International Women’s Day – and Religion!

Dear Friends:

Today is International Women’s Day! Celebrated for over 100 years, this honorary day spotlights achievements of women around the world and recognizes our ongoing need for political, economic and social equality.

Please join in me in honoring women worldwide by reading and sharing two of Tanenbaum’s Combating Extremism resources that highlight the bravery, power and value of women across traditions:

One of the mantras Tanenbaum lives by, is Peace is Possible. Today we add, Equality is Possible!

Joyce S. Dubensky

P.S. I encourage you to take one step further by sharing our resources on social media, using the hashtag #IWD2018, and by following and retweeting @JoyceDubensky and @TanenbaumCenter to make an even wider impact!

An Open Letter to Ethiopians At Home and Abroad

The following letter was written by Tanenbaum Peacemaker in Action, Dr. Ephraim Isaac. You can read more about his work here.

Dear Beloved Brothers/Sisters,

“We must learn to live together as brothers [and sisters]
or perish together as fools” Martin Luther King, Jr.

Our beloved country Ethiopia has been known since ancient times as a land of peace and tolerance. The Greeks, the Hebrews, the Persians, the Prophet Muhammed, famous Renaissance scholars, (and maybe even Luther, the founder of Protestantism) all hailed Ethiopia as a home of a tolerant and peaceful people.

Tanenbaum Peacemaker in Action Dr. Ephraim Isaac at an interfaith meeting in India with Ella Gandhi, grand-daughter of Gandhi, and Dr. Ephraim Isaac’s doctoral student from Sri Lanka.

The past year I was a member of a doctoral dissertation committee for a Sri Lankan university student of psychology on the tragic Sri Lankan Civil War of 1987-2009. An estimated 100,000 civilians (according to one statistic), not counting military deaths, perished during that conflict. I learnt from reading the thesis that the root of that conflict was bitter ethnic hate among the Tamils, Sinhalese, and Moors. Unfortunately, what was originally and rightly meant to promote ethnic pride was turned into a philosophy of ethnic superiority and hatred by some politicians. The discrimination that occurred in state sector employment practices and demand for separate states over time turned into a potent and bitter hatred and generated fear that escalated into inter-ethnic hate and death and destruction.

So, today, when I hear abusive or strong words of hate from some of my compatriots, maligning one or another of our beautiful people, be it the Tigre, the Oromo, the Amhara, or any of our many other linguistics communities, it pains me very much. If I were a person capable of anger, which I am not, I would say I am madly angry. When we hate our fellow Ethiopians, we empower external forces that wish to do us harm.

Right now, I am at the famous Mayo Clinic retreat as a keynote speaker on the value of cultural diversity in the health services. Many of the doctors I meet agree with me that hate is a psychological disease that is as bad as cancer. It is a miserable illness that needs to be treated. Otherwise, it will destroy the person who harbors it. It affects the brain and heart of the hater and boils the nervous system. It can actually shorten the life of a person who is afflicted by a hateful mind. In short, we do more harm to ourselves than to others through hate.

On the contrary, love and respect of others calm the brain and nervous system. Some psychologists I know say that the positive reinforcement of others rather than their punishment gives people more positive life options. To work for the good of others and reach across lines and look to the future rather than to attack people indeed bring joy and happiness, and rich personal fulfillment.

Tanenbaum Peacemaker in Action Dr. Ephraim Isaac with inter-religious leaders from Bahrain and the USA at the Museum of Tolerance in LA.

All of the religions of our country teach love and compassion. The great prophets of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam taught love and compassion. They said love not only your neighbor but even the stranger. Jesus even taught “love your enemy as yourself.” Hating people and considering them enemy should be abhorrent to any decent Ethiopian.

I have travelled through western Ethiopia when I was at Haile Selassie Secondary School in the early 1950’s on foot or mule back in Wallaga, through southern and eastern Ethiopia as Executive Director of the National Literacy Campaign of Ethiopia (succeeding General Tadesse Biru) in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, and in northern Ethiopia, Axum, Lalibela, and Gondar when I was doing my Harvard doctoral research in the mid-1960’s. Every Ethiopian in the country side and villages I met all over the country was a humble, loving, and kind person. I do not remember meeting any arrogant, hateful, and disrespectful village person. On the contrary all imbue kindness patience and love. I do not remember being asked whether I was an Oromo, Amhara, Tigray, or other linguistic group. Their first question was “are you tired, are you hungry, do you want to come in and drink coffee?” Most of the people I encountered were poor but far richer in soul and spirit than some of us today who harbor anger and are hateful in heart.

