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Interfaith group bringing cultures together

April 26, 2002|BY BOB MAGINNIS

What does the term "sheihk" signify?

Does a Jewish woman have to cover her head when she goes into the synagogue?

How can we have true tolerance and work together when Christianity, Islam and Judaism all claim truth from God, yet have beliefs that oppose one another?

These are just a few of the questions asked by some of the 300 people who attended a meeting on April 11 at Hagerstown Community College's Kepler Theater, a meeting held to explore the differences and similarities between Islam, Christianity and Judaism.

Because of time constraints, not all the questions raised that night could be answered, but the committee that organized the event promised all inquiries would be answered later.

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On Thursday, May 2 at 7 p.m., they'll attempt to do that at a session that will be held at the Frostburg Community Center on West Washington Street in dowtown Hagerstown.

The Rabbi Janice Garfunkel, the Rev. Don Stevenson and Dr. Shahab Siddiqui - representing Judaism, Christianity and Islam, respectively - will meet the public, answer questions and attempt to deal with the issues raised on April 11.

The event is important not only because of the events of Sept. 11 but also because American is not the "melting pot" it once was. Many people don't even know their next-door neighbors, but does anyone doubt we would have better communities if they did?

Former county commissioner Ron Bowers, now administrator of the Maryland's Property Tax Appeals Board, and a member of the interfaith organizing group, has said that the group may eventually try to involve those of different faiths in a community-improvement project. That would not only do something good for the region, but also to bring those of different cultures together.

Whethger that will happen - and what shape that project might take - has yet to be decided, but Interfaith of Washington County will try to take the next step toward better understanding May 2. The event is free and open to the public and no pre-registration is necessary.

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Hagerstown Councilwoman Penny Nigh put the spotlight on a serious issue this week, when she criticized David Lyles, a partner in a project to develop the old Pangborn Corporation's parking lot into a housing development.

Nigh's argument is that as a member of the city planning commission, Lyles should have told the city government that the property was available as a possible addition to Pangborn Park.

He wasn't under any legal obligation to do so, and he's abstained from any discussions on the project, so what Nigh wishes he'd done is to put the city's interest ahead of his own.

Nigh's scolding makes public an issue that's been brewing behind the scenes for months: Should developers serve on boards that regulate development?

The argument against it is that even if they recuse themselves when their own projects are discussed, the personal relationships they've built up with fellow board members make it less likely they'll receive tough scrutiny. We're all friends here, aren't we?

The argument in favor of it is that without some members who've actually been in the development business, the board would have to depend on staff for expertise, staff members who in many cases have never worked in the industry they regulate. If you're having an operation, do you want it done by an anatomy student who knows all the body's parts, or by someone who has actually wielded a scalpel before?

Asd for the development itself, Lyles and his partner Richard McCleary are in effect saying that if the city doesn't agree to their plans, they'll build less-desirable duplexes. If I were on the council, I'd say "no" and tell them to build a duplex development that shows Hagerstonians just what they think of the city and the citizens who live in it.

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On a lighter note, Hagerstown Councilman Linn Hendershot's dream of bringing some of the musical magic of Pen Mar Park to downtgown Hagerstown comes true this afternoon from 2 to 5 p.m.

"The Headliners," a group familiar to many who attend the summer concerts at Pen Mar, will play at the Masonic Temple near the corner of South Potomac and Antietam streets. The price is $5 per person, so it might be tempting to skip this one and wait for the free Pen Mar series to begin.

But if this event doesn't go well, it's less likely the city will put on another next winter, when cold weather make it impossible to do anything at Pen Mar but shiver and watch your breath hang in the air like a cloud of steam.

And let's face it, Hendershot is really the only one promoting downtown as a tourist destination these days. If he decides doing so is hopeless, it may be a long time before somebody tries again.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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