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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Find Out What the Faith Forum is About

Lisa Haddock
NJ Faith Forum Editor

Welcome to my portfolio page. Check out some of my published work:

Ex-Nun Embraces Gift as Spiritualist Medium
Professor Offers Jewish View on Bioethics
HBO Examines Death Penalty Case in Okla.

Don't forget to check out my main page.

Monday, March 15, 2004

Ex-Nun Embraces Gift as Medium

The Rev. Janet Nohavec (right)

(Religion News Service, 3/15/2004)
c. 2004 Religion News Service
WAYNE, N.J.—The Rev. Janet Nohavec, wearing a long purple velvet dress and a strand of pearls, is doing what she does every Sunday.

During the Journey Within Spiritualists’ National Union Church’s weekly service, the former Sister of Charity demonstrates her power as a medium, after three decades of hiding it.

After prayers, hymns and a homily, the demonstration begins. Nohavec picks a woman out of the crowd of 45. Nohavec tells her the name Jim or James is important to her and that someone close to her died in a car or motorcycle accident. The woman tells the congregation that her nephew James died in a car accident; that very day was the anniversary of his death.
Gasps and whispers ripple through the congregation, which meets in a wedding chapel at a catering hall.

Nohavec later explains the interaction between her and the recipients of her messages. “I need their participation to validate (the message),” Nohavec, 47, says in her office at The Angel Within, her metaphysical gift shop in Wayne. “If the message is going really well and the recipients are in the right place, I’m not going to get many no’s.”

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The British-based Spiritualists’ National Union, with which Nohavec’s church is affiliated, traces its history to 1848. Its core beliefs, called the Seven Principles, are: the fatherhood/motherhood of God; the brotherhood and sisterhood of humanity; the communion of spirits and the ministry of angels; the continuous existence of the human soul; personal responsibility; compensation and retribution for good and evil deeds; and the possibility of eternal progress for every soul.

The church, which emphasizes contact with spirit world, teaches that mediumship should be verifiable.

Nohavec says that she can see, hear and feel physical sensations conveyed to her from “spirit people,” Spiritualist parlance for the dead. She also can see into the future.

“I love what I do. I treasure it,” says Nohavec, pastor and founder of her own church, teacher, one-on-one psychic reader and local celebrity.

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As a 4-year-old growing up in Franklin Lakes, N.J., she began by hiding her gifts.

“I’d be out playing, and all of a sudden, there’s a man standing there. And I’d run and get my mom, and she’d come, and there would be nobody there,” says Nohavec, who was baptized as a Roman Catholic, although her family didn’t attend church. Young Janet described a bearded man wearing a dark hat and dark clothing to her mother. Her mother said he was Janet’s paternal grandfather, who had committed suicide.

Were these sightings influenced by photos in the family album? “When my parents came here (from a displaced persons camp in post-war Germany), they brought no pictures of any of these people,” says the medium, who is of Czech and Polish heritage.

Her mother considered the manifestations a bad omen. As a result, Nohavec ignored the spirit people she continued to see. At 25, she joined the Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth in Convent Station. Five years later, she left before taking final vows.

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She embraced her gifts two years after leaving the convent. At the invitation of a friend, she attended a circle (a group of people who contact the dead). “That night was the first night I heard a spirit person,” she says.

She began attending a Spiritualist church. Eventually, she trained at Lily Dale, a Spiritualist enclave in New York, and with the Spiritualists’ National Union in England.

The SNU’s teachings “resonated with me. Just live by the Golden Rule,” she says.

Still, she had her doubts. “Once I started to hear the spirit people ... I can remember just praying to God: ‘Are you sure you want me doing this?’” The reply, she says, was a clear yes.

With that certainty, nine years ago, Nohavec founded the Journey Within. Over the years, the congregation has grown to 150, with 75 official members. On Sundays, the church usually draws 50 to 60 attendees. Among them are Christians and Jews, some still active in traditional congregations.

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“The ... goal is to have an alternative place for people to worship who are not fitting into traditional religions,” says Nohavec.

Journey Within members Bob and Camille Pearce of Pompton Lakes fit that description. Bob was raised a Presbyterian and Camille a Catholic, but neither had attended church for 30 years. This husband and wife of 31 years have found a spiritual haven and a pastor whose powers and character they admire.

Bob says of the church: “There’s a lot of peace and love, and there’s truth behind it.”

The first time they attended the church together two years ago, Nohavec brought messages from Camille’s grandmother Anna, they say. Among the many details revealed were Bob’s father’s death of an unexpected heart attack; his father’s connection with ships (he was a veterinarian on a passenger ship); his half-brother’s service in the Coast Guard; and the cemetery and town where his family is buried.

