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Photo: Museum of London Archaeology via Hyperallergic.
A necklace found in a UK burial site probably belonged to an “elite woman who wanted to highlight her Christian identity, says Hyperallergic.

Archaeology reminds us that there will always be surprises to uncover no matter how much we think we know. A necklace found in a medieval burial site and considered a “once-in-a-lifetime” discovery is one recent surprise. Michael Levenson wrote about it for the New York Times.

“A 1,300-year-old gold-and-gemstone necklace that was recently discovered in an ancient grave site in England may have belonged to a woman who was an early Christian leader, according to experts involved in the discovery.

“The ancient jewelry was unearthed in Northamptonshire in April [2022] during excavations that took place ahead of a planned housing development. … The 30 pendants and beads that once formed the elaborate necklace were made from Roman coins, gold, garnets, glass and semiprecious stones. The centerpiece of the necklace, a rectangular pendant with a cross motif, was also among the artifacts that were discovered.

“ ‘When the first glints of gold started to emerge from the soil we knew this was something significant,’ Levente-Bence Balázs, a site supervisor at the Museum of London Archaeology, [said in a statement announcing the find]. …

“X-rays of soil blocks lifted from the grave also revealed an elaborately decorated cross featuring unusual depictions of human faces cast in silver, the statement said.

“While the soil is being investigated more closely, ‘this large and ornate piece suggests the woman may have been an early Christian leader,’ the statement said, adding that she might have been an abbess, royalty or both. The site also contained two decorated pots and a shallow copper dish.

“The skeleton itself has decomposed, with only tiny fragments of tooth enamel remaining. But the Museum of London Archaeology said it was almost certain that a woman was buried there because similar necklaces and lavish burial sites were almost exclusively found in female graves in the period.

Scholars said the discovery pointed to the important but often overlooked role of women in the development of early Christianity.

“ ‘The evidence does seem to point to an early female Saxon church leader, perhaps one of the first in this region,’ Helen Bond, a professor of Christian origins and head of the School of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh, in Scotland, wrote in an email. ‘We know from the gospels that women played an important role in the earliest Christian movement, acting as disciples, apostles, teachers and missionaries,’ Professor Bond wrote. ‘While their role was diminished later on at the highest levels, there were always places where women leaders continued (even sometimes as bishops).’

“Amy Brown Hughes, a historical theologian at Gordon College, who studies early Christianity, called the necklace, which has been traced to the years 630 to 670, an ‘absolutely stunning’ artifact from a volatile period when Christianity was becoming established in Anglo-Saxon England.

“Noting that women have often been left out of narratives about Christianity, Professor Hughes said the necklace provides material evidence that ‘helps to reorient our assumptions about who actually had influence and authority.’ …

“Joan E. Taylor, a professor of Christian origins and Second Temple Judaism at King’s College London, said the fact that the woman was apparently buried in a village far from a main population center ‘testifies to the troubled times in this region of Britain in the 7th century.’

“ ‘Perhaps she was on a journey, or fleeing,’ Professor Taylor wrote in an email. ‘It was a tough “Game of Thrones” world with competing royal rulers aiming for supremacy. It was also a time where Christianity was spreading, and abbesses and other high-status women could play an important role in this.’ …

“The artifacts [will] be featured in an installment of the BBC series ‘Digging for Britain.’ “

More at the Times, here. See also Hyperallergic. More photos, no firewall.

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Photo: NBC4 Washington.
In Potomac, Maryland, Har Shalom rabbi Adam Raskin has pulled together faith leaders help support Afghan refugees.

When leaders of differing faiths recognize they are all called to do the same kinds of good works, great things can happen. Today’s example is from Potomac, Maryland.

Sydney Page writes at the Washington Post, “Adam Raskin, a rabbi at Congregation Har Shalom in Potomac, Md., knew how difficult the situation was for Afghan refugees in the Washington region.

“Since the historic airlift out of Kabul last year, more than 3,700 Afghan evacuees have been resettled in the District [of Columbia, DC], Maryland and Virginia, overwhelming social service agencies and leaving some refugee families waiting for housing and in limbo.

“Raskin and his congregants decided to help by sponsoring a refugee family.

‘We thought it was very much in line with our values,’ Raskin said. ‘For Jews, many of whom were refugees from places of persecution, there is a special sensitivity for this issue.’

“As members of the congregation began researching the resettlement process, they quickly learned how complicated it can be, and how many resources are required.

“ ‘We could do this on our own,’ Raskin recalled thinking to himself, ‘but wouldn’t it be amazing to collaborate with a Christian and Muslim congregation? … This is a country where religions don’t have to be at odds with each other, but actually where religious communities collaborate and find common ground,’ Raskin said.

“He contacted St. Francis Episcopal Church and the Islamic Community Center of Potomac to gauge their interest in an interfaith initiative, and both congregations were enthusiastically on board.

