Globe photographer Joanne Rathe has produced this video taking a look at the traditions associated with the Jewish holiday of Sukkot as seen through the eyes of a family in Boston. The holiday began at sundown last Friday, and ends at sundown this Friday.
Sunday night I went home and took a spin through Job.
Earlier in the evening, I had attended a screening of the remarkable new Coen brothers film, "A Serious Man,'' hosted at Brandeis by the National Center for Jewish Film. The film is being compared to Job because it centers on a seemingly decent man for whom everything suddenly goes wrong, without explanation, and his efforts to seek help from God are as unsuccessful as they are persistent. The film opens in Boston Friday; I thought it was stunning -- mesmerizing, witty, bleak, honest -- but I see that the critics have been all over the map.
The film is attracting a lot of attention, in the Jewish world and the film community, for its portrayal of Judaism, or at least of Jewishness. The film, for a major release, is almost shockingly insider-y, beginning with a short story filmed entirely in Yiddish (don't worry -- it's subtitled), and the body of the film is permeated with Jewish concepts, language, and culture. The depiction of Jewish family and religious life -- in this case, in Minneapolis in the late 1960s -- is often chilling in its nihilism (or is it just emptiness?) -- but many of the scenes clearly struck a chord of recognition among the audience at Brandeis, which laughed often and knowingly at characters such as the mind-numbingly boring, and unaware, Hebrew school teacher, and the string of rabbis whose pastoral counsel often featured a mix of anecdotes that went nowhere and a series of unanswered/unanswerable questions.
The studio production notes include a few observations about the role of Judaism in the film, quoting Ethan Coen saying, "Occasionally people would ask, 'You’re not making fun of the Jews, are you?' We are not, but some will take anything that isn’t flattering as an indication that we think the whole community or ethnicity is flawed." And Joel Coen is quoted saying, "People can get a little uptight when you’re being specific with a subject matter. From our point of view, 'A Serious Man' is a very affectionate look at the community and is a movie that will show aspects of Judaism which are not usually seen."
Looking for a bit of context, I called my friend Cathleen Falsani, who, happily, has just written a book called, "The Dude Abides: The Gospel According to the Coen Brothers.'' Here's an edited transcript of our conversation:
Q: What are the Coen brothers trying to say about Judaism?
A: I don't know if they're trying to say anything about Judaism, in particular. Having looked at all 14 of their films, I see the same themes in a lot of their other films -- this one just happens to be set in an academic, Jewish, milieu. I would hesitate to take it as a commentary on Judaism. I don't think it is a reflection of their faith. And I see a lot of tenderness, frankly, in the way that they are treating a lot of their characters. The rabbis are very faulty people, like we all are, but it's not snarky.
Q: What role does faith play generally in the Coen brothers' films?
A: What I see, almost to a film, is this question of 'Why do bad things happen?' The theodicy question is almost ever present. In 'The Big Lebowski' you have this one wholly innocent man who dies in the parking lot of a bowling alley. In 'No Country for Old Men,' certainly that was a question dealt with there. But they raise more theological, metaphysical, existential questions in their films than they ever answer, which I think is brave. What does it mean to be good? If there is a God, why is there evil? They cover everything from karma and grace to sin and responsibility and community. In 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?,' they are looking at, who is my neighbor, who is my brother? There is divine intervention in some films. And, in the darkest films, we don't learn anything and a lot of people wind up dead.
Q: Do they deal with Jewish themes in other films?
A: There are Jewish characters in other films, but I don’t know that I would say there are explicitly Jewish themes, and I don't know that they're dealing with a Jewish theme in 'A Serious Man,' even though it's set in a Jewish community. The themes are more universal. There's definitely some Biblical themes in some of their films, but I don't think they're trying to say anything in particular about the validity, or not, of Judaism. They're more explorers of the spiritual landscape.
Q: What do you know about their own faith lives?
A: Only what they've said, which is very little. They were raised Jewish, but left that behind after their bar mitzvahs. Their sister is quite religious and moved to Israel. Joel Coen is married to Frances McDormand, whose father and sister are Disciples of Christ ministers. But the Coens don't really reveal much about themselves, or try to interpret their work or explain their work in interviews.
Q: The depiction of the Jewish community in the film seems pretty tough, especially the portrayal of the rabbis.
A: Larry (the main character) is asking a question that there is no good answer to. Whatever religious tradition you're in, when you're suffering and asking why, there is no adequate answer. The answers the rabbis give are as ineffectual, and as good, as anybody is going to give you. I'm a Christian, and I have yet to hear anybody give anyone else a good answer from a Christian perspective. There is no good answer -- whether you're Buddhist or Muslim or Hindu, the answers don't satisfy the yearning that question comes from. So yes, it's a rough depiction, but it's reflective of what they live. I don't see it as meanspirited. It's fairly tender. And frankly the clergy come off better than the overtly religious characters in their other films, like the Bible salesman in 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' In 'A Serious Man,' the clergy are more nuanced, more human.
Q: How does their depiction differ from that of Woody Allen?
A: I think Woody Allen is far more caustic. Maybe the Coens believe religion or faith is utterly foolish, but it doesn't come across that way. In Woody Allen's films, it is the height of stupidity to believe in something other than what's in the here and now. And he's much more obsessed with death than the Coens. And I don't think any religious character comes across particularly well, except for maybe in 'Crimes and Misdemeanors,' where the rabbi came across well, but then he made him blind.
Q: What do you think of the parallels to Job?
A: There are always the obvious themes in the Coen films, but it's usually what's happening beyond the obvious that's powerful. Sure, he (Larry Gopnick, the main character) is Job, and he's a shlemiel. He doesn't curse God, but he questions why this is happening, and is therefore a lot more like most of us than Job is. But it's a fair parallel to make, and the way the film ends is far more Jobian than the rest.
Q: Do you think the film will be accessible to non-Jewish audiences?
A: I think it's extremely accessible because of the universal themes. This is a really spiritually important film, because of that question of what's the meaning of suffering. That's not Jewish -- that's everything, that's universal. It would be really shortsighted to call it a Jewish film and leave it at that -- it certainly is that, but it's more than that.
(Photo, by Wilson Webb/Focus Features, shows Aaron Wolff (center) as Danny Gopnik in Joel & Ethan Coen's "A Serious Man.")
A task force has released a new study on the health (or lack of health) of the Jewish organizational world on Boston's North Shore, a region that for some historic reason that I've never quite understood operates independently from the rest of Greater Boston's Jewish community. Globe reporter Steven Rosenberg takes a look at the report in a story in today's Globe North:
The report, which focuses on 23 Jewish communities from Lynn to Gloucester, lays much of the blame for the community’s fiscal and social problems on paid professionals who have steered the area’s larger Jewish institutions. In addition, the report also describes a community where Judaism and Israel are now playing a lesser role, along with religion and charity to Jewish causes.
According to the report, just 25 percent of the area’s Jews belong to a synagogue, as opposed to 40 percent of Jews throughout the United States who affiliate with temples. In addition, just 10 percent of Jews gave to the Jewish Federation of the North Shore, the area’s largest Jewish fund-raising group, in fiscal 2008 and 2009. It points to a gloomy financial state for local Jewish organizations: This year, 15 of the 17 organizations that submitted their finances for the report - eight synagogues and nine institutions - are expected to lose money.
“The financial condition of our institutions is a reflection of years of weak management and inadequate leadership, as well as communal apathy and disinterest - perhaps more serious problems than finances and certainly more elusive when it comes to a search for solutions,’’ the report states.
The Jewish Journal has posted the full text of the report here.
(Photo, by Michele McDonald for the Globe, shows an aquaerobics class at the Jewish Community Center of the North Shore in Marblehead on Sept. 14, 2009.)
These days organizations always seem to be relaunching and revamping their web sites -- today, in fact, my own employer is unveiling a modest redesign of the Boston.com homepage -- and in the local religion world the Archdiocese of Boston recently overhauled its site, even changing its URL from the bureaucratic (and, for many, mysterious) rcab.org (which stands for Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston) to an address that requires no explanation, BostonCatholic.org. (The archdiocese has also dumped the word “chancery” when referring to its administrative offices, replacing it with the phrase “pastoral center.”)
Now comes the local Jewish community, which is undertaking an ambitious project to rethink its presence on the web. Like the Catholic makeover, this endeavor will start with a new and non-institutional URL – JewishBoston.com. But Combined Jewish Philanthropies, the umbrella organization that is overseeing the project, is taking a somewhat unusual approach to developing the site, inviting the Jewish community inside the design process by pre-launching the site more than six months before the content is ready and using the URL to share with the public some of the design documents (including the RFP) that show how the site is being envisioned. Most notably, the page now features a blog that is chronicling the step-by-step process of developing the web site.
Because I was redoing my blogroll recently, I’ve found myself thinking about how religious denominations portray themselves on the web, and musing about the different challenges that face hierarchical religions with centralized authority, like Catholics and Mormons, compared with nonhierarchical religions, with no central authority, like Unitarian Universalists and Jews. For the Catholics and the Mormons, it’s a lot easier to articulate where the religions stand on various issues, and to decide what views and organizations to highlight on an official site. But for religions like Judaism and Unitarian Universalism, as well as others, in which disagreement is so much a part of the fabric that it’s hard to imagine what the word dissent means, deciding what the role of an official site is is more complex. Jewish organizational leaders in Boston are fairly practiced at working together despite serious differences – the Jewish Community Relations Council, for example, has members spanning the entire denominational spectrum, and Combined Jewish Philanthropies funds everything from Orthodox day schools to gay and lesbian advocacy groups. But differences of opinion over Israel have been harder to smooth over, and how that will work on-line is one of the many questions that JewishBoston.com developers are thinking about as they develop a web site that seeks to take a big tent approach to the Jewish community.
The first phase of JewishBoston.com is expected to launch in late winter – sometime before March 1 if all goes according to plan – with a complete calendar of events in the Jewish community (along with the ability to register or buy tickets when applicable) and a resource directory. The site will be integrated with Facebook and Twitter, which should make possible viral event publicity. And each Jewish organization will also be able to have its own blog on the site.
I asked Patty Jacobson, who is overseeing the site development, what the purpose is. Her answer:
First, there is the concept that we’re really all Jews by choice now. If the Jewish community doesn’t invest in being in a place where the next generation is, it will be very hard to get them to choose to be Jewish. And the next generation connects with everything else through technology.
Related to that is evidence we collected which basically said that, if you’re an insider, you know where everything is, but if you’ve just moved to Boston, or you’re intermarried, or you didn’t grow up with a tremendous amount of Jewish tradition or presence in your life, when you try to come into the Jewish community, you don’t know where to start. The greatest barrier is the simple lack of information. So we want to open up the community wider to more people.
I also asked Jacobson what the point is of blogging about the site development. Her response:
The essence of web 2.0 is that it’s all about user participation. JewishBoston.com is not envisioned as something that gets pushed out, but something where the community comes together and organizations and individuals across the entire geographic spectrum contribute information. We didn’t want to wait to create that mindset until we launched the site – our goal is that by getting feedback along the way, we can build a site based on user input. Also, one of the underlying themes of the CJP strategic plan was increased transparency and accountability and collaboration. So we want to practice what we preach.
The effort has already attracted the attention of JewSchool, where David Levy observes that watching the site develop "probably won’t be of interest to many, but for those of us who deal with how Jewish communities communicate and organize information, it’s a fascinating glimpse behind the curtain."
I finally got a chance to see "Inglourious Basterds" last night, and am now catching up on some of the discussion that's taking place among Jewish bloggers, in particular, about what to make of this blood-soaked Quentin Tarantino fantasia in which a group of Jewish American soldiers, led by Brad Pitt (whose character is not Jewish), make their way across a German-occupied World War II France giddily and gruesomely scalping and branding Nazis. The film seems to represent a few trends in depictions of the Holocaust in popular culture -- both the increasing interest in real or fictional Jews who fought back, and an increasing willingness to at least flirt with the comic in films that deal with one of history's great tragedies. Any deviation from documentary-style depictions of the Holocaust sparks debate among those worried about trivialization, and "Inglourious Basterds," which is only loosely related to reality, is no exception. A few analyses that have caught my eye as I try to sort through my own reactions this morning:
In The Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg, who calls himself "a veteran REM-state Mengele-killer,'' profiles Tarantino, and comes away skeptical of his film's message:
I have a high tolerance for violence in Tarantino’s compelling fantasy demimonde. But Inglourious Basterds is the first Tarantino movie to reference real historical events. Which might be why I find his anti-Nazi excesses—there’s a concept—disconcerting. Or it might be because I don’t actually have revenge dreams anymore. They stopped sometime after I left the army, if I remember correctly. Given the chance, of course, I would still shoot Mengele in the face. That would be a moral necessity. But I wouldn’t carve a swastika into his forehead. That just doesn’t sound like the Jewish thing to do.
In Tablet magazine, Liel Leibovitz is particularly critical, comparing Tarantino's film to the Nazi propaganda it mocks, calling both, "empty cinematic spools of sound and fury, signifying nothing":
Tarantino’s film is a bit of shallow propaganda, promoting not some totalitarian ideology but a worldview in which cool trumps consequence, nothing is real, and everything is permitted. If there’s any justice in the world, it’s a vision viewers everywhere will vehemently reject.
Charlie Bertsch, writing at Jewcy, has a lengthy essay about the film, which starts with a survey of the criticism, observing, "In taking on World War II and, implicitly, the Holocaust, Inglourious Basterds invites a degree of moral scrutiny that Tarantino’s choice of genres previously helped him avoid. The fact that he continues to project the image of an insouciant amateur movie fan rather than a disciplined director, even when handling such historically delicate material, compounds the trouble." An excerpt:
Inglourious Basterds has still provoked the same misgivings as Tarantino’s previous directorial efforts. Some worry that its depiction of violence is excessive, others that the humor that leavens that violence might deaden viewers’ moral sensitivity. But because this is a story in which Jews take revenge on their oppressors, other concerns have come to the fore. The most heated objections to the film have come from those who worry that it makes viewers identify with characters in troubling ways. Interestingly, this charge has been levied from opposing ideological camps. Whether supporters of Israel or the sort of progressive intellectuals who relentlessly point out its failings, critics have argued that the film makes revenge too sweet.
There is nothing in the narrative to imply that the Germans in the film, most of them high-ranking Nazis, deserve sympathy for their plight. Nevertheless, the unorthodox practices of the primarily American commando unit known as the “Inglourious Basterds” – scalping their kills and carving a swastika on the foreheads of any survivors – have troubled those who believe that the distinction between “us” and “them” must encompass methodology as well as ideology.
Meanwhile, at Politics Daily, David Gibson puts the film in the context of other manifestations of Jewish toughness, both real and imagined. He notes the role of Jewish sports heroes in countering images of nebbishiness, but also notes that Jewish toughness, particularly in the form of Israel's treatment of Palestinians, has also become a source of criticism:
The modern renaissance in Jewish grit can be traced to the birth of Israel in 1948, which was founded in hostile territory by a people that had been nearly exterminated a few years earlier. The legend grew with the success Jews had in creating a land of milk and honey out of the desert, and it was sealed in the popular imagination by the astonishing military victory of the Six-Day War in 1967 and the Yom Kippur War of 1973, as well as the 1976 Entebbe raid that rescued hostages off an Air France plane hijacked by Palestinian terrorists. That era was celebrated in the 2005 Steven Spielberg movie "Munich," a well-regarded film about the Mossad's patient campaign to assassinate the terrorists who murdered 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
Some would also note that Jews earned their stripes in the tough arena of sports -- witness baseball greats Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax -- as well as crime. Journalist Rich Cohen titled his history of past Jewish organized crime figures "Tough Jews," pointing out that guys like Bugsy Siegel (played by Warren Beatty in the movie) and Meyer Lansky were regarded by many Jews as providing a rare and enviable tough-guy image. (A site called J-Grit.com has lists of what it says are legendary tough Jews from modern times, including rogues as well as heroes.)
In some respects, however, Jewish -- or at least Israeli -- prowess has taken a hit since the resurgent Palestinian intifada of 2002. That was followed by episodes like the 2006 battle in Lebanon against Hezbollah that was widely viewed as a failure for Israel, and the 2007 invasion of Gaza that left the Israeli army looking like the oppressor in the eyes of many. Recent books have even openly critiqued the "Jewish lobby" in America.
Finally, out of curiosity, I took a look at how the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' film office is viewing the film. They have recommended it only for a "limited adult audience" because of "problematic content many adults would find troubling." The reviewer, acknowledging that the film raises "complex moral issues,'' then wades into a complex issue himself, suggesting that perhaps killing rank-and-file Nazis is not justifiable:
"Inglourious Basterds" (Weinstein/Universal) is a provocative World War II fantasy requiring careful moral assessment from viewers well-educated in Catholic teaching and able to withstand its occasional episodes of graphic bloodletting. In between those incidents, writer-director Quentin Tarantino weaves a suspenseful, though somewhat lurid, alternate history of a tragic epoch....
As the direct perpetrators of an inhuman tyranny, Goebbels and his ilk would have made fair targets, since they bore personal guilt for the regime's bloody crimes, and their lives were obstacles to the restoration of the common good.
But the American band's systematic brutality toward low-ranking enemy soldiers, especially prisoners, is far less easily justified, and can only be accepted within a genre far removed from reality and on the supposition that all Teutonic combatants were, to some degree at least, Holocaust enablers.
(Photo, by Francois Duhamel/TWC via Bloomberg, shows actors Eli Roth and Brad Pitt in the film "Inglourious Basterds.")
Some items on my reading list this Wednesday:
The Red Sox and Yom Kippur: The final Red Sox-Yankees game of the regular season has been moved to accommodate Yom Kippur. The conflict (caused when ESPN sought to have the game moved from the afternoon to the evening of Sunday Aug. 27) was discussed in Tablet magazine; the Associated Press explains the move back to the original time period.
Kennedy and that Mormon temple: The Belmont Citizen-Herald has a story examining local reaction to a tribute to Senator Kennedy by Senator Orrin Hatch, in which Hatch suggested that Kennedy somehow helped the Mormons get permission to put a spire with a statue of the angel Moroni atop their temple in Belmont. Trouble is, the decision was made by the courts, so the Hatch comments raised the question of whether Kennedy interfered with the judiciary, for which there appears to be no evidence. Additional comment at Religion Clause and from Dan Kennedy.
Bible translations: Zondervan yesterday announced that a new translation is in the works for the New International Version of the Bible, which the publisher claims is the world's most popular translation. Ted Olsen at Christianity Today says some decisions about recent revisions are now considered "mistakes." And Eric Gorski of the Associated Press explains the controversy over gender terms in the text.
In today's Globe, health/science reporter Liz Kowalczyk takes an interesting look at the increase in demand for chaplains at Boston hospitals. An excerpt:
The number of requests from patients, families, and staff for spiritual guidance in one of the country’s most technology-rich medical hubs has soared, as hospitals have expanded the role and number of chaplains.
Since 2004, requests for chaplains at the Brigham have jumped 23 percent. At Massachusetts General Hospital, requests have grown 30 percent since the hospital began tracking visits in 2006. And at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, which expanded its pastoral care program last year, monthly visits are expected to rise to at least 540 this month, a 10-fold increase over the same time last year.
“Visits are just going through the roof,’’ said the Rev. Julia Dunbar, director of pastoral care and education at Beth Israel Deaconess.
Chaplains and doctors said requests - from both religious and nonreligious patients and families - are growing in part because hospitals are caring for sicker patients who are more often grappling with questions about aggressive care and death. The number of Latino patients also has grown, chaplains said, and many of these patients are deeply religious.
Also, as hospitals have expanded the role and number of chaplains, which include priests, ministers, rabbis and imams, they’ve become more visible and available. Last year, Beth Israel Deaconess hired a full-time Catholic priest and six part-time chaplains and began asking all patients whether they want a visit during their stay. Mass. General has assigned its chaplains to specific units to increase their visibility.
(Photo, by John Tlumacki of the Globe staff, shows a Jesuit priest/hospital chaplain, the Rev. George Winchester, talking with patient Bob Perry of Lowell at Brigham and Women's Hospital on Aug. 20, 2009.)
I'm compiling here statements from religious leaders about the death of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. Check back for updates -- I'll add the statements as they come in.
From Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Boston:
Today we mourn the passing of Senator Edward M. Kennedy and we extend our heartfelt prayers and sincere condolences to his wife Victoria and their children, Kara, Edward, Patrick, Curran and Caroline. Senator Kennedy was blessed with a dedicated and loving family who stood by his side, particularly during the past year as he faced his illness with courage, dignity and strength.
We join with his colleagues in Congress and the people of Massachusetts in reflecting on his life and his commitment to public service. For nearly half a century, Senator Kennedy was often a champion for the poor, the less fortunate and those seeking a better life. Across Massachusetts and the nation, his legacy will be carried on through the lives of those he served.
