By Gail Katz, Jewish/Chaldean Social Action Initiative Chair
On Monday evening, August 18th, about 100 Jews and Chaldeans gathered for a potluck dinner and a social action project at St. Thomas Chaldean Catholic Church in West Bloomfield. This is the fourth year that the Jewish and Chaldean communities have joined together as part of the Jewish News and Chaldean News “Building Community Initiative.” The initiative gives both communities the chance to reach out to each other, visit each other’s holy places of worship, participate in each other’s cultural events, and bond as human beings with similar needs, wants, and emotions.
I kicked off the evening with a welcome and a reading of Naomi Levy’s beautiful and meaningful “Prayer for Tolerance.” Martin Manna, Editor of the Chaldean News, then addressed the gathering, sharing the history and current activities of the Building Community Initiative. In the Walled Lake Schools there is still a teen forum that includes Jewish, Chaldean, and African American students who are working to further understanding and reduce bullying. And Jewish and Chaldean entrepreneurs continue to meet and share business ideas.
Martin Manna gave us an update on the terrible situation in Iraq and how the Chaldean community there has been impacted. Since 2008, the Chaldean Community Foundation in Southfield has been helping thousands of refugees and immigrants coming to the United States from Iraq. But in the last few weeks, their phones have been ringing non-stop.
Many towns in Iraq have been run down by ISIS – the Islamic State in Iraq, which is fighting to take over the country. Thousands of Christians have been killed in the name of religion, and the Chaldean community has suffered terribly. For the first time in 1600 years, mass was not celebrated in Mosul, Iraq, formerly populated by Chaldeans, who have now fled or been killed.
As the Chaldeans and other Christians fled, their possessions were taken from them, their villages were shelled, and their churches were desecrated. Martin asked the audience to go to www.helpiraq.org to find out how to write letters or donate to the cause. The number of Chaldean immigrants to the Detroit area, which has been about 200 people a month, is likely to double or triple due to the crisis in Iraq.
Father Andrew Seba then invited everyone to join him in the sanctuary for a discussion about the Chaldean Catholic religious practices. He explained that St. Thomas Chaldean Catholic Church is the largest English speaking Chaldean parish in the world. There are five masses every weekend – three in English, one in Chaldean, and one in Arabic. The church serves over 3,000 families, and uses its social hall for youth groups, socials, bingo and classes.
Father Andrew explained how the Chaldean church differs from the Roman Catholic Church. According to legend, the Chaldeans were converted to Christianity by the Apostle Thomas on one of his missionary journeys to the East. In 1445, Chaldeans were received into the Roman Church and they were permitted to retain their historic rituals and the Chaldean/Aramaic language for mass and other ceremonies.
Before leaving the sanctuary, Father Seba pointed out the beautiful ceiling with the image of God, and the Chaldean symbol below the depiction of God that included three dots for the Trinity, the Chaldean letters Y and H which stood for the Hebrew word “Yahweh,” and one dot below the letters, which represented one God!
After Father Seba’s remarks in the sanctuary, we all went back to the social hall to enjoy the Chaldean and Jewish culinary delights that everyone brought to the potluck. We sat at a table with folks that we didn’t already know so that we could make some new interfaith friendships. We spent the end of the evening in an assembly line, filling the many backpacks we had purchased with school supplies that each attendee brought.
Wisam Brikho, Refugee and Immigrant Consultant for Oakland Schools, took the backpacks with him to deliver to needy elementary students when school starts in September. We all left with the wonderful feeling of having made new friends, and having learned something new about the Chaldean history, culture, faith, and current challenges. And, our interfaith initiative has made a difference in the lives of local students by giving them the backpacks that we stuffed together. We look forward to the next coming together of the Jewish/Chaldean Social Action Initiative.