“ ‘We definitely wanted to get involved,’ said Sultan Chowdhury, who was one of the founding members of the Islamic center, and currently serves as its trustee. ‘God gave us an opportunity to truly learn about each other. It is wonderful to see how close we are.’

“Kathy Herrmann, the parish life coordinator at St. Francis, agreed.

“ ‘I have felt such a kinship with them and such a warmth and love emanating from the other two,’ she said. ‘We all have the same goal to help this family become acclimated and feel the love that we have for them.’ …

“The congregations have recruited volunteers to collaborate, including Stew Remer, who has been a member of Congregation Har Shalom since 1982 and has spearheaded the effort.

“ ‘We created an informal partnership where we are working together to provide support for the family,’ Remer said. ‘It’s amazing that we’re doing this with other organizations.’

“He started by contacting various resettlement agencies to learn more about how to sponsor an Afghan family. He got in touch with the Immigration and Refugee Outreach Center, which connected him with the [Wahdat family — a 36-year-old father, a 30-year-old mother and their 19-month-old daughter].

“For the past month, the congregations have divvied up responsibilities to support the newcomers. The church has taken on a health-care advocacy role, identifying doctors and dentists willing to provide pro bono services for the family. The mosque, meanwhile, has been helping with translation services and assisting with cultural needs, such as providing traditional Afghan clothing. The synagogue has been organizing transportation, legal and financial support, as well as helping the family to apply for food stamps and Medicaid. …

“Christianity, Islam and Judaism are all considered Abrahamic religions that view Abraham, a prophet, as the patriarch of their faith. The Bible highlights Abraham’s hospitality and his willingness to welcome strangers. …

“ ‘We have enjoyed the privilege of being together, trying to understand each other better and propagate peace,’ Chowdhury said. ‘It’s eye opening for all of us, and it’s a blessing.’

“ ‘This isn’t a short-term project. We are in it for the long haul,’ said Herrmann.”

Check out the Post, here. It has details on the State Department’s sponsor program, which guides those who want to help resettle the Afghan families. Americans owe them.

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Photos: Beit HaGefen Arab-Jewish Cultural Center
People dance in the streets of the mostly Arab neighborhood of Wadi Nisnas in Haifa, Israel, for the 25th Holiday of Holidays festival, which celebrates religious diversity.

Most days, I find news about Israel completely depressing. Then along comes a story about an annual three-religion celebration there, and I’m reminded that not everyone associated with the 70-year-old nation and its neighbors is keen on in endless war.

Dina Kraft writes at the Christian Science Monitor. “In the port city of Haifa, two young art curators, one Jewish and one a Palestinian citizen of Israel, are dealing with something decidedly less fraught [than the daily news]: They are planning the logistics of an art installation that will include 88 pounds of white pepper, za’atar, sumac, and ginger.

“The piece is an exploration of what notions of ‘home’ mean, a loaded concept in a land claimed by two peoples. It is planned as a centerpiece of a new art exhibition for the Holiday of Holidays, the only event of its kind in Israel and a rare celebration of religious and cultural diversity in the fractious Middle East. The festival honors Christmas, Hanukkah, and Muslim traditions over three weekends in December in a gathering that is part block party, part intercultural artistic extravaganza. …

“Every year there is a different theme and this one is ‘the third dimension,’ an invitation to look at what happens when different cultures and identities influence each other to create something new – a hybrid space – as Yael Messer describes it. Ms. Messer is curator of the art gallery run by the Beit HaGefen Arab-Jewish Cultural Center. Messer, who is Jewish, is going over plans with Haneen Abed, her deputy, a Palestinian Israeli, in their shared office. The staff of the center is made up of both Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel.

“The story of the Holiday of Holidays is also the story of Haifa, Israel’s third-largest city. Haifa likes to bill itself – though not without criticism – as the country’s capital of coexistence, a place where Jewish and Arab residents live more integrated lives.

“Across the country, most Jews and Arabs live separately even in so-called mixed towns and cities, such as Haifa, where the two groups usually inhabit different neighborhoods. Social interaction is especially rare.

“But the festival brings together people from both sides of the demographic divide to dance to music performed on outdoor stages, on streets festooned with holiday lights. Arabs and Jews together follow the path of food and literary tours through the alleyways and streets of the mostly Arab neighborhood of Wadi Nisnas, eating local offerings like hummus and baklava at food stalls and attending concerts of liturgical music at churches. The massive undertaking is organized by Beit HaGefen and funded by the city of Haifa.

“Upstairs from Messer and Ms. Abed, their colleague Hila Goshen, the cultural director of Beit HaGefen, has her laptop open to a color-coded schedule of the festival’s events.

“ ‘It seems like every year there is some war, or military operation, or suicide bombing that happens [during the planning season] and we ask, “What are we doing, bringing people together to hear music and hear each other?” ‘ says Ms. Goshen. ‘And then the festival happens and this place looks like the most normal place on earth. The magic happens.’ …

“She says the example of the gathering, brief as it is, shows this concept of shared society, a place where Arabs and Jews can live together and lead equal lives.

