Canada 103/150: Shari Golberg

By Shari Golberg

 

Shari Golberg has a PhD in Religion from the University of Toronto and an MA in Religious Studies from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Shari has taught numerous courses on gender and religiosity in both community-based and academic settings, including Huron College and the University of Toronto. Shari also co-ordinates and facilitates Shema & Iqra': The Jewish-Muslim Text Project, a grassroots initiative which brings communities of Muslims and Jews together using classical religious texts as a springboard for dialogue to explore issues of mutual concern, including gender and religious leadership, environmental ethics, and creative expression. Most recently, she has served as the Project Director of Blood, Milk, and Tears, a course and arts collective that explores the relationship between art, gender, embodiment, and identity in Jewish and Muslim texts and communities. Between 2015 and 2016, Shari facilitated a number of Canadian Race Relations Foundation workshops, which aimed to help diversity and inclusion champions deal with challenging issues of faith in their workplaces and communities.

 

Shari was born in Toronto and grew up in a traditional Ashkenazi Jewish family. Both sides of her family spoke Yiddish, kept kosher, and attended synagogue regularly. While her paternal grandparents were born in Montreal, her maternal grandparents were Holocaust survivors (from Poland and Lithuania), and so, from a very young age, words like ‘Kristalnacht’, ‘ghetto’ and ‘deportation’ were part of her vocabulary. Their survival stories would have a huge impact on her. From the age of 12, she began clipping out newspaper articles about initiatives to combat racism, understanding that as sacred work. Even as a young girl she understood that “never again” meant never again to anyone.

 

As a young adult, Shari lived in Jerusalem for three years, first in 1993-1994, while doing a year abroad and then again from 1998-2000, while she was pursuing her Master’s degree in Religion. During this time, she learned more about Judaism and improved her Hebrew, but she also began studying Islam and learning Arabic, premised on the idea that if she was going to live there, it was important to be able to speak to her neighbours in their own languages. She took the opportunity to visit many different synagogues and Jewish communities, but also churches, mosques and Arab communities. She also got involved in a few activist projects involving Jews and Palestinians, including a tutoring program for Palestinian children, and a women’s dialogue group. She did these things because she realized that, despite growing up in a progressive environment in Toronto, she had still been raised with certain prejudices that she was consciously trying to unlearn.

 

Upon returning to Toronto, she hoped to continue some of the dialogue and activist work that had engaged her in Jerusalem. She joined an active Palestinian-Jewish dialogue group, but it was a frustrating experience for her. The conversation often devolved into a ping-pong yelling match between two of the more vocal male participants. She noted that it was not that the women in the group had nothing to say, but they were often out-shouted by these very opinionated men. She was also increasingly struck by the fact that the only thing that held many of these people together across difference was conflict. Since even among people open to conversation, the dialogue seemed to degenerate into a screaming match, it seemed that no one was really getting anywhere. That was when she decided to create a safe space for Jewish and Muslim women to explore issues of gender in Judaism and Islam.

 

Through her personal networks she spread word about the project, and on the day of the first meeting, twenty women – ten Jewish and ten Muslim – showed up to her home. This convinced her that there was great need for such an initiative in Toronto. These meetings would go on from 2003-2009 in women’s homes across the Greater Toronto Area, and eventually would give birth to Shema & Iqra’: The Jewish-Muslim Text Project. All of Shari’s work -- whether in an academic, public sector or community-based context -- seeks to encourage nuanced dialogue about religious identities and how these intersect with our political, civic, and ethno-cultural commitments. Shari is blessed with a wonderful spouse and two fantastic children, as well as an amazing extended support network that allows her to do this work, including supportive parents, in-laws, siblings, siblings-in-law, and lifelong friends who help out when needed.

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