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2) Write a 250 word summary/. Your summary could include information on the following:

  • What did you learn from the discussion?
  • What was the most surprising thing you heard during the conversation?
  • Was there anything you heard that struck you as particularly beautiful or disturbing?
  • Were there any questions that you still had after the conversation was over?
  • What did you enjoy about the conversation?
  • How do you think the talk could have been improved?

3) include one direct quote that the speaker said in the interview

All right, welcome, everyone. I’m so glad that you guys all could join us today. I really appreciate you all being here, students, faculty, staff members, as well as our speakers who are taking time out of their very busy schedules to talk to us today a bit about how the past year has been for them and what they what they see going forward with their religious communities, their religious traditions. So I’ll just introduce the topic very briefly and then I’ll introduce our speakers and then we’ll get started. So just first of all, of course, just to acknowledge that we’re all in the process of recovering from a truly horrible, truly horrific year like the pandemic affected all of us in in many different ways. Some of us got sick. Our loved ones got sick. We lost jobs. We changed jobs. We maybe had to quarantine by ourselves or we may be lost all semblance of personal space because of who we were quarantining with. So we’re hopefully in the process of recovery. Right. We’re hopefully on the road back to quote unquote, normal. We, of course, all hope that things continue to improve. That case numbers go down and, you know, society can be a safe place again, but it brings up for all of us. Right. All of us are in this place where we’re asking ourselves, what does it mean to go back to normal? Right. What should normal be? Should we go back to exactly the way things were? Or is it possible to sort of create a new normal. Right, a way of integrating everything that we’ve learned and experienced over this past year into what we want the future to be, what we want our lives to look like in the future? And religious communities have also been struggling with that right from the very beginning of the pandemic. You know, in California, all churches, mosques, temples, all religious houses of worship had to completely shut down and religious leaders had to transition just a host of services and activities and offerings immediately to an online environment, which was was difficult for all of us to do. And we have to remember that in religious communities, it’s these times of stress and crisis and trauma that people look to their religion even more. So they need that that sense of guidance, that counseling, that sense of community. So religious leaders had to not just transition, but find a way to serve an even deeper or deeper need of their community members of their congregation members. So we’re excited to hear from our our local religious leaders today on just how that went for them, what worked, what didn’t work, how they were able to respond to that immediate. And as we’re moving forward, right, this question of the new normal, both religious leaders and scholars of religion really are predicting that the pandemic may fundamentally change the way we do religion. It may change the way we practice religion. Even before the pandemic there, there was already this trend of people who identified as religious, identified as members of religious traditions, but maybe didn’t necessarily attend a house of worship, weren’t members of a house of worship or frequent visitors. And with the pandemic, with everything switching online, a lot of people are predicting that that trend may speed up. It may become a lot more widespread. So, you know, as I said, insiders and outsiders to the world of religion are we’re we’re so fascinated by what is going on and we’re so curious as to what is going to happen in the future. Is is the is virtual religion going to be the norm going forward or will there be sort of a mass return to in-person gatherings in person rituals? Because people have missed out so much? A lot of people are predicting that this is going to expand the virtual church, the virtual mosque or temple. And some people are excited by that. They think that this is going to help religious communities reach more people, reach a more diverse range of people. But some people are frankly horrified by this. They think that this is virtual religion is is not a good substitute for real in-person connection, connection with other people, connection with ritual practices and community. So it’s a big question mark. And that’s something else that we’ll have our speakers talk about today, just sort of where they see the role of technology in the future of their communities and and how they’re feeling about that. So that’s my little there’s my little spiel. I’ll be quiet in just a minute, but I want to introduce our speakers so you guys get to know a little bit about them. So we are. So I’ll give them their little intros and then we’ll launch into our questions. But we are very honored to be joined by, first of all, Rabbi Avi Libman of Yahoo! She’s asked to be called, has served as the associate rabbi at Congregation Bethel in La Hoya for the past 17 years. Rabbi Levine holds a master’s degree in business administration, Hebrew letters and ordination from the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles. Rabbi Levine has served on the board of Directors for Jewish Family Services and as a mentor for graduating rabbinic students. We are also joined by Imam Taha Tomassoni. Imam Taha is currently serving as the imam or director of the Islamic Center of San Diego. He joined us in September two thousand four from the Colorado Muslim Youth Foundation, where he served as a youth instructor. Imam Taha graduated from the Islamic or sorry, the Institute of Islamic Studies at the University of Algiers in Algeria and has served as a high school teacher and imam there before coming to the United States. Imam Taha also holds a master’s degree of theology in Islamic studies from the Graduate Theological Foundation in South Bend, Indiana. And last but not least, we are joined by Reverend John Schultz. Reverend Schultz is serving at the Rancho Bernardo Community Presbyterian Church as their pastor of education and discipleship. He has been an adjunct assistant professor of religion here at Grossmont for twenty two years. And prior to serving at RBK, he was a church consultant for 10 years and he graduated from the Western Theological Seminary with a master of divinity degree and is ordained in the Reformed Church of America. That was quite, quite a mouthful. So thank you so much, you guys. I really appreciate all three of you being here to talk to us today to talk to my students about this past year and and what you see going forward. So we will just get into our first question. And Rabbi Levine, I’m going to have you go first for that one. So if you could share with us a little bit about what was the most difficult part of this past year about the transition online for your community for first of all, Dr. Burke, thank you for inviting me. It’s a privilege and an honor to be here. And Imam Taha and to Reverend Sharpton, it’s a pleasure to be able to dialogue and learn from both of you. I suspect a lot of what we’re going to say will overlap. I think for a lot of obvious reasons. I appreciate Dr. Bercu, each one of us go first or second or third for each of your questions. So I actually candidly and feel free to do The Gong Show. Dr.. It’s five minutes just kind of stopped me, I’m trying to keep my clock to be brief, but you can just stop me or someone stop me, please. I’m not offended. I think you’re really kind of couched it in your opening comments, to be perfectly honest with you, about what all of us are searching for and trying to find answers to. It’s my fundamental belief that as human beings, we are in search of in need of community and for myself and in Muntaha. And that means, obviously, a spiritual community. But people also look for communities whether that’s affiliated with sports or music or a book club or dance and so on and so on, or food groups, whatever. We fundamentally want to be in community. And I think one of the largest and obvious challenges this past year is that person, face to face community was really basically taken from us. And so like other

