Interfaith Paths to Peace has chosen Haleh Karimi as its executive director, and she is eager to build on the interfaith and peacemaking work of the organization’s founder, Terry Taylor, who retired earlier this year.
Karimi has a deep understanding of the interplay between government and the private sector from her background in business and non-profit entities on strategic planning, public affairs, grassroots organization, communications and other aspects of public policy.
She worked in the IT industry for over 18 years with companies such as Coca Cola Enterprises, Colgate and Steel Technologies. She holds an Executive MBA from Bellarmine University. She is the department chair of Dynamic Web Design at Sullivan College of Technology and Design and teaches IT courses.
She serves on the Industry Advisory Board of University of Louisville’s Computer Science, Computer Engineering and GLIP Advisory Boards, is a past president of the WAC, and is a Leadership Louisville Center Focus graduate.
Karimi is also following her greatest passion as the executive director of Interfaith Paths to Peace. Born in Tehran, she came to the United States at age 13, and has called Louisville her home for 27 years.
A Shiite Muslim, Karimi explained, “I did not really practice my faith until September 11.” That terrorist attack focused attention on Islam, much of it negative, and many people began to ask her questions about her faith.
Karimi saw it as an opportunity to learn more about Islam. “I was born into the faith and just accepted it at face value,” she said. “I wanted to enrich and inform myself more.” The more she learned, the more she came to understand that “Islam is a very peace-loving and compassionate faith and religion.”
At the same time, she came to realize that part of the issue is the Islamic community had no spokesperson in Louisville, so she stepped into the void. At one point, she attended an interfaith event with Taylor and asked him who was speaking for the Islamic faith. When he said no one, “it broke my heart,” Karimi said, “so I said, ‘OK, put me up.’”
Since then, she has represented the Islamic community on multiple occasions and is always ready to provide basic information about her faith.
“I’m honored to take the legacy of Interfaith Paths to Peace from Terry and lead it,” she said. “It is an organization that is well established in the community” particularly in the areas of developing interfaith understanding and peacemaking.
“We have done this very well,” she added, “and we are going to continue. What I would like to do is have events that are rich in content that people can come to and learn something from it to take away from the event.”
She pointed to the recent vandalism at the River Road Mosque as an example of faith communities working together. Karimi was devastated when she learned of the graffiti. “I’ve been in Louisville 27 years and never saw any sort of negativity toward me or my friends,” she said. “This was a total shock.”
The response from the interfaith community restored her faith in the city. “It was so refreshing and reassuring,” she said, that so many in the community showed up to help clean up the mess. Jewish Community Relations Director Matt Goldberg and his family were among the first there and the Jewish community was a significant presence throughout.
“As a Muslim woman,” she said, “I really appreciate what the Jewish community did when we had the situation at the River Road Mosque. I really want to thank you. You were there from the beginning to the end and it means a lot for us to know you are behind us.”
Going forward, Karimi will continue Interfaith Paths to Peace’s threefold programming. IPP will continue to offer diverse programs through their monthly events, educational programs and community peacemaking. She’d like to relaunch IPP’s Spirituality University program and, perhaps, some meditation retreats at the Drepung Gomang Center or the Thomas Merton Center. These retreats would allow people to withdraw from the world for a little while then “come back refreshed so we can be better citizens in our community.”
In addition, she said, IPP will offer through Spirituality University, educational programs, like Islam 101, to any interested group. She expressed a desire to offer similar educational programs for other faith groups as well.
IPP and Karimi have longstanding connections with the Jewish community. In addition to working with Goldberg and the JCRC, she has worked with Rabbis Joe Rapport and Gaylia Rooks at The Temple and Cantor David Lipp at Adath Jeshurun. Last year, Keneseth Israel hosted IPP’s Recipe for Peace fundraiser and this year, it was at The Temple .
IPP is also working with Temple Shalom on an interfaith Thanksgiving program. Originally a tri-faith Thanksgiving service that rotated among the River Road Mosque, Temple Shalom and James Lees Church, this year’s celebration, which will be Monday, November 23, at Temple Shalom, is truly interfaith and will include the Baha’i, Buddhist and Hindu communities as well.
Karimi also plans to reach out to millennials to involve high school and college youths in interfaith programming. Work in this area has begun in partnership with a Bellarmine University Interfaith Youth Group.
More information about Interfaith Paths to Peace can be found at www.Paths2Peace.org.