Podcast Bonus Episode – Lady Gilda Levy (WIN Chair and Co-Founder)

The first Bonus Episode in WIN’s podcast series ‘Keeping Faith: A How To Guide’ is now live at https://keepingfaithahowtoguide.buzzsprout.com or on your favourite podcast platform.  In these Bonus Episodes, we speak to the women behind the network – both from inside the WIN team or our grassroots groups – to share their stories and give their own unique perspectives on ‘keeping faith’. Each conversation sheds light on what interfaith work looks like on the ground, and the impact dialogue can have for both individuals and communities.

In our first Bonus Episode, WIN’s chair and co-founder Lady Gilda Levy reflects on the last 20 years leading WIN, the importance of interfaith in 2024, and how she’s keeping faith in challenging times.

‘Keeping Faith: A How To Guide’ and the 2024 ‘Keeping Faith’ Programme

Keeping Faith: A How-To Guide is part of Women’s Interfaith Network’s 2024 Keeping Faith Programme. In each episode, WIN interviews inspiring women to explore how we keep faith – in ourselves, in each other, in a cause, or in religious faith – so you can learn how to keep faith too.

Read more about the programme here and be the first to hear about upcoming events and ways to get involved by signing up to our newsletter.

Listen now on our podcast website or on your favourite podcast platform. Make sure to subscribe, share and review to help more people find us! Episodes are released monthly, with bonus episodes sharing stories from our WIN community.

Full Transcript

Maeve Carlin: Welcome to Keeping Faith, a how to guide, a new podcast from Women’s Interfaith Network exploring how women keep faith in ourselves, in each other, in a cause, or in religious faith so you can learn how to keep faith too.

I’m your host, Maeve Carlin, and today is our first bonus episode. In these episodes, we’ll be speaking to women from our Women’s Interfaith Network community to share their stories and give their own unique perspectives on keeping faith.

Today we’re speaking to WIN’s chair and co founder Lady Gilda Levy, who shares our organization’s origin story, and and how she’s kept faith over the last 20 years leading WIN we hope these bonus episodes will help unpack what this word, interfaith -. that you’ll hear so much through the series – really means to us, and learn more about the women who make Women’s Interfaith Network what it is.

Centring the voices of women who are all too often overlooked in interfaith work is something that’s really important to us at WIN, and we hope our podcast can introduce you to perspectives that you perhaps hadn’t heard before. But for now, let’s jump into our conversation with Lady Gilda Levy.

Well, welcome to the podcast, Gilda.

Gilda Levy: Thank you so much Maeve, and thanks for letting me talk about my passion, which is Women’s Interfaith Network.

Maeve Carlin: Well, we’re delighted to have you. So, you co founded WIN with your friend Pinky Lalani in 2003. becoming a registered charity in 2004. Can you share with us why you felt WIN was so needed at that time and what your vision was for the organisation?

Gilda Levy: Firstly, Pinky and I have been friends for many years, and she’s Muslim and I’m Jewish, yet we got on extremely well together, and found we had a lot in common. And then soon after 9 11, which was a huge shock, I think, to most communities, but especially to the Muslim community and the Jewish community, because there were a lot of conspiracy theories going around about it, and we found that both communities were sort of pulling away, and generally people were becoming quite suspicious of each other.

And it was, it was a very difficult and very traumatic time. And we were having lunch and talking about the fact that we got on so well, and why was it that we got on so well. And primarily it was because we’re both women. And women do seem to have more in common and find it easier to find commonality, I think, than very often men do.

And we talked about it, and we talked about what was going on in society and in the world in general. And we thought, maybe if we could get women together, we could perhaps build some sort of network that would help families to come together and communities to come together. And dispel the fear of the other.

And when people get to know each other, it’s much easier to make connections. And that was our initial idea. And from that idea grew Women’s Interfaith Network.

Maeve Carlin: Wow. And what a journey it’s been since then.

Of course, so many faith institutions, particularly at that time, but still now are led by men.

