San Antonio Express-News   --   Saturday, September 22, 2001

Attacks strengthen groups
By John Gutierrez-Mier

     For two years, attendance was steady at the monthly meetings of the Tri-Faith Dialogue.
     But the summer heat and planned vacations led the group to cancel its August meeting.
     Then came Sept. 11, and attendance ballooned.
     The meetings, held in members' homes, bring together Christians, Muslims and Jews to discuss issues of faith. They had attracted a core group of 25 to 30 people, said Barbie Gorelick, a Jewish woman who founded the group with a Muslim friend.
     But two days after terrorist attacks on the East Coast, almost 300 people, including clergy from all three faiths, showed up at the San Antonio Mennonite Church for a previously scheduled prayer service the group had organized with the San Antonio Peace Center. People sat on the floor when seating filled.
     The intent was to pray for peace in the Middle East and other hot spots. When the organizers originally planned the service, they didn't know they would also be praying for thousands of killed and maimed Americans.
     A few days later about 50 people many who had never attended a dialogue meeting crowded into Gorelick's home to offer and gain some understanding.
     "Our goal is to build bridges of respect, acceptance, forgiveness, reconciliation, love and peace from one heart to another," Gorelick said.
     She grew up in a predominantly Jewish suburb of St. Louis called University City. Her father was a staunch supporter of Israel. She remembered him canceling his subscription to the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, which folded in the mid-1980s.
     The reason, she explained, was a regular column by a Palestinian. At a conference at the University of the Incarnate Word in February 1999, Gorelick met the columnist's daughter, Naomi Shihab Nye, a poet who also lives in San Antonio.
     "I'm a very spiritual person and I operate under the reality that everything is interactive," said Gorelick, who attends Temple Beth-El and Congregation Beth Am.
     "I was 47 years old and I had never had any awareness of what other people went through in the Middle East," Gorelick said. "By (the end of the conference) I was talking to Muslim women about how they struggle to get their children to learn Arabic. I shared the same struggle with trying to get my kids to learn Hebrew."
     Gorelick and a friend, Carol Sandman, began attending a Muslim women's Koran study group, which gave birth to the dialogue a few months later.
     Nye said the dialogue is an asset for the city.
     "It represents what we should all be doing as human beings in today's world," she said. "We're obliged to find out about one another."
     Sandman, an Episcopalian, said she's always had an accepting attitude toward other faiths, having grown up as a military dependent all over the world.
     "I don't believe the real peace we're seeking is going to come about through our government. It will happen when people are willing to understand and respect one another," she said.
     Sandman said she has made many friends at the meetings, including Ali Moshirsadri, president of the Islamic Foundation of San Antonio, who helped teach an eight-week Sunday school course at Episcopal Church of Reconciliation titled, "Understanding Islam."
     The Rev. Jane Patterson, an associate rector there when the course was taught, found it enlightening.
     "You think you know things, then you discover that you don't," said Patterson, now an associate pastor in Corpus Christi. "It was extremely positive. Now, when I see a Muslim woman with her head covered I say, 'That's my sister.'"
     Moshirsadri said similar groups exist across the country and are great educational tools.
     "There's so much we've learned from each other, and we respect one another," he said.
     Gorelick expects the meetings to grow.
     "It's hard to be a soldier, but it's just as hard to be a peacemaker. Both require great risks," she said.

The group's October meeting has yet to be scheduled. Information about the group is available at (210) 491-0805.

Co-founder Barbie Gorelick receives e-mail at