other religions, we quickly tried to obviously move online to create and continue our community building. So to be very literal to for a moment, to the question of what was the most difficult aspect, I would just answer very literally. The most difficult aspect was just myself trying to master zoom, right? I mean, I’ve been around the block. I know computers pretty well, trying to get members and a lot of our members to actively participate in our 60s and 70s and 80s who did not grow up with computers. And, you know, maybe the facility of using them was different than our children or my teenager and my young child, my elementary school child or so forth. So really just getting them to put their faces on the camera, to be honest, because I was looking at a shoulder or whatever, that was really a challenge. And it’s funny, but I really it off to be funny and myself remembering to unmuted. So, you know, those kind of just very basic technical things were kind of very superficially a challenge. I’ll say that time flies. I’ll say that we got very lucky. And I mean and very seriously, in December of twenty nineteen, we made the decisions of before sort of the outbreak in the known reality, and that obviously to shut down our community made the decision to spend a decent amount of money, invest in a livestream set up. And so by January 5th or whatever of twenty twenty we had livestream working. The irony is we didn’t use it right away until March because we just wanted to practice and we wanted to be able to understand what this tool was for us, because we’re being very literal to the question and I’ll have more to say later and hear from the other speakers or respond to questions being very, kind of very literal for me. And I’ve been doing this for 17 plus years, talking in front of people. It’s a very different skill set. So our camera in my sanctuary is on the opposite end of the room where I stand. That’s just the nature of where the camera was set up. Go figure. Right. And so now when I have 100 people, 50 people, 200 people, the number is in front of me face to face. My interactions are different. I could walk around, I can walk over and shake it down. I can say hello to someone when someone is doing something. And when you’re on Zoom. Right. You can still do that, but you do it very differently. And since in the Jewish religion, what we are ritual and are programs and arts are the purpose of the religion, from my perspective, is about bringing people together in community for shared experiences. It’s not that you can’t see that on Zoom like we’re all experiencing now, but when it’s really mostly visual first and then auditory second versus the other way around when you’re in person, I think it has the ability to sort of shape a little bit or change maybe is a better word, people’s realities and them and their perspectives. So we quickly tried to pivot, just get comfortable myself into the rabbi with what it meant to stare at a camera the entire time. And what we did was our religious services. We try to make them participatory, where there’s more singing and sort of reading together. I have no clue what people are doing at home or that we found out later. And I’ll comment on that. A different question. We try to bring more spiritual intentions, if you will. So we did an incredible amount of writing and it was really hard. I was doing more writing than ever before. So rather than just singing a traditional song or song, since we still like you recite Psalms and our ritual service, we were explaining them more than we ever would do. And so I tried to find we talk a lot about authentic and relevant. And when you’re online for us, that equation, so to speak, change a little bit. What for us was authentic, was still providing the exact same service as if there were in person. But how to make it relevant was different since we had no clue what they were doing behind the camera. We took a chance and just started kind of explaining a lot more of the tradition of the ritual and the purpose of the liturgy. So I want to be mindful of time and respectful to the other speakers. I think I’ll stop there. I hope that answers the question from what we were doing. Yeah. Yeah. Thank you. Something I didn’t even think about before is just, you know, all of us put in extra work. But the idea that. Yeah. That religious leaders were writing so much more, writing longer pieces to fill that same time, that would be by so many other so many other activities during during a service. So thank you. Thank you for that. Sure. All right, then I’ll turn it over to to Imam Hazony What was the greatest challenge for you guys?