Maeve Carlin: And it creates this idea that women aren’t doing important things or don’t have important contributions to make in these communities. And I think that’s where WIN kind of comes into the space and has something different to say, isn’t it?

Gilda Levy: Absolutely. I, I think one of the problems is that very often, you’re right, a lot of faith institutions are led by men, and it’s men and their egos that very often lead them.

And I find just women are much more pragmatic. They look at, not the big global picture, but they look at the more sort of community picture, family picture. And they think much more in, I think, most cases about their, their families and the society their families and children are going to grow up into.

So they are much more concerned with, I think with every day. Not saving the world all in one go, but every day. And I have noticed that when I’ve been to any of the interfaith meetings where , most of the people have been men, most of the leaders have been men, they’ll very often talk about, “oh, this, you know, a very important person I was with and this very important meeting I was with.”

I remember very clearly a young woman from Cambridge University who was doing interfaith work at Cambridge. And she stood up and she said, “yes, but what do you actually do?” And I think that was exceedingly relevant. And we are very, very grassroots. We’re working with women. I won’t say ordinary because there are no ordinary people, but women who are living an everyday life.

And may meet each other in the playground but may not speak, or in the supermarket or passing in the shops but wouldn’t think of speaking to another. But we get them to talk and friendships and working together and I think it’s making a difference.

Maeve Carlin: Well, thank you so much for sharing that, Gilda.

Your parents came to the UK to escape Nazi persecution in Vienna, so religious hatred has had a massive impact on your family’s lives. Can you tell us How that has shaped your relationship with interfaith work.

Gilda Levy: Yeah, I mean, I was born here, just after the war. My sister was born in Vienna, my parents had to flee.

My mother lost virtually all her family in concentration camps. So, my early years as a child, were basically overshadowed by my mother trying to find her family because it took many years after the war before people found out exactly what had happened. So that had a huge impact on me. It really did.

And I think I’ve always, I was very lucky because my mother was a person that didn’t teach me to hate. She, she tried to make me understand that ordinary people, um, can get caught up in extraordinary circumstances. And it did have a huge impact and it made me feel that prejudice, blind prejudice, blind hatred, is one of, one of the biggest evils, and it’s very easy to demonize another people.

Once you demonize them and say “they’re not like me, they don’t bring their children up like me, they don’t live like I do, in which case they can’t be as, as human as me, almost”. And that can often lead to one step leads to another and we’ve seen what happens. So I just, I’ve always felt that I wanted to reach out to other people.

I wanted to understand other people and I wanted to get people together. So it’s interfaith, intercultural, um, has been very, very important to me, very important to me. And I think it’s a very rich field. And I think we miss out a lot if we’re not going to be involved and we’re not going to meet other people we’re not going to broaden our horizons.

Maeve Carlin: That’s something that I know we talk about a lot between ourselves as a team, is how much it enriches your life as an individual and also the life of your community when you reach out to each other.

Gilda Levy: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Maeve Carlin: Well, throughout this year, we’re asking women from different backgrounds to share what keeping faith means to them.

So I’d love to hear from you one or two moments of your years leading WIN, where you found a way to keep faith when it’s felt shaken or challenged.

Gilda Levy: I, I think, for me, most of, most of the time over WIN, we’ve, we’ve not been faced with such very, very, very difficult times, as we are at the moment. I think one of the most enriching things for me is just meeting most extraordinary women, and getting to know them, and getting to talk to them, and, and actually becoming friends with them.I mean, friends, real friends, friends that can talk to each other. But at the moment, I think this is the most difficult time we’ve ever, ever come across.

I know after 9 11, there were a few conspiracy theories going about, about who was actually involved and who was really doing it. And I had to, sometimes, bite my tongue and not say what I really would like to have said. But this is the most difficult time I remember. I really do. We, we have been probably quite lucky because we haven’t had anything that has challenged us as an organization, as an interfaith organization, as we’re being challenged now. But I think because we are such a broad organization from Anglican to Zoroastrian, it’s somehow easier to talk about things and discuss things.