Nobody denies that there are political differences among us. We have serious problems that we have to deal with. Those of us who are now ardently working for peace, plan to work with the Government and all political Opposition parties to find a resolution of all problems and conflicts. I think we should focus on the dangerous problem – that I called “hate” – to wash it away from our minds so that we can sit down together calmly as brothers and sisters to solve our national problems.

Nobody denies that we need in our country strong and genuine democracy. But the road to genuine democracy and political agreements is not paved by hate and anger, but through calm dialogue and respectful discourse. Then, we can form “a covenant” of timeless co-existence.

Tanenbaum Peacemaker in Action Dr. Ephraim Isaac officiating at an Ethiopian Jewish festival in NYC.

Brothers and sisters, please forgive me if I sound too accusatory. I love you also who send the hateful messages over the air waves. I pray for you so that G-d can open your heart and mind so you can repent and turn your energy from the way of anger and hate to the highway of love and kindness. We must free ourselves from the fault line of linguistic group antagonism and form instead active coalition of women, men of different communities in order to bring genuine democracy. Moreover, we all can build together our beloved homeland and fight together against our true enemies – poverty, disease and illiteracy.

Let us become an exemplary people to all of Africa as a people who love and respect each other. May G-d’s light shine upon you and give you and guide you in the way of peace.

– Dr. Ephraim Isaac, Tanenbaum Peacemaker in Action

Tanenbaum Awarded 2018 Guru Nanak Interfaith Prize

Tanenbaum, a non-profit organization that promotes religious understanding in schools, workplaces, health care settings and regions of armed conflict across the globe has been awarded Hofstra University’s 2018 Guru Nanak Interfaith Prize, President Stuart Rabinowitz announced today.

The Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding, founded 25 years ago and based in Lower Manhattan, offers programs and resources providing educators, physicians and corporate leaders with practical tools for addressing religious differences and creating cultures that respect religious diversity. It was founded in 1992 by Dr. Georgette F. Bennett, in memory of her late husband, Rabbi Marc H. Tanenbaum, a humanitarian interfaith leader.

Through its Peacemakers in Action Network, Tanenbaum also facilitates and supports collaborations by a network of individuals from varied religious traditions who promote grassroots and interfaith peacebuilding efforts in armed conflicts around the world. The Network currently consists of 28 individuals from 23 regions.

“Tanenbaum is an extraordinary organization that embodies the principles of Guru Nanak,” said President Rabinowitz. “Tanenbaum empowers people with concrete strategies that lead to greater religious understanding and inclusion in societal institutions.”

Tanenbaum is also an inaugural member of the now 330+ participant CEO Action Diversity and Inclusion movement, and is in the third year of its public education campaign Combating Extremism, which aims to dispel stereotypes, inspire interreligious respect, and provide trustworthy information about current religion-related issues.

Said Dean Benjamin Rifkin of Hofstra College of Liberal Arts and Sciences: “Tanenbaum’s accomplishments and mission are a perfect manifestation of the vision for this award, which is based on the conviction that we have much to learn from the traditions of others.”

The $50,000 Guru Nanak Interfaith Prize is bestowed every two years to recognize significant work to increase interfaith understanding. The award will be formally presented to the Tanenbaum Center at a banquet in April 2018.

The first Guru Nanak Interfaith Prize was awarded in 2008 to His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso. Since then, eight individuals and organizations have been recognized with the Guru Nanak prize.

“Receiving the Guru Nanak Interfaith Prize is an honor of the highest order,” said Tanenbaum CEO Joyce S. Dubensky. “To be recognized as an advocate for the same values embodied by Guru Nanak—justice, equality, respect and compassion—is an affirmation of everything Tanenbaum seeks to achieve.”

The Guru Nanak Interfaith Prize was established in 2006 by Ishar Bindra and family and named for the founder of the Sikh religion. It is meant to encourage understanding of various religions and encourage cooperation between faith communities. Guru Nanak believed that all humans are equal, regardless of color, ethnicity, nationality or gender.

In September 2000, the Bindra family endowed the Sardarni Kuljit Kaur Bindra Chair in Sikh Studies at Hofstra University in honor of the family’s matriarch.

Tejinder Bindra, speaking on behalf of the Bindra Family, noted when the award was inaugurated that Guru Nanak espoused a message of universal brotherhood at a time of increasing religious intolerance during 15th and 16th century India.

“It is in this spirit that the Guru Nanak Prize was initiated,” Bindra said. “If one can experience that universality then there is absolutely no room left for differences in race, color, caste, creed, religion or gender, and then as the Sikh scripture tells us ‘I see no stranger’.”

