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article about feed the hungry

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  • Melanie
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    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 6, 2005
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      this week's stories

      Project offers food and hope

      Two faiths work together to help feed the hungry in Vancouver.

      On a sunny Sunday morning in August, while crowds of people head to Vancouver's beaches, a group of Jewish and Muslim volunteers are sweating away in a kitchen on the Downtown Eastside. Outside, more than 100 people, anxious for a nutritious meal, jostle for a space, not wanting to lose their place in line.

      At noon, the doors to the First United Church open and members of the Muslim community of the Masjid ul-Haqq Mosque and the Jewish community of Ahavat Olam Synagogue move into action. They man tables for juice or coffee, seat people at tables and hand out plates of food and, within a matter of minutes, the program Feed the Hungry has served 100 people; more are waiting outside.

      Now in its fifth month of operation, Feed the Hungry seems to run like clockwork. Once a month, about 20 volunteers, under the co-ordination of Melanie Yearow and Sandy Goldman, meet on a Sunday at 9 a.m. and prepare plates of egg salad or cheese sandwiches with fresh fruit and a brownie. Not a meal fit for a king, but at least one that will stop the grumbling stomachs for a while.

      Yearow said she finds working on the Downtown Eastside "very fulfilling."

      Formerly a clothing and jewelry designer, she is re-examining her life to look at ways she can contribute.

      "I ran my own business for 10 years, but it wasn't fulfilling me on a spiritual level at all," said Yearow, who has worked in the fashion industry since the age of 16. She will soon be 40 and wanted to look at her priorities in life. "As I got older, I really looked at what was important. Was the mighty dollar important, or making a difference?"

      The idea for Feed the Hungry came out of one of several discussion groups that began more than a year ago between members of the Masjid ul-Haqq Mosque and Congregation Ahavat Olam, along with representatives of other faiths. A small cluster of local Muslims and Jews wanted to come together to build bridges across the faiths that held mutual distrust and suspicion.

      Shiraz Dindar, a Muslim, said his experience with the Muslim-Jewish group has been "incredible."

      "Before I started working in the Muslim-Jewish group, I was frustrated," said the 33-year-old tech-support worker. "But now I've come to see the Jewish concerns in the Middle East, whereas before, I just felt victimized."

      Yearow agreed. "We're feeding these people, which is great, we're taking care of them; but we're also building great relations with the Muslim community," she said.

      Yearow added that, although providing a meal is the immediate goal of Feed the Hungry, there are other ways that clients can be helped. She hopes that talking to people about her own past could lead them in the right direction.

      "If I share my story, it might not get someone into detox the next day, but maybe it will make a difference in their lives," she said. "That's why it's so special for me. It's carrying a message that there is hope."

      Donations to Feed the Hungry can be made out to Ahavat Olam and mailed to Lechem Fund, c/o Ahavat Olam, Box 19569, Vancouver, B.C., V5T 4E7. For more information or to volunteer, contact Yearow at karmicangel@ shaw.ca.

      Baila Lazarus is a freelance writer, photographer and illustrator living in Vancouver.

      Making a new peace

      Grieving family creates legacy of understanding.

      It has been three and a half years since Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was murdered in Pakistan. The paper's South Asia bureau chief had been kidnapped by Islamic extremists while pursuing a story connected to the war on terror. His wife, Mariane, was pregnant at the time with their first child.

      The very public and horrific way in which he died (Pearl's beheading was recorded on video) devastated his family – and yet they have managed to put aside their anger to turn Pearl's legacy into a message of hope for cross-cultural understanding.

      Together with her sister and parents and with the aid of a lawyer provided by the Wall Street Journal, Tamara Pearl helped set up the Daniel Pearl Foundation – a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the kind of projects that were close to her brother's heart. Among the foundation's advisors and backers are many of Daniel's friends, including CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour and Ted Koppel of ABC News.

      "He was such a giving person," said Tamara in a recent interview with the Independent. "He had done things like worked with underprivileged kids to help teach music and violin – he was a musician too – so the original idea was to continue his energy."

