SOUL SPACE 20TH ANNIVERSARY RETREAT SPEAKERS

Order of photos: Marilyn Gehant, Farrah Qazi, Hanna Minks, Pat Nisenholz, Syeda Khan, Dilnaz Waraich, Ikbal Koseli, Abigail Backer

 Keynote Speaker Representing Soul Space Interfaith Women’s Group: Marilyn Gehant

Marilyn Gehant is the founder of SoulSpace Interfaith.  She developed the concept of gathering “women of the book” at the end of her Masters work in Spirituality at Loyola University. Soul Space grew organically from a location on Sheridan Road which opened the week before 9/11 to a shared space with retreats in synagogues, churches and mosques throughout the Chicago metropolitan area.  After gathering writers and artists in a Creative Circle, she invited submissions to Reflections, our current web page on-line journal. In the spring of 2014, she handed over the directorship of SoulSpace to the able leadership of Kismet Saglam.

Marilyn’s commitment to interfaith grew from the 80’s when she directed the then Evanston Ecumenical Action Council, an organization of churches and synagogues.  On numerous occasions, she sought out dialogue with faith-filled women and men across traditions.  In the early development of SoulSpace, she is grateful for the encourage-ment of Frances Belmonte, Sr. Mary Alice Zander, Sr. Mary Stuart, and Scott Alexander; Jewish Rabbis Andrea London, Karyn Kedar, Herman Schalmann, and Marilyn Price; and in the Muslim tradition, Mary Ali, Laleh Bakhtiar, Ingrid Mattson, and Aminah McCloud.

A certified Spiritual Director in the Catholic tradition, Marilyn sees spiritual seekers, individually and in groups.  She is a member of Spiritual Directors International and has served as trainer and supervisor of new directors at North Park Seminary in Chicago and at Villa Maria del Mar in Santa Cruz, California.

Currently, Marilyn lives near the redwoods in Northern California and enjoys dialog with granddaughter Zoe, who is being raised in the Jewish and Christian traditions.  She has also consulted with a fledgling interfaith group in the area.  Marilyn is a published poet, now focusing on Haiku as a member of the Yuki Teikei Haiku Society in San Jose.

 Featured Speaker Representing Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom

Farrah Qazi is an immigration and human rights attorney specializing in gender-based violence, the persecution of minorities and interfaith disputes. She practices in the western suburbs at Qazi Law Offices, travels extensively and serves as Vice Chair of the American Bar Association’s Middle East Affairs Committee.  She spends many weekends writing and speaking to interfaith audiences about civil inequality and strengthening communities. Farrah is the author of two children’s books and has started her own not for profit organization, called Ripple, that focuses on these issues. 

 Featured Speaker Representing Interfaith Youth Core: Hannah Meeks

Hannah Minks, Program Manager, primarily supports students in meaningfully bridging people of diverse values and worldview on campus. Hannah received her B.A. in Theology from Dominican University and is currently pursuing an M.A. in Theology at Chicago Theological Seminary. Having taught Catholic theology at the high school level for a handful of years, Hannah brings her education experience to a variety of spaces at IFYC in both curriculum development and training capacities. Hannah also brings personal experience to her position having been through many of IFYC’s programs as an undergrad student and alum, most recently the Interfaith Innovation Fellowship. Hannah's ambition towards interfaith cooperation is rooted in her Catholicism, taking cues from Dorothy Day's example. 

Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) is a national non-profit organization working towards an America where people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions can bridge differences and find common values to build a shared life together. To achieve this, IFYC partners with American colleges and universities to equip students, educators, and whole institutions with the vision, knowledge, and skills to advance interfaith cooperation on campus and far beyond.

Featured Speaker Representing Daughters of Abraham: Pat Nisenholz

Patricia Nisenholz is a co-founder of the Daughters of Abraham Committee, a signature program of the Children of Abraham Coalition. DOA is a Chicago-area network of adult and youth leaders committed to educating others about the Abraham traditions and to be ambassadors of interfaith dialogue. Daughters of Abraham develop programming for women seeking peace through understanding. DOA was birthed as women voiced their need to connect with personal stories that relate more from a women's or girl's perspective.