We pray for the repose of his soul and that his family finds comfort and consolation in this difficult time.
From Barry Shrage, president of Combined Jewish Philanthropies:
Like so many people, I mourn the loss of Ted Kennedy. Ted and his brothers were heroes to me, giants in the fight to make a better world of equality, justice and caring.
I’ve never forgotten the first time I met Ted Kennedy. I was 40 years old and brand new to Boston and Ted Kennedy appeared at a CJP event. Steve Grossman introduced us and we spoke. Actually Ted Kennedy spoke - I was speechless. I was speechless because Ted Kennedy was the living embodiment of my best dreams for America and for the world. He was a great leader all by himself but also a symbol of something that powerfully changed my life and the aspirations of my generation.
These changes started with JFK. I never met John F. Kennedy though his picture was on my desk from the day he was murdered in 1963 until I graduated from social work school in 1970. I handed out campaign fliers on the Grand Concourse and Fordham Road in the Bronx when he ran for President. I was 13 and it was 1960. His election taught me something about ideas and the possibility of change.
I did meet Robert Kennedy. During the middle of the Cuban missile crisis, he came to speak at a Democratic Party fundraiser at the Concourse Plaza Hotel where I was working at the time. I was 15 and scared out of my mind.
Robert kept the dream alive. When he ran for the US Senate from New York in 1965, I chaired Students for Kennedy at City College, and I worked for him again when he ran for President in 1968…..a last hope for peace and justice at a time when I was obsessed with both. His assassination, like his brother’s, was shattering.
By the time I met Ted Kennedy, most of my political energy was focused on our Jewish community and its hopes and dreams, for Soviet and Ethiopian Jewry, for a strong Israel, and for justice for the poor and forgotten of our community and of the broader community within which we live.
And whenever the Jewish community needed help, Ted Kennedy was always there. Ted Kennedy was a tireless advocate for Soviet Jewry and went to the Soviet Union to meet with refuseniks on many occasions. Ted Kennedy advocated for their freedom and he advocated for Israel. Through war and peace he always listened. He was always there. He never refused a meeting and he always stood up for Israel.
Ted Kennedy despised anti-Semitism and all forms of hatred bigotry and racism. Ted Kennedy was our own Massachusetts hero and a symbol of the determination of Americans and Jews everywhere for justice and righteousness.
If his brothers were the symbol of the dream that drove and continues to drive my generation, Ted represented the hard work required, day in and day out to turn those dreams into reality. Boston, Massachusetts, our people, the Jews of Greater Boston and all the oppressed of the earth will all miss him.
Our condolences are extended to his entire family.
From the Rev. Peter Morales, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA):
I am saddened by the news of Senator Edward Kennedy’s passing and express my condolences to the Kennedy family. Our country has lost a great leader who tirelessly defended the basic rights of all Americans and stood on the side of those people who were most vulnerable. He devoted his decades-long career in the U.S. Senate to advancing the causes of economic justice, immigration reform, and universal health care. His dedication to making government more just and compassionate has been an inspiration to Americans of many faith traditions. Senator Kennedy had a gift for reaching out to religious people and lifting up our shared commitment to equality and the betterment of humanity. We can honor Senator Kennedy by carrying forward his legacy of working on behalf of those who are marginalized in this country. We must – and we will – continue advocating for the living wage, immigration reform, and health care for all. By giving our resources and commitment to the causes of fairness and equality, we move toward realizing the American dream to which Kennedy dedicated his years of public service.
The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston (JCRC) is deeply saddened by the passing of Senator Edward Moore Kennedy. A model of dedication to the Commonwealth and the nation as a whole, Senator Kennedy embodied the values that our community stands for - social and economic justice, and the fair treatment for all Americans, including its most vulnerable citizens. His ability to create unlikely alliances allowed for a legacy of significant accomplishments in the Senate that have improved the lives of countless Americans. Senator Kennedy was also a true and loyal friend to the State of Israel and provided unwavering support to her in her quest for peace over the years. His leadership in these areas and more will be sorely missed.
Nancy K. Kaufman, Executive Director, said, "Ted Kennedy, who was my Senator from the time I could vote, exhibited his commitment to core Jewish values. Senator Kennedy has worked tirelessly with us on major issues such as health care reform, care for the poor, disabled, and elderly, advocacy for former Soviet Jewry, and support for Israel." Ms. Kaufman stated, "We will all miss his passion and his commitment to democratic issues and values, and we must continue his legacy of advocacy for social justice. May his memory be for a blessing always."
Our thoughts and prayers are with the Kennedy family and all the individuals who were touched by the work and compassion of Senator Kennedy.
The Anti-Defamation League New England mourns the death of long time friend Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) following his long and courageous battle with brain cancer.
We mourn the passing of the Senator, a great American, a master legislator and a passionate champion of our nation’s democratic values and fundamental commitment to equality and fair treatment to all.
Senator Kennedy’s leadership on immigration reform was instrumental. Upon the 50th anniversary of his brother, President John F. Kennedy’s essay, "A Nation of Immigrants," ADL reissued the book. Senator Kennedy wrote in the introduction, "The urgent issue before us is about the future of America. It is about our pride for our immigrant past and our pride for our immigrant future."
Esta Epstein, Regional Board Chair and Derrek Shulman, Regional Director praised the work, legacy and the path that Senator Kennedy brought to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the world. "We will continue to champion his values and work as we move forward."
From Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, a progressive evangelical organization:
In the aftermath of the 2004 Presidential elections, the Democrats were roundly accused of losing the "moral values voters" in America, and of being the party of "secularists" who were hostile to faith and religion. The very first Democrat to call me and ask to talk about that accusation and how to change the moral debate in America was Ted Kennedy. He invited me to his home, where he, and his wife Vicki, engaged me in a long and very thoughtful conversation, into the night, about the relationship between faith, morality, and politics. Their own deep Catholic faith was evident and their articulation of it very impressive. Our discussion was not partisan at all--it was not about how to win religion back for the Democrats. Rather, we focused on the great moral issues facing the nation, and how we as people of faith needed to respond to them.
On the occasion of his death, I pray that God may now move us as a nation to address the greatest commitment of Senator Kennedy's life--the need for a comprehensive reform of the health care system in America--as a deeply moral issue and one that calls forth the very best that is within us. May we honor the life and death of Senator Edward Kennedy by laying aside the rancor, lies, fear, and even hate that has come to dominate the health care debate in America this summer; and regain our moral compass by recovering the moral core of this debate: that too many Americans are hurting and suffering in a broken and highly inequitable health care system; and that it is our moral obligation to repair and reform it--Now.
It is with great sadness that we mourn the loss of Senator Edward Kennedy. Senator Kennedy, a man of deep and abiding Catholic faith, dedicated his life to noble public service. In pursuing the common good and advocating for human dignity around the globe, Senator Kennedy’s 46 year career was a reflection of the core values of the Catholic Social Tradition. He championed the cause of justice for the poor, the immigrant, and the most vulnerable and throughout his career demonstrated the value of civility, compassion, and compromise on matters of critical public concern. May Senator Kennedy’s deep faith and commitment to the common good serve as a model for us all.
From Catholic Democrats:
Catholic Democrats mourns the death of Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), one of the most important Catholic political leaders in our country's history. The third longest serving member of the Senate, Kennedy's life exemplified a commitment to public service. His irreplaceable brand of leadership in Congress and to the nation led to the passage of unprecedented landmark legislation that covered a broad range of social justice issues which reflected both Catholic Social Teaching and his deep personal faith. He touched the lives of hundreds of millions of people, providing for their fundamental human needs, opening doors of opportunity, and helping create a more just society.
"Senator Kennedy's Catholicism was at the core of his identity," said Dr. Patrick Whelan, president of Catholic Democrats. "The common thread that runs through everything he accomplished was his belief in building things for the benefit of others, particularly those most in need. I believe this is the essence of being a good Catholic, and I think it's right at the heart of Senator Kennedy's entire legacy."
"The 'Lion of the Senate', Senator Kennedy brought the passion of his beliefs to, in his own words, "all those whose cares have been our concern" while at the same time reconciling differences between his colleagues from both sides of the aisle. He was both a fighter and a healer. He fought for universal health care, "the cause of my lifetime" he said, until the very end of his life. Both Republican and Democratic leaders will greatly miss his leadership in making universal health care a reality," said Whelan, a pediatric specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital.
"Senator Kennedy's passing is an immeasurable loss to our country and the world. He inspired liberals and earned the respect of conservatives. He was the conscience of our nation, particularly on the necessity of providing health care to all and on behalf of the poor and disadvantaged," said Steve Krueger, national director of Catholic Democrats. "His remarkable life's journey - one of overcoming insurmountable challenges through faith - provides inspiration for all of us in our own personal journeys and in serving the common good."
"We offer our most heartfelt prayers to the Senator's family in this time of sadness. There will never be another Ted Kennedy," said Whelan.
(Photo of Cardinal O'Malley taken in Cuba by AFP/Getty Images on August 18, 2009. Photo of Barry Shrage courtesy of Combined Jewish Philanthropies. Photo of Rev. Morales courtesy of the Unitarian Universalist Association. Photo of Nancy Kaufman taken in Boston by Janet Knott of the Globe staff on August 19, 1999. Photo of Jim Wallis taken in Boston by Wiqan Ang for the Boston Globe on February 11, 2008.)
For those of us who love maps, Gallup today has put out a nifty set illustrating the differential religious makeup of the American states. The maps are based on new data -- survey research conducted earlier this year -- but there's no big news here: the Northeast is the most Catholic region, the South the most Protestant, Utah the most Mormon and New York the most Jewish. And the Pacific Northwest and northern New England have the biggest percentages of non-religious folks. Here is Gallup's analysis of what it calls a "remarkable pattern of religious dispersion in the U.S.,'' with an interesting unanswered question about Vermont:
"A good deal of the religious dispersion across the states is explainable by historical immigration patterns -- particularly the impact of the large waves of European Catholics and Jews who came through ports of entry in the Middle Atlantic states in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
The geographic concentration of Mormons in and around Utah reflects the cross-country migration of that group in the mid-1800s from Illinois and other Eastern states to their new home. The fact that certain states like Oregon and Vermont consist disproportionately of residents with no religious identity is more difficult to explain, with hypotheses focusing on the particular and idiosyncratic cultures of those states and/or the migration of certain types of Americans to those states over the decades."
Here's the map about Catholicism:
Several leading Jewish organizations in Boston are planning a vigil in Boston Wednesday for the victims of last Saturday's shooting at a gay community center in Tel Aviv. There are vigils taking place around the world -- the local gathering is at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday on the just-renovated Riverway steps at Temple Israel. The local event is sponsored by two mainstream Jewish umbrella organizations, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston and Combined Jewish Philanthropies, as well as a gay Jewish advocacy organization, Keshet, a gay congregation, Am Tikva, the liberal New Israel Fund and Temple Israel, a Reform synagogue.
"We are saddened and outraged by the premeditated murder of Israelis who were targeted because of their sexual orientation. This cowardly act of terrorism took place against innocent victims in a place of acceptance and support. Israel is a model of forward-thinking society where the overwhelming majority of citizens support equal civil rights for all. Unfortunately, some voices in that society seek to incite violence against the gay and lesbian community; they should be held to account. We look forward to the time when voices of inclusion are proactive and universal and we are confident that the perpetrators will be brought to justice."(Photo, by Reuters, shows Israeli gay rights activists lighting candles during a rally in Tel Aviv on August 4, 2009.)
The Globe's Steven Rosenberg reported Friday that Temple Ahavat Achim, the only synagogue on Cape Ann, will rebuild in the wake of a fire that destroyed its house of worship in Gloucester in December 2007:
In recent decades, the 200-member temple served as a sanctuary for a diverse group of Jews who live on Cape Ann. Affiliated with the Conservative Jewish movement, it met the needs of straight, gay, traditional, and Reform-minded Jews who wanted a place to pray along the rocky coast.
While members were stunned after the fire, their initial response was to hold an emergency fund-raising drive for the people who had lost apartments. They raised $23,000 for their neighbors, and during the process members also took solace in the outpouring of local, national, and international support for their synagogue.
Torahs from Swampscott, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania were rushed to Gloucester, where the congregation continued to hold services in the Unitarian Universalist church and in members’ homes and offices. A Manchester church offered space for the synagogue’s Hebrew school.
Administrative offices were set up in the synagogue president’s office; members met for Friday night Sabbath dinners; emergency committees were established to plan the shul’s future; and some $750,000 in donations poured into Gloucester from major US cities, as well as from Israel, Europe, Canada, and South America.
“We were devastated and frightened that this might be our end, but in the process we realized how strong we could be,’’ said Dr. Philip Cutter, a retired psychiatrist who is leading the fund-raising campaign to help build the new temple. “We became unified around the loss.’’
(Photo, by John Blanding of the Globe staff, shows firefighters battling the fire on Middle Street in Gloucester that destroyed Temple Ahavat Achim on Dec. 15, 2007.)
An organization that attempts to promote innovative and entrepreneurial programs to strengthen the Jewish community is coming to Boston.
PresenTense, a relatively new but buzz-rich organization headquartered in Israel, has been chosen by Combined Jewish Philanthropies, the establishment coalition of Jewish organizational life in Boston, to oversee a new fellowship that will launch in January aimed at helping Jewish young adults with innovative ideas to figure out how they might translate those ideas into action. CJP will finance the program, and PresenTense will run it.
I talked with Karyn Cohen Leviton, the director of strategy implementation at CJP, who said the program is still taking shape, but that it will involve 10 to 15 part-time (evenings and weekends) fellows in their 20s and 30s who will be chosen for the strength of their ideas for new Jewish social ventures (i.e. programs intended to strengthen the Jewish community in some way), and will be offered training on business basics as well as access to potential donors and investors. The fellows will also be offered mentors with experience in launching new ventures, and will be invited to do something called "board-hopping,'' which apparently involves observing the boards of venture capital firms and small businesses. The idea is that some of the fellows will then launch new organizations based on some brilliant idea that will address a challenge facing the Jewish community. I asked Cohen whether there aren't already too many organizations in the Jewish world -- a frequent critique of Jewish communal life in the U.S. -- and she said, "It's a market economy -- some of these (new) ideas could be so good that they should be promoted, and an old one should go away.''
PresenTense was founded three years ago with a magazine, and it runs a summer institute in Jerusalem for "social innovators" -- people seeking to launch new programs that will improve the world. I e-mailed Ariel Beery, co-director of the PresenTense Group, in Israel to ask him to explain what the organization is, and what it's doing in Boston. Here's our exchange:
Q: What is PresenTense?
A: PresenTense is a grassroots movement founded by Jews around the world in their 20s and 30s who came together around the idea that the Jewish people and the world need a new framework if it is going to survive and thrive and fulfill our potential in the 21st century. As such, PresenTense set out to build the Jewish community's next generation of pioneers, to solve social problems and inspire the Jewish people. We're doing so by building a community of ideas through our magazine (reaching 30K individuals online and off), inspiring creativity in local community circles (now in six cities around the world) and training pioneers through our educational programs. Our educational program -- the newest one being based in Boston -- was developed over the past three Summer Institutes in Jerusalem. The particular goal is to equip the next generation of social entrepreneurs with the tools and ideas they need to go out into the world and make a difference. As our world and our people face new challenges brought on by globalization and digitization, I'm confident that this new generation of pioneers will be able to find new ways of working, teaching, praying and serving the needy that will help us build a better world. Most of all, our Summer Institute fellows are our heroes--that is, the heroes of all of us who contribute and participate in PresenTense around the world, be it through the magazine, circles, or hubs -- as they are taking the values and visions that we collaborate upon and actualize them through their ventures.
Q: How is the organization funded, and what are its goals?
A: The organization is a social enterprise, and as such has over a dozen sources of revenue, much of them earned though educational services and membership fees. Our all volunteer magazine is supported through ads and subscriptions, our circles are all volunteer based, and our educational programs are funded by organizations and communities interested in bringing PresenTense's methodology to its population. Of our budget, 40% is from foundations including the AVI CHAI Foundation, the Schusterman Foundation, and others. More info is online.
Q: Why are you coming to Boston?
A: We're excited to come to Boston because of the potential in the community, and the support and active partnership of the CJP. In order for us to fulfill our mission to grow pioneers, we have recognized that we need to work with the community to build new infrastructure for the Jewish people to address social problems and inspire innovation -- and we can't think of a better place to start our state-side fellowships than Boston.
Q: What exactly will you be doing here?
A: PresenTense and the CJP will be running a five-month fellowship program for Jewish social entrepreneurs -- innovators who seek to engage and inspire the Jewish community to solve social problems. The program will admit a limited number of entrepreneurs in the pilot year, and provide them with a number of supportive programs and training opportunities to meet other innovators, learn from successful entrepreneurs in the field, be mentored by leaders in their fields, and showcase their ventures in a community-wide launch night.
There has been some debate about whether PresenTense is succeeding; the organization claims to have launched 41 ventures in 3 years, but Beery takes on the what-is-success question on his blog.
President Obama met today at the White House with a group of Jewish leaders. The White House press office offered only a brief summary of the meeting, and a list of participants. Here it is:
Description of meeting with leaders from the Jewish community:
"The President met with more than a dozen leaders from the Jewish community today for approximately 45 minutes. They had a substantive discussion, ranging from Middle East peace efforts and Iran, to reforming our health care system and policies to address global hunger. The President reiterated his unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security, and reiterated his commitment to working to achieve Middle East peace."
Alan Solow, Chairman, Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations
Lee Rosenberg, President-elect, AIPAC
David Victor, President, AIPAC
Malcolm Honlein, Executive Vice Chairman, Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations
Abraham Foxman, National Director, Anti-Defamation League
Jason Isaacson, Director of Government and International Affairs, American Jewish Committee
Nancy Ratzan, President, National Council of Jewish Women
Kathy Manning, Chair, Executive Committee, United Jewish Communities
Andrea Weinstein, Chair, Jewish Council for Public Affairs
Marla Gilson, Washington Director, Hadassah
Stephen Savitsky, President, Orthodox Union
Rabbi Steven Wernick, Executive Vice President and CEO, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President, Union for Reform Judaism
Ira Forman, Chief Executive Officer, National Jewish Democratic Council
Debra DeLee, President and CEO, Americans for Peace Now
Jeremy Ben Ami, Executive Director, J STREET
(Photo, by Robert Giroux/Getty Images, shows President Obama at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington on July 13, 2009.)
I was wondering how long I could hold out before blogging about Michael Jackson, and now I know the answer: six days.
In those days since the King of Pop died, I've now seen so many items about his faith that my head is starting to spin. He was a Jehovah's Witness. A Muslim. He accepted Jesus before he died. The Vatican loved him, but was that right? There's even a Jewish angle of sorts. Not to mention the unending discussion of what it means to call him an icon, or an idol. Some folks have suggested that his funeral will shed some light on his final faith practices, but I'm not holding out much hope for that.
Here is a brief Michael Jackson religion roundup. Make of it what you will:
- Jackson was raised a Jehovah's Witness, and there have been a variety of unconfirmed reports that at some point he was disfellowshipped by the Witnesses. Back in 2000, Jackson penned an essay for Beliefnet about his relationship to the Sabbath, and in it he discussed doorbelling to preach for the Witnesses:
"Sundays were my day for 'Pioneering,' the term used for the missionary work that Jehovah's Witnesses do. We would spend the day in the suburbs of Southern California, going door to door or making the rounds of a shopping mall, distributing our Watchtower magazine. I continued my pioneering work for years and years after my career had been launched."
- Jackson's brother Jermaine is a Muslim, and there were some reports during Michael's life that he, too, converted to Islam. The Times of London rounds up the evidence in an item headlined, "Was Michael Jackson Muslim?"; there was also a roundup on Global Voices. Imam Zaid Shakir blogged about Jackson's conversion to Islam, and then retracted his blog item, concluding, "There have been many reports throughout the media concerning Michael becoming Muslim. Allah knows best as to their veracity.'' Perhaps my favorite development on the role of Islam in the Michael Jackson story, though, was this correction that ran Saturday in The New York Times, revising a comment that Jermaine Jackson made at the hospital where Michael Jackson died:
"The article...misstated part of a comment that Mr. Jackson’s brother Jermaine offered for Mr. Jackson after speaking with reporters. He said, “May Allah be with you always,” not “May our love be with you always.”
- Not to be outdone, Christianity Today tackles the question, "Was Michael Jackson a Christian?" The evangelical magazine explores, and then essentially debunks, suggestions that Jackson accepted Jesus just before his death. "Initial rumors that the King of Pop had accepted Christ may have been false,'' the magazine concludes.