“ ‘I know all our issues are not being solved in this festival,’ she says. ‘But even having this kind of exposure to thinking a little bit differently is a seed we have to plant.’

“Some critics believe this is gauzy naiveté. They argue that people really come to the festival for the food, not the message of unity. But [Asaf Ron, the director of Beit HaGefen,] disagrees.

“ ‘I don’t think people come for the hummus or the knafeh,’ he says. ‘I think they come for the hope.’ ”

More at the Christian Science Monitor, here. Check out past posts about the three religions interacting as the Daughters of Abraham, here, and in the pliable time of youth, here.

And for extra inspiration, click here to learn about the Parents Circle Family Forum, a beacon of light in Israel that brings together the bereaved on both sides of the conflict who understand that ending it can only come from the ground up.

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I was so happy to get this hopeful update on Kids4Peace Boston today.

“For a while last summer, as violence escalated in Israel/Palestine, the possibility of Israeli, Palestinian and US youth coming together for a Kids4Peace camp seemed pretty unlikely.

“But despite countless barriers and uncertainties, all 25 young leaders — Muslims, Christians and Jews from Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Boston — did make it to be together on that beautiful mountaintop in New Hampshire. …

“Being in the presence of one another and listening, really listening, to each other’s stories is the crucial first step in the Kids4Peace experience.

” ‘I came to Kids4Peace to try and understand the different viewpoints that each kid has. Some people don’t understand that someone with a different opinion than you can be right without making you wrong.’
~Participant from Boston

“In the midst of violence, in the midst of despair, there are people who turn towards each other rather than away. This summer 25 peace leaders and their families proved that they are the kind of people who choose to turn towards. These young leaders walked away from camp feeling empowered by and connected to others who believe, as they do, that together peace is possible.

” ‘To be a peacemaker is to hold our hands together, and to help each other not killing each other, to treat each other as humans.’ 
~Participant from Jerusalem”

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Last night I went to a jazz benefit for the nonprofit Kids4Peace Boston, which sponsors a summer camp and other events for children of three faiths — Christian, Muslim, and Jewish. The children are from both the United States and Jerusalem and are 11 to 12. Read more about the program here.

The fundraising event was held in the Grand Circle Gallery in Boston, which features magnificent travel posters and travel photography from the 1930s and 1940s. The entertainment was provided by Indian vocalist Annette Philip and her jazz quartet. Very impressive.

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A while back I blogged about the book groups called Daughters of Abraham, involving women from three related religions: Muslim, Jewish, Christian. I mentioned that I had met book group participant Heidi, who founded something similar for children, Kids4Peace.

Today I thought I would check back to see what Heidi’s organization has been up to, and I was led to a delightful blog on the first Kids4Peace summer camp. Here’s a taste.

“July 11, 2011 — This morning there was basketball before breakfast! The Christian children had prepared a Sunday morning service for us with the Reverend Josh Thomas, Executive Director of Kids4Peace USA, presiding. The Muslim and Jewish children had many questions after the service and the Christian children were able to answer many of them. In the afternoon, we had our choice of activities with other campers whom we hadn’t met before. Choices included archery, windsurfing, arts and crafts, drama, and woodworking.”

A different sort of project took the Kids4Peace folks to the Interfaith Youth Service Day at the Swedenborgian Church on the Hill (Beacon Hill, Boston). Heidi wrote me that Kids4Peace organized “a program geared towards children under 12 (the older kids did outdoor service projects). We created 40 toiletry kits, cards and scarves to be donated to a women and children’s shelter in Boston.” Read about it here.


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When my daughter-in-law was about to be a mom and present me with my first grandchild,

her sisters gave her a lovely baby shower.

A couple of the women I spoke to there told me about a book group they enjoyed called Daughters of Abraham, located in a number of towns. As the organization’s website says, they are “a group of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim women who want to deepen our knowledge of our own and one another’s faiths. By reading books that teach us about each other’s faith traditions and learning about the practice of our respective faiths, we hope to increase our respect for all the Abrahamic religions. We are committed to building relationships among us.” They find that reading books and sharing the perspectives and insights from their different backgrounds is rewarding and fun.

One of the women had gone on to found a nonprofit that does something similar for the children of the three traditions. “Kids 4 Peace Boston is an interfaith, nonpolitical organization of Jews, Christians, and Muslims that fosters friendship, understanding, and respect among children and families in the Boston area, and hosts children [of our three faiths from Jerusalem] in a summer program. … Kids4Peace Boston practices hospitality — a shared value of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  We strive to create a place where faith and friendship thrive.”

I have been trying to interest the religious education director at my church to bring in the woman I met at the baby shower to talk about the Kids 4 Peace program.

Please send comments to suzannesmom@lunaandstella.com. Suzanne is the founder of the birthstone jewelry company Luna & Stella. She asked me to do a blog and write about anything I felt like writing about, which is exactly what I have been doing. Thanks for visiting.

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