Category Archives: Monthly Dialogue

August Dialogue

On the afternoon of Sunday, August 13th from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m., at the Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation, 1441 Wiehle Ave, Reston, VA 20190, JIDS will be holding a dialogue on the topic of “Converts and Conversion.”   Truth be told, how each of us reacts emotionally to conversion tells us a lot about who we are as individuals and how we feel about our faith. Further, what our respective religions have to say about what it means to convert, either to or away from our faith, tells us a lot about our faith communities. We’re going to explore these topics in August in a way that only a plain-spoken but civil dialogue society can.

Plus, in this same event, in addition to talking about conversion as a general matter, we’ll also hear the inspiring stories of four local converts – two who converted to Judaism and two who converted to Islam. Here are our four panelists:

Farhanahz Ellis was born and raised in Panama in an interracial and interfaith family. She holds Law and Political Science degrees and has years of experience in the corporate world. A convert to Islam, she has served as the Interfaith & Outreach Director at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS), a chaplain for the Muslim Campus Ministry at George Mason University, and a member of the Board of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy. Currently, Farhanahz lectures about Islam in the Greater Washington DC Area.

Dr. M. Catherine (Cate) Bennett has been a neuroscientist for over three decades who has devoted her career to the study of learning and memory, neuroplasticity and neurodegenerative diseases. She has served in different positions at the NIH, including as unit leader of the Clinical Pharmacology section of the Neurology Institute. Cate has a lifelong interest in the origins and meaning of our existence and views these issues through the lenses of physics, biology and religion. This interest led her long ago to convert to Judaism after having been raised Episcopalian.

Abdullah Jimmy Marr works in the instrument manufacturing department of a biotech company. Having grown up in a Catholic family in Massachusetts, Abdullah considered himself an agnostic as a young adult. Prior to 9/11, he paid scant attention to Islam. However, during the period immediately following that date, when Islam became such a national topic of interest, Abdullah began to study the faith. He quickly came to experience reading the Qur’an as a transformative experience – as if he was having a conversation with God. Indeed, it was not long after 9/11 that he formally converted to Islam.

Curt Ritter is a lawyer by trade who is now retired. He was raised a Lutheran but has lived a “Jewish Life” for four decades and formally converted to the faith 12 years ago. He is the proud father of two adult children, both of whom had their b’nei mitzvahs at the Northern Virginia synagogue where Curt and his wife are presently active. Indeed, Curt is a fixture at his shul, serving on different committees and singing in its choir.

We look forward to announcing the venue and precise starting time for this August 13th event as soon as possible.