“The awardees may or may not be Sikh and may represent any of the multitudes of faiths or, for that matter, even no particular faith at all,” he said. “It is their dedication that brings humankind to their shared destiny, common purpose and roots that they honor.”


Houston – America at Our Best

Children rescued in Houston after Hurricane Harvey. Credit: Harris County Sheriff’s Office/Twitter

Dear Friends,

As I watched the flooding in Houston and saw elderly nursing home patients sitting waist-deep in water, I felt the same, overwhelming sadness that people across the nation were feeling. But amid that sadness, I was also lifted up by the example of volunteers and rescue teams who readily risked their lives to save others.
This is what America should be. It is who we are at our best.
And it is what our different faiths call on us to do. That’s why I wanted to share some wisdom from across the world’s faiths and beliefsIt reminds us of our shared and highest ideals.

And it reminds us that, when we help one another, we create the nation for which we are searching.

Joyce S. Dubensky
CEO, Tanenbaum


By faith is meant, first, conscious knowledge, and second, the practice of good deeds.  ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i World Faith, p. 383
Whoever, by a good deed, covers the evil done, such a one illumines this world like the moon freed from clouds.  Dhammapada 173
Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.  Galatians 6:9
The wise see knowledge and action as one; they see truly.  Bhagavad Gita 5.4, 5
(And) lo! those who believe and do good works are the best of created beings.  Qur’an, 98.7 (Pickthall)
I call heaven and earth to witness: whether Jew or Gentile, whether man or woman, whether servant or freeman, they are all equal in this: that the Holy Spirit rests upon them in accordance with their deeds!  Midrash, Seder Eliyahu Rabbah 10
Native American Wisdom
It is no longer good enough to cry peace, we must act peace, live peace and live in peace.  Shenandoah
Without good deeds heaven is not attained.  Sri Guru Granth Sahib
Anything evil refrain ye from doing; all good deeds do!  Yin Chih Wên, The Tract of the Quiet Way

5 Reflections on London and Virginia

Flowers left in memory for the victims of the attack at Finsbury Park Mosque. June 2017 | Getty Images

Dear friends,

Once again, on a Monday morning, we awoke to news that made us stop in our tracks— terrorism and the slaughter of a 17-year-old girl on Father’s Day because she was Muslim. Again, we mourn and extend our condolences to the families, friends and communities who are suffering these losses most directly.

Below are my 5 Reflections on London and Virginia:

  1. I am heartsick. But I also realize that the volume of the horrors has a numbing effect on too many of us.
  2. As numbness to the deaths sets in, fear is escalating at the randomness with which terrorism and hate crimes are becoming a daily norm.
  3. Terrorism is not limited to any one group or ethnicity. Just look at the perpetrators of these two crimes and you’ll see what I mean.
  4. Terrorism targets all of us— including Muslims.
  5. And the question… How is it that London and Virginia grab at our heartstrings— but we barely notice atrocities in Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, Somalia, India, etc.?

With great sorrow,

Joyce S. Dubensky
Tanenbaum CEO

Behavior vs. Belief: A Heated Debate

Bernie Sanders | Credit Win McNamee/Getty

Senator Bernie Sanders recently faced criticism for his questioning of Russell Vought during Vought’s confirmation hearing for Deputy Director for the Office of Budget Management. Sanders brought up a blog post in which Vought wrote that Muslims who “have rejected Jesus Christ” stand “condemned”. Sanders called this language “hateful” and said he would vote against Vought’s confirmation. Many leaders from a variety of Christian denominations have responded that Vought’s belief is a core tenant of Christianity, and one shared by many Americans.

Those who thought Sanders’ comments toward Vought were inappropriate, or even unconstitutional, argue that he was imposing a religious test on Vought. Some Muslim advocates have defended Sanders, saying that in the current political climate it’s important to ensure that nominees will treat all Americans fairly. This difference of opinion perhaps stems, not only from the different political or religious ideologies of those who are responding to the encounter, but also in whether they viewed Vought’s beliefs or his behavior as under attack.

One of Tanenbaum’s core principles is that when religious issues emerge in the workplace, employers should  focus on behavior and not belief. Employees are free to believe what they want to believe, and it is not appropriate (or, in many cases, legal) to argue with someone about their deeply held convictions. That said, it is appropriate to have standards for behavior in the workplace, and to require employees to meet those standards. For example, an employee may believe that homosexuality is an abomination, and is entitled to that belief. If, however, the employee starts harassing LGBT colleagues or posting defamatory statements on the company’s intranet page, such behavior would threaten to create a hostile work environment and the company would then be within its rights to discipline that employee.

