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Manny’s: The Need for Unity Amongst Faiths in a Time of Political Polarization

March 18, 2019 @ 6:00 pm - 7:30 pm

We are living in a time where, sadly, many of us are bonded by the feeling of being under threat – sexual orientation, gender identity, race, immigration status, and religious beliefs.

Animosity, the stripping of legal rights, and violence towards minorities is nothing new in America but the election of Donald Trump has emboldened the bad actors.

At the same time – we are seeing a major decline in the numbers of folks who identify strongly with a particular religious dogma and go to a house of worship regularly to pray. The difference in formal religious adherence from the Baby Boomers to the Millenial generation is wide.

What is the place and role of religion and religious leadership in the progressive movement? In a time where secularism is on the rise and where religion is increasingly being used as a mask to hurt, how does religion fit into the broader movement.

Here to discuss are three respected religious leaders in a conversation moderated by Michael Pappas of the San Francisco Interfaith Council:

Maha Elgenaidi:
Maha Elgenaidi is the founder of Islamic Networks Group (ING), a non-profit organization with affiliates around the country that are pursuing peace and countering all forms of bigotry through education and interfaith engagement while working within the framework of the First Amendment’s protection of religious freedom and pluralism. Maha is the author of training handbooks on outreach for American Muslims as well as training seminars for public institutions on developing cultural competency with the American Muslim community.
She received an M.A. in religious studies from Stanford University and B.A in political science and economics from the American University in Cairo. Maha has taught classes on Islam in the modern world at Santa Clara University, Stanford University, and the University of California at Santa Cruz, and has been recognized with numerous awards, including the “Civil Rights Leadership Award” from the California Association of Human Relations Organizations and “Citizen of the Year Award” from the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors.

Rabbi Noa Kushner:
Rabbi Noa Kushner founded The Kitchen in 2011 in response to friends who were looking for an informal, transformative shabbat experience that they couldn’t find. Along the way, she crashed head first into what has now been well documented as a generational trend away from many established religious institutions. The Kitchen quickly grew from a local shabbat experiment into an active doorway for San Francisco’s Gen X and Millenials looking for serious Jewish life. Through an emphasis on first-hand experience and “doing jewish” over pedigree, The Kitchen has become an international resource, growing to serve thousands of modern families annually in seven years. In working with IDEO and by emphasizing design + communications, The Kitchen has also changed the ways religion is perceived and integrated into daily life.
After graduating with a degree in Religious Studies at Brown, Kushner was ordained by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1998. She then served as a Hillel Rabbi for both Sarah Lawrence College and Stanford University.
The Kitchen has been featured internationally in Ha’aretz, Tablet, The Forward, and Medium. Kushner has been profiled in SF Magazine’s Power Issue and the final Newsweek / Daily Beast: Rabbis to Watch list. Her written work appears in many publications including, The Torah: A Women’s Commentary, and the Prayers of Awe series.
Noa is married to Michael Lezak, the Rabbi at GLIDE. Together they have three daughters: Zella, Bluma and Minna.

Father Richard Smith, PhD:
Father Richard Smith, Ph.D. is the Vicar Emeritus of St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church in San Francisco’s Mission District. He holds a Ph.D. in Ethics and Social Theory from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, and has taught Religious Studies at various Bay Area universities. He has worked for immigration reform at the city, state, and national level and has worked for social justice in both El Salvador and Nicaragua. To respond to neighborhood violence by individuals, gangs, and law enforcement in the Mission, he organized Mission Nightwalks, a coalition of neighborhood faith communities. He is an advocate for police reform in both San Francisco and at the state level in California.
He lives in the Mission with his husband Rob Tan and their son David.

Michael Pappas:
Michael G. Pappas was born in Glen Ridge, New Jersey. He graduated from Dickinson College (Carlisle, PA) in 1983, after which he successively worked as a lobbyist, regional field director for a presidential campaign and investment banker for the oldest municipal bond firm in New Jersey.
In 1987, he left the world of politics & finance and enrolled at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology (Brookline, MA) attaining an M.Div., with honors, in the class of 1992. An ordained priest of the Greek Orthodox Church, Michael served parishes in Palos Hills, IL, Stockton, CA, and San Francisco, CA.
During his sixteen-year ministry, he was a prolific writer, contributing articles to numerous religious and secular periodicals. As well, he devoted energy to work with the homeless and further ecumenical/interfaith relationships. After transitioning from parish ministry in 2007, he was selected by the San Francisco Interfaith Council to the newly created administrative post of Executive Director.
In his tenure as Executive Director Michael has helped increase the Council’s budget and programs substantially; strengthened existing and cultivated new relationships with civic leaders, NGOs, judicatories and congregations;and significantly projected the SFIC through expanded use of technology.
Michael serves on the San Francisco Commission on Aging and Adult Services and am the Commission’s representative on the In Home Supportive Services Public Authority Governing Body.
Previous Experience
His previous/current board memberships include: Mayoral appointments to the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, San Francisco Disaster Council, San Francisco Office of Civic Engagement’s 2010 Census Complete Count Committee, and San Francisco Assisi Sister City Committee.
He has also served as a Board Member of the National Shrine of Saint Francis; Board of Directors & Program Committee Chair of the Interfaith Center at the Presidio; The San Francisco Foundation FAITHS Advisory Board; Episcopal Charities Board of Trustees; San Francisco Night Ministry Advisory Board Member. He has also served on the United Religions Initiative (URI) North America Region Leadership Council and was elected by that Region to serve as a Trustee on URI’s Global Council. He also serves on the Board of Directors of the American Red Cross Bay Area Chapter.
He is the father of two sons, George and Paul, and one daughter, Julia. He is a congregant at Grace Episcopal Cathedral in San Francisco.


March 18, 2019
6:00 pm - 7:30 pm


3092 16th St
San Francisco, CA 94103 United States
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+1 415-203-7122