The current landscape of misunderstanding in the world, has motivated me more than ever, to work at creating opportunities for people of all faiths to connect to each other, through interfaith dialogue. Daughters of Abraham is organically growing to meet the needs of our time. Patricia Nisenholz is a Jewish Educator ~ a relationship weaver; and engagement specialist doing inter-generational programming with Children of Abraham Coalition, Daughters of Abraham and local communal Jewish institutions. She is passionate about making a difference in the lives of our future generation. She currently speaks in the wider community to bring awareness about “Welcoming the stranger”, and “showing hospitality” ~both which are a core value found in the Torah. She loves leading workshops and discussion groups. Pat spent 20 years working for the Jewish Community Centers of Chicago, as a specialist in Jewish Early childhood. Her work was with families and children ages 0 yrs.-8 years, ensuring the Jewish mission of JCC Chicago was being met.   

Featured Speaker Representing Children of Abraham: Syeda Khan

Syeda Khan is a member of the Children of Abraham Coalition and has been an official member since 2017. Currently she is a Junior at Wheeling High School in Wheeling, IL. She is the founder and head of her youth group at the Islamic Education Center, and is actively involved on her school Debate and Soccer team. The Children of Abraham Coalition is a 501c3 organization that focuses on spreading interfaith dialogue amongst the three Abrahamic faiths. The nonprofit organization has held programs all across the Chicago land area. Last year the COAC held a session at the largest religious conference in the world , The Parliament of World Religion, in Toronto. Some of COACs most notable programs include 9/11 Potluck for Peace, Interfaith Iftar, and the semiannual Peace Camp. The Children of Abraham Coalition hosts a wide span of interfaith initiatives from book discussions to camps for young activists. They have been so successful that a sister branch had stemmed of of them called the Daughters of Abraham. Through both organizations interfaith work, they aim to fill the world with Salaam, Shalom, Peace!

 Featured Speaker Representing Muslim Community Center Interfaith and Outreach Committee: Dilnaz Waraich

With over twenty-five years of experience in education, community organizing and interfaith collaboration, Dilnaz exemplifies what influential leadership, engagement and compassion can bring to the selfless role of civil servant. As a trained educator, she has worked in the elementary, secondary and collegiate educational fields as a teacher, mentor and leader. She has transformed her passion for knowledge acquisition and knowledge facilitation into building strong community-based relationships using her experience as an immigrant going through the CPS school system and overcoming the inherent limitations it has and continues to impose. Her moral code and drive to affect change is what breathes life into her philanthropic and interfaith engagements. Dilnaz is an influencer and holds multiple board appointed positions throughout the Chicagoland area.  She is the Muslim Community Center Interfaith and Outreach Committee Chair and has been able to create dynamic programs that have brought in thousands of diverse people together after the Muslim Travel Ban and Christchurch Shooting. She has board and committee appointments at Chicago Public Media, Catholic Theological Union, Chicago Theological Seminary and Interfaith Youth Core. She has an innate ability to see the big picture and make connections that others may have missed.  Dilnaz can influence at the C-Suite level as well as the non-profit level. She holds a Masters of Education degree from Northwestern University, and endorsements for Islamic Studies and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion trainings.

The Interfaith & Outreach Committee of the Muslim Community Center (MCC) aims to foster a better understanding of Islam and Muslims among our friends and neighbors of different faiths. We work on Spiritual, Relationship and Civic Power at MCC in all our programs. We organize monthly community outreach programs throughout the year with various coalitions. Two highlights from the committee have been the rally with 1,600 neighbors and allies on January 16, 2016 after the Muslim Travel Ban and 600 allies and neighbors for a community vigil after the Christchurch shooting on March 16, 2019. MCC’s monthly faith-based discussions include various topics on livable wages, immigration issues, Black Muslim contributions to America, the “feel" before the Holocaust and Japanese internment camp to how it “feels" present day for Muslims and supporting Palestinian businesses. Our primary goal is to develop stronger relationships through knowledge that facilitates a greater understanding of Islam and of Muslims. We are proud to be a part of the American diaspora and we aim to enrich our common values.