And I keep faith in what I’m doing because of the incredible people I meet. And how Really, we, we do reach out to each other in Women’s Interfaith Network. We really do. And I mean, from having Happy Birthday sung to me in Urdu, um, all these things are very, very special. And if I didn’t have Women’s Interfaith Network, I don’t know what I’d be doing at the moment because it is an extremely difficult time.

And I do keep faith and I won’t demonize the other side because it’s totally wrong. And Women’s Interfaith Network has really given me a whole different perspective on problems, on challenges and on divisions. And it’s made me realize that deep down we are human beings.

And one of the problems I think with growing up in the shadow of the Holocaust has been, you know, we talk about 6 million Jews who were killed, but actually 14 million innocent people lost their lives. And it was the most horrendous period, I think, of human failure.

And it’s something that I fight against through doing Women’s Interfaith Network. Because a human being is a human being. And that’s the thing we have to remember. That we are all human beings, and we all should have the right to live and live in security.And nobody has the right to tell another person that you are less than I am.

Maeve Carlin: I’ve been nodding very empathically while you’ve been talking. I think you said so many things there that will connect with so many of us in the interfaith space right now. And again, as a team, we’ve all been so inspired and uplifted by our members and the relationships they have with each other and long may it continue.

Gilda Levy: Absolutely.

Maeve Carlin: Well, we’re 20 years on now from founding WIN lots has changed, though perhaps not as much as we think. What do you think the role of Interfaith is in 2024?

Gilda Levy: I think it’s probably more important now than it’s ever been, although the, you know, the Interfaith Network UK which was the umbrella organization for interfaith organizations. has had its funding taken away and it’s, it’s had to dissolve.

I think that’s incredibly sad because we need it more now than ever. Um, I think there’s a really, really important role to play now for interfaith work.

And I know, A lot of people, when I talk to them and I say what I do, “oh, you know, interfaith work, you know, what’s the point? What, what are you going to change? You’re going to change the world? What are you going to change”. And I say, um, “no, but if I change just a few people, at a time, it’s something.” There seems to be more religious fanaticism going on around the world, much more than, for instance, when I grew up in the 60s, you know, it was, religion was almost, we didn’t think it would still be existing by 21st century, but it’s becoming more and more polarized and that’s why interfaith is so important and it’s not recognized enough and it’s not given enough importance by governments and I think generally it’s not given enough importance.

Whenever we try and get something in the news or something that we’re doing, normally it’s, “oh well, it’s only interfaith work” and people seem to think it’s a bit like Lady Bountiful’s trying to be good. But it’s much more important than that.

And it’s really important that faith leaders come together, that people that are working in different faith communities come together, and that we talk to each other. Talk, talk, talk. Dialogue is so important, because once you actually talk to somebody. And hear, and listen to their stories. Not just tell your story, but listen to their stories, as stories are very important.

Maeve Carlin: Well, what a great note to end on. Thank you, Gilda.

Gilda Levy: Pleasure. Thank you, Maeve.

Maeve Carlin: We hope you enjoyed our first bonus episode, learning more about the women behind the network.

Watch this space for more bonus episodes with women from the WIN community, and our next full-length episode, which will be released as usual at the start of the month.

In episode four we’re speaking to Sandrine Tiller, strategic advisor to MSF, Médecins Sans Frontières or Doctors Without Borders, so make sure you’re subscribed wherever you’re listening to this to find out as soon as it’s released.

Thank you for listening to this episode of Keeping Faith: A How To Guide. Subscribe now on your podcast app to be the first to hear about our upcoming episodes, and please leave a review or share with a friend to help more people find us. To find out more about the podcast, the 2024 Keeping Faith Programme or to get involved with the Women’s Interfaith Network, you can follow the links in our episode notes or go to wominet.org.uk. Until next time, Keep Faith!

 

Keeping Faith: A How-To Guide was created by Women’s Interfaith Network. The podcast is co-produced by me, Maeve Carlin, and Adam Brichto. Our executive producer is Lady Gilda Levy. Theme music was composed by Jamie Payne and our logo was designed by Jasey Finesilver. Additional Support from Tara Corry.

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