- The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, meanwhile, offers a story on Michael Jackson's "Jewish Ties,'' which turn out to be quite complex -- he said some offensive things, he was friends with a rabbi, he flirted with kabbalah (who didn't?) and it's possible that at least two of his children are technically Jewish because Jackson's ex-wife Debbie Rowe, who has been thought to be the biological mother of the children, is Jewish. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, a onetime friend of Jackson, wrote a generous appraisal for Beliefnet; Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the head of the Reform movement, offers a far more critical assessment, asking,
"Is it really necessary, however, now that he is dead, for those who speak in the name of the Jewish community to be joining in the adulation and offering excuses for his actions?"
- Some in the Catholic community are similarly conflicted. L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, published a generous appreciation of Jackson's legacy, prompting Tom Heneghan of Reuters to observe: "It’s not every day that the Vatican newspaper suggests that a man accused of pedophilia and said to have converted to Islam might be immortal. But that’s what L’Osservatore Romano did today." Over at American Papist, Thomas Peters is not amused, calling the Vatican paper's assessment "fawning'' and suggesting that it could never have appeared in a parish newsletter:
"Jackson, it should be noted, from all outside accounts, lived a tortured existence and the circumstances of his death should prompt an outpouring of fervent prayers for his soul, not these gushing, Hollywood-esque bon mots about how his "myth" will survive "serious and shameful" accusations. All the artistic success in the world, we must realize, is a basket of straw if your personal life was a spiritual, human wreck. I really dig Michael Jackson's music, but as a Catholic, I don't have to buy into the myth that great art makes a great man. Michael Jackson's best chance to "never die" is the mercy of Christ, not his best-selling record."
I suppose it's not all that surprising that an entertainer who often seemed confused, or confusing, about race, gender and sexuality, would also leave us wondering about his religious beliefs. Here's Juan Cole, blogging about how religion fits into the Michael Jackson identity swirl:
"Jackson was a man of multiple identities, which helped account for his enormous worldwide popularity. It seems clear that he was deeply traumatized by his rough show business childhood, and that things happened to him to arrest his development. Just as a stem cell can grow into any organ, Michael's eternal boyishness made him a chameleon. Increasingly androgynous, he expressed both male and female. A boy and yet a father, he was both child and adult. In part because of his vitiligo, he interrogated his blackness and became, like some other powerful and wealthy African-Americans of his generation, racially ambiguous. Toward the end of his life he bridged his family's Jehovah's Witness brand of Christianity with a profound interest in Islam. He was all things to all people in part precisely because of his Peter Pan syndrome. A child can grow up to become anything, after all."
(Photo, by Hasan Jamali for The New York Times via AP, shows Michael Jackson wearing a black abaya while exiting a shopping mall in Bahrain with one of his children, also veiled, and a security guard, on Jan. 25, 2006.)
I’m now at the mosque, and directly across Malcolm X Boulevard are about a dozen or so protesters holding signs saying, “Prayer, Yes. Extremism, No!’’ The protesters have a two-man band, including a saxophone, playing an unusual medley of music ranging from “Amazing Grace” to “Embraceable You,’’ and they are handing out doughnuts to passers-by, along with brochures reading “what you need to know about the ISBCC/MAS leadership.”
In a bit of counterprotest theater, a group of young Muslims took white roses from the interfaith breakfast this morning and walked over to the demonstrators to hand them the flowers as a sign of peace and goodwill. Predictably, a shouting match ensued, surrounded by reporters and cameras, with a group of police standing warily by. Minds were not changed – it’s not even clear how well people could hear one another, if at all.
I tried to talk to a few of the protesters, but they said they had been instructed not to speak to the media, but rather to defer all questions to Charles Jacobs, who has been the mosque’s leading critic. Jacobs was critical of the flower gesture, saying, “they just want to surround me and give me flowers – they don’t want to talk to me,’’ and he urged reporters to focus on what he says has been problematic funding of the mosque by Saudi donors, and problematic literature in mosque-related facilities, such as instructions for wife-beating that were once posted on the website of the mosque in Cambridge, which, like the Roxbury mosque, is owned by the Islamic Society of Boston.
One supporter of the mosque pointed out to me that, although the vast majority of Boston’s Jewish leadership has boycotted today’s events, it seems likely that there were actually more Jews celebrating with the mosque supporters than protesting them – the breakfast’s honorary chairs included two Hebrew College officials as well as the head of the Workmen’s Circle, and the attendees included some young Jewish activists. One of the Jewish participants in the interfaith breakfast inaugurating the mosque, Enid Shapiro, e-mailed me to say, "The breakfast was quite extraordinary although I was very disappointed that representatives of the established Jewish Community (CJP) were not represented. The demonstration outside the Reggie Lewis Center was appalling and certainly did not represent me or in my mind the Jewish Community." Later, at the ribbon cutting, I ran into Rabbi Moshe Waldoks, who told me he saw around six local rabbis joining the celebration. “For those in the Jewish community who have been involved in dialogue with the Muslim community, we celebrate what our cousins are doing by establishing this symbol in the community for many years to come.”
A variety of Muslims talked to the protesters, including the Saudi architect of the mosque. Also talking with the protesters was Harvard pluralism guru Diana Eck, a religion professor and longtime mosque supporter, who brought her summer interns to today’s events to witness American pluralism in all its fervor and ferment. Eck said that the mosque “has been plagued with a series of misunderstandings, and the age-old tactics of guilt by association.’’ She called the suit and counter-suit that stalled the project “a huge blot on the face of Boston,’’ but said that the opening of the mosque, “on the positive side, has represented the kind of engagement that the new America really requires – this is the kind of engagement pluralism is really about.’’
(Photo above, by Michael Paulson/Globe Staff, shows the protests across from the mosque in Roxbury today, June 26, 2009.)
The past year has been an eventful one for Jewish-Catholic relations – there were controversies over the revival of an allegedly anti-Semitic Good Friday prayer and the lifting of the excommunication of a Holocaust-denying bishop, and then there was the visit by Pope Benedict XVI to Israel. In the middle of it all was Mordechay Lewy, a longtime Israeli diplomat who serves as Israel's ambassador to the Holy See.
Lewy, who previously represented Israel in Germany, Sweden and Thailand, visited Boston this week, primarily to speak at a conference at Boston College, and I spoke with him Friday morning at his hotel in Newton.
Here are edited excerpts of our conversation:
Q: Why do relations with the Vatican matter?FULL ENTRY
A: We can not afford, as a Jewish state, and we can not afford as a Jewish people, to continue on after 1,900 years of bad experience, traumatic experience with the Christian world. Now, if we take the Christian world as a whole, it's quite an amorphic body. But at least if we have a well known structure, as the Catholic Church, with a top echelon of it in Vatican, I think that would be a missed opportunity not to get along with them as much as we can, knowing that we will not ever be able to come to terms on all aspects the questions which lie between us.
Her name is Rebecca Rubin. She is 9 years old and lived on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in 1914. And she's causing a bit of a sensation as the newest American Girl, because she's also Jewish.
The new doll is part of a series of historical dolls manufactured by American Girl, a subsidiary of Mattel, and the first with an explicitly religious affiliation. Her backstory (the dolls all have backstories) was written by a local children's author, Jacqueline Dembar Greene, who lives in Wayland, and the company's local store, at the Natick Collection, is holding an event to promote the doll at 11 a.m. tomorrow (Sunday, May 31). The books tackle some central elements of the early American Jewish experience -- immigration, labor conditions, the celebration of Christmas in public schools -- as well as iconic locales, from Ellis Island to Coney Island, and the Lower East Side.
I asked American Girl spokeswoman Susan Jevens about the decision to have a religious doll, and this is what she said:
"We don't really classify our historical characters via a particular religion...we classify them by the pivotal period in history they represent (i.e. Addy is the Civil War character, Kit is the Great Depression character, Felicity is the American Revolution character and so on). Rebecca is our American Immigration character. In telling these stories, we strive to be as culturally authentic and historically accurate as possible and, if religion played an integral role in the character's life (like Rebecca), then we make sure to include that aspect in the books. However, our focus is always on the bigger theme, which, in Rebecca's case, is the immigrant experience and the significant impact Jewish immigrants made to mainstream American culture. Another example of this would be our character, Josefina, our girl of Colonial New Mexico. She's not really intended to represent the Catholic religion, but Catholicism was a big part of Josefina's daily life and is depicted throughout her stories."
(Image courtesy of American Girl.)
Andover Newton Theological School (right) this week announced that it is pursuing a possible merger with Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, prompting me to take a look at the variety of ways in which local theological schools are adapting to new economic and educational realities. Here's an excerpt from the story:
"The decision by Andover Newton follows several innovative arrangements by local theological schools facing financial or enrollment pressures.
In Cambridge, Episcopal Divinity School is in the midst of a new partnership with Lesley University, in which Lesley is purchasing seven buildings from EDS, the land is being governed cooperatively by the two schools, a joint library is about to be launched, and Lesley is taking over buildings and grounds, custodial services, and dining services for EDS. The two schools expect at some point to discuss academic cooperation.
In Brighton, Boston College has absorbed Weston Jesuit School of Theology, which had been located in Cambridge, and Boston College is also providing facilities assistance to St. John's Seminary, which is on land the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston recently sold to the university. In Newton, Andover Newton is already sharing maintenance staffs and some academic programming with Hebrew College, which is now having conversations with other potential partner institutions.
On the North Shore, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, an evangelical Protestant institution that is by far the largest local theological school, has adapted to the new climate by opening additional campuses in North Carolina, Jacksonville, Fla., and Roxbury and sharing faculty and administration among the campuses.
'When you have a fixed amount of money, are you going to spend it on gutters and downspouts or scholarships and scholars?' asked Nick Carter, president of Andover Newton. 'Folks are looking at the challenge of overhead versus the delivery of mission.'"
(Photo, by Wendy Maeda of the Globe staff, shows a building at Andover Newton on May 27, 2009.)
News you can use: there is a brief clip of Bruce Springsteen dancing the hora while his band plays "Hava Nagila" now making the rounds of the blogosphere.
The video (above, with "Hava Nagila" starting at the two minute mark) shows Springsteen (who was raised Catholic) ripping through a typically burning take on "Little Latin Lupe Lu" and then holding up a large sign with "HAVANAGILA" scrawled on it. The crowd roars as pianist Roy Bittan plays a jazzy open into the familiar lilting riff of the Hebrew folk song and the Boss, holding the sign aloft, dances a tentative hora while his wife, backup vocalist Patti Scialfa, claps in time. The digression ends after about a minute, as Springsteen holds up a new sign and the E Street Band kicks into its classic, "Blinded By the Light."
Jeffrey Goldberg, of the Atlantic, was at the May 18 concert at the Verizon Center, and broke the news the next morning. But that's when the story gets really incredible -- Goldberg then discovers that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel facilitated the moment. Goldblog has the full story; here's an excerpt:
"Goldblog reader Clifford Mendelson, who made the now-famous 'Hava Nagila' sign, was seated two rows behind Emanuel (and near David Brooks and Andrea Mitchell and other such luminaries in an apparently all-Jewish section of the Verizon Center), courtesy of Bruce himself, who met Mendelson at the Arizona Biltmore hotel a few weeks back (I'm omitting some of the shaggy-dog qualities of Mendelson's story in order to get to the heart of the matter). In any case, Mendelson, a Springsteen fanatic, knew that Bruce would probably play Stump the Band, and, like many other concert-goers, he decided to bring a sign with him. 'Hava Nagila' was chosen in deference to his daughter, a 14-year-old student at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, Md.
...He went on with his tale: 'I didn't have the sign up when Bruce came to our side of the stage, but I held it up and Patti (Bruce's wife) sees it, and Roy Bittan sees it - he's Jewish - and he gives me a fist pump. But I've got to get it up to the stage. Bruce then looked our way and saw it and he points at me. Rahm Emanuel turns around and sees it and he loves it and grabs the sign. He hands it to a Secret Service agent who handed it up to Bruce and then they played it.'"
Needless to say, the world of Jewish bloggery is talking. Failed Messiah calls the event "a brief but memorable moment in Rock history." And the National Jewish Democratic Council calls Goldberg's tale "the scoop of the century,'' and NJDC blogger Joshua Rolnick observes, "I’ve been to a dozen or more Springsteen shows, and can safely attest to the fact that normally, people show up with “Rosalita” or “Murder Incorporated” or “Jungleland” signs. This might have been a first."
In today's Globe, I have a story about the impact of the economic downturn on Jewish community organizations. The lede:
Jewish organizations in Boston and beyond are going through a significant downsizing as a result of a combination of the down economy and the Madoff scandal.
Combined Jewish Philanthropies, an umbrella organization that helps finance several hundred local Jewish groups, gave preliminary approval yesterday to a 15 percent cut in the amount it will distribute next year. The organization had already cut its budget by 15 percent, laid off about 10 percent of its workforce, and imposed a 7 percent pay cut on senior managers and a one-week furlough for everyone making over $45,000.
The Reform Jewish movement plans to close its regional office in Needham next week. The Bureau of Jewish Education, in Newton, is debating whether to close after Combined Jewish Philanthropies cut 80 percent of its funding. Multiple organizations, from the Anti-Defamation League to Hebrew College to Facing History and Ourselves, have laid off small numbers of workers, and many others have trimmed salaries, benefits, or programs.
"The American Jewish community has probably lost 30 percent of its wealth, and we have no idea how to cut the costs of the Jewish community by 30 percent," said Jonathan Sarna, a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University.
Combined Jewish Philanthropies has posted a letter explaining its own reductions on its web site. And in the video above, CJP President Barry Shrage talks about the state of Jewish philanthropy.
Among the most affected organizations is the Bureau of Jewish Education, which is losing most of its funding and trying to decide whether to disband or restructure. Globe photographer Suzanne Kreiter shot the organization's staff meeting Thursday:
On Thursday night I had the honor of moderating the Boston Jewish Film Festival's annual "Works in Progress" event -- an evening that gives supporters of the festival a chance to see portions of an unfinished film and talk with the filmmakers about the creative process. The film this year, "Leap of Faith,'' is a documentary centering on an unusual subject -- Christians who convert to Orthodox Judaism. The filmmakers, Stephen Friedman and Tony Benjamin, are both Orthodox Jews, and career admen, who are married to converts, and they spent the last four years interviewing several dozen would-be-converts before deciding to focus their film on the journeys of four individuals who are considering Orthodox Judaism.
Although for many of us, the most familiar conversion stories are associated with marriage, Friedman and Benjamin chose to focus on people whose interest in Judaism was driven by some kind of spiritual quest that was largely independent of a romantic relationship. Some of the folks they talked with were moving from evangelical Protestantism to Orthodox Judaism -- an unusual journey, to be sure. During the Q&A, the filmmakers largely rejected the psychological explanations for conversion -- the suggestion that people who choose orthodox faiths are seeking to fill some kind of need for structure or rules in their life -- and instead said they came away believing that the would-be converts were animated by a sincere search for some kind of truth. As a religion reporter, I found the subject fascinating -- although faith-changing is the story of American religion these days, I'm always intrigued by people who choose to take on high-demand faiths, like evangelicalism or Islam or Mormonism, and conversion to Orthodox Judaism by non-Jews is not a phenomenon I've encountered at all previously.
The 90-minute film is supposed to be completed soon, and then will likely make the round of festivals as the filmmakers seek to find a way to broadcast it more widely. Stay tuned.
(Photos courtesy of Humble Films.)
Pope Benedict XVI today arrived in Israel for a much-anticipated visit after four days in Jordan. He immediately touched on the two major issues looming over the trip, addressing the Middle East conflict by expressing his support for an independent Palestinian state and addressing strain in Jewish-Catholic relations with a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.
In today's Globe, columnist James Carroll reflects on the trip:
"Abstracting from the complications of Pope Benedict's own record of omni-directional religious insult, his role as a living emblem of what remains of Christendom, the generating core of Western Civilization, is enough to give his journey to Jerusalem special gravity. As the head of a church that has earnestly grappled with its legacy of anti-Semitism, yet understands how that legacy infects the air to this day, he can represent to Arabs the urgency of purging their own attitudes of its ongoing effect. Anti-Semitism no more. The popes who sent wave upon wave of crusaders to Jerusalem have been reversed only in recent years, and Benedict surely longs to continue that reversal. Crusades no more. As the Vicar of Christ in whose name so many colonial adventures were launched, he can stand repentantly with Palestinians who refuse to be treated as a colonized people. Colonialism no more. As the ultimate European, in the ultimate world city, he can acknowledge the new condition of human survival - that it belongs as a right not just to the "superior races," but to all.
However inhibited by strictures of institution or imagination, Benedict is a man of good will. Yet his role transcends his person. A symbolic figure on pilgrimage to a symbolic place, he has opportunities to heal ancient and modern wounds. So we wish him well."
The pope's trip to Jordan went quite smoothly, but over at the National Catholic Reporter, John L. Allen Jr. reports that there is already disappointment with the pope's remarks today in Israel:
"Pope Benedict XVI has long been a figure who draws mixed reactions, with many admiring his clarity and intellectual depth, and others turned off by his traditionalism and occasional lack of a popular touch.
The pontiff's keenly anticipated visit today to Yad Vashem, the main Israeli Holocaust memorial, is likely to become another chapter in Benedict's mixed reviews. Some are likely to see it as a stirring poetic meditation on memory and justice, while others will probably be more struck what the pope didn't say than what he did.
For one thing, there's no explicit expression of regret for Christian anti-Semitism, no allusion to the role that currents of thought within Christianity about Jews and Judaism may have played in preparing the soil for the Holocaust."
Of course, the trip is just getting underway. Tomorrow the pope is scheduled to visit the Western Wall and Temple Mount -- the holy sites of Judaism and Islam. Then he is to spend Wednesday in Bethlehem, Thursday in Nazareth and Friday at Christian sites in Jerusalem before returning to Rome. (One factoid I find amazing: Israel is deploying 80,000 people to provide security for the papal visit.)
The Vatican is posting the texts of the pope's remarks throughout his trip here.
(Photos, by Uriel Sinai/Getty, show the pope at Yad Vashem today, 5/11/09.)
Students from the Maimoinides School in Brookline have prevailed in a dispute with the organizers of the National High School Mock Trial Championship in Atlanta over accommodation of their religious practices. The school is affiliated with the Orthodox Jewish movement, and its students were unwilling to participate in debates between sundown Friday and sundown Saturday; part of the competition was scheduled in that window this weekend, and the organizers at first refused to do anything to make it possible for the Maimonides team, which had won the Massachusetts championship, to compete. However, the organizers have now relented. Greg Bluestein of the Associated Press reports from Atlanta:
"The event's organizers rebuffed the school's attempts to tweak the schedule to accommodate the students' religious needs, so team members' parents hired an attorney to file a religious discrimination complaint to the Justice Department.
The legal fight heightened after a board member of the state Bar of Georgia resigned over the controversy and Fulton County's chief judge threatened to block the event from taking place in the downtown Atlanta courthouse unless the schedule was changed.
The mock trial's organizers begrudgingly relented Thursday, saying the decision forced organizers to choose between canceling the competition or adhering to 'an unreasonable request.'"
Ruth Langer, a Boston College professor whose daughter is one of the team co-captains, e-mailed me:
"We're immensely grateful to all of those who have worked day and night in the past few weeks to make it possible for our children to compete fully. It is a real tribute to the American ideals of equality and freedom for personal religious expression that the needs of a group of Orthodox Jews were accommodated."
Combined Jewish Philanthropies, facing financial concerns as well as looking to streamline its programs, this week decided to end its funding for the Bureau of Jewish Education, knowing that the decision will likely mean the closing of the organization, which helps provide training, research, and curriculum development for Jewish educators. CJP provides most of the organization's funding -- $1.2 million of the bureau's $1.4 million budget -- and says most of the funding will now instead be used to directly support educational programs in synagogues and schools. The decision comes at a time when there is a lot of talk about consolidating Jewish community organizations, and when many Jewish federations are trimming spending because of the impacts of the recession and the Madoff scandal on resources. Here's the letter CJP President Barry Shrage sent out on Thursday:
"I am writing to let you know about an important and difficult decision that was made today by the CJP Board regarding our funding of Jewish education in general and the Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE) in particular.
As you know, education is at the core of CJP's mission. Over the last 20 years, we have significantly increased funding and support for formal and informal Jewish education. We have worked with multiple partners to create new and innovative programs such as Me'ah and Ikkarim, Gateways Access to Jewish Education and The Jewish Camping Initiative. Even now, despite the economic challenges we all face, CJP is committed to Jewish education and our deep partnerships with synagogues, day schools and many other organizations, as outlined in our Strategic Plan.