      Pearl – who will give a talk on grief and hope at the annual general meeting of the National Council of Jewish Women in Vancouver Sept. 15 – noted that the focus of the foundation soon widened to include journalistic undertakings that helped further understanding between cultures – for example, the Alfred Friendly Fellowships, which bring Muslim writers to the United States to learn about the ethics and style of western journalism.

      There are also concerts held all over the world in Daniel's name – and a new program designed to allow youth to gain journalistic training via the Internet and share stories with their peers around the globe.

      The foundation receives some grant money, but is funded in large part by journalists and journalistic outfits such as the Journal and the L.A. Times – and by Daniel's parents, Judea and Ruth.

      Judea Pearl, a professor, tours frequently in the United States, often sharing the lecture stage with a Muslim colleague, Akbar Ahmed. Last year, Ruth and Judea edited a book inspired by words spoken by their son on the video: "My father is Jewish. My mother is Jewish. I am Jewish."

      In I Am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl, prominent Jews, including Ehud Barak, Elie Wiesel, Amos Oz and Sarah Silverman, share their sense of Jewish identity.

      "The book inspired me to just put words to feelings I'd had, that I may or may not have associated with being Jewish," Tamara Pearl observed. "You know, we grow up with these values and we don't always know where they come from – and then to realize that many people who are Jewish feel the same way, to see where in our culture it actually does derive from, it's pretty amazing."

      Pearl said her brother, widely known as Danny, "Never shied away from [Judaism]. He did feel the universal things that connect us are stronger than our individual affinities. But he was very Jewish. He felt Jewish. If anybody ever asked him, he always said he was Jewish."

      She has never watched the murder video in its entirety – but by accident (CBC Television ran a partial broadcast of the video during an interview with Judea Pearl), witnessed her brother's now legendary words about his faith on tape.

      "After I got over my shock," she said, "I could reflect on what I'd seen. And the amount of dignity that Danny had when he was saying that was so touching and so mind-blowing. Here were people surrounding him that hated him for being Jewish. There's no way to explain it, except the dignity and life force that came through him as he said, 'I am Jewish: this is who I am.' He didn't convey, 'This is who I am and I'm better than you.' It wasn't, 'This is who I am, I'm really sorry, I don't really practise,' because he didn't. It was, 'This is who I am.' And it was so beautiful that it inspired me. I thought, What else can you really aspire to in your life except to be OK with who you are? And he completely was; he was born that way. I think that's why he attracted so many friends and put people at ease and he was able to connect people in the way he did, because he had this kind of special sense that everything's OK."

      Danny's death has been hard on her parents, said Pearl – particularly with the amount of what she describes as "misinformation" that's been published. But she also feels the foundation is helping them to work through their grief by making a difference. As a family, the Pearls seem to have an instinctive sense of tikkun olam (healing the world) – both Tamara and her sister work in healing professions.

      It's a sense that seems to be shared by many of the contributors to I Am Jewish, she said: "It's amazing the diversity of what people feel and how people can draw strength from being Jewish."

      Her brother's death did change the way she felt about being Jewish. "I definitely felt sad that Jews are still hated in the world."

      Hatred and misunderstanding between cultures, she said, "is so entrenched and it's so taught and until the teachers stop teaching it, until the hatred stops being spread, it'll keep spreading."

      But Pearl takes heart from some of what she's witnessed even in the last few years. She talks about a young journalist from Pakistan who came to the United States on a fellowship with the help of the Daniel Pearl Foundation.

      "She was amazing," said Pearl. "Before she came, she wrote an article about Israel. This is mind-boggling, but you cannot make a phone call from Pakistan to Israel. So she ended up, having met some Israeli journalists here, she ended up e-mailing them to get some quotes from Shimon Peres that she included in her article. She basically interviewed him through them and wrote this very courageous article about, 'Why not peace? What's the point?' She's only 28 years old. So there are definitely pockets of hope and connection."

      Pockets of hope that Daniel Pearl would doubtless be proud to see his family fostering.

      Not only was Danny a talented writer, "He was just really a heartful guy," said Pearl. "At the bottom line, he was just full of heart. I think that connecting people was at the core of what he wanted to do. To him, if it was connecting people through playing soccer or through music or through journalism ... the means are just the means. The heart is really what drove him."

      For more information about the Daniel Pearl Foundation, visit www.danielpearl.org.



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