Bahai News - As always, faith compels them to help
As always, faith compels them to help
By WAVENEY ANN MOORE
© St. Petersburg Times,
published October 13, 2001
At a time when many Americans feel helpless as they face a protracted
conflict and possibilities of further terrorism in their back yards,
some citizens quietly continue their efforts to transform the world for
Sepideh Eskandari, Evelyn Noa and Ann Haendel believe their faith
should stretch beyond the routine of public worship. It is to be
expressed daily, in little kindnesses, in serving others and in
volunteering time and talents to those less fortunate.
Ms. Haendel, 66, volunteers with American Jewish World Service.
She has worked with non-governmental organizations in Senegal and
Zimbabwe and is preparing to leave for Uganda around Thanksgiving.
"I am acutely aware that I was born in a time and place where I
was able to receive a first-rate education and I feel a responsibility
to share that. That derives from my Jewish background that you have a
responsibility to the community and the world," Ms. Haendel, a member of
Temple Beth-El, 400 Pasadena Ave. S, said this week.
"Judaism isn't faith-based. It's action-based," the former
administrator for the federal government added.
"It's not enough just to say, "I believe' or to pray. One has to
act. I learned this as a child. . . . There was a time when I couldn't
do very much. I was a single parent. I had a very demanding job. I'm no
longer working and my kids are grown and on their own and this is
A lawyer by profession and a Bahai by faith, Ms. Eskandari, 33,
donates her services to the St. Petersburg Housing Authority, helping to
mediate disputes with clients. She does other pro bono work as well and
has been a mentor to students at Stetson University College of Law and
the University of Tampa. Ms. Eskandari has volunteered at Gulfcoast
Legal Services, a non-profit corporation that provides free legal
assistance to the poor. She now serves on the board of directors of the
United Nations Tampa Bay Chapter as well as Congregations United for
Community Action. She also is helping to organize this year's interfaith
Ms. Eskandari, an immigration lawyer based in downtown St.
Petersburg, says though: "I feel as though I'm not doing enough. In the
Bahai faith, it's said the highest form of worship to God is through
service to humanity at large. We can do that through our profession
also. Work, especially if it is done with a spirit of service, in the
Bahai faith, it really is putting your religious teachings into
The Bahai faith, founded 158 years ago by Bahaullah, the son of a
wealthy Iranian family, teaches that there is only one God and one race.
Bahaullah advocated universal education, a universal auxiliary language,
world peace and banishment of extreme wealth and poverty.
Like Ms. Eskandari and Ms. Haendel, Mrs. Noa, 94, puts her faith
into practice. The former St. Petersburg Times employee volunteers with
the after-school tutorial program at Childs Park United Methodist
Church, 3940 18th Ave. S. Though she no longer drives, she also is
active in her church, Gulfport United Methodist, at 2728 53rd St. S.
"I've always done it," she said of her volunteer work.
"I just can't sit around. I don't even even have a rocking chair,"
Acknowledging that there is tragedy in the world, Mrs. Noa's
response is: "You can't dwell on it. You know it's there and you do what
you can do. It's important to do the little things. The big things
eventually take care of themselves."
The Sept. 11 attacks have only convinced Ms. Eskandari to do more,
"I am very devastated, but at the same time, as a spiritual
person, you have to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I believe,
as a Bahai, all of this will lead to world peace and we are going to
have it. It is promised in the Bahai writings. They say it is not only
promised, it is inevitable."
Born in Iran, Ms. Eskandari came to the United States at age 8.
Her parents, devout Bahais, sought asylum for the family because of
Iran's relentless persecution of members of the faith. Today Ms.
Eskandari, part of the local spiritual assembly of the Bahai Center of
St. Petersburg, 676 Second Ave. S, does not shy away from encouraging
her immigrant clients. She advises them to value the rights that come
from living in the United States, such as equality of the genders and
freedom to worship.
Her clients include one of the men from Bangladesh recently
questioned by Tampa Port Authority officers and detained by the
Immigration and Naturalization Service after they were seen videotaping
the grounds of the Port Authority. Mohammed Abdul Malik had overstayed
his temporary work visa, Ms. Eskandari said.
Recently she spoke to students at Boca Ciega High School about
law, but admitted she did not stick to legal issues.
"I went beyond that. I didn't hesitate to mention God in the
classroom. I asked them to think, "What is my purpose in life? What am I
going to do? What is my contribution to this world?' "
Mrs. Noa believes her calling is to work with children.
"I like to teach them reading," she said. "I hug them and they hug
me. . . . It isn't all reading. It's giving them a little TLC. Many of
them don't get it," said Mrs. Noa, who has volunteered at All Children's
Hospital and in Connecticut, where she once lived.
"The children I tutor now are from second to fourth grade. We've
had tutoring for children that didn't speak English and we've had many
children that come from families that just don't have the time for these
children and they get to third and fourth grade and they can't read, and
that really makes me unhappy."
This year, United Methodist Cooperative Ministries of the Suncoast
presented Ms. Noa with its First Servant Heart Award for her work.
"I just keep going," Mrs. Noa said during an interview Wednesday.
"I figure the Lord's keeping me here for something. I'd better do
good. I'm on overtime."
Ms. Haendel feels a similar sense of urgency.
"I just hope that my health holds up and I can continue to do this
year after year after year, with less time between assignments, because
I think that the window of opportunity will get smaller," Ms. Haendel
said of her work with American Jewish World Service.
"I don't really think that it's a question of choice at this time
of my life," the grandmother of five said of her volunteer work that
takes her away from home for three to four months at a time.
"It's just a part of who I am, the necessity to use the skills and
talents that I have. It makes me feel great that I can contribute in
some small way. What better legacy to leave my grandchildren?"
Ms. Haendel said she gains as much from her work as she gives.
"Being in a different culture and meeting people whose life
experience is so wonderfully interesting, that's pure pleasure," the St.
Pete Beach resident said.
"I suppose the pleasure that I get from going abroad and working
abroad is as good as someone who perfects his golf game. . . . I'm doing
exactly what I want to be doing. It's not heroic."
©Copyright 2001, St. Petersburg Times
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