During the Strategic Planning process, which ended in June of 2008, we reviewed Jewish education in depth, looking at how we manage our overall educational strategy, the changing needs in the community, and the delivery of the programs we fund. We confirmed that day schools, camps, and new models of supplemental education have become more central to
delivering Jewish experiences to families and children.
The Plan underscored our commitment to Jewish education, but we realized that our approach to funding and programming needed to change. Our growth in educational services had outgrown our ability to make sure that we were delivering them as efficiently as possible.
Last October, we formed a Jewish Education Infrastructure Task Force to answer the questions raised by the Plan. Task Force members, bringing years of experience in Jewish education, interviewed additional community members and educational professionals and received input from the BJE, Hebrew College and the Commission on Jewish Learning and Engagement. They analyzed national trends and looked at new models of service to determine how to best plan and deliver innovative programming for the coming years.
The Task Force concluded that we need a fundamentally new approach; that the community needs a more streamlined structure that reduces overhead, improves quality of service and accelerates new ways of delivering Jewish education. In order to accomplish this, the Task Force recommended that we end CJP funding for the BJE as of the end of July. After meeting with the BJE Board, the CJP Board voted to accept this recommendation.
As a result of this difficult decision, the Bureau of Jewish Education will likely be closing. This determination will be made by the BJE Board. We are deeply grateful for the service that the BJE and its dedicated staff have made to the community. Over the last 90 years, the BJE has contributed significantly to the accessibility and quality of Jewish education and teaching.
Making challenging decisions like this are never easy; yet it is because of our very commitment to Jewish education that we have undertaken it at this time. We are confident that this new approach will best serve the educational needs of our community.
Going forward, CJP will work with multiple organizations to deliver and support a full array of direct programming in the most efficient and effective way. We will continue to support key community initiatives for all audiences and expand our partnerships with congregations to improve supplementary education. Services to congregations and preschools will be preserved through expanded programs provided by the congregational movements, Hebrew College and Brandeis University. Special needs education will be enhanced through a new partnership with Gateways.
Our staff will be working with the BJE staff and other organizations over the next few months to ensure a successful and effective transition process for the CJP-funded initiatives, which we expect to be complete by August 1.
We know that by working together, through good times and bad, we can address the hopes and dreams of many Jews and many Jewish institutions for leadership, for unity, for vision, for opportunity and for hope.
I thank you for all that you do for our community. As always, if you have thoughts or comments, please feel free to call or email me."
Newsweek magazine is out with its third annual "Hottest Rabbis in America" list, and one local guy who made the cut is Rabbi Arthur Green (left), the rector of the fast growing, and non-denominational, rabbinical school at Hebrew College in Newton. The list does not attempt to assess sexiness, but influence; nonetheless, it strikes me as more than a bit shallow -- it's essentially a list of leaders of various organizations. But Green seems like a good choice; he has an impressive record creating a success story within a struggling institution, and he's a charismatic and dynamic guy with a vision.
Newsweek also offers a list of "America’s 25 Most Vibrant Congregations,'' which also doesn't veer far from the obvious, but includes two large (and, indeed, vibrant) local Reform synagogues among its honorees, Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley and Temple Israel in Boston.
Congratulations to all.
(Photo courtesy of Hebrew College, 2003.)
Cartoonists often live on the edge, using sharp visual caricature to express an opinion about a controversy, and not infrequently one group or another complains that a cartoonist has crossed a line. This week, several Jewish organizations are denouncing the image above, by Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist Pat Oliphant, as anti-Semitic.
Mark Pelavin, associate director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, sent along the following statement:
"Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Pat Oliphant's clearly anti-Semitic cartoon uses Nazi-like imagery to depict the state of Israel as a headless, dark militaristic force set upon a path of destruction. His portrayal of a fanged Star of David chasing down a Gazan woman is both offensive and outlandish, employing a symbol of faith and peace to unfairly depict Israel as both thoughtless and heartless. This deplorable characterization hearkens back to the vicious anti-Semitic propaganda of World Wars I and II. Published during a tenuous cease-fire in Gaza, this cartoon will only add fuel to the proverbial political fire and stroke the flames of anti-Semitism.
Mr. Oliphant clearly has the right to his views, however noxious. But newspapers, and others, are under no obligation to become publishers of such trash. We call upon newspapers worldwide to remove Oliphant’s offensive cartoon from their websites, making a clear statement that anti-Semitism, even in cartoon form, is intolerable."
And the Anti-Defamation League's national director, Abraham H. Foxman, also denounced the cartoon, saying:
"Pat Oliphant's outlandish and offensive use of the Star of David in combination with Nazi-like imagery is hideously anti-Semitic. It employs Nazi imagery by portraying Israel as a jack-booted, goose-stepping headless apparition. The implication is of an Israeli policy without a head or a heart.
Israel's defensive military operation to protect the lives of its men, women and children who are being continuously bombarded by Hamas rocket attacks has been turned on its head to show the victims as heartless, headless aggressors."
I called the Globe's cartoonist, Dan Wasserman, to ask him what he thought. Here's what he said:
"My take is that this is not an anti-Semitic cartoon. It's a tough, blistering attack on Israel's conduct in the war in Gaza. You can argue about whether what they did was justified, but their equipment, their planes, their tanks, are all covered with the Star of David, so the use of the Star of David doesn't seem to me to warrant the accusation of anti-Semitism. And the week we got revelations in the New York Times about the cavalier attitude of IDF soldiers toward Gazans, this seems to me perfectly legitimate.
Cartoons are supposed to offend people. There is a distinction between offending people gratuitously or mindlessly, and offending them because a cartoon challenges the way people think, and I think this cartoon is in the latter category. It's provocative. The goose-stepping soldier you can't not associate with the Nazis. But is that over the line? It's hyperbolic, but cartoons traffic in hyperbole. Oliphant has a history of pushing the envelope, and some of his cartoons are beyond acceptable comment, but I don't think this is one of those cartoons.''
Ezra Klein, at the American Prospect, agrees, writing:
"Implying that Israeli policy lacks head and heart is not anti-Semitic. It's not an assertion of an intrinsically Jewish trait. Jack boots and goose steps are not traditional anti-Semitic tropes. Foxman appears to be confusing anti-Semitism with criticism -- even extreme and offensive criticism -- of the Israeli government. And it's really not a good thing to be forcing critics of Israel to decide whether they are also anti-Semites. In some cases, you'll intimidate the critic into silence. And in others, you'll normalize anti-Semitism."
But over at GetReligion.org, Mollie Ziegler notes that Oliphant recently was criticized for a cartoon about Pentecostals, and suggests that maybe he should give religion a rest:
"I’m wondering if syndicated cartoonist Pat Oliphant shouldn’t resist the urge to use his acid brush to depict religious angles. Last time we discussed his work, he was demonstrating his ignorance and hatred of Pentecostalism on the pixelated pages of the Washington Post.
That sparked quite the reader response and a couple of reflective columns by ombudsman Deborah Howell.
He’s back in the news for a cartoon about Jews that I found sickening."
Feel free to express your thoughts, but try to be civil in doing so, and remember, we're discussing the cartoon, not every thought you've ever had about what's wrong with Israel or the Palestinians.
BRAINTREE _ With a touch of flickering flame to the top of a bronze candelabrum, a key Vatican official today sought to reassure the Jewish community that there is no room in the Catholic church for anti-Semitism or Holocaust denial.
Cardinal Walter Kasper, who is Pope Benedict XVI's top advisor on Catholic-Jewish relations, visited the headquarters of the Archdiocese of Boston and took several steps to calm the controversy that has erupted since the pope lifted the excommunication of four traditionalist bishops, one of whom denies that the Nazis used gas chambers to kill Jews. Over a salmon lunch with 50 Jewish community leaders, Kasper fielded a series of tough questions about the Vatican's actions; he then joined a ceremony to rededicate a Holocaust memorial, originally located at the former archdiocesan headquarters in Brighton, which depicts six men and women holding torches to represent the six million Jews killed during World War II.
"The memory of what happened, now 65 years ago, can not be forgotten,'' Kasper told a crowd of about 200 at the rededication ceremony, including multiple priests and rabbis, several Holocaust survivors, and the consuls-general of Israel and Germany. "No Holocaust denial -- which is a new injustice to the victims -- can be allowed or permitted.''
But the raw emotions exposed by the controversy over Bishop Richard Williamson of the Society of St. Pius X were clear. Israel Arbeiter, the president of the Boston chapter of the American Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, recounted the deaths of his parents and brother in concentration camps, and his own witnessing of the remains of Jews killed in gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau, before addressing Kasper and saying, "Your Eminence, pain and suffering have been inflicted again on the Holocaust survivors by a representative of the church, namely, Bishop Williamson, and by the action and inaction by Pope Benedict XVI.''
Arbeiter also praised the Catholic church, calling the visit of Kasper "deeply meaningful,'' referring to Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of Boston as a friend, and saying that the pope has taken a number of constructive steps in recent weeks to address the controversy. But he said he would like to hear the pope directly refute the claim by Williamson that gas chambers were not used by the Nazis.
"Sixty-nine years after the liberation of Auschwitz, with all the available documentation, confirmation by the German government, testimony by the perpetrators, Bishop Williamson still denies the truth, the fact of the Holocaust,'' he said. "...I will never understand that he denies that there were ever gas chambers, that Jewish people were gassed and murdered...I wonder whether Bishop Williamson knows where my parents and my brother are.''
Local Jewish and Catholic community leaders said they viewed Kasper's visit as a significant development, in that it affirmed the high priority the Vatican places on Catholic-Jewish relations.
"Words are helpful, but actions like today's re-dedication are more powerful, more meaningful, and more enduring,'' said Derrek L. Shulman, New England regional director of the Anti-Defamation League. "We welcome and celebrate this day as a major step forward for strengthening relations between Jews and Catholics in the Boston area."
O'Malley, who organized the event, called the Holocaust "the greatest act of inhumanity ever perpetrated on this planet,'' and said today's event was intended "to assure the entire community of the Holy Father and the church's commitment to furthering these wonderful relationships that have been cultivated the last decades." O'Malley noted that Catholic-Jewish relations in Boston have been strong since the days of Cardinal Richard J. Cushing, who in the 1960s helped draft a pivotal document at the Second Vatican Council that repudiated the basis for Christian anti-Semitism.
Kasper said that the outcry from Catholics irate over Williamson's remarks, and over the Vatican's action, was evidence that Catholics have internalized the importance of Catholic-Jewish relations. And Nancy K. Kaufman, the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, said that the response to the uproar had provided evidence of the overall strength of the Jewish-Catholic relationship, noting the speed and candor with which local leaders had been able to meet and talk.
"It speaks to the power of the relationship that we have worked on so hard in this community over 40 or 50 years,'' Kaufman said. "Some of us here today can remember a time when relations between Catholics and Jews in Boston were not so good, and we didn't have the ability to have an honest and open dialogue among and between each other, and I think the ability to raise difficult issues like this one, and to have the discussion...speaks to the strength of the relationship."
(Photo, by John Tlumacki of the Globe staff, shows Cardinal Kasper at the Archdiocese of Boston pastoral center in Braintree on 3/25/009.)
New Yorker cartoon editor Robert Mankoff tonight (3/24) is kicking off a New Center For Arts and Culture series with a talk on cartoons about Judaism. He was featured in Saturday's Globe talking generally about cartooning, but for the religion blog, I wanted to hear more about his thoughts about making fun of Jews, so I gave him a call:
Q: What distinguishes cartoons about Jews?
A: There aren’t very many cartoons about Jews. If you look back at the history of the New Yorker, you will see, especially in the '20s and '30s, when New York was changing, there were a number of, shall we say, interesting cartoons showing that change. I don't think the cartoons were anti-Semitic, but they would perhaps be looked at now in that way -- they recognized the changing nature of the city and the increasing place, especially in commerce, that Jews had in the city.
Q: What are cartoons about Jews like now?
A: In general cartoons poke fun at generic religion. So I have one with a guy leaving church, who says to the pastor, "I know he works in mysterious ways, but if I worked that mysteriously, I'd get fired.''
Q: Is there a special sensitivity to cartoons about Jews?
A: I think there’s a special sensitivity, in general, to cartoons about specific religions. New Yorker cartoons, in general, are not mean cartoons. Much of the humor in society is the humor of ridicule. But our cartoons are not the cartoons of self-satisfaction, but of self-dissatisfaction, and that makes them almost unique now in American culture, which is so polarized, and in which humor is basically a form of mockery in which the other is the fool, or the person whose balloon has to be deflated. We do that too, but most of the cartoonists do cartoons that are in some sense autobiographical. When you look at Jewish humor, for the most part, the jokes are quite layered -- they build up and eventually show some sort of logical inconsistency -- and a lot are philosophical. (In the broader culture) a majority of jokes have an aggressive component, a scatological component, or a sexual component, but Jewish jokes work through understanding the absurdities of the logic.
Q: Are there a lot of Jewish cartoonists at the New Yorker?
A: Jews are a tiny portion of the population, but are very well represented in the humor industry. Many of the cartoonists at the New Yorker are Jewish -- I’m Jewish, there's Roz Chast, and David Sipress. A classic cartoonist who represents certainly a Jewish sensibility is Roz Chast -- a real inward-looking sensibility, and the world as a worrisome, neurotic, yet humorous place, a sensibility which combines anxiety with humor.
Q: There have been several controversial covers depicting Jews.
A: I'm not involved in the cover, so that's not my controversy. But one thing everybody has learned is how intersected all media are. And to some extent, covers are different than cartoons -- they make much stronger satirical, even editorial, statements than the cartoons do.
Mankoff's talk takes place at 7 p.m. tonight at Temple Israel in Boston.
(Cartoon ©Robert Mankoff/The New Yorker Magazine.)
Religious day schools are facing increased demand for scholarship assistance as the parents of their students lose jobs. I have a story in today's paper. An excerpt:
"Religious day schools in Greater Boston, some of which had been enjoying strong growth in recent years, are reporting increased requests for financial aid from families hurt by the recession and concerns about potential drops in enrollment.
The area's Jewish community last week became the first to act collectively, announcing $2 million from a national foundation to provide emergency scholarship aid to families whose children attend one of the area's 14 Jewish day schools or many Jewish summer camps and preschools.
The major source of financial aid for Catholic school students, the Catholic Schools Foundation, says its fund-raising is down by 15 percent, while requests for emergency aid from families in which a parent has lost a job or had work hours cut are spiking.
The situation facing religious schools is similar to that facing nonreligious private schools and colleges, all of which are far more expensive than the public alternatives.
'Every school and camp are reporting significant increases in the numbers of students and campers and preschool families needing scholarships,' said Barry Shrage, the president of Combined Jewish Philanthropies. 'We have hit a massive recession that looks like it's going to hit all segments of the community, from the poorest, who are already on scholarship, to the people in the middle class and upper-middle class, who never needed help before but now are fully unemployed.'"
(Photo, by Aram Boghosian for the Globe, shows Orna Siegel, the director of admissions at Gann Academy, a Jewish high school in Waltham, looking over files in her office on 3/20/09.)
Last night, Globe photographer Joanne Rathe shot video at a celebration at Temple Emunah in Lexington marking the Jewish holiday of Purim, which commemorates the survival of Jews in Persia in the 5th Century BC....well, actually, to see what it commemorates, listen to the kids:
Lots of reaction is coming in today from religious leaders with a variety of opinions about President Obama's action lifting the ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.
The president referred to religious concerns in his remarks, saying, "As a person of faith, I believe we are called to care for each other and work to ease human suffering."
Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia, who serves as chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, criticized the action, saying:
"President Obama’s new executive order on embryonic stem cell research is a sad victory of politics over science and ethics. This action is morally wrong because it encourages the destruction of innocent human life, treating vulnerable human beings as mere products to be harvested. It also disregards the values of millions of American taxpayers who oppose research that requires taking human life. Finally, it ignores the fact that ethically sound means for advancing stem cell science and medical treatments are readily available and in need of increased support."
But the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America – an umbrella organization of Orthodox Judaism -- was supportive in a statement:
"The Jewish tradition places great value upon human life and its preservation. The Torah commands us to treat and cure the ill and to defeat disease wherever possible; to do this is to be the Creator's partner in safeguarding the created. The traditional Jewish perspective thus emphasizes that the potential to save and heal human lives is an integral part of valuing human life. Stem cell research is consistent with and serves these moral and noble goals. The UOJCA appreciates President Obama's decision to have the federal government support stem cell research, a position the UOJCA has long advocated. We urge the President, and the leadership of the National Institutes of Health, to ensure that robust ethical guidelines and oversight bodies are put in place to ensure this important research is conducted in the most appropriate fashion – balancing science with ethics. We recognize that those who oppose this research and this executive order do so upon the basis of deeply and sincerely held moral beliefs. So too, the UOJCA supports the array of stem cell research options because of our deeply held moral and religious traditions. We commend all those who engage in this important debate with respect and civility for those with whom they disagree; that is the only type of debate this issue deserves."
The American Humanist Association is also supportive. A statement from the group's president, David Niose of Boston:
"This is a victory for scientific integrity and rational public policy, two values threatened when government is unduly influenced by conservative religion. When our laws are shaped by scriptural interpretations and religious opinions that have no basis in science or fact, we all suffer. This issue is excellent evidence of why religion isn’t always a reliable source of morality. Embryonic stem cell research harms nobody and has the potential to lead to revolutionary scientific advances that will benefit all of humanity. What kind of morality would deny hope to millions of real people who are suffering from debilitating diseases and conditions?"
The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has put together a helpful on-line overview of the religious issues associated with stem cell research.
UPDATE: Kristin Williams, at Faith in Public Life, e-mails:
"Some groups are obviously opposed to embryonic stem cell research, but a lot of religious groups are in favor of using embryos that would be discarded otherwise to conduct potentially life-saving research. (Not everybody is reporting this well!) In addition to the groups you cited, the Presbyterian Church (USA) supports ESC research, as do the Episcopalians, the United Methodists and other mainline denominations. Also interesting is the Mormon stance—though the LDS church doesn’t have an official position, Sen. Hatch has been an outspoken supporter of ESC research."
And Dan Gilgoff, at God & Country, posts a list of religious guests at the White House ceremony today -- Jews and mainline Protestants, it appears.
Meanwhile, the statements opposed to embryonic stem cell research, and Obama's action, are also streaming in, now from CatholicVote.org, Concerned Women for America, the Family Research Council, Women Influencing the Nation, and the Susan B. Anthony List.
And Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention says:
“This is a sad day for the sanctity of all human life in America...Many supporters of the President’s decision have erroneously hailed this as removing politics and ideology from science. In fact, it is an attempt to remove morality from scientific research. History, from the Third Reich and elsewhere, teaches us that such a shift is a steep and slippery slope to a dark, depraved and dangerous destination.”
(Photo above, taken at Stanford University and released today by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine via Reuters, shows a fluorescent microscope image of human embryonic stem cells.)
Pope Benedict XVI today confirmed the dates for his much-anticipated trip to Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Territories, as well as his upcoming trip to Africa. The Middle East trip, from May 8-15, has taken on renewed significance given tensions over Israel's handling of the Gaza conflict and over the pope's lifting of the excommunication of a Holocaust-denying bishop. From the Associated Press story:
The pope's Mideast tour will touch Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories, with stops in cities including Amman, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth, the Vatican said.
Though a detailed program has not yet been announced, officials in destination countries have said they expect Benedict to visit an Amman mosque, hold public Mass in Jordan and Nazareth and make a stop at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem.
There has been only one other official visit by a pope to the Jewish state, Pope John Paul II's pilgrimage in 2000. Pope Paul VI made an unofficial trip there in 1964.
Israeli President Shimon Peres, who invited Benedict to visit, called the trip "an important and thrilling event of the first order, that emanates a wind of peace and hope."
(Photo, by Gregorio Borgia/AP, shows Pope Benedict XVI during the Angelus noon prayer in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican today, 3/8/2009.)
Hebrew College is fighting for its life. The school owes tens of millions of dollars and has spent the past two years slashing expenses and staff. With the economy in shambles and fundraising sluggish, the next couple of years may determine whether Hebrew College and other schools like it have any future at all.
“I think that the notion of a community institution devoted to different kinds of Jewish learning is a beautiful one,” said Jonathan Sarna, a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University and an alumnus of Hebrew College’s high school and college programs. “The question is, who’s going to fund it? It’s as simple as that.”
(Photo, by Suzanne Kreiter of the Globe staff, taken 12/21/08.)
Cardinal Walter Kasper (right), the top Vatican liaison to the Jewish community, has agreed to attend a Holocaust memorial ceremony in Braintree on March 25. The event, which will mark the move of a memorial menorah from the former chancery in Brighton to the new pastoral center in Braintree, was scheduled by Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley in an effort to demonstrate the Catholic Church's commitment to Catholic-Jewish relations and repudiation of Holocaust denial in the wake of the controversy over Pope Benedict XVI's decision to lift the excommunication of traditionalist Bishop Richard Williamson, who denies that the Nazis used gas chambers to kill Jews. (Earlier today, Williamson apologized.)