“Nobody knew any of this,” says Bob, a retired computer system installer.

“By the time she got done with my husband, I stood there with my mouth open,” says Camille. “I believe she is definitely a medium. There is no doubt in my mind.”

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Tips for Consulting a Medium

c. 2004 Religion News Service
(UNDATED) The Rev. Janet Nohavec, a Spiritualist pastor, says a large percentage of people who claim to be mediums are fraudulent and unethical.
Here are Nohavec’s tips for avoiding phonies:
  • Pick a medium affiliated with the National Spiritualist Association of Churches of the United States of America (, which has 200 churches and camps throughout the country. The organization estimates U.S. membership at between 3,000 to 4,000, according to the Rev. Sharon Snowman of the NSAC. NSAC mediums undergo training, must demonstrate their gifts, and are subject to ethical standards, Snowman says.
  • Do not use someone who charges exorbitant fees. (Nohavec, for example, charges $75 for a half-hour private reading. Her Sunday demonstrations are free and open to the public.)
  • Avoid a psychic who insists you come back multiple times or offers to break a curse for you. “Cons always involve you coming back a lot or (for) money,” Nohavec says. “People should be ... very careful.”
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Journey Within Church Web site

Thursday, May 15, 2003

Professor Offers Jewish View on Bioethics

(The Record of Hackensack, N.J., 5/15/2003)
c. 2003 North Jersey Media Group
By Lisa Haddock

Dr. Miryam Z. Wahrman is a born teacher.

"I walked into a classroom and I got bitten by that bug. I've always had this desire to bring science to people - to be able to translate it in such a way so that it is palatable and it's accessible," she says.

As if to illustrate her point, the biology professor had just scraped the inside of her cheek with a cotton swab and prepared a slide for viewing under the microscope at her lab at William Paterson University in Wayne. With great enthusiasm, she explained where DNA is found within the cell structure.

Wahrman's desire to educate others about the issues that fascinate her - her Jewish faith, the Talmud, science, research, and bioethics - drove her to write Brave New Judaism: When Science and Scripture Collide (Brandeis University Press, 2002). Her book is an elaborate patchwork of ancient and modern Jewish thought, esoteric Talmudic discourse, cutting-edge biotechnology, and heart-wrenching dilemmas faced by everyday people.

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"My heart and soul were in this book. The things I write about were burning inside me," says Wahrman, who also writes about science and Judaism for the New Jersey Jewish Standard, the Jewish Community News, and America Online.

Wahrman named her book after Aldous Huxley's 1932 novel Brave New World. Huxley painted a grim future in which genetic engineering determines every individual's fate. Each baby is hatched in a lab and programmed for one of five classes, grouped by intelligence.

Despite borrowing Huxley's title, she rejects his pessimism. "The issues [I raise] are issues that Huxley addressed. But I don't think it's a negative world. It's a world where there is a lot of promise," Wahrman says.

As for lab-created babies, Wahrman is a pioneer in the field. On the wall of her tiny office, there are pictures of the first test-tube baby born in New York, before and after birth. Before coming to William Paterson in 1984, Wahrman was part of the team that helped bring this baby into the world.

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Wahrman, who is Orthodox, examines more than her own community's perspectives in Brave New Judaism. The Teaneck resident also presents Conservative and Reform views. Key Jewish ethical principles are repeated throughout the book, including mandates to have children, to heal others and to seek healing for oneself, to avoid causing pain, to repair the world's problems, to take precautions to avoid accidents, to treat animals humanely, to avoid destruction of the environment, and to preserve human life.

Wahrman applies these principles - interpreted by ancient sages and modern experts - to a wide array of issues, including surrogate motherhood, human cloning, stem-cell research, gender selection of children, genetically modified foods, and abortion of fetuses with birth defects. Wahrman shows that opinions vary among rabbinic authorities and sometimes even within denominations.

Rabbi Dr. David Feldman, a leading bioethics expert who is cited frequently in Brave New Judaism, salutes the book as "a skilled presentation of both classic and emerging issues in Jewish medical ethics."

"Dr. Wahrman blends expertise with experience to produce a vital and highly readable volume," says Feldman, rabbi emeritus of the Jewish Center of Teaneck and dean and founder of the Jewish Institute of Bioethics, also in Teaneck.

Despite Wahrman's firm belief that biotechnology can improve human life and the natural world, she believes scientists must follow appropriate moral guidelines.

"Not every application [of biotechnology] is warranted," says Wahrman, a member of Congregation Rinat Yisrael in Teaneck.

