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June 10, 2002 Toronto Star Article on Salim Sachedina

Jewish-Muslim family marks girl's bat mitzvah

Rite of passage a joyful tribute to diversity

By Mary Gordon
Staff Reporter

JOYFUL DAY: Hamida Sachedina 12, celebrates her bat mitzvah Saturday with mother Honey Steiner, who is Jewish, and Muslim father, Salim Sachedina.

Six-month-old Grace Gollom sat on her mother Lisa's knee, bouncing and cooing to the Hebrew chanting of the Torah.

Sometimes she would look for her father Barry who stood holding the scroll for his 12-year-old cousin's bat mitzvah.

As Rabbi Lawrence Pinsker told the 220 guests gathered Saturday for the Jewish rite of passage at North York's Darchei Noam synagogue, Hamida Sachedina's bat mitzvah was a joyful tribute to diversity.

Her mother, Honey Steiner, is Jewish, but her father, Salim Sachedina, is a Muslim who spreads out his carpet to Mecca five times a day, and who wouldn't mind if Hamida or her 19-year-old brother Jeremy decide one day to drop one religion for another.

"What's important, I think, is that children should have faith in something in their lives, especially when times are bad," he said.

"I try to teach them that there is something divine beyond us, and that the core, the inner self, is what is important."

Sachedina, who is from Tanzania, and Toronto-born Steiner, were married 23 years ago. His sons from a previous marriage, Abdul, 37, and Najeeb, 24, are Muslims. But Sachedina and Steiner decided to raise their children as Jews. While many inter-faith couples struggle with that decision, Sachedina said it was easy.

"In every religion there are two parts, the divine part and the man-made part. The divine part is always the same. When I sit here and read the Torah, the passages remind me of when I read the Qur'an."

He also felt the bond between mother and child should be strengthened by faith.

It wasn't easy to find a congregation that would welcome them, Steiner said. One rabbi told her it would be too confusing for the children to have two religious heritages.

"It may be confusing to you," she told him, "But it's not confusing to us."

About five years ago, Steiner found the Darchei Noam congregation. It is Toronto's only Reconstructionist synagogue, meaning that it preserves Jewish traditions but makes a point of adapting to be more inclusive.

As Toronto becomes more multicultural, inter-faith marriages will become the norm, Steiner said. She recalled how her nephew, Barry Gollom, and his wife, Lisa Brisebois, struggled to find a rabbi and a Christian minister who would perform a wedding ceremony in Steiner's backyard 10 years ago.

"I said to one rabbi, `You've got to address this problem. The world is getting smaller, and you're going to lose congregants.'"

Gollom and Brisebois now bring up baby Grace and her 5-year-old sister Aliya in both the Christian and Jewish faiths.

"Why are they wearing those on their heads?" Aliya whispered, pointing to yarmulkes.

"To be respectful," her mother replied.

Then Aliya and several of Hamida's cousins marched to the front and dumped gumdrops and candies over Hamida's head, to symbolize a life showered in sweetness.

Later that afternoon, Hamida said the sweetest part of her day was seeing her father's family in the synagogue, where many had never been.

"Both my parents teach me things and I get to put them together," she said.

"I can look at all kinds of religions, I can feel all kinds of religions."

After Hamida had successfully finished her first public reading from the Torah, Rabbi Pinsker, referring to a book by Lebanese journalist Amin Malouf, said that a person's identity should include many parts, and not be "an instrument of exclusion or a weapon of man." Identity should be "a celebration of humanity in all its peculiar particularism."

"This morning, we are celebrants of one family's expression of that vision."


Last updated December  2007 Copyright Mahmood Fazal 2005 - All Rights Reserved Created By Husain Fazal