UMW to host Middle East crisis forum focused on compassion and recognizing grief

by | Oct 31, 2023 | University of Mary Washington

By Amy Jesse

The University of Mary Washington will host a community forum called “The Middle East Crisis: Extending Compassion and Recognizing Grief in Our Own Community” on Wednesday, Nov. 1, at 7 p.m., in George Washington Hall, Dodd Auditorium. The forum is open to the public and features experts from UMW’s faculty and staff, as well as community leaders, who will discuss their thoughts on dealing with the ongoing conflict in Gaza and Israel.

Speakers will include Dr. Melissa Palguta, a staff therapist from the University’s Talley Center for Counseling Services; Imam Sherif Shehata from the Masjid Aliya Islamic Center; Rabbi Ronda Young, now retired, longtime member of the greater Fredericksburg Jewish community; and the Rev. Ethan Lowery, campus and young adult missioner at Trinity Episcopal Church.

“This forum aims to go beyond politics or history, and we’re not focused on who’s wrong or who’s right. It’s about community,” said Associate Professor of Political Science and International Affairs Ranjit Singh, who organized the event. “Each panelist will speak about how their tradition or profession deals with reconciling trauma and grief with compassion.”

Palguta earned a doctoral degree in psychology and a master’s degree from the University of Indianapolis, as well as a bachelor’s from University of Wisconsin-Madison. She completed her internship at George Mason University Counseling and Psychological Services Center. She deals in a variety of areas and with a wide range of issues, but she has a particular interest in working with trauma survivors, as well as with diversity- and social justice-related issues. Palguta takes a collaborative approach to treatment, working with her clients to establish a treatment dynamic and therapy goals that work best for them.

Shehata leads the Masjid Aliya in Stafford County, which aims to create a safe and inspiring space for the local Muslim population and like-minded members of the community. The center sponsors a local food bank, a youth group, a Sunday school, Eid prayers, community potlucks and barbecues, and a host of additional activities. One of its newest ventures has been inviting local Muslim professionals to speak to parents and students about opportunities and share advice on how to join the workforce and advance. Shehata also serves as chaplain to Stafford County Fire and Rescue and the Stafford County Sheriff’s Office.

Young has been pursuing Hebrew, Rabbinic and Judaic studies for more than 12 years, and has been a Jewish educator for more than 18 years. She has studied at Hebrew College, the Academy for Jewish Religion and the Jewish Theological Seminary in the United States and has traveled eight times to study in Israel at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Conservative Yeshiva and the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies. She completed her Rabbinic journey with her January 2013 ordination, and she has a career in the book business.

Lowery is an Episcopal priest, a native of Richmond and a recent graduate of the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, California, where he completed a master of divinity degree and a master’s degree in the area of sociology of religion. His ministry interests include youth and summer camp and multi-generational ministries, preaching and community organizing. He was involved in his own campus ministry program at the College of William & Mary including serving as the student senior warden.

Sponsored by the Khatib Program in Religion and Dialogue at UMW, the event will be moderated by Professor of Religious Studies Mary Beth Mathews.

“The Khatib Program in Religion and Dialogue at UMW was founded from tragedy in a terrorist attack, when Dr. Reza Khatib and Mrs. Georgianna Clifford Khatib drew inspiration from the aftermath of that terrible day,” Mathews said. “They believed that, through mutual understanding and respect for other religions, we can foster peaceful coexistence. This forum embodies that approach.”

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