For example, Wahrman believes cloning humans is too risky for now. Jewish law would permit the process only if it is highly likely to produce healthy children, she says.

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And the topic of gender selection disturbs her greatly.

"I can't get my mind around it - the fact that people would actually do something to reject a gender in favor of another gender," says the mother of two teenage daughters. Her book documents high rates of abortion of female fetuses in India, China, and Korea.

"I am very interested in the misuse of science," says Wahrman, who is co-director of WPU's Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies.

"The programs that the Nazis did regarding eugenics - the genetic selection of people - relate to some of the things we're talking about today," says Wahrman.

Despite her concerns, Wahrman is unfazed by anti-technology arguments. "This is part of our lives," she says. "We should always be hopeful that we can improve the quality of human life and the natural world."

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Wahrman is working, as well, to improve the quality of her intellectual life. Like many Jewish women of her generation, Wahrman, 47, was not exposed to advanced Talmudic study when she was young. The Talmud, a vast body of Jewish wisdom, is made up of the Mishna, ancient interpretations of the Scriptures; and the Gemara, which comments on the Mishna.

As a schoolgirl, she was taught the Mishna. Throughout her adulthood, she sporadically studied both parts of the Talmud. But about two years ago, her husband, Israel Wahrman, began teaching her a page of the Gemara every Sabbath.

Despite her enthusiasm for her work and learning in general, Wahrman acknowledges that managing her many duties is a juggling act.

"Thank God, I have my health, I have energy, I have a terrific family who support me in every way, and I have wonderful people I work with," she says.

When pressed for more details on how she accomplishes so much, she quips: "I'll introduce you to my clone."

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Sunday, March 17, 2002

HBO Examines Death Penalty Case in Okla.

(The Record of Hackensack, N.J., 3/17/2002)

c. 2002 North Jersey Media Group Inc.
By Lisa Haddock

"The Execution of Wanda Jean" offers a disturbing if incomplete portrait of the first African-American woman to be put to death in the United States since 1954.

The documentary chronicles the last three months of the life of the two-time killer, executed by lethal injection in Oklahoma in January 2001. The film - directed and produced by Liz Garbus - will leave viewers seeking a thorough journalistic account frustrated. However, "Wanda Jean" does capture the harrowing emotional side of her journey to the death chamber.

The film shows Wanda Jean Allen's legal team battling to save her life. They argue that Allen was retarded and suffered from neurological damage that prevented her from controlling her violent impulses, mitigating factors not raised in her trial. Neither contention is explored adequately. In fact, Allen comes across as a thinking woman. She demonstrates a command of Scriptures, reciting verses by heart and arguing theological points with her lawyers.

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The film makes it clear that Allen is guilty. She gunned down her lover, Gloria Leathers, in front of a police station in a suburb of Oklahoma City in 1988. In one of the film's most unsettling moments, Leathers' mother, who witnessed the attack, describes seeing her daughter's intestines spilling out after the shooting.

The relationship was doomed from the start. The pair met while Allen was serving a term for manslaughter and Leathers a term for forgery and larceny. ("Wanda Jean" omits the gruesome facts in Allen's prior case. She fatally shot and pistol-whipped her 1981 victim.) After four years, Allen was freed on probation.

Interviewed for the film, a prosecutor reads chilling threats written by Allen to Leathers. The viewer is left with no doubt that Allen was a domineering woman who contemplated killing her lover well before Leathers tried to end the relationship.

Death penalty foes point out that a killer is far more likely to be executed if the victim is white, especially if the killer is non-white. In this case, both killer and victim are black. Allegations that homophobia influenced Allen's sentencing are raised but unexplored. The sole evidence given is that the case was tried in Oklahoma, well-known for its conservatism and stiff criminal sentences.

Despite the film's shortcomings, it includes powerful interviews with relatives of Allen and of Leathers. Most effective are the scenes showing the emotional toll on Allen's mother and attorneys. Clearly, these people loved this troubled woman.

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The film's central figure remains frustratingly elusive. She is charming and affable in one scene, peevish the next. Though she professes a deep Christian faith and sincere repentance, she avoids taking responsibility for her crime, claiming she was not in her body at the time. At times, her belief in God seems sincere. At others, it seems a shield of denial against her impending doom.

The film's most dramatic moment, the execution itself, takes place off camera. But it captures the contradiction that is Allen. In her final moments, she offers a prayer of forgiveness for her executioners, yet dances in her restraints and sticks her tongue out.

Leathers' relatives see her farewell as an unforgivable taunt. Her defense team describes that moment as heroic, cocky, and playful.

The truth went to the grave with Allen. And viewers are left to contemplate that disturbing ambiguity.

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