The Pilot reports:
The Vatican's top official on Catholic-Jewish relations will attend in March the rededication of a Holocaust memorial menorah that symbolizes the close relationship between the Catholic and Jewish communities in Boston.
Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews, was invited to the event by Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley the day after the cardinal met with local Jewish leaders and Holocaust survivors to address their concerns generated by the pope's decision to lift the excommunication of Bishop Richard Williamson, a traditionalist bishop who has denied the Holocaust.
The Yom Hashoah Menorah, which honors the victims of the Holocaust, was presented to the archdiocese by Jewish leaders as a symbol of the warm relationship between the two faiths in Sept. 2002 and was dedicated at the grounds of the former chancery in Brighton by Cardinal Bernard Law. It depicts six men and women holding torches, a holy man clutching a prayer book in front of the statue and a cracked Star of David, inscribed with the years 1933-1945. The first words of a Jewish prayer, the Kaddish, exulting God's great name are at its base.
The Holocaust memorial will be moved to the archdiocese's Pastoral Center in Braintree and rededicated March 25.
Cardinal Kasper's coming to be a part of the event is significant because, "he is the spokesperson for the Holy Father, for the Holy See, in matters pertaining to Catholic-Jewish relations," Cardinal O'Malley told The Pilot in a Feb. 25 interview.
"He is a man who is very versed in these issues and very committed to safeguarding the special relations the Catholic Church has with the Jewish community."
Cardinal Kasper previously visited the Boston area in 2002, speaking and meeting with students and community leaders at Boston College and Brandeis University. Here's an interview I did with him at the time.
(Photo, by Mary Altaffer of The New York Times, shows Kasper in New York in 2005.)
Elie Wiesel is known for a number of reasons -- as a vocal Holocaust survivor, a highly regarded author, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, and a Boston University professor -- and now he is also known as one of the many victims of Bernie Madoff. The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity says it had almost all of its assets -- $15.2 million -- managed by Bernard Madoff Investment Securities, and presumably now gone. Wiesel, who is promoting a new novel, "A Mad Desire to Dance,'' talked a bit about Madoff in an interview this week with USA Today. An excerpt:
"I don't want my name linked with that crook," Wiesel says, as soft-spoken as ever. "I don't want to be known as one of his victims. I want my name linked to peace and literature and human rights." Wiesel would rather discuss his new novel, part psychological mystery, part love story. Its main character, the son of a Jewish Resistance fighter from France, asks, "In a mad world, isn't the madman who is aware of his madness the only sane person?" But it's hard to avoid Madoff's financial madness and its link to Wiesel. Wiesel and his wife, Marion, started the foundation in 1986 with a portion of his Nobel award. In December, it reported it had $15.2 million, "substantially" all its assets, invested with Madoff. Authorities have identified 13,000 of Madoff's investors, including Wiesel's foundation, which sponsors conferences of Nobel laureates and centers in Israel for refugees from Ethiopia and Darfur...Wiesel shrugs and says, "People ask, 'How could he do it to you?' To me! As if I'm the only one. It's not about me."
(Photo, by Stephen Chernin/AP, shows Wiesel in New York in 2007.)
Deborah Coltin, the part-time executive director of the Robert I. Lappin Charitable Foundation in Salem, writes a short blog post for eJewishPhilanthropy about the small Jewish community foundation's efforts to rebuild after being wiped out by Madoff. An excerpt:
"Until December 11, 2009, I had the best job in the Jewish non-profit world as executive director of the Robert I. Lappin Charitable Foundation, whose mission is helping to keep our children Jewish. Bernard Madoff, a man whom I never met, swept into my life and into our community like a tsunami, wreaking havoc by wiping out all of the Foundation’s eight million dollars in assets, abruptly aborting life-changing Jewish programming and eliminating seven jobs held by passionate and dedicated Jewish communal workers. Stunned by shock, fear and betrayal, our Jewish community, the North Shore of Massachusetts, literally went into mourning."
Since abruptly closing its doors in December, the Lappin Foundation has now hired four part-timers, has raised $300,000 to send a group of local teens to Israel this summer, and Lappin himself is giving money to 17 programs. More from Coltin:
"The Jewish philanthropic world has been hit hard by Madoff, but we must salvage what we can. Rather than dwell on what cannot be funded, let us focus on and invest in what is doable, letting passion for the survival of our People inspire and guide us."
The Globe's Kathy McCabe wrote a story earlier this month, in Globe North, about the Lappin Foundation's efforts at a comeback:
Lappin, who owns Shetland Office Park in Salem, is also believed to have lost much personal wealth in the scandal. He did not respond to a request for comment.
But in a press release announcing his foundation's reopening, Lappin referenced the impact of the scandal. He also noted that an outpouring of community support led him to restart his charity.
"After recovering from the initial shock of having the foundation's assets wiped out, along with much of my own, and with the 2009 Youth to Israel Adventure campaign successfully completed, I have had time to assess the situation, and have concluded that with some help from others, I will find the wherewithal to reinstate most of the programs," he wrote.
(Photo, by Steven Senne/AP, shows the Lappin Foundation headquarters in Salem in December 2008.)
Pope Benedict XVI, responding to the controversy over his decision to lift the excommunications of four traditionalist bishops, one of whom denies the Holocaust, today met at the Vatican with American Jewish leaders travelling under the auspices of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
The pope, speaking in English, rejected Holocaust denial, saying, "It is beyond question that any denial or minimization of this terrible crime is intolerable and altogether unacceptable.'' And the pope confirmed for the first time that he is planning a trip to Israel, which is widely expected to take place in the spring. Here is the text of his remarks:
I am pleased to welcome all of you today, and I thank Rabbi Arthur Schneier and Mr Alan Solow for the greetings they have addressed to me on your behalf. I well recall the various occasions, during my visit to the United States last year, when I was able to meet some of you in Washington D.C. and New York. Rabbi Schneier, you graciously received me at Park East Synagogue just hours before your celebration of Pesah. Now, I am glad to have this opportunity to offer you hospitality here in my own home. Such meetings as this enable us to demonstrate our respect for one another. I want you to know that you are all most welcome here today in the house of Peter, the home of the Pope.FULL ENTRY
The recession and the Madoff mess are, as expected, taking a toll on Jewish nonprofits. Today comes the news that Yeshiva University is laying off 60 employees, and the Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education is closing its doors.
National Public Radio tonight wades into what appears to be a brewing scandal over allegations of sexual abuse of minors in the Hasidic Jewish community. Barbara Bradley Hagerty, NPR's religion reporter, persuaded two men to talk on the record about their abuse. The text of the story, which is slated to air on "All Things Considered" tonight, is here. An excerpt:
"Four ultra-Orthodox rabbis in Brooklyn have been sued or arrested for abusing boys in the past three years. That's a tiny fraction of the actual abuse, says Hella Winston, author of Unchosen: The Hidden Lives of Hasidic Rebels. She says that in researching her book, she encountered dozens of alleged victims who told her sexual abuse is an open secret in the Hasidic community. But the community is so insulated and the rabbis are so powerful that few dare to come forward.
'If I become known as an informer, then people also won't want to have anything to do with my family,' she explains. 'They won't want to marry my children, won't want to give me a job. This is the fear.'
But more and more accusations against rabbis have begun to circulate. Last August, politician and radio talk show host Dov Hikind devoted an hourlong program to sexual abuse. He interviewed Pearl Engelman, who spoke under an alias, about her son's case.
The calls flooded in. Hikind, who is an Orthodox Jew himself, represents this area in the New York Assembly. He says after the show, people started showing up at his office with their stories.
'Fifty, 60, 70 people,' he says, 'but you got to remember for each person who comes forward, God only knows how many people are not coming forward.'"
Boston College has chosen as its first Corcoran Visiting Chair in Christian-Jewish Relations a Hebrew University professor of international relations, Raymond Cohen (above), who is researching the relationship between Israel and the Vatican. I spoke with Cohen about the complexity of that relationship, about the prospect of a visit to Israel this year by Pope Benedict XVI, and about the impact of tension over Gaza and the lifting of the excommunication of the four SSPX bishops. The Q&A ran in the Ideas section of today's Globe; here is an excerpt:
IDEAS: What's the impact of Gaza?
COHEN: More than anything else, the breakdown in the peace process and the friction between Israel and the Palestinians has encumbered the relationship between the state of Israel and the Holy See. At the same time, it seems to me there's no reason why it should affect the upcoming visit of the pope, and on the contrary, the visit would give the pope a chance to exert a calming influence on the parties.
IDEAS: What about the reconciliation with the excommunicated bishops?
COHEN: The director of the chief rabbinate rightly said this was a cause of real grief, but since then there have been clarificatory remarks by the pope (and others)...and I think that with the passage of time the relationship will get back on track.
IDEAS: There are so many points of tension.
COHEN: In Judaism, we have an idea of "argument for the sake of heaven." We're not a people that welcomes banal decorum, or harmony for its own sake. Difficult questions have to be argued about, and I think the Catholic Church also appreciates that. If you read the New Testament, Jesus doesn't mind arguing. That's a common tradition. And a relationship based upon a difference of opinion, however profound, I think is a very mutually beneficial relationship. You get to know yourself better, whether you're a Jew or a Catholic, and also you change. This relationship has led to both sides changing.
(Photo by Wiqan Ang of the Globe staff.)
Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of Boston is praising Pope Benedict XVI's decision to lift the excommunication of four traditionalist bishops, saying the move is a step toward "unity and reconciliation" within Catholicism. But the cardinal also describes the statements denying the Holocaust by one of the bishops (Richard Williamson, shown above) as "outrageous," says, "it certainly raises questions as to the caliber of the leadership that the Society (of Saint Piux X) has," and, in a novel defense of the pope's actions, says, "it underscores the importance for the Holy Father to have increasing influence over those communities.'' O'Malley offers an apology of sorts, saying, "We are very sorry that the people in the Jewish community have been so pained and outraged by Bishop Williamson’s statements," and he repudiates Holocaust denial, saying, "It is very important for us to always remember the Holocaust so that such an atrocity could never take place again."
Here's the full text of O'Malley's statement, posted on his blog at 10 p.m. last night:
The Vatican announced this week that the Holy Father has lifted the excommunications of four bishops of the Society of St. Pius X. I was pleased with the news which shows, once again, the Holy Father’s concern for unity and reconciliation in the Church.
In 1988 Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who was critical of some elements of the Second Vatican Council, ordained four bishops without the approval of the Holy Father, incurring in automatic excommunication on himself and the four bishops he ordained.
This action follows the publication of the Apostolic Letter Summorum Pontificum a year and a half ago, in which the Holy Father lifted previous restrictions on the celebration of the Mass according to the 1962 Missal, commonly known as the Tridentine Mass.
Just before the publication of the Apostolic Letter, I was privileged to be a part of a meeting of cardinals and bishops with the Holy Father in which he expressed his hope that his action would help convince those disaffected Catholics to return to full union with the Catholic Church.
So, his outreach to the communities who follow these bishops is just one more manifestation of his ardent desire to bring these people (which some estimate to be as many as 1.5 million) back into the fold. We know that these are generally people who practice their faith and try to live a Christian life seriously but, unfortunately, I believe that they have been misled by their leadership.
Of course, lifting the excommunications was a first step; it does not regularize these bishops or the Society of St. Pius X, but it opens the way for a dialogue. This step was in response to a letter in which they professed their desire for full participation in the life of the Church.
It was tragic that one of the four bishops, Bishop Richard Williamson, had made outrageous statements about the Holocaust and about the September 11 attacks on the United States. It certainly raises questions as to the caliber of the leadership that the Society has. Additionally, as terrible as the comments were, it underscores the importance for the Holy Father to have increasing influence over those communities.
We are very sorry that the people in the Jewish community have been so pained and outraged by Bishop Williamson’s statements. I think the Holy Father’s statements and those of Cardinal Walter Kasper, chairman of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, have been very clear to dissociate the Catholic Church from those kinds of sentiments. I was pleased that the head of the Society of St. Pius X, Bishop Bernard Fellay, also repudiated the statements of Bishop Williamson.
It is very important for us to always remember the Holocaust so that such an atrocity could never take place again. I recall the words of the Holy Father this week: “May the Shoah be for everyone an admonition against oblivion, negation and reductionism, because violence against a single human being is violence against all.”
The U.S. bishops have been uncharacteristically silent about the pope's actions, and so far as I know O'Malley is the first cardinal to speak publicly about the controversy. The bishops of Canada, however, did issue a statement this week, taking no position on the wisdom of lifting the excommunications, but declaring, "The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops finds abhorrent the notion that somehow the terrible evil of the Holocaust is not a fact of history."
UPDATE: At America magazine's blog, the Rev. James Martin visits the Society of Saint Pius X's web site, finds an article with stunning anti-Semitism ("they crucified the One," "It is public knowledge that the Jewish sector...controls especially the financial power that is exercised through banks," and "Judaism is inimical to all nations in general"), and poses the question, "Is anti-Semitism a pattern that pervades the Society of St. Pius X, or is it simply a bigotry expressed by only a few members?"
And at the National Catholic Reporter, John L. Allen Jr. asks "What was the Vatican thinking?" Allen writes that: "The way this decision was communicated was a colossal blunder, and one that's frankly difficult to either understand or excuse,'' before exploring how things might have unfolded differently. But, reinforcing the America magazine analysis, Allen also suggests that Williamson is not alone in his views. Allen writes, "Williamson's views should not be used to discredit every Catholic who feels the tug of classical liturgical forms, or who takes a traditional doctrinal stance. Many of the people drawn to the Society of St. Pius X, or any of the various traditionalist groups already in communion with Rome, are simply Catholics hungry for a clear sense of spiritual identity in a rootless world. On the other hand, it would be equally misleading to style Williamson as a "lone gunman," an isolated crank with no connection to broader currents of thought in the traditionalist world."
UPDATE: My story on Cardinal O'Malley's comments in Sunday's paper.
(Photo, by AFP/Getty Images, shows Bishop Williamson's controversial interview with Swedish television about the Holocaust as seen in Argentina.)
As a controversy over Pope Benedict XVI's rehabilitation of a Holocaust-denying bishop rages in the world of religion, communities around the world today are marking the fourth annual United Nations Holocaust Commemoration Day.
At the State House in Boston, about 100 people gathered for a memorial in the House chamber which had been organized around the theme of "Holocaust Denial: The Fragility of Truth,'' before the controversy erupted over Pope Benedict XVI's decision to reverse the 1988 excommunication of four bishops, including one, Richard Williamson, who has denied the use of gas chambers by Nazi Germany. The event was attended by survivors, Jewish community leaders, state lawmakers, and diplomats representing England, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Japan, Pakistan, Poland, Spain and Turkey.
No one at the event mentioned Williamson, but a parade of speakers denounced Holocaust denial, including the keynoter, history professor Devin Pendas of Boston College, who offered an elaborate analysis of the phenomenon of Holocaust denial, which he argued is at its core anti-Semitic and is "a genocidal ideology parading as a denial of genocide.''
Also of note: state Rep. Peter J. Koutoujian offered an emotional tribute to victims of the Armenian genocide, tearing up as he described his grandparents' harrowing escape. Koutoujian was invited to speak after Nancy Kaufman, the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, spoke at a State House event honoring Armenian genocide victims. The bridge-building is signficant given last year's rift over the Anti-Defamation League's refusal to characterize as genocide the massacre of hundreds of thousands of Armenians by Ottoman Turkey during World War I. Last summer, the ADL relented, issuing a statement describing the massacres as "tantamount to genocide.''
(Photo above, by David L. Ryan of the Globe staff, shows Holocaust survivors rising to be recognized at the ceremony at the Massachusetts State House today.)
A multifaith group of religious leaders from Boston, including Jews as well as Muslims and Christians, today is issuing a joint statement calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.
"We call upon Hamas immediately to end all rocket attacks on Israel, and upon Israel immediately to end its military campaign in Gaza,'' the statement says.
The Jewish signatories include several rabbis as well as the former presidents of Hebrew College and the Jewish Community Relations Council, but are predominantly drawn from the liberal wing of the Jewish community, and do not include the current heads of the major umbrella Jewish community organizations, who have generally not said anything that could be perceived as critical of Israel.
The most prominent signatories are the Christian leaders, also predominantly associated with liberal causes, who include the top local officials of the Episcopal Church, the Massachusetts Council of Churches, the United Church of Christ and the United Methodist Church, as well as the president of Andover Newton Theological School. The top local official of the Unitarian Universalist Association also signed. There are several Catholic signers, but no members of that church's hierarchy.
The Muslim leaders include several local imams and the leadership of the Muslim American Society of Boston.
Here is the full text of the letter plus the signatories:
"AN INTERFAITH DECLARATION FOR PEACE
We, members and leaders of the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian communities in Greater Boston - all having deep and symbolic ties to the land and peoples of the Middle East - are anguished by the events unfolding in Israel and Gaza. Recognizing the legitimate needs of all peoples, including all those living in the Middle East, for dignity, peace, safety and security –- regardless of religion, race, or national origin -- we issue this joint statement with the hope and belief that our interfaith voices will be heard clearly, above the din of war.
As guiding principles,
•We acknowledge the long, complex, and painful history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
•We acknowledge the wide range of deeply-held beliefs, and intensely-felt narratives on all sides
•We acknowledge that all sides are capable of assigning blame to others, and asserting justification for their cause
•We observe that violence by any side begets more violence, hatred, and retaliation
•We deplore any invocation of religion as a justification for violence against others, or the deprivation of the rights of others
•We decry any use of inflammatory rhetoric that demonizes the other and is intended, or is likely, to promote hatred and disrespect
•We believe the conflict can be resolved only through a political and diplomatic solution and not a military one.
In the face of many competing narratives, we recognize that the overriding common need of the peoples of the region is the prompt implementation of a just and lasting peace. Toward that end, and particularly in response to the current hostilities,
•We call upon the United States and the international community immediately to intercede to help reestablish a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, toward the goal of a permanent cessation of hostilities
•We call upon Hamas immediately to end all rocket attacks on Israel, and upon Israel immediately to end its military campaign in Gaza
•We call for an immediate end to all strikes on civilian centers and citizens, both Israeli and Palestinian
•We call for lifting of the blockade on Gaza as to all non-military goods, for an immediate and significant increase in humanitarian aid to address the needs of the people of Gaza, and for all parties involved to join in taking responsibility to address those human needs
•We call on all parties involved in the conflict to work sincerely and vigorously toward a just and lasting peace that addresses and promotes the national aspirations of both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples
•We call on President-elect Obama to make clear that as President he will urgently assert US leadership to achieve a comprehensive diplomatic resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian and Arab-Israeli conflicts
Through this joint statement we affirm our commitment to engage with one another, even, and especially, during times of great stress. We also affirm our common humanity and our common belief – as Jews, Muslims and Christians - that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must cease, that there is no military or violent solution, that all human life is valued, and that all parties must cooperate to make the peace – a just and lasting peace desperately needed and deserved by all the peoples of the region."
It’s that time of year again – list time. Actually, it’s way past list time. The Religion Newswriters Association issued their list of the top ten religion stories of the year weeks ago – of course, as a result, they missed the Madoff scandal, the Rick Warren/invocation controversy, and the Gaza assault. Revealer issued lists of the year's best religion writing and the year's best religion books and movies. Altmuslim offered a list of the top ten good news stories of the year. And Religion Dispatches has a list of the top ten year-end religion news lists, including those from Time, Christianity Today, and the Onion.
For this first new year of this new blog, I’m going to offer ten reflections about religion news and the year gone by, with a few anticipatory remarks thrown in as well. This is just a sampling; feel free to suggest other topics in the comments field.
1. The year that is ending was marked, in particular, by the multiple battles for the hearts and minds of religious Americans in the presidential campaign. There was often less there than met the eye – evangelicals continued to vote in large numbers for the Republican Party, despite vigorous efforts to lure them away by Democrats, and Jews continued to vote overwhelmingly for the Democratic Party, despite an unending whispering campaign on the Internet attempting to associate Obama with Islam and critics of Israel. Mitt Romney’s much-anticipated speech on faith and public life was probably not a turning point in American political thinking. Social issues played only a minor role in a campaign dominated first by Iraq and then by the economy. And, to the extent that religion was part of the political story, it was almost always as something to criticize or mock – the preaching of Wright, Hagee and Pfleger, the beliefs and practices of Palin and Romney, the middle name of Obama, the politics of Warren.
2. As the new year begins, it appears that the biggest story for all religions is likely to be the economy, which will increase demand on religious organizations for solace and assistance at the same time that it depletes their endowments and threatens their fundraising.
