By Martin Zucker
Special to the Observer
Relationships between major religious movements have a history characterized by conflict, bloodshed, and intolerance.
The negative past and present, however, has not stopped one longtime Culver City resident from trying to overcome deep-rooted mistrust and enmity between faiths and to build bridges of understanding one person at a time.
For more than two decades, Ruth Sharone, an award-winning filmmaker and internationally-recognized interfaith activist, has taken her one-woman mission to all corners of the earth in an attempt to minimize differences and maximize unity.
Ms. Sharone has now put her experiences into a book – “Minefields and Miracles: Why God and Allah Need to Talk” (www.minefieldsandmiracles.com) – that reads like an adventure story but which also serves as a handbook of do’s and don’ts for anybody interested in bringing people together of different faiths.
The Observer recently asked Ms. Sharone about her unique work.
1. How did you get into interfaith work?
I was raised in a Jewish household in Chicago and went to both public school and Hebrew school. I remember painting a rosy-cheeked, plump Santa Claus on shop windows at Christmas time when I was in grade school. While I was celebrating Hanukkah, my own holiday, I also sang Christmas carols at school. How I loved the melodies – especially Silent Night – even though I realized in my youthful way that they were about someone else's faith. That must have been my first understanding of "interfaith" and how I could appreciate someone else's traditions and still be faithful to my own. Perhaps that even laid the groundwork for my adult entry into interfaith work.
2. How would you describe the minefields, half the title of your book?
I traveled widely in Latin America and Europe in my 20's and was frequently shocked by comments made to me about my own faith, from people who had never met a Jew before. I began realizing that ignorance and bigotry are widespread due to limited education and lack of one-on-one dialogue. My adventurous nature also led me to precarious situations on peace pilgrimages where I was at the mercy of uninformed journalists or people with political agendas pretending to befriend me only later to write lies about me in their newspapers. These were sobering experiences that I describe in my book.
3. How would you describe the miracles, the other half of your title?
When I set off on my mission as a filmmaker to bring people together to share their faith stories and create opportunities for dialogue, I experienced what I consider "heavenly support." People I needed to meet would magically come into my life. One was Delores Gray, a black minister who partnered with me to create "Festival of Freedom" interfaith journeys to Egypt and Israel. Doors would suddenly spring open as if the universe was collaborating to ensure I could pursue my work in spite of tremendous obstacles. But I also came to realize that we ourselves can perform miracles when we are true to our mission. I call them micro-miracles.
4. What do you mean that God and Allah need to talk?
God and Allah need to talk. Those words were the sole content on a billboard I spotted in Hollywood in 2003. The billboard literally changed my life. I knew that God and Allah were just different names for the Creator, but the billboard troubled me because it indicated that after the shock of 9/11 we had not only divided ourselves but God as well. That is why I made the film, "God and Allah Need to Talk," to initiate urgent interfaith dialogue.
5. What has been the most rewarding part of your work?
People. They inspire me wherever I go. In India, Mexico, Argentina, Alaska, Morocco, Egypt, Africa, Israel, the United States.
6. You are one person trying to bridge longstanding enmity. How successful have you been?
I bill myself as the "Interfaith Pilates Coach, promoting a global stretch for peace." I encourage people to take on small projects or large ones if they are up to the challenge. The interfaith dialogue groups and projects I helped create around the world are going strong. I hope that my book will inspire others to get involved in this growing global movement. It has the potential to change the world and even give us a chance to experience peace in our lifetime. I like to say, "There are no strangers, only people we haven't yet met." I believe there is only one degree of separation between us – not six– and even that is an illusion.
7. If people want to get involved in interfaith work, how do they start?
I am Co-Chair of the Southern California Committee for a Parliament of the World's Religions (SCCPWR.org). Anyone interested in attending upcoming events can write to me at: ruth@MinefieldsAndMiracles.com. You will be welcomed into our interfaith community with open arms. I promise when you cross the threshold, your life will be much better and the entire world will benefit.