Thank you, Mr. Rahim, in the name of Allah, the most gracious, the most merciful, I would like to thank you, Dr. Burke, for this invitation and giving me the chance to speak about our experience here at the Islamic center of San Diego, which applies to not only the other mosques, but almost everything. Rabbi Lieberman said applies on us as well, because we are very community oriented houses of worship and faith communities. Communal rituals and prayers is the core of of of my faith, of my religion. Yes, people can can practice individually, but it’s very essential to bring community members together at a house of worship and engage them in rituals and events that will help them to grow in their faith as as Muslims. So.

We didn’t have any any idea about what was happening, and I remember the first week of March coming back from a trip that I had to to Europe like three days after that, we started having kind of like serious messages from the government, from our state, from our county, that things are going in the wrong direction. And, you know, the shut down option is coming soon. I remember it was it was a Wednesday night, March, I think, 10th or 11, something like this, when we had the brief meeting with our board after the night prayer. As you may know, Muslims pray five times a day. So not only on Friday people come, but basically my congregation members come to the mosque every single day, five times a day. So after the night prayer, we decided to shut down to close the mosque. And we announced it right away after that. And we didn’t know what to do. So it was it was a challenge. Now, members of my community cannot come to the mosque, what should we do? So we were very fortunate to have a group of young people from my community who are in the in the software and I.T. technology. Many of them are engineers at Qualcomm. So we asked them, you know, to to help us find a way. So they came up a few days after that. They came up with a whole set up for to go virtual. So the camera, the you know, the network having people signed up, you know, to the group who will start receiving the notifications for everything. And in a matter of excuse me, in a matter of few days, we were ready to move completely from an in-person rituals and prayers and event to virtual prayers and rituals.

