women to learn about each other’s religious traditions. WISDOM meets these goals through service work, education about religious traditions, and membership communication via a monthly e-newsletter.
In a letter to the editor sent to The Detroit News, Katz explains her commitment to service work as a part of interfaith dialogue in this way: “Religion is not about what we believe, but how we behave!” (9) In that same spirit, WISDOM’s events provide service to the wider Detroit community. After the successful “Women Interfaith Build” in August, WISDOM sponsored a fundraiser and volunteered at a domestic violence shelter in October. They raised over $1,300 for HAVEN (Help Against Violent Encounters Now), a nonprofit organization committed to “eliminat[ing] domestic violence and sexual assault through treatment and prevention services” (10). Most recently, 250 women and their children packaged nearly 18,000 meals to be sent to feed displaced people in Darfur. WISDOM raised $4,000 to pay for the packages, but also partnered with other community members. They recruited volunteers from Kids Against Hunger, and Rush Trucking donated the assembly space (11).
Learning About Religious Traditions
WISDOM is committed to inviting women to share experiences of and information about various religious traditions. For example, during the “Women’s Interfaith Build” event, women spent the lunch break chatting with one another and informally sharing their religious and cultural practices. They also began to discuss “how women of different faiths and cultures could build bridges of understanding in Metro Detroit” (12). In October, at the HAVEN fundraiser, women also learned about the Jewish observance of Sukkot and the Muslim celebration of Ramadan (13). As of February 2007, WISDOM is currently planning their fourth gathering, an event co-hosted with Congregation Beth Shalom, called “Educational Day about Islam.” This event will be hosted at the mosque Begg attends, Muslim Unity Center, at the end of March 2007. Plans for the day include a tour of the mosque, a “getting to know you lunch” and plenty of time for questions and answers (14).
The co-founders of WISDOM communicate with members through a monthly newsletter entitled “WISDOM Window.” Katz reports that nearly 200 women receive these updates, distributed over email. Each update includes information about WISDOM, as well as information about other interfaith events in the Detroit area. As the email coordinator, Katz reports that she has received “many e-mails telling…of the tremendous spiritual energy generated by the WISDOM events” (15). Additionally, WISDOM recently launched a website at: www.interfaithwisdom.org Since its founding, WISDOM has received the following media attention:
– “Devotion to Faith Unites Four Women.” Detroit News. 4 December 2006.
– “Steps to a Better You.” Detroit Free Press (Twist Supplement). 24 December 2006.
(1) Krupa, Gregg. “Devotion to Faith Unites Four Women.” Detroit News. 4 December 2006. Accessed 8 December 2006.
(3) Katz, Gail. WISDOM co-founder. Personal email. 12 December 2006.
(5) WISDOM “About Us.” Accessed 15 February 2007.
(6) WISDOM “About Us.” Accessed 15 February 2007.
(7) WISDOM “About Us.” Accessed12 February 2007.
(9) Katz. Letter to the Editor, WISDOM “Press.” Accessed 12 February 2007.
(10) HAVEN: Help Against Violent Encounters Now. Accessed 22 February 2007.
(11) “Rush Trucking donates Warehouse use for WISDOM (Women’s Interfaith Solutions to Dialogue and Outreach in MetroDetroit) and Kids Against Hunger.” Rush Trucking “News.” Accessed 22 February 2007.
(12) WISDOM “Home.” Accessed 12 February 2007.
(13) WISDOM Press Release. Received over email. 12 December 2006.
(14) “WISDOM Window.” February, 2007. Received over email. 2 February 2007.
(15) Katz. Personal email. 12 December 2006.