3. In the Catholic Church, the biggest news of 2008 was the successful visit to the United States of Pope Benedict XVI, who benefitted enormously from low expectations and won high marks for his decision to meet in Washington with five Bostonians who had been sexually abused by priests. That meeting was put together by Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, who passed (without celebration) five eventful years as archbishop of Boston, seemingly settling into his role after surviving multiple controversies, moving the church’s longtime headquarters from Brighton to Braintree, completing a reshaping of his administrative team, improving the archdiocese’s grim financial picture and rescuing St. John’s Seminary from the brink of death. But O’Malley still faces enormous challenges; the diocese still spends more each year than it raises; five closed parishes remain occupied (for more than four years now!) by protesters; and the diocese’s accounts for clergy pensions and benefits are seriously underfunded. And the church remains, particularly in Massachusetts, at odds with the political culture, particularly over abortion and gay rights. So in 2009, I'll be watching how O’Malley handles the vigils and the pension funds; what he does to address the increasing priest shortage, most likely by asking more priests to oversee multiple parishes like the circuit riders of old; and how he manages critiquing a presidential administration supported by the vast majority of his parishioners. For the pope, a highlight of 2009 is expected to be a May visit to Israel, but that trip could be postponed or cancelled if the violence there continues.
4. Mainline Protestant denominations continued to be roiled by debates over homosexuality, and continued to grapple with declining participation and aging congregations. The split in the global Anglican Communion since the election of an openly gay bishop in New Hampshire began to formalize in 2008, as conservatives announced that they were establishing a separate North American province that would compete with the existing Episcopal Church in the U.S. and Canada. African American Protestant churches reflected on the state of black liberation theology after the incendiary preaching by Jeremiah Wright (a pastor in the mainline United Church of Christ) called attention to the risks of rhetoric in the age of Youtube.
5. The evangelical Protestant world was in the spotlight throughout the election, as the Democratic Party attempted, with little measurable success, to break the strong relationship between evangelicalism and Republicanism. But evangelical politics are clearly in flux – polls show younger evangelicals interested in a broader array of issues than their elders. And the tension was on display in awkward ways; the National Association of Evangelicals ousted a longtime long official, Rich Cizik, whose open attitude toward global warming and gay relationships caused some on the right to question his orthodoxy. And the flap over Obama's choice of Rick Warren to deliver the inaugural invocation reminded both evangelicals and Democrats that engagement between the two will be fraught with complexity.
6. For the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2008 brought an end to the presidential campaign of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, whose candidacy went further than that of any of the Mormons who have previously sought the nation’s highest office, but also called attention to a deep streak of anti-Mormonism in American culture, particularly among evangelical Protestants. The year also saw Mormons in the midst of a controversy over Proposition 8, the measure that would overturn same-sex marriage in California. Mormons, acting at their church’s urging, gave millions to the campaign, and the church was targeted by protesters after the measure passed. Locally, Mormons continued their institutional growth in eastern Massachusetts; eight years after building a huge temple on Belmont Hill, the LDS church this year broke ground for a new stake center in East Cambridge and announced plans to build a new chapel (being contested by neighbors) in Brookline.
7. For Jews, much of the year’s biggest news was concentrated at the end of the year, as multiple Jewish foundations and individuals lost millions of dollars in the alleged Ponzi scheme overseen by one of the community’s own; an investor named Bernard L. Madoff. And the Israeli assault on Gaza, in response to Hamas rocket attacks on Israel, brought renewed attention to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to significant concern about Israel’s conduct by a variety of governments and groups. There was also the immigration raid on the kosher meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa, which has intensified a growing discussion about what relationship, if any, there should be between ethics and kashrut. Locally, the Combined Jewish Philanthropies offered a new plan for the Jewish community, which, as it turns out, called for intensified defense of Israel; the Jewish community locally also decided to close its community center on the South Shore. In 2009, watch for a potential consolidation of Jewish nonprofits as the economy and the Madoff scandal take their toll, and also keep an eye on how the Jewish community manages interfaith relations given the increasing criticism of Israel from other faith groups.
8. For Muslims, the year brought ongoing tension over the place of Islam in the West, as American Muslims continued to make incremental political gains, but were largely ignored by an Obama campaign wary of associating with an unpopular group. The use of terror by some Muslims – most recently the attacks in Mumbai – continues to pose a challenge to those who proclaim that Islam is a religion of peace. The Middle East crisis also looms large for American Muslims, who are attempting to persuade American policymakers to criticize Israel’s actions in Gaza. Many Muslims seized as a sign of hope Colin Powell’s denunciation, on Meet the Press, of the idea that there is something wrong with being a Muslim. And in Boston, 2008 brought the soft opening of the much-debated and long-delayed new Islamic Cultural Center in Roxbury, which is expected to fully open in 2009.
9. There were several notable deaths in the world of religion in 2008. Cardinal Avery Dulles, the scion of a famous, and Protestant, American family, who came to Catholicism by the banks of the Charles River, and who became the only American theologian ever named a cardinal by Rome, died in December at 90. Gordon Hinckley, the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, revered by Mormons as prophet, seer and revelator, and a descendant of the last governor of Plymouth Colony, died in January at 97. Russian Orthodox patriarch Alexy II died in December at 79; Warith Deen Mohammed, the African-American Muslim leader, died in September at 74.
10. The business of religion journalism, like the rest of the journalism business, is, to put it mildly, in flux. The amount of space and resources committed to religion journalism by the mainstream media continued to dwindle in 2008, and several veteran religion writers around the country were laid off or bought out.
At the Globe, the powers-that-be retired the paper’s longtime religion column, Spiritual Life, as part of a budget-cutting effort, and launched this blog, Articles of Faith, in an effort to better engage with that segment of our growing on-line audience that is interested in religion. The blog has grown rapidly – thanks to Sarah Palin, the abortion issue, and a variety of other controversies, we had nearly 200,000 page views in November. I am grateful to all of you (well, most of you) who visited, bookmarked the site, subscribed to the RSS feed, and took the time to post comments or send notes as I experiment with this forum, trying to figure out what features and what types of posts are most useful, how best to balance the kinds of hot-button items that generate clicks with posts about news and culture that can be traffic-deadening, and also how best to balance blogging with reporting and writing stories.
This will almost certainly be my last blog post of the year; I’ve just arrived in California for a vacation, and, if the news and my own temperament allow me to tear myself away from the keyboard, Articles of Faith will be on hiatus for a bit. But please feel free to post your own thoughts about trends in the world of religion as comments on this blog, or shoot me an e-mail with suggestions for religion stories you think the Globe should pursue in 2009.
And, to one and all, Happy New Year.
(Photo, by Lai Seng Sin/AP, shows a New Year's celebration today in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia.)
Christian leaders are starting to speak out on the situation in Gaza, where Israeli forces, retaliating for rocket attacks against Israel, today attacked Hamas targets for the third day in a row, bringing the death toll in Gaza to over 300.
On Saturday I posted comments from Jewish leaders here; on Sunday I posted comments from Muslim organizations (updated this morning) here. Today comes the following statement from Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori:
"Yesterday afternoon in New York, outside the Episcopal Church Center, a demonstration took place in front of the Israeli consulate. The demonstrators included orthodox Jews. All were calling for an immediate end to the attacks in Gaza. I join my voice to theirs and those of many others around the world, challenging the Israeli government to call a halt to this wholly disproportionate escalation of violence. I challenge the Palestinian forces to end their rocket attacks on Israelis. I further urge the United States government to use its influence to get these parties back to the negotiating table and end this senseless killing. President-elect Obama needs to be part of this initiative, which demands his attention now and is likely to do so through his early months in office. I urge a comprehensive response to these attacks. Innocent lives are being lost throughout the land we all call Holy, and as Christians remember the coming of the Prince of Peace, we ache for the absence of peace in the land of his birth.
Immediate attention should focus on vital humanitarian assistance to the suffocating people of Gaza. In March of this year, I spent a day in Gaza visiting religious and community leaders and the Al Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City, run by the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem. Since that visit, the situation, which was already devastating, has only worsened, with supplies of food, fuel, power, and medical supplies either cut off or indefinitely delayed. Our hospital must now try to treat the wounded under the most impossible circumstances.
I ask all people of faith to join with the Episcopalians in Jerusalem who this Sunday dispensed with their usual worship services and spent their time in prayer for those who are the objects of this violence. I pray for leaders who will seek a just peace for all in the Middle East, knowing that its achievement will only come when they have the courage to act boldly. But they must do so now, before the violence escalates further. It is only through a just and lasting peace that the hope of the ages can be fulfilled, that hope which we mark in the birth of a babe in Bethlehem."
Also today, the Vatican released a full translation of the comments made by Pope Benedict XVI after praying the Angelus yesterday:
"The Holy Land, which occupies the thoughts and sentiments of faithful around the world during these days of Christmas has again seen itself struck by an outbreak of unprecedented violence.
I am profoundly saddened by the deaths, the wounded, the material damage, the suffering, and the tears of the peoples victim to this tragic recurrence of attacks and reprisals.
The earthly homeland of Jesus cannot continue being witness to such bloodshed that is repeated without end! I implore an end to the violence, which is to be condemned in all its forms, and the re-establishment of the truce in the Gaza Strip. I ask for a show of humanity and wisdom in all those who have some responsibility in this situation. I ask the international community to do everything possible to help the Israelis and Palestinians out of this dark alley and not to resign themselves - as I said a few days ago in the 'Urbi et Orbi' message - to the twisted logic of confrontation and violence, but to give precedence to the path of dialogue and negotiation.
We entrust to Jesus, the Prince of Peace, our fervent prayer for these intentions, and to Him, Mary, and Joseph we say: 'Oh family of Nazareth, expert in suffering, grant peace to the world'. Grant it today, above all, to the Holy Land!"
(Photo, by Ariel Schalit/AP, shows Israeli tanks moving today at a staging area near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip, in southern Israel.)
Two leading U.S. Muslim organizations, the Muslim Public Affairs Council and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, have issued statements decrying Israel's ongoing airstrikes against Hamas in Gaza, which have reportedly killed more than 225 people, and which are Israel's response to rocket attacks from Gaza against Israeli communities.
Here is the statement from MPAC:
"Israel's latest military assault is a disproportionate and inhumane response to Palestinian militants' cross-border rocket attacks against Israel, which recalls its devastating and widely condemned military assault on Lebanon just two years ago. The U.S. must act swiftly and decisively to prevent an Israeli massacre of Palestinians, since Israeli officials have said the military strikes could continue for days or months, and could include ground forces.
While the U.N., the European Union, Russia and Egypt have harshly condemned Israel's use of force while also calling on Hamas to end the rocket fire, the Bush administration today blamed Hamas for the end to the cease-fire and demanded that it stop firing rockets and limited itself to calling on Israel only to avoid hitting civilians. MPAC also calls on the Obama transition team to be ready to fairly and constructively address the conflict in the Middle East when they take office.
Earlier this month, MPAC called on the administration to follow the footsteps of the U.N., which called for Israel to lift its stifling blockade on the Gaza Strip. The economy has been paralyzed; food, water and electricity are in short supply; and observers have described conditions there as "the worst ever." The policy of collective punishment has now escalated beyond the blockade to crushing military force that may be aimed at Hamas, but is also costing the lives of civilians who are struggling just to survive in the brutal economic situation.
In "Envisioning Peace: The MPAC Perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict," MPAC calls for a two-state solution where each state is truly and fully sovereign on an equal basis.
Since the inception of Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories on the heels of the Six Day War in June 1967, scores of U.N. resolutions and calls by the international community for an end to the most crucial aspects of the occupation -- notably the relentless expansion of Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories -- remain unheeded.
And it is that occupation, now as then, that stands at the heart of the conflict between two peoples engaged in a vicious and utterly unequal struggle over territory. It has taken a terrible toll on all those involved in the conflict. Today, there is a generation of Palestinians who have known nothing but occupation and a generation of Israelis who have experienced only dominance over the Palestinians."
And here is the statement from CAIR:
"Despite the public ‘green light’ given to the Israeli military by the Bush administration, American Muslims join our fellow citizens who respect international law and the sanctity of human life in repudiating this massacre carried out using U.S. taxpayer-funded weapons.
It must be clear by now that the only future offered to the Palestinian people by the outgoing administration was one of perpetual subjugation and humiliation at the hands of the Israeli occupiers. Unfortunately, our nation’s timid response to this tragic episode will only serve to fuel anti-American sentiments in the Muslim world.
We therefore call on President-elect Obama to demonstrate his commitment to change our nation’s current one-sided Mideast policy by speaking out now in favor of peace and justice for all parties to this decades-long conflict.
We also call on world leaders to take direct action to end Israel’s counterproductive and wildly disproportionate attacks and to end the humanitarian siege of Gaza, which led to the recent breakdown of the ceasefire."
At the Vatican today, Pope Benedict XVI, who is expected to visit Israel in May, called for an end to the violence, saying, "The homeland of Jesus cannot continue to be witness to so much bloodshed, which repeats itself endlessly...I implore an end to that violence, which must be condemned in all its manifestations, and the restoration of the truce in the Gaza Strip.''
Yesterday I posted a statement from Boston Jewish leaders defending the attacks here.
UPDATE: On Monday morning, two local groups, the Massachusetts chapter of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADCMA) and the Muslim American Society (MAS Boston) issued statements on Gaza, and said they planned to visit the Boston office of Sen. John F. Kerry today to express their concerns. "As people of conscience, we will appeal to the humanitarian ethics of our elected representatives to call on them to work to end the attacks on the civilian population in Gaza," said Bilal Kaleem, the director of MAS Boston. "We seek an end to all attacks on civilians, whether from the IDF or Hamas."
(Photo above, by Eyad Baba/AP, shows Palestinian firefighters trying to extinguish fire today at a burning building after an Israeli missile strike in the Rafah refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip.)
Two leading Jewish organizations in Boston -- Combined Jewish Philanthropies and the Jewish Community Relations Council -- today issued a statement defending Israel's decision to launch airstrikes against Hamas in Gaza. The attacks have reportedly killed more than 200 people, and are Israel's answer to rocket attacks from Gaza on Israeli communities. The statement appears to be the first public example of CJP's response to its new strategic plan, which calls for more robust Israel advocacy by the organization. Here is the statement:
"Confronted by rocket and mortar attacks against its citizens that have escalated in intensity and lethality, Israel was left with no option other than to exercise its sovereign right of self-defense against Hamas military targets in Gaza.
As you know, over the past year alone, Hamas, designated as a terrorist organization by the European Union, Canada and the United States, has fired some 3,000 rockets and mortar bombs into Israeli towns and cities in southern Israel. Israeli families have been subjected to daily bombardment, whose purpose has been to kill or maim Israeli civilians as well as to terrify Israeli families.
Over the last week or so, Hamas, which calls for the "obliteration" of Israel, has intensified its attacks on Israeli civilians, firing some 200 rockets and mortar bombs in the last several days alone. Sderot, the long-suffering working class community where innocent Israelis have been wantonly attacked with rockets for more than three years, came under renewed fire. The attacks then spread to Ashdod and to Ashkelon, a city of 120,000 people.
President-elect Barak Obama said earlier this year about the more than 6,300 rockets and mortar shells from Gaza that have rained down on Israel since 2005: "If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I would do everything to stop that, and would expect Israel to do the same thing."
In this Christmas season, while Israeli and Palestinian Authority security forces were successfully working together to ensure a peaceful celebration in Bethlehem, Hamas fired more than 100 rockets and mortars at Israel's cities and towns. Moreover, as The New York Times reported, the terrorists "increased the range and intensity" of their assault. As a result, more Israeli citizens are faced with a serious lethal threat than ever before.
Israeli author Amos Oz, a prominent dove whose call for peace with the Palestinians is shared by a majority of Israelis, wrote in a recent piece entitled "Israel Must Defend Its Citizens" that "The systematic bombing of the citizens in Israel's towns and cities is a war crime and a crime against humanity."
No country can tolerate such deliberate assaults indefinitely - and Israel has shown extraordinary restraint, publicly calling upon Hamas to stop the attacks and seeking to extend the fragile lull in hostilities that had been in effect for the last six months.
Hamas's disregard for Israeli life is matched by its disregard for the lives of Palestinians living in Gaza. Using innocent Palestinians as human shields, Hamas purposely fires its missiles from homes, schools and community centers, confident in the knowledge that when Israel finally acts to stop the killing of its own civilians, Palestinians will also inevitably be harmed. The use of Palestinian civilians as human shields is not merely unspeakably cruel. It is also a fundamental violation of Palestinian human rights by the Hamas leadership.
Israel cares deeply about protecting the lives of civilians, both in Israel and in the Gaza Strip. Its efforts this weekend to stop the Hamas attacks represent classic self-defense, undertaken reluctantly by an Israeli nation that longs for peace.
Israel is now compelled to act to defend its citizens. A loyal ally of the United States, Israel has rushed to our aid at times of crisis - rushing rescue workers to Nairobi, Kenya, in the wake of the bombing of the U.S. embassy there and sending planeloads of relief supplies to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Now our friend needs our support - our strong backing for its right to defend itself from terrorist attack."
(Photo, by Baz Ratner/Reuters, shows smoke rising after an Israeli air strike in the northern Gaza Strip today.)
In today's Globe, I have a story looking at the impact on Jewish philanthropy of the Madoff mess. An excerpt:
Jewish philanthropy has an enormous impact on the American nonprofit scene - a study by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University found last year that 91 percent of Jews give to charity, making Jews far more charitable than most Christians - and the vast majority of Jewish giving goes to non-Jewish organizations, such as hospitals, museums, and universities.
"They are among the most, if not the most, generous people in our community," said Paul S. Grogan, president of The Boston Foundation. "And every new revelation suggests that this is going to be far more serious than anyone thought. One gets the impression that a very large percentage of the successful philanthropic Jewish families in this community had some connection to Madoff."
Many of the bold-faced names of the Jewish community, particularly in New York, Florida, and Massachusetts, have been caught up in the Madoff scandal. Locally, Carl and Ruth Shapiro, who have given about $60 million to Brandeis over the last decade and are funding two buildings under construction there, lost 40 to 45 percent of their foundation, which was worth $345 million at last report. A foundation established by Elie Wiesel, the BU professor and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, had invested almost all of its assets, $15.2 million, with Madoff. The Lappin Foundation, in Salem, closed after announcing that its assets had been invested with Madoff, and the Maimonides School, in Brookline, sent a letter to parents warning that a bequest that had been supporting its operating budget was invested with Madoff.
Nationally, in addition to the losses by Hadassah and Yeshiva, there are scores of affected Jewish philanthropies. The Picower Foundation of Florida, which in 2007 declared assets of $955 million that included multiple Jewish institutions and causes among its beneficiaries, on Friday said it had invested with Madoff and would be forced to close. Last week, the Chais Family Foundation, founded in California but located in Jerusalem, which claimed $178 million in assets and gave primarily to Jewish causes in Israel and the United States, also closed. The American Technion Society, which supports a science university in Israel, lost $72 million with Madoff, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. And there are many more.
There are a couple of really good Madoff resources on the web if you want more information:
The Globe has a Boston.com page on which we're posting all of our Madoff coverage.
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency has a great blog, Fundermentalist, that is aggregating Madoff stories and breaking quite a bit of news as well.
And check out the eJewish Philanthropy blog, which, as it sounds, is a blog about Jewish philanthropy, and which has also become an essential resource on the Madoff scandal.
(Photo, by Shannon Stapleton/Reuters, shows a sign marking the Montauk home of Bernard L. Madoff.)
The latest trend in notes home from Jewish schools and institutions: reassurances that the Madoff scandal has not done any damage. In Greater Boston, many small institutions were spared, somewhat ironically, because of their lack of investment acumen -- in order to avoid the complexities of the markets, many of them pool their endowment monies in a fund that is invested by Combined Jewish Philanthropies (local Catholic institutions also pool their funds and invest collectively), and CJP did not invest with Bernie Madoff (right). Now, amid the steady stream of news about the losses suffered by Jewish institutions in the Madoff mess, those who are unaffected are trying to reassure donors and the public.
Here's the note sent out Friday by Hebrew College in Newton:
Hanukkah, which begins this Sunday evening, teaches us that it takes faith to live through a period of scarcity—a deep commitment to a vision that we will emerge renewed as the daylight lengthens. Taking inspiration from the miracle of oil that stretched for eight days to light the menorah in the rededicated Temple, we need to focus our energies on shepherding resources wisely to achieve important goals.