So it didn’t take a long time for us, and of course, not everyone in the community was ready for that. So for them, it took a few other days to to know how to connect, to know how to use Zoom and all that stuff. The other thing that, you know, we did right after that is to convince and to remind my community members about the nature of our worship, the nature of the rituals. We do that as we can practice as a congregation, as a team, as a group. We can also practice as individuals. And I remember I started focusing more on the family oriented rituals. Like families coming together, and one of the things that we promoted was show me your sanctuary at home. And people engaging their kids, they started decorating a corner, a room in their home and make it make it looks like a mosque and Islamic center with the prayer rugs on the ground, like the facing Altobello, which is the direction to the to the city of Mecca, where there is the holy mosque. So my community members started showing pictures on social media. This is my place of worship, you know, and it created a very nice sentiment amongst especially amongst the youth that they have their own place of worship. And I started telling my community, hey, you have been coming and praying behind me in the congregation prayer. Now, I would like you to be the imam at home. So designate your imam at home and start leading your own prayer. And people started doing this and having kind of like fun doing it. You know, the other thing that helped us to kind of face the challenge of shutting down was coming up with the theological support. That is the nature of our worship is very simple and very easy. Yes, it is very important to attend a house of worship to join your congregation members. But you can do it as an individual. You can do it as a family. And we can worship God whatever we want on this earth. Actually, there is a saying of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him saying that the entire Earth was given to me as a place of worship. So you can have your mosque wherever you want. So this is something that started helping my community members to feel a little bit confortable. Having their worship at their home, but in the same time for the Friday sermon or the Friday service, which is equivalent to the Sunday service in the church or Saturday service in the synagogue. So in our Friday service, of course, people cannot do it like as individuals. This is where we brought the community together. So they started watching live the sermon on our YouTube channel and our XDA, which is the Islamic Center of San Diego Facebook page. And this is how we could bring back the community members together. So I can tell you that in a matter of few weeks, we kind of shifted completely virtual and we started giving daily lectures virtually from the Islamic center and also convinced our community members to feel good about what they were doing at home individually and as well as a family. And things started becoming like the new normal, you know, and this is how we kind of passed the very first stage of of this period of time. Yes. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much. It’s really interesting. You have a shared, shared experience of, well, where we’re actually teaching a lot more because we’re not you know, we’re not doing the the normal, you know, just sort of gathering and sharing and chatting and that there can be an opportunity for a lot more education. And I love I love the idea of the little mosque in your house, the corner of your of your room that becomes the sacred place. That’s wonderful. All right. Well, thank you. And now now I’ll ask Reverend Shaltiel as well. What was what was the biggest challenge for your community this year? Yeah, and thank you for inviting me on the panel. And it’s so great to see so many students here. And it’s always exciting and interesting that. So thanks for doing. And I know we’re coming at the end of the semester, so I’m for exams and everything, so it’s really cool to see everybody here. So, yeah, I think you know what I mean. Yeah, there’s a commonality with everything that’s been said. We experience that too. You know, our nation was blessed with having a production department, you know, so we had all the cameras in the, you know, the lighting and the sound system and all that. So that switchover wasn’t difficult. I think the difficult part for us, again, was our congregation understanding how to access information, you know, where they’re going to find all this stuff. And in a lot of our congregation, which, you know, at least the older part of our congregation, again, you know, we’re not well versed in multimedia. And so there was a big time of planning. We were helping them learn, learn, zoom, learn how to get to our website and find where, you know, this information is or where our Facebook pages or YouTube channel or, you know, how to how to get into Twitter or anything that we were doing because they had never been involved in that. But we were a little bit late to do that because we thought at the very beginning that this is only going to be a couple of months. You know, we were told it was going to be flattening the curve. That was what we had heard. And so, OK, you know, no problemo. You know, it’ll all be over in two months. We didn’t expect that it would be that long. So, you know, once we began to realize, whoa, this is this is going to be a lot longer, then we almost had to kind of catch up with our congregation to help them, you know, really digest what we were trying to get out there. We could get it out there, but we were just a little late and helping them understand how to receive it. So so there was a yeah, a little bit of a disconnect between our leadership in the congregation there simply by the fact that we thought this is going to blow over quickly. But it didn’t. So, you know, but it. They caught on I mean, I have a gentleman who teaches a class for us and we follow kind of the same thing like Grossmont, you know, we go semesters, we have a fall semester, spring semester, summer semester of adult education courses. And then he’s like 80 years old and loves to teach former teacher, retired, was administrator, all that stuff. And so he’s teaching a class for us. And you had to learn, you know, zoom and how to teach and zoom. And so I spent a lot of time with him, but he got it. And now he’s teaching. No problem. You know, he’s got it down. But it took time. So all of a sudden, your time for ministry, that is a lot of times used maybe to help people in their journey. Their spiritual journey is taken out not so much with dealing with spiritual journey kind of stuff, but more technical stuff just to get them to the point where they can engage with us. And that was that was kind of challenging. The thing that I found that was interesting. And I think I can remember one of our speakers kind of alluded to it was, you know, when you’re gathering, you can see how many people are participating. Right. So, you know, when we worship all I could see two or three hundred people or whatever here today, you kind of naturally run into people so you can touch base with them that you wanted to see and everything. But when we went online, I felt like I felt like there were blinders on, you know? I mean, I could see, OK, there’s right now there’s one hundred and fifty people watching us or something, but who are they? And in each one that watches us could be a whole family sitting in their living room watching. But how do we know? You know, so I really felt disconnected from from that part of it. That is such an important part of my interaction with the congregation. And and so and I’m kind of a relational kind of you know, I do ministry relational wise. So I love to visit. I love to be with people. I love to grab a cup of coffee and, you know, go go talk to people. And and all of a sudden I realized, hey, I can’t do that. And and that was really hard because I minister by my relationship. And now if I wanted to meet with somebody, I had to set up a meeting. And, you know, all this stuff, it wasn’t it was wasn’t natural. So that took me a while to adjust to in ministry in that way rather than the way that I’ve done it before. So so that was kind of challenging for us.