 Featured Speaker Representing Turkish American Society: Ikbal Koseli

Professionally, Ikbal Koseli works as a speech/ language pathologist at a therapeutic day school in a northwest suburb in Illinois. Her area of focus is speech and language disorders in children with Autism. She is a resident of Arlington Heights and a member of the Turkish American Society in Mt. Prospect.

Ikbal, her husband, and their two young children moved to the U.S. from Istanbul, Turkey in April 2002. To pursue her dream in the healthcare field, Ikbal returned to college after settling in the Chicago area. She graduated from Elmhurst College with a Bachelor of Science degree in Speech and Language Pathology and received a Master of Health Science degree with a major in Communication Disorders at Governors State University. Ikbal has been in the field since 2012 working with children and adults in both medical and educational settings.

Ikbal noticed the immediate need for interfaith dialogue due to increased fear of Muslims and incidents of discrimination and hate crimes toward minorities following the tragic event of September 11 attack. She believed education and dialogue were the key elements for eliminating misconceptions and prejudice. Therefore, Ikbal decided to join interfaith organizations and networking groups in order to build bridges among various faith traditions to help promote peace and awareness. 

Currently, Ikbal volunteers at Niagara Foundation, a non-profit organization that promotes social cohesion by fostering civic conversations and sustained relationships between people of different cultures and faiths. Niagara Foundation has organized numerous educational, leadership, and interfaith events by facilitating dynamic conversations and relationships, providing outreach and support to students and educational institutions who are promoting diversity and cultural awareness, and organizing forums, dinners, conferences, lectures, community service, and intercultural trips to fulfill its core values of hospitality, enrichment, and leadership.

In a partnership with Niagara Foundation and Turkish American Society, Ikbal has actively participated in religious, interfaith, cultural, charity, and educational events. Her involvement with the charity and interfaith organizations include PADS shelter program by preparing and serving hot meals for homeless, IRIM (Interfaith Refugee and Immigration Ministries) by providing ESL tutoring for refugees who fled persecution, Islamic Society of Midwest by mentoring youth, and Embrace Relief, a non-profit charity organization by organizing fundraising events. Niagara Foundation has been involved in numerous interfaith events with churches, synagogues, temples, and organizations including Coalition of Abraham’s Children, Soul Space Interfaith Women Retreat , and Viator House of Hospitality.

 Representing Beth Emet Interfaith Youth Group: Abigail Backer

Abigail Backer served as Beth Emet's Director of Youth Programs from 2014-2018. She currently attends University of Chicago's School of Social Service Administration where she studies clinical social work focused on immigrant youth and families. Her field placement is at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Pilsen and she continues to teach at Beth Emet part-time.  

BE Interfaith work: One of Beth Emet’s main tenets is the belief that all people are created in the image of G-d, b’tzelem elohim. According to this philosophy, our connection with those who are different than us helps to increase holiness in the world and a greater sense of equality and social responsibility. Inspired by this and many other Jewish values, interfaith partnership is a core part of Beth Emet, particularly in our youth programs. In 2013, Beth Emet partnered with Second Baptist Church of Evanston and pioneered a high school interfaith civil rights trip to the South called Sankofa. Through Sankofa, we began a journey of building the skills and relationships to pursue justice, listen to others, discuss challenging issues, and building bridges of understanding. Since Sankofa, interfaith collaborations have become deeply integrated in Beth Emet’s youth programs. Seventh grade students study pluralism and world religions, visiting local houses of worship as they also explore their Jewish identity. High school students regularly plan and facilitate interfaith programs, including interfaith Passover seders and interfaith immigration advocacy days. In 2017, Beth Emet high school students traveled  to El Paso, Texas where we were hosted by Iglesia Cristo Rey’s border immersion experience. In this interfaith context, we heard many perspectives and explored the connections between our history of diaspora and the current immigration crisis. These are just a few examples that illustrate the centrality of interfaith work not only to Beth Emet’s youth programs, but also the congregation overall.