Here at Hebrew College, we continue to apply fiscal discipline and controls to insure financial stability during this challenging period. We are immersed in a strategic planning process to guide the College into the next decade. The plan emphasizes our commitment to offer innovative programs that meet Greater Boston community needs and provide a platform to reach broader audiences; our focus is on sustainable growth during a period of philanthropic restraint. As part of this planning process, we are exploring ways to expand and enhance our relationships with Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP), Andover Newton Theological School, Northeastern University, the Pardes Institute and other strategic partners. I look forward to sharing the details as they evolve.
While we are deeply saddened and dismayed that so many Jewish institutions, charities and private individuals have been decimated by the Madoff scheme, we want to assure you that Hebrew College's investments are not at risk. Our endowment is part of the Jewish Community Endowment Pool managed by CJP, which has no direct Madoff investment exposure. We join with CJP and other Jewish leaders and organizations in deploring this outrageous fraud that has caused so much harm to so many innocent victims and good causes.
That many of the affected institutions share our mission of Jewish education makes the crime all the more painful. Jewish education is a sacred trust that requires the full investment and involvement of the community in order to enable the community to prosper. We are committed to serving our Greater Boston community and deeply grateful for your continuing faith in and commitment to us.
Rabbi Daniel L. Lehmann
Board of Trustees Chair
And the Rashi School, in Newton, kept it short and sweet, sending a letter with the following statement:
We wanted to assure all members of our community that the Rashi School has no investments with any Madoff fund. Our endowment funds are managed under the CJP Jewish Community Endowment Pool, which we have been assured has no Madoff investment exposure.
CJP itself put out the following statement:
Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston expresses its sympathies for the families, individuals, foundations and philanthropies impacted by the Madoff fraud, especially to the many people on the North Shore served by the Lappin Foundation.
CJP's endowment and assets, including the Jewish Community Endowment Pool, LLP (JCEP) and the investments of our Donor Advised Fund and Planned Giving programs, have no direct Madoff investment exposure. We want to assure the community that this will not affect our endowment or our other investment assets, including funds placed in JCEP by other organizations in our community.
However, many philanthropies and many innocent people are victims of this outrageous fraud. We deplore this appalling scheme in the strongest terms. We hope that investigators act as swiftly as possible to recover as much of the assets as possible.
(Photo at right was taken Dec. 17, 2008 by Jason DeCrow/AP.)
The letter from Maimonides School board chair Jeffrey Swartz (also the chief executive of Timberland), explaining how the day school got caught up in the Madoff mess, is a doozy. It was sent Monday, and prompted this story in the Globe. Here's the letter:
Dear Parents,FULL ENTRY
I am writing to inform you that the chillul Hashem that is unfolding in New York, pertaining to investments handled by allegedly unscrupulous money managers, has had an impact of consequence upon our School.
KEY WEST _ At the final session of the Faith Angle conference today, two prominent survey researchers, John C. Green and Anna Greenberg, examined a variety of polling data about the relationship between religious affiliation and voting behavior in this year's presidential election.
The chart above shows the bottom line, and reinforces patterns that have been in place for at least the last two decades -- Democrats are favored by minority ethnic and religious groups, as well as by less observant white Christians, while Republicans are favored by more observant white Christians. The chart was generated by Green (left), who is a political science professor at the University of Akron, and also a senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, which is the sponsor of the conference.
Green suggested that the basic structure of "faith-based politics" did not change much since the 2004 campaign -- despite unprecedented efforts by the Obama campaign to move religious voters, and a lot of erroneous predictions by pundits -- but that it was enough to elect Obama. "It was not very different than we’ve seen in the past, but different enough to have a different result,'' he said. He said the Democrats made their biggest gains among minority religious groups (particularly Hispanic Protestants) and failed to make significant gains among white Christians (although there was some movement to the Democrats among evangelicals who go to church less than weekly, and among young evangelicals).
The minimal change demonstrates, Green said, "that these basic differences are deeply embedded.''
"Religious groups are strongly partisan these days, and deeply embedded into the party coalitions,'' Green said -- meaning that groups like black Protestants and Jews are important parts of the Democratic coalition, while white evangelicals play a similar role for the Republican Party. "In the short run, there is only a limited capacity for religious groups to move.''
Among Catholics, Green said, the data shows increasing polarization, with weekly communicants shifting more to the right, and less frequent Massgoers shifting further to the left.
Greenberg (right), is a Democratic pollster and senior vice president at Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research. She had several interesting findings -- among them, that Barack Obama was clearly underperforming (compared to previous Democratic candidates) among Jewish voters through much of the campaign, but that he wound up with about 78 percent of the Jewish vote -- which is typical for a Democratic presidential candidate. Greenberg, who said "I was actually pretty shocked" at how well Obama did among Jews, said it was not clear how Obama succeeded in moving Jews back to the Democratic column, but speculated that it was the combined effect of concern among Jewish voters about Sarah Palin's social conservatism, and what Greenberg described as the reassuring effect on Jewish votes of Obama's performance during the debates. Green agreed, saying, "Many Jews are Democrats, and once they became reassured that some of these problems were not serious, they went back to their partisanship...Once the Jewish community became reassured that Obama was going to be all right -- not that he was going to be excellent -- that was enough.''
Perhaps Greenberg's most interesting finding, though, has to do with young evangelicals -- a population of increasing interest to scholars and journalists because of the perception that they may exhibit different political behaviors than their elders. Greenberg said that research shows that young evangelicals in fact are more liberal than older evangelicals on multiple issues -- including gay marriage (below), global warming, and the Iraq War -- but are not moving on abortion -- young evangelicals are just as strongly opposed to abortion as are older evangelicals.
Green said that, although white evangelicals are still strongly Republican, there is clearly change taking place among younger evangelicals. "Generational change happens all the time on a steady basis, but there are points of time when it has a big effect, and evangelicals are going through one of those times, on religious terms, social terms, and political terms.''
About two dozen local Chabad rabbis, joined by other leaders of the Boston-area Jewish community, gathered in front of the State House this morning in a show of solidarity after six people were killed by terrorists in the Chabad House in Mumbai last week.
The event was an interesting, although not surprising, show of unity across the spectrum of the Jewish community. The crowd included not only the leaders of most of the local Chabad centers, but also many of the Jewish community's most prominent leaders -- Nancy Kaufman of the Jewish Community Relations Council; Rob Leikind of the American Jewish Committee; Barry Shrage of Combined Jewish Philanthropies; Derrek Shulman, the regional director of the Anti-Defamation League; and Rabbi Bill Hamilton of Congregation Kehillath Israel. Among the speakers was Rony Yedidia, the deputy consul-general of Israel in Boston, who said she had spent a festive Purim at the Chabad in Mumbai and had met the slain rabbi and his wife.
I'll have a full story in tomorrow's paper (UPDATE: Here's the story), but for now, here's a short video I made of the event:
Also today, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, which represents Reform rabbis -- at the other end of the theological spectrum from the ultra-orthodox Chabad -- issued a statement of support for Chabad, declaring, "We stand with our Jewish brothers and sisters, in shock at the brutal, senseless murders...All Jewish people are connected to one another. We are one people in mourning today."
Here is an updated list of local memorial services:
• At 6 p.m. tonight, Yeshiva Chabad of Central Massachusetts will hold a memorial service at 22 Newton Avenue in Worcester.
• At 7:30 pm tonight, Chabad of the North Shore will hold a memorial service at 44 Burrill Street in Swamspcott.
• At 7:45 pm tonight, there is a memorial service at the Chabad at Chestnut Hill at 163 Bellingham Rd.
• At 1 p.m. tomorrow (Wednesday), the Interfaith Chaplaincy at Brandeis will hold a rally in front of the Goldfarb library on campus. Brandeis Chabad officials, as well as leaders of other campus faith groups, will participate.
• At 7 p.m. tomorrow (Wednesday), the Chabad Russian Center of Boston will hold a memorial service at Shaloh House Jewish Day School, located at 29 Chestnut Hill Avenue in Brighton.
• at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow (Wednesday), the Shaloh House Chabad of the South Area will hold a prayer memorial vigil at 50 Ethyl Way in Stoughton.
• At 6 p.m. Thursday, the Asian American Commission of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is hosting a candlelight vigil at City Hall Plaza.
(Photo by David Ryan of the Globe staff.)
There are at least two dozen Chabad centers in Greater Boston, and several of them are planning events this week to mourn the terrorist attacks that last week killed six at the Chabad-Lubavitch center in Mumbai. And a local Chabad rabbi, from Quincy, has flown to Israel to be at the funeral of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg.
These are among the local events planned to memorialize the victims of the violence in Mumbai:
•At 10 a.m. tomorrow (Tuesday), 23 local Chabad rabbis, joined by the leaders of multiple Jewish community organizations, are planning to gather on the steps of the State House for a brief event. "This is our show of support and unity and resolve, to assure our friends and family that we are forging on,'' said Rabbi Mayshe Schwartz of the Chabad Chai Center in Brookline.
• At 6 p.m. tomorrow (Tuesday), Yeshiva Chabad of Central Massachusetts will hold a memorial service at 22 Newton Avenue in Worcester.
• At 7:30 pm tomorrow (Tuesday), Chabad of the North Shore will hold a memorial service at 44 Burrill Street in Swamspcott.
• At 7:45 pm tomorrow (Tuesday), there is a memorial service at the Chabad at Chestnut Hill at 163 Bellingham Rd.
• At 1 p.m. Wednesday, the Interfaith Chaplaincy at Brandeis will hold a rally in front of the Goldfarb library on campus. Brandeis Chabad officials, as well as leaders of other campus faith groups, will participate.
• At 7 p.m. Wednesday, the Chabad Russian Center of Boston will hold a memorial service at Shaloh House Jewish Day School, located at 29 Chestnut Hill Avenue in Brighton.
Matt Collette talked with local Chabad leaders for a story in today's paper.
Chabad is posting updates about the killings here.
(Photo above, by Uriel Sinai/Getty, shows Shimon Rosenberg (center) praying during a memorial ceremony today for his daughter Rivka and her husband Gavriel Holtzberg at the Keneseth Eliyahoo synagogue in Mumbai.)
The Jewish Community Centers of Greater Boston, which maintains two major health club/community center facilities, in Newton and Stoughton, is closing the Stoughton facility, called the Striar Jewish Community Center, and "transitioning" the premises to the YMCA. The JCC said in a statement today that people who use the JCC health club will automatically be transferred to the Y, and that the JCC will offer Jewish programs at existing Jewish sites on the South Shore. Here is the news release:
"The Jewish Community Centers of Greater Boston (JCC) and the Old Colony YMCA today announced that the JCC will transition services and programming out of Striar JCC and to a new community-based service model. The Old Colony YMCA will acquire the Center and continue to provide fitness, aquatics and family-based services, beginning on March 1, 2009.
Demographic shifts in the South Area Jewish population have reduced the ability of a central facility in Stoughton to serve an increasingly dispersed Jewish community. The JCC has responded to the changing demographics of the South Area Jewish community by creating a new service model that will utilize other South Area community and Jewish venues to provide high quality programming and compelling services to reach even more of the South Area Jewish community.
Mark Sokoll, President and CEO of JCCGB said, “Change often brings opportunity, and our future plans are exciting and build upon successes we have already had in other communities. As we look to the future, the JCC is creating innovative new services and compelling programming for the next generations of Greater Boston Jews, in whatever communities they may live and however they wish to participate. We remain committed to providing exceptional Jewish programming, through partnerships with other local venues, which will allow us to be more convenient to emerging Jewish communities, more responsive to the changing needs of Jewish families, and more collaborative with Jewish communal partners.”
Vincent Marturano, President and CEO of the Old Colony YMCA said, “We are excited about the opportunity to expand the Y’s services and programming in Stoughton. We share a common commitment with the JCC to serve the needs of the community. And we look forward to working with the JCC and the community through this transition period. I extend my personal welcome to the members and am confident that we will continue and build upon the great tradition of service that they have come to expect.”
Memberships will be seamlessly converted into an Old Colony YMCA membership, which will not only cover services at the Stoughton location, but will also allow members to take advantage of services and programs offered at each of the Old Colony YMCA branches. Old Colony YMCA staff will be available on-site to provide information and answer any questions members have during several scheduled open house events over the next few weeks.
The JCC-run preschool and afterschool programs will continue at Striar until June 2009; thereafter the preschool will move to a new location in the community.
For additional information on program transitions, membership services and Open House events, please visit www.striarjcc.org."
UPDATE: Here's the story that ran in Tuesday's paper.
UPDATE: Several readers have expressed concern about the way the news was communicated by the JCC. Just to be clear -- I got wind of the news from an anonymous tipster, called to ask about it, and apparently another news outlet heard about it as well. When it became clear that the news was leaking out, the JCC decided to issue a press release. Here's their official explanation: "The JCC had every intention of informing members before speaking to the press, unfortunately the media learned about the transition process before that was able to happen. Letters and programming information were already on the way to members, but had not reached them before this story ran. All of the information that members will receive shortly is also available on the Striar website at www.striarjcc.org."
(Photo, by Jonathan Wiggs of the Globe staff, shows a swim lesson at the Striar JCC in 2000.)
The attacks on multiple sites in Mumbai are rekindling the discussion of the relationship between Islam and terror, even before the perpetrators are definitively identified. Early reports suggest that the attacks may have been carried out by Pakistani militants involved in the conflict over Kashmir between India and Pakistan. But the choice of a Jewish target -- the Chabad House, where at least five people, including two rabbis, were killed -- as well as the targeting of American and British travelers, broadens the religious dimensions of the attack beyond the Hindu-Muslim conflict.
In Boston, the Jewish Community Relations Council this afternoon sent over the following statement, calling the attackers a "radical Islamic terrorist organization:"
"We are appalled by the absolute disregard for the value of human life displayed by these senseless acts of terrorism and we categorically condemn those responsible. The little known group Deccan Mujahedeen that claimed credit for the attack, and other radical Islamic terrorist organizations, continue to be a great threat to world peace. We call upon the nations of the world to collaborate to ensure that freedom and peace is safe and accessible for people worldwide. Though their targets were foreigners, the great majority of those gunned down were from the local population demonstrating the terrorists' willingness to indiscriminately take lives, as further shown by the women and children who were victims. As representatives of the Jewish community in greater Boston we find it particularly disturbing that a Jewish center was targeted and attacked and that five people were killed at the Chabad house including the young Rabbi and his wife. We join with the families of those killed, the Jewish community and the worldwide community in mourning the senseless deaths of innocent human life by vicious terrorists and pray for a complete and swift ending to the siege."And from Washington, the Muslim Public Affairs Council sent a statement suggesting that it is also concerned about the implications for Jewish-Muslim relations:
"MPAC expresses its condolences to the Jewish community and the various other communities whose members were involved in the tragic series of terrorist attacks in recent days. MPAC has sent letters of condolences to the Indian embassy, and encourages people of all faiths and nationalities to stand together against those who seek to divide our communities. Media reports indicate that more than 150 people have been killed in the attacks. Those responsible for these brutal and immoral attacks should be swiftly brought to justice. Islam considers the use of terrorism to be unacceptable for any purpose."
The Council on American-Islamic Relations yesterday issued the following statement condemning terrorism:
“We condemn these cowardly attacks and demand that all hostages taken by the attackers be released immediately and unconditionally. We offer sincere condolences to the loved ones of those killed or injured in these senseless and inexcusable acts of violence against innocent civilians. American Muslims stand with our fellow citizens of all faiths in repudiating acts of terror wherever they take place and whomever they target.”
But the attacks are already raising questions for many bloggers. Over at Beliefnet, Rod Dreher, who blogs as Crunchy Con, writes (sarcastically):
"Thanks, Muslim terrorists! You do so much for the world. Your Mumbai adventures on behalf of your faith have killed scores of people, and have jacked up tensions between two nuclear powers that hate each other...Look, I know that not all Muslims, nor, possibly, most Muslims, are behind these attacks. But the points made by Abdel Rahman al-Rashed in the wake of the Beslan massacre are as relevant today as they were then...As al-Rashed wrote at the time, 'Terrorism has become an Islamic enterprise; an almost exclusive monopoly, implemented by Muslim men and women.' Still is. Look at today's headlines. Draw the obvious conclusion.''
But at MuslimMatters, Amad writes:
"As Muslims, we condemn such senseless carnage against innocent civilians, wherever it may occur. This goes against the fundamental spirit of Islam, which promotes a culture of life and humanity, not bloodshed and violence. And another example of why extremist ideology, whatever that ideology may be, needs to be refuted and condemned."
(Photo, by Saurabh Das/AP, shows smoke coming out of Chabad's Nariman House, in Mumbai, after a rocket was fired at the building today.)
"As his star has risen, Stewart, born Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz, has also become an ambassador of Jewishness. Dispensing Jewish humor like a tic, Stewart’s impish grin, self-deprecating punch lines and jokey cultural references are a staple of the show. He has referred to himself as 'Jewey Von Jewstein' and cracked wise on Jewish noses, circumcision, anti-Semites, Jews who play baseball (a short list), Israel as 'Heebie Land' and his grandma at Passover. When it comes to Jewish and Israeli politics, he stomps where WASPier comedians fear to tread. But although he regularly brings up the fact that he is Jewish, he rarely speaks earnestly about his Jewish upbringing or what being Jewish means to him."
And one more, with a quotation from Rabbi Moshe Waldoks of Temple Beth Zion in Brookline:
"It’s impossible to watch The Daily Show without quickly divining that Stewart is Jewish. 'Stewart brings a sharpness of wit and a clear desire to never let the audience forget who he is by bringing his Jewishness up again and again,' observes Moshe Waldoks, a rabbi in Brookline, Massachusetts, and co-editor of The Big Book of Jewish Humor. His cultural Jewishness, that is; Stewart regularly hosts The Daily Show on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. (A New York Mets fan, Stewart did name one of his pit bulls Shamsky, after Art Shamsky, a Mets player who declined to play on Yom Kippur.) Well-versed in Jewish affairs, he is the first to admit that his knowledge of the religion doesn’t run deep. 'I’m not a religious scholar,' Stewart conceded to viewers in 2001. 'Let’s face facts: Very few people would confuse me with Maimonides.' He gently pokes fun at his own lack of observance. 'I fasted today, not out of any religious duty but because I don’t want to let a day go by where I can’t feel worse about myself. So Happy Yom Kippur to you!' Stewart wished his audience in 2003."
(Photo, by Josh Reynolds for the Globe, shows Jon Stewart at Northeastern University in October.)
"We've wiped away the hateful symbol, but it is our presence here as one community that enables us to say no to hate," said Rabbi Eric Gurvis of Temple Shalom, as he began yesterday's rally.
Gurvis thanked the Newton Police Department, residents, and community leaders for their support after the vandalism.
"I know that out of something very bad, we're going to make something good," said Newton Mayor David Cohen. Addressing residents' potential safety concerns, Cohen urged the crowd not to be afraid and "to be whoever you are."
"We have to reaffirm our commitment to diversity," he said.
(Photo by Yoon S. Byun of the Globe staff.)
Mel Gibson has been in and around Boston for much of the last three months, shooting his new film, "Edge of Darkness,'' and for the last two Friday nights the film crew has been camped out in front of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, in Boston's South End.
On Friday night, as it happens, I was meeting a friend for dinner at Sage, directly across Washington Street from the cathedral, and we arrived to find the whole block had been commandeered by the filmmakers, who spent the night rehearsing and then filming a shot in which Gibson emerges from Foodies, holding a shopping bag in each hand, and walks a few feet east on Washington, past shops that had been relabeled for the occasion (including a fake lighting store called Shady Business). The scene was kind of complicated because it was supposed to be raining, so a downpour was being generated from a huge raintower, and a small army of extras were functioning as pedestrians and drivers. There was a large film crew, with trucks and tents and headphones and lights, coordinating the shot, and they were using the patio in front of the cathedral as a staging area. A large crowd of onlookers gathered to watch, including your faithful religion correspondent.
Two things piqued my interest, given that this is Mel Gibson, who is associated with an extremely conservative and quasi-schismatic brand of Catholicism, and who in 2006 memorably exploded in a drunken anti-Semitic rage at a police officer two years after making the film, "The Passion of the Christ,'' which had aroused the ire of many in the Jewish community. First, I wondered how the crowd would react to Gibson's presence, and second, I wondered how Gibson was relating to the Archdiocese of Boston, given that he was filming on what is essentially the cardinal's front lawn (Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley lives in the cathedral rectory, but he is managing to miss the action by travelling to Rome).
The crowd reaction appeared to be completely unaffected by Gibson's controversial history, and I'm told that's been the case throughout his time here -- large numbers of people have gathered to see a movie star, period. When the film was first announced, some in the Jewish community were concerned, but the official Jewish community has said nothing about Gibson's presence. There have apparently been two instances in which private property owners have declined to cooperate with the film because of Gibson's participation (Universal Hub has the details on a Roslindale rejection here), but otherwise the reaction has been quiet.