And, you know, again, as I said, it was challenging for the congregation to find things, to find information. And we have a rather larger congregation. So, you know, we were worshipping before the pandemic 700, 800 people. And it’s with that size congregation. I found that it was very easy in this whole pandemic thing to have people fall through the cracks, you know, like a couple of months and all of a sudden, you know, somebody would say something or a person would pop in my mind and I go, oh, man, you know, either I haven’t I haven’t talked to that gal or the guy for a long time. I wonder, what are they doing? You know, and I have to specifically call them and, you know, some of our parishioners who don’t have any I mean, they might not even have a computer. I know it sounds crazy in this day and age, but they’re out in the wilderness, you know, and you’ve got to hunt them down, you know, and you can easily forget that they’re out there without any connection whatsoever. So all of a sudden we became aware, oh, man, we really got to, you know, buckle down to find these people and make sure they know that we care about them and if they can be a part of our community. So so it was it was a process of learning and, you know, getting the rules to turn in the new way to to meet this new need. And so that was kind of the difficult part of it. Thank you. Yeah, it’s definitely something I didn’t I didn’t necessarily think about beforehand, I guess a very important part of religious leadership is to reach out and connect with those people. And when you can see people’s faces and their body language on a regular basis, you you can get an idea of, is this person doing OK? Do I need to check in with this person? But we assume it’s it’s just not it’s not as possible. And, yes, some similar challenges to teaching. You realize all of a sudden, I haven’t heard from the student in a long time. I need to do some extra outreach. I need to make sure that they are still out there and they know that we’re thinking about them. So. So thank you. Thank you guys for for your responses to that. Very similar similar challenges for sure as we all transitioned online. So my next question will hopefully be a little bit more positive. But I asked our speakers to think about what are some of the unexpected surprises? What were some of the successes, things that that worked well or that maybe even worked better in a virtual environment? So what were some maybe some some silver linings of this pandemic? So, Imam Hussein, I’ll start with you and what you’ve already mentioned, the very cool mosque in the corner. But what other successes or surprises came about for you and your congregation?

Thank you so.

Without, again, having an idea to which world we are heading, which type of ritual services we are going to provide, then we’re some some good news and good things and things that really surprised us. I would say the first one was being creative. And thinking out of the box, out of the ordinary, so we have spent our entire life doing our rituals and our worship, our teachings, the religious teachings in a specific way, which is impersonal. And we have at least I have never thought about any other way to do it.

