Interfaith program to focus on migration and welcoming the stranger

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August 20, 2018


Laurie Wohl, internationally known artist


Mary Dana Hinton, CSB President


Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman of Temple Israel in Minneapolis 


Cawo Abdi, associate professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota 

“Exile, Memory and Welcoming the Stranger,” a multi-media program to be held Wednesday, Sept. 5, in the Benedicta Arts Center at the College of Saint Benedict, will celebrate the opening of an art exhibit by Laurie Wohl that focuses on themes common to Christianity, Judaism and Islam. 

The program, presented by the Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning at Saint John’s University in collaboration with CSB/SJU Fine Arts Programming, is free and open to the public. The schedule is as follows: 

3 to 4:15 p.m. – Gorecki Family Theater
Presentation by Wohl about her exhibit “Birds of Longing: Exile and Memory” (in the Gorecki Gallery Aug. 27-Oct. 28) with musical accompaniment by Voices of Sepharad and guests, an ensemble of musicians from the Christian, Jewish and Muslim traditions. 

4:30 to 5:45 p.m. – Gorecki Family Theater
Panel presentations by CSB President Mary Dana Hinton, Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman of Temple Israel in Minneapolis and Cawo Abdi, associate professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota, on Christian, Jewish and Muslim mandates to welcome strangers. The session will be moderated by Rediet Negede Lewi and Danica Simonet, student interfaith leaders with the Jay Phillips Center. 

6 to 7 p.m. – Gorecki Gallery
Artist reception and the exhibit’s grand opening. 

Wohl is an internationally known artist whose fiber art pieces convey spiritual narratives through form, color, texture and calligraphy. Her works are held in the collections of the Museum of Arts and Design, Constitutional Court of South Africa, Catholic Theological Union and numerous other public and private collections. 

“Birds of Longing” interweaves Christian, Jewish and Muslim spiritual writings from medieval Spain with contemporary Middle Eastern poetry, particularly Palestinian and Israeli. Wohl emphasizes the striking parallels between Arabic and Hebrew texts, with the common themes of love, exile, nostalgia, mistrust of enemies and yearning for reconciliation. 

An audio component includes readings in English, Arabic and Hebrew with a specially-composed soundscape illustrating the commonality of Middle Eastern languages. 

”My hope for the project,” Wohl said about this exhibit, “is that its visual and auditory impact will make vivid for viewers the connections among the Abrahamic religions and stimulate thought about their shared emotional, aesthetic and thematic content.” 

John Merkle, director of the Jay Phillips Center, called Wohl’s work “stunningly beautiful and deeply moving, replete with spiritual insights.” He also stressed the timeliness of Wohl’s exhibit and the program celebrating its opening. 

“The issues raised in this exhibit are every bit as urgent today as in previous eras when exile and attitudes toward migrants became major religious and ethical themes,” Merkle said. “And to address these themes we are fortunate not only to have Laurie Wohl but also three such outstanding thinkers and eloquent speakers as President Hinton, Rabbi Zimmerman and Professor Abdi.” 

Hinton earned her Ph.D. in religion and religious education from Fordham University and her scholarly interests include African American religious history, religious education and leadership. 

Zimmerman earned an M.A. in Hebrew Letters from Hebrew Union College—Jewish Institute of Religion in New York and has been deeply engaged in interfaith initiatives for many years. 

Abdi earned a Ph.D. in sociology at the University of Sussex in England and her research interests include migration, Islam, race, class, gender and globalization. 

Funding for this program is provided by the Jay and Rose Phillips Family Foundation of Minnesota.