Unity feast offers taste of a prejudice-free world
Unity feast offers taste of a prejudice-free
Thursday, February 10, 2000
By PAT KINNEY
'Abdu'l-Baha, son of Baha'u'llah, founder of the Baha'i Faith,
lived all of his life in the Holy Land. But in 1912, at the age of 68,
'Abdu'l-Baha embarked on a yearlong journey to the west, spending nine
months in the United States.
Baha'is believe that 'Abdu'l-Baha is the perfect exemplar of their
teachings, and in his travels 'Abdu'l-Baha did much to confirm that
He and his father had long been persecuted for their religious
beliefs. However, toward the end of his life, after Baha'u'llah's death,
'Abdu'l-Baha was released from prison in Palestine.
Inspired by the possibility that 'Abdu'l-Baha could now travel,
Baha'is residing in the United States invited him to come here.
'Abdu'l-Baha accepted their invitation but returned the ticket they
had purchased for him on the maiden voyage of the Titanic. He instructed
the Baha'is to sell the ticket and give the money to charity. He paid
with his own money for passage on the S.S. Cedric, arriving in New York
on April 11, 1912.
For Baha'is in North Jersey, the culminating event of
'Abdu'l-Baha's trip was his visit here on June 29, when he invited the
Baha'is and their friends -- representing a diversity of races,
nationalities, and religions -- to partake in what he called a
'Abdu'l-Baha paid for the food, assisted in its preparation, and
served his guests, gathered in the bucolic setting of the country home
of Roy Wilhelm. That rural site, then West Englewood, is today the
Wilhelm Baha'i Properties on Evergreen Place, just off Queen Anne Road,
This seminal event has been memorialized as the annual Souvenir of
'Abdu'l-Baha. Always celebrated on the last Saturday in June, thousands
of Baha'is and their guests have experienced for nearly a century one
unforgettable afternoon that offers a glimpse into a world of the future
where prejudice -- whether of race, nationality, age, gender, or class
-- does not exist.
As he toured the United States 'Abdu'l-Baha was invited to speak at
prestigious institutions such as Columbia and Stanford universities. He
met with financier J.P. Morgan and industrialist Andrew Carnegie. But
time and again, 'Abdu'l-Baha stressed that world peace and an end to
human suffering could only take place with a change in the spiritual
attitude of all people.
'Abdu'l-Baha saw to it that his official itinerary called attention
to the pressing needs of society. He addressed the preliminary Hague
Peace Conference held at Lake Mohonk, N.Y. He gave coins to the poor and
homeless at the Bowery Mission. He spoke at Howard University in
Washington, D.C., and addressed the fourth annual conference of the
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in
Chicago. He spoke to gatherings of Unitarians, Theosophists, Baptists,
Jews, and the Japanese YMCA.
"Let deeds, not words, be your adorning," the Baha'i
teachings instruct. This 'Abdu'l-Baha did unceasingly during the 239
days of his physical and spiritual journey here. And the Unity Feast
held here in Teaneck remains symbolic of the potential of all people to
attain friendship and well-being.
©Copyright 2000 Bergen Record Corp.
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