And thinking that this is the only option I have, I have I have to urge people to attend, if I have a small crowd, it means that, you know, it’s not really successful. I have to be to have big crowd in person at the Islamic center. But the the surprising thing is that by being creative, actually, we can reach out to more people in the community. So creativity is something that we really, really learned during this time of the pandemic. The second surprising good thing is that through our virtual services, we were able to reach out to many more people in the community, those who, for whatever reason, could not attend the mosque, whether for the daily prayers or the Friday sermon, for example, the Friday service or the daily teachings we have. And they could not for whatever reason. Now it’s a it’s a click on on their smartphone tablet computer. And they are with us. You know, we can we can see them through the screen and it help us to reach out to so many people more than those who used to regularly attend our services and our our rituals. The other thing is the convenience people found it very, very convenient just to relax on their coach in the comfort of their living room and just watching. And sometimes, you know, some people, they they keep their camera on while we have these teachings or their a sermon or whatever. And you can see them carrying their tablet and their smartphone and going wherever they want to go at home or going outside in the patio or the backyard and just relaxing and listening, you know, and sometimes somebody just literally laying down on their bed and just, you know, watching. So I found it like kind of like funny, but that’s OK. That’s OK. If this is the way people feel comfortable connecting with the community, with the Islamic center, with the house of worship, with with the services that we provide, then that’s fine to the point that. When we started opening for Indore, now indoor services with, of course, the capacity and the distancing and the masks and everyone has to bring his or her own prayer rug, some people emailed me asking Emam, can can we have both in person and virtual? So they found it something convenient. So they wanted to continue the virtual services. So they will be there, will be included. So I would say the convenience and having people or offering people this option to to join even virtually is is something is something good. So this way, no one will be left behind. Everyone can connect. Everyone can benefit. Everyone can join. The other thing that was really surprising to me is the fundraising. You know, we are non-profit organizations. We survive on the donations of our community members. And one of the things that we thought about right at the beginning of the pandemic, now nobody will be coming to the mosque. And by the way, you know, Pusser slutty. I agree with you that at the very beginning we started hearing this, you know, flattening the curve. It’s just, you know, about two months or three months. Oh, by the way, by the beginning of summer, you know, with the heat, the virus will disappear, you know, and the administration at that time was saying, oh, you know, by by Easter it will be gone, if you remember. Right. And we were we were kind of hanging there, you know, waiting for that. And then we realized that, no, no, no, it’s going to stay for a long time. It’s going to stay for a long time. So. Now. March by April, the end of April last year, the beginning of the month of Ramadan. Which is the most the busiest time within the Islamic center and the Muslim community, our mosques are packed in Ramadan. People enjoy coming and having communal breaking the fast at sunset. And and we have night prayers here. You know, mosques are packed and no one is the major season to raise funds for the Islamic center. This is this is when we will raise our funds. And we were thinking nobody’s here, just myself and the other imam and two or three brothers helping us with the I.T. work. And that’s it. So how are we going to raise these funds? Nobody comes to the mosque. So, again, we. Swished virtually, and guess what, it was the most successful ever fundraising we have done at the Islamic center of San Diego, at least since 2004, the time I came to iciest.

People you know, when we did our fundraising, we did it virtual. And people from all over the world were able to connect with us. There were some community members who used to live here in San Diego and they moved to other states. They connected with us and they donated even from overseas. Somebody who used to live here, moved back to Bangladesh, donated online. So donations were not, you know, just you have to come here and drop off your check or something. No, just on the screen where you are seeing me right now. Here’s the button. Click on the button. You would have the information, submit your information. We got the money, you see. So it was the most successful fundraising campaign ever. Wow, this is very surprising, you know. So these are the good things and surprising things that we have witnessed during the Bendek. Yeah, well, that’s I honestly didn’t even really think about fundraising when I was was thinking about the challenges and successes, because I know so, so many houses of worship are really concerned about their financial future. So that’s great that you’re your community also felt that concern and wanted to make sure that you guys are here for the long term and that you

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