As for the relationship with the official church -- Gibson is one of Hollywood's most prominent Catholics, and his "Passion" film won a lot of praise from conservative Christians, but he has a strained relationship with Rome. His dad is reportedly a Holocaust-denying sedevacantist (those are folks who believe recent popes are all illegitimate), and Mel has built himself his own private parish above Malibu that is unrecognized (in fact, it is not considered Catholic) by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Recently, the New York Post reported that Gibson has apparently spent $42 million on his church, which the paper described as having about 100 members who "follow a 16th-century style of Catholicism, with Mass conducted entirely in Latin and a strict dress code for women.'' Over at Whispers in the Loggia, blogger Rocco Palmo remarked on the strangeness of the situation, saying "In what'll always be one of history's great ironies, the box office from the film most-explicitly promoted in church circles in recent memory... essentially bankrolled schism.''
I asked Terry Donilon, the spokesman for the Archdiocese of Boston, how the archdiocese is relating to Gibson. This is what he said: "The Cardinal did not meet him, nor did the Cathedral folks. His production crew paid a very small fee for use of the property for staging, place to feed the crew, etc. They filmed overnight on the 2 Friday evenings. Gibson has been filming around the state.''
(Photo, by Lisa Poole for the Boston Globe, shows Mel Gibson during a break from filming in the Public Garden on Sept. 5.)
James J. Zogby, the president of the Arab American Institute, sends along an interesting column he has written exploring the wary reaction among Arab Americans to the selection of Rahm Emanuel (right) as the next White House chief of staff. Zogby shoots down many of the wilder rumors about Emanuel, but also criticizes President-elect Obama for not doing more to assauge the Arab-American community's concerns. An excerpt:
"Putting aside the fiction or, more accurately, the slanderous myths, the truth is that Emanuel is an effective leader in Congress. He is a strong supporter of Israel. But then, how many members of Congress are not? Emanuel is Jewish and his father is an Israeli. Arab Americans should be especially sensitive to attacks on anyone based on religion or ethnicity. He has worked closely with and is liked by the Arab American Members of Congress from both parties, and he was the architect of the 1993 White House lawn signing ceremony for the Oslo Accords that brought Arab Americans and American Jews together. When, in 1994, Rahm accepted my invitation to a luncheon with Arab American community leaders, those who met him were impressed by his openness and honesty."
And one more:
"I am concerned by the slowness of the Obama camp to respond more quickly or effectively to address the situation. Modern political operations have learned the need to confront false stories, to manage perception, and to anticipate problems—and, here, the Obama team had been especially masterful. During the campaign, for example, they repeatedly demonstrated how tuned-in they were to public perception – and in particular to matters that might have created discomfort in the Jewish community. They knew that these stories needed to be shot down quickly. (American Muslims understood much of this, despite feeling slighted, at times.) But in this most recent instance, the Obama camp displayed both inattentiveness and tone-deafness to Arab misperceptions about who Rahm Emanuel is, and what role he will play."
(Photo by Charles Dharapak/AP)
In my quick perusal of the Forward's annual list of the most influential Jews in America, I missed a couple of local figures.
"Scholars want to be judged by the quality, not the quantity, of their work, but in the case of Mexican-born literary critic Ilan Stavans, the numbers are inescapable. Simply put, the range and volume of his writing and expertise — and influence — are astonishing. A tenured professor of Latin American and Latino literature at Amherst College, Stavans has areas of interest that range from Latin American Jewry to Spanish and Yiddish literature, the immigrant experience, the evolution of language and the cultural role of dictionaries. At 47, he has written no fewer than 20 books of fiction and nonfiction, three of them in 2008, and edited 14 more, including definitive anthologies of Pablo Neruda's poetry and Isaac Bashevis Singer's stories. Three more of his books are due out by the summer of 2009, notably a groundbreaking, 2,000-page anthology of Latino literature. For all that, he's not simply a collector of dry facts. His theories of language are hotly debated around the world. He hosted his own PBS talk show for five years and helped stage-manage the 2004 I.B. Singer centenary celebrations (including a special section in the Forward). But nothing captures his complexity better than his latest books: a study of the modern rebirth of Hebrew and a graphic novel titled "Mr. Spic Goes to Washington." Yes, one man can move worlds."
(Photo of Ilan Stavans was taken in 2004 by Robert E. Klein for the Boston Globe.)
Temple Shalom in Newton was vandalized with a swastika on its sign this weekend. The synagogue's rabbi, Eric Gurvis, is the president of the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis. In today's Globe, Megan Woolhouse reports:
Some parents and young people on their way to a bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah saw the swastika. Others missed it in the swirl of activity and wondered why police were swarming the area. Rabbi Eric S. Gurvis decided to address the incident from the pulpit. "There was an audible gasp," he said. Gurvis said he read several liturgical psalms as planned before the crowd, and then went to another prayer service in the same building and told them what happened before reading passages from Psalms. 'We're preaching for openness, understanding, peace, justice, and tolerance, and here is this act of injustice,' he said in a phone interview later. 'Even if it was a prank, it's not funny. It's a hate crime.'
Derrek Shulman, director of the New England Region of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) today issued the following statement on the incident:
“The Anti-Defamation League condemns the use of this hateful symbol and is reaching out to support the synagogue and the community. We are heartened by the quick, strong response from the community and law enforcement to let the perpetrators of this hate crime know that their message is not welcome in Newton, or any other community. The Nazi symbol of the swastika is offensive to Jews and to the community as a whole.”
(Photo by Randy H. Goodman for the Globe)
The Forward 50, an annual list of the most influential Jews of the year published by the Forward, a Jewish weekly, is out today. The local picks include U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (left), a Newton Democrat who vaulted into the national spotlight this year as a result of his work on the economic crisis, and Sheldon Adelson, the Boston native turned Vegas casino owner whose fortunes have plummeted this year. The 48 others include Rahm Emanuel, Sarah Silverman and Adam Sandler.
(AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke)
Boston's Actors' Shakespeare Project is staging a new production of "The Merchant of Venice" in which it is trying to directly explore the full impact of the troubling play. The company has chosen a Jewish director, Melia Bensussen, and a Jewish actor, Jeremiah Kissel (above, as Shylock) to lead the production of the play, which has often troubled and fascinated audiences and scholars because the Christian characters are so anti-Semitic and the Jewish character is often portrayed as villainous. An excerpt from my story in today's paper:
Their version of "The Merchant of Venice" looks from rehearsals likely to be unstinting, harsh, jarring. The characters will dress in contemporary clothing and speak in their own accents, as if the events in the play could happen today. And there will be no softening of Shakespeare's lines. Not only is Bensussen keeping the racist language that is sometimes excised, in which Portia rejects the Prince of Morocco over his complexion, but she cast a black actor to play that role. She says she insisted on casting a Jewish man to play Shylock because she thought a non-Jewish actor would be too cautious to fully explore the character's dark side. Bensussen also intends to emphasize the role of money and the issue of indebtedness - a decision she had made even before a real-world credit crunch caused global stock markets to tank, making the play's theme of loans gone bad far more topical than the troupe had anticipated. "On a very personal level, this play has been a challenge to me," Bensussen says in an interview before rehearsal. "I directed it in '93, and I shied away from the hard edges. I was afraid to do the play as written and worked very hard to sentimentalize the play, to soften the difficulties. And then this became a personal haunting. Is it because I'm Jewish that I can't tackle this?" Kissel says simply, "Shylock is a role that I've had in my imagination for quite a long time. You don't turn it down if you get a chance."
(Photo by Stratton McCrady.)
In Milton, Mass., Temple Shalom, facing a dwindling congregation, is contemplating selling off much of its land and replacing its large synagogue with a smaller one. In Globe South today, Matt Carroll reports:
"As membership declined, congregants have wrestled with whether to merge with another temple or to try to move forward. The building, even if creaky, features many beautiful touches that could be placed in a new building, such as a stained glass window that is a memorial to Holocaust victims and memorial plaques that honor congregants who have passed on, with lights that are lit during the Hebrew month they died. But it is showing its age. Its single-pane windows leak heat to the outside like sieves. Heat and maintenance cost $10,000 to $12,000 a month, which is rapidly draining off reserves. After long study that began in 2005, members decided to stay and try to grow. They hired (Alfred) Benjamin as a full-time rabbi, the first in several years. The temple now has about 135 families, which leaders hope to increase to about 200 families. The building has about 20,000 square feet. What the temple needs is 6,000 to 7,000 on two levels, members said. "We just want to build something appropriate for a small-town synagogue," said (former president Paul) Etkind."
(Photo by Pat Greenhouse of the Globe staff.)
Inside Higher Ed reports on an increasing effort to attract Jewish applicants to small liberal arts colleges. An excerpt:
"Talking about increasing the number of Jewish students is to talk of a delicate matter. After all, for much of their history, many elite private colleges didn’t particularly welcome Jews, and some imposed quotas. Others didn’t go that route but never considered whether the lack of Jewish services of any kind would make their institutions seem unwelcoming. One other reason this move is a bit controversial is that Jewish students as a whole are not outcasts in American higher education. Unlike outreach to minority students who may not feel they have college options, recruiting of Jewish students is almost always of students who will almost certainly go to college — it’s just a matter of where."
(Photo shows Washington and Lee University, in Virginia, which is actively recruiting Jewish students.)
I've been curious about what's happening with the New Center for Arts & Culture, which is the Jewish organization that is attempting to construct a kind of intellectual center along the lines of New York's 92d Street Y here in Boston, so this afternoon I swung by a symposium the New Center was sponsoring called "Promised Land: Exodus and America.'' The program was co-sponsored by Nextbook.
At the moment, the New Center is closer to dream than reality -- as with other building projects planned for the Rose Kennedy Greenway, no shovelfuls of dirt have yet been turned -- so the sessions took place at a lecture hall in Northeastern University's West Village. About eighty folks attended the talk I saw, which featured Harvard English Professor Elisa New interviewing Boston University Religion Department Chairman Stephen Prothero and the writer/critic Adam Kirsch about adaptations (co-optations?) of the Exodus story by the Pilgrims, by Mormons, and by African-Americans.
Kirsch explored the appropriation of the Exodus story by Puritan preachers like John Winthrop, who explicitly depicted America as the promised land (later interpreters saw George Washington as Moses, or Joshua). Prothero talked about how Mormons saw Brigham Young as Moses and the Salt Lake Valley as the promised land, and about how African Americans saw Martin Luther King Jr. as Moses and the North, or simply an egalitarian United States, as the promised land. Interestingly, although those who established America read themselves as the Jews fleeing the Egypt that was the British Empire, Mormons and African-Americans later came to identify themselves with the Jews and saw the United States as Egypt.
A few thoughts struck me as particularly provocative. Prothero suggested that American national uses of the Exodus metaphor faded after the Civil War, and he seemed to connect that to the rise of an evangelical Christianity that was more personal, and more Jesus-centered, than the communal and God-the-Father-centered Christianity of early Americans. He noted that at the time of his death, Lincoln (who died just before reaching the promised land of freedom) was sometimes compared to Moses, but that later comparisons to Jesus (Lincoln was killed on Good Friday) became more common.
New and Kirsch both talked about a lack of identification with the Exodus story by contemporary American Jews -- "what astounds me is that Jews don't seem to want it," New said -- which they suggested was linked to ambivalence about whether the United States or Israel is the promised land. "If America is the promised land, what does that say about our relationship to the original Promised Land," Kirsch asked. Prothero took that idea further, saying, "The obvious answer is Jews in America can't read themselves into the story as clearly as blacks can, or Puritans can, or Mormons can. You have a problem: You have a Promised Land, and this isn't it. So the story gets taken over.''
(Image from Nextbook.)
The Biblical narrative of Exodus has long been adopted, and adapted, by a variety of groups attempting to understand and describe their own liberation struggles. Now, two ambitious new Jewish organizations that are attempting to pull together provocative and important conversations about culture are offering Bostonians a glimpse of their plans this week with a four-day series of events examining American interpretations of the Exodus story.
One of the organizations, the New Center for Arts & Culture, is in the process of raising money to build a nearly 50,000 square foot cultural center (right) on the Rose Kennedy Greenway, across the street from Rowes Wharf. The center, which is being designed by Daniel Libeskind and is being modeled after the 92d Street Y in New York and the Skirball Cultural Center in LA, would cost $75 to $85 million, and backers hope to open it in 2014, according to New Center Acting Executive Director Francine Achbar. In the meantime, the New Center is hosting occasional events to demonstrate what the effort is all about.
The other organization, Nextbook, is a cultural organization that publishes an on-line magazine.
The four-day program, “Promised Land: Exodus and America,” begins tonight in West Newton with the screening of the 1932 Yiddish film "Uncle Moses,'' and continues with a variety of events, including, at Northeastern, a Saturday night reading of parts of Exodus by prominent Bostonians, and on Sunday, also at Northeastern, a symposium on viewing the Exodus story through the prism of America, featuring Gish Jen, Jamaica Kincaid, Nicholas Lehman, Orlando Patterson, Stephen Prothero and Alan Wolfe. Specifics about dates, times, locations and costs are here.
The controversy over the likely canonization of Pope Pius XII (left) heated up again this week, as the first rabbi invited to speak to a Synod of Bishops indirectly criticized the wartime pope, and Pope Benedict XVI three days later responded with a defense. The back-and-forth is only the latest chapter in a long-running debate over whether Pius, who was pope from 1939 to 1958, did enough to help victims of the Holocaust.
The flap began Monday, when, according to an account by John L. Allen Jr. in the National Catholic Reporter, the chief rabbi of Haifa, Shear-Yashuv Cohen, said "We cannot forget the sad and painful fact of how many, including great religious leaders, didn’t raise a voice in the effort to save our brethren, but chose to keep silent and help secretly...We cannot forgive and forget, and we hope you understand our pain, our sorrow.”
Today, Allen reports, Benedict "fired back." An excerpt from Allen's dispatch:
Pope Benedict XVI today issued a ringing defense of his controversial predecessor, Pope Pius XII, the wartime pope whose alleged silence during the Holocaust has long been a sticking point in Jewish/Catholic relations. Among other things, Benedict prayed aloud that the cause to declare Pius XII a saint “may move forward happily.”
Over at Beliefnet, David Gibson reflects on the "Pius Wars,'' writing, "Giving Pius the green light to sainthood would compound the controversy; not doing so would be seen as a rank injustice by some Catholics."
(Photo, by AP, shows Pope Pius XII in Rome in 1951.)
A new poll of Jewish voters by the American Jewish Committee finds the Democratic candidate, Sen. Barack Obama, with support from 57 percent of those surveyed. The Republican candidate, Sen. John McCain, has 30 percent support, and 13 percent remain undecided. The survey was taken before last Friday's presidential debate.
A similar survey four years ago found the Democratic candidate, Sen. John Kerry, with 69 percent support among Jews, compared to 24 percent support for the Republican candidate, President George W. Bush, 3 percent for the Green Party candidate, Ralph Nader, and 5 percent undecided.
In a news release, the American Jewish Committee said it found significant differences among the different Jewish denominations:
"Differences between Orthodox and non-Orthodox are pronounced in the support given the presidential candidates. Thus, Obama has the support of 13 percent of Orthodox Jews, as against 59 percent of Conservative Jews, 62 percent of Reform Jews, and 61 percent of the Just Jewish.' Conversely, McCain draws 78 percent of Orthodox Jews, as against 26 percent of Conservative Jews, 27 percent of Reform Jews, and 26 percent of the 'Just Jewish.'"
JTA (the Jewish Telegraphic Agency) explores the results in a story yesterday:
"(Democrats) say that a Republican campaign depicting Obama as overly sympathetic to Palestinians and as insufficiently confrontational with Iran, as well as an internet-based campaign falsely depicting Obama as a secret Muslim, has hurt support for the Democrat among Jews. 'The concerns about Obama, the issues, the smears, the falsehoods, have already been widely circulated and are well known,' said Mik Moore, who runs JewsVote.org, an effort to get out the Jewish vote among Democrats. Matt Brooks, who directs the Republican Jewish Coalition, said his ads in Jewish newspapers in swing states where Jews may make a difference -- particularly Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio -- have raised substantive questions about Obama. Brooks cited Obama's emphasis on the need for more diplomacy in dealing with Iran and his bungled efforts to explain his views on Jerusalem -- and Brooks predicted bigger gains come Election Day. 'This poll is just another data point in an ongoing series of polls that underscore the tremendous problems Barack Obama has among Jewish voters,' Brooks said."
Over at the Spiritual Politics blog, Mark Silk observes:
"The survey period includes McCain's current high water mark; he'd be doing a few points worse if the entire survey were taken in the past few days. As expected, Jewish voters turn out to heartily approve Obama's choice of Joe Biden (73-15), and disapprove of John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin (54-37). Palin's numbers seem unlikely to get any better; I'd guess worse. The Orthodox love McCain, supporting him at a 78 percent clip; but they constitute only eight percent of the community. Just a bit more than a quarter of the others support him. Jewish question of the day: Will Sarah Silverman move the needle?"
Silk is referring to a new video by Silverman urging young Jews to embark on a "Great Schlep" to Florida to persuade their grandparents to vote for Obama. The video is, of course, edgy and expletive-laden, but if you're OK with that, hit the play button:
(Graphic from American Jewish Committee.)
At a time when Judaism's Conservative movement is struggling to retain its relevancy, Congregation Shirat Hayam in Swampscott is on the upswing thanks to an energetic 36-year-old rabbi, Baruch HaLevi ("Rabbi B"), lured to Boston from Iowa. An excerpt from Steven Rosenberg's story, which appeared today in Globe North:
"HaLevi's goal is 'to get people to connect with God,' and, on Shabbat, he presents a contemporary potpourri of spirituality that he says people want. It includes a group chant of Hebrew words in his meditation-style 'renewal' service, where HaLevi sometimes offers up a dose of Buddhism, words of wisdom from Hasidic luminaries, and poetry from the likes of Emily Dickinson. At the Saturday morning 'Torah yoga,' where people stretch and traditional Hebrew prayers play on an iPod, participants merge Sanskrit with Hebrew, reciting together, 'Namasté, Shabbat Shalom,' a mix of Sanskrit and Hebrew that wishes for a peaceful Sabbath. While a few congregants didn't feel comfortable with the alternative programs and eventually left the congregation, HaLevi insists the changes were necessary to provide an entry point to Jewish prayer. 'We live in a consumer market,' the rabbi said. 'We live in a world where people expect their needs to be met and if they're not getting their needs met, they will walk away.'"
(Photo of Rabbi Baruch HaLevi by Essdras M Suarez/Globe Staff.)
Combined Jewish Philanthropies, the umbrella organization that funds many Jewish community organizations in Boston, has issued a strategic plan for the next decade that calls for new efforts to bolster public support for Israel and for intensified outreach to young Jews. From my story in today's Globe:
"Israel is no longer a secure state on the path to peace, as we thought 10 years ago," the CJP president, Barry Shrage (above), wrote in an introduction to the strategic planning document, which over the next decade will shape the spending and priorities of many local Jewish organizations that depend on support from CJP. The document warns that "the voices to discredit the Jewish state are getting louder and more frenzied, using new technologies and messaging to push a threatening agenda . . . Even here in the US, misinformation results in a lack of understanding of the complex challenges Israel faces and the value that it provides to the US and the Western world. As the conflict goes on, many tune out."
(Photo by Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff.)
The Jewish New Year begins at sundown Monday with the start of Rosh HaShanah, and on Tuesday, many Jews will observe the ritual of Tashlich, throwing bread crumbs into a body of water as a symbolic casting away of sins after the recitation of prayers of repentance.
At the Rashi School, a Reform Jewish day school in Newton, pupils yesterday walked to the banks of the Charles River to practice the ceremony as part of their preparation for the upcoming holiday. But there was a contemporary twist. An explanation from the school's spokeswoman, Linda Silverstein:
"This year, out of concern for wildlife who may become sick by bread thrown into the water, for broader environmental concerns, and not wanting to waste food in a time of widespread poverty, Rashi students will be throwing biodegradable cornstarch peanuts into the river for Tashlich.''
My colleague, Globe photographer Joanne Rathe, was there, and produced a video report about the event:
Is the name of God unpronounceable?
Jews traditionally do not write or pronounce the Tetragrammaton, as the four Hebrew letters (right) that name God are called. Orthodox Jews don't even write out the word God; instead, they write G-d.
But among Christians, there has generally been no such inhibition, and the Hebrew name for God has been freely transliterated as Jehovah or Yahweh.
The Vatican, saying the name of God deserves more reverence, earlier this summer instructed that Catholics stop using the word Yahweh in worship, a step that is expected to affect a number of hymns, according to the Catholic News Service.
And now comes Christianity Today, the evangelical magazine, talking with Protestants about the issue. One of several