Similarly, Vought has both a moral and constitutional right to his religious beliefs, including his belief that non-Christians will go to hell. If Sanders was criticizing Vought simply for holding that or any other religious belief, it would be inappropriate. However, Sanders’ office has since stated that he was concerned, not with Vought’s beliefs themselves, but whether the expression of those beliefs would prevent Vought from “carry[ing] out the duties of his office in a way that treats all Americans equally.” That criticism is far more valid because it focuses on what Vought’s behavior would be like if confirmed.

In the future, politicians who are concerned about nominees’ statements on religion should be careful to frame their concerns around the nominee’s behavior, not their beliefs.

By: Eliza Blanchard
Assistant Director, Workplace & Health Care Programs

From Competence to Confidence: Religious Diversity Leadership Summit

Tanenbaum’s second Religious Diversity Leadership Summit took place on May 23rd at Bloomberg, LP. Over 100 people from more than 35 companies attended the event. In its second year, this event grew 65% in attendance and was twice as long. The Summit was made possible by our generous sponsors: Bloomberg, DTCC, and the Walt Disney Company.

According to our post-event survey, some of the most important takeaways from the event included:

  • “…this summit helped me uncover the fact that religion is often neglected and never discussed yet it’s KEY in bringing our whole selves to work, therefore we should be talking about its impact way more.”
  • “I…was on the fence about interfaith ERG’s, but now I’m sold. I plan to use the notes to start discussion with our team.”
  • “Hearing from leaders who have been successful in implementing religious diversity programs as well as representation from the regulatory agency was a fantastic opportunity.”

We can’t wait to further grow the Summit in 2018!

We’ve Made Our Pledge – 150 CEOs Take Action!

Dear Friends,

Amid the drumbeat of political news, something powerful happened yesterday that I find exciting. Globally, we took a giant step toward justice and respect when the newly formed CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion announced that 150 corporate executives from major companies pledged to work toward more diverse, inclusive and just workplaces. The three initial goals are:

  1. To continue to make workplaces trusting places to have complex, and sometimes difficult, conversations about diversity and inclusion;
  2. To implement and expand unconscious bias education; and
  3. To share best—and unsuccessful—practices

I am honored to represent Tanenbaum as a signatory on the CEO Action pledge and one of the few organizations of our ilk on the list. As the only secular, non-sectarian not-for-profit with more than two decades of experience helping multi-national companies create inclusive environments for employees of all faiths and none, Tanenbaum is uniquely positioned to offer better practices on this topic—including ones we’ve implemented in our own office. Click here to read about our Holiday Swapping policy, and here for other better practices from the global companies represented.

Religious diversity is part of the larger Diversity & Inclusion conversation, and I trust that Tanenbaum’s involvement in the pledge will inspire more companies to proactively address religious diversity in the workplace. The CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion is poised to inspire lasting change in workplaces large and small. And how wonderful is that?

Let’s keep moving the needle toward equity, justice, and respect,

Joyce S. Dubensky
Tanenbaum CEO

Safe but Scared in Kabul – Tanenbaum Peacemaker Jamila Afghani

Tanenbaum Peacemaker Jamila Afghani, Afghanistan

Yesterday morning’s deadly truck bombing in Kabul was a horrific tragedy. At Tanenbaum, it’s also personal.

The explosion, which killed more than 80 people and wounded hundreds more, shook Kabul as our Peacemaker Jamila Afghani was on her way to work. When we reached her later in the day, Jamila was at home with her family and all were safe. Safe, but very scared. They live close enough to the bomb blast that all her windows were smashed, and the walls cracked open.

At Tanenbaum, we work with Peacemakers from around the world like Jamila, who pursue peace in the places where violence and conflict are the norm. Jamila focuses on improving the lives of women and girls in Afghanistan, despite the violence and constant threats. She is a woman of faith and fearless vision. But on a day like today, her only words were that the bombing was “extremely terrifying” and that it struck “fear in my heart.”

As we continue to mourn the attacks in Manchester, Cairo, and Portland, we must remember those killed and injured in Kabul.

Terrorism has no bounds. It strikes with ferocity. By remembering all the victims, survivors and their families whether in Manchester or Kabul, we align with those who oppose hatred and terror. By acknowledging the random impact of terror on people from all backgrounds, nationalities and religions, we lay claim to our humanity.

Today, we are reminded that greater security and protection for civilians in Kabul and throughout Afghanistan is critically needed. As the international community takes action to stop the terror, let it remember the people of Kabul and the long Afghan war. Let us devote more resources to peacebuilding and diplomacy—and to advancing the work of religious Peacemakers like Jamila.


To read more about Tanenbaum Peacemaker Jamila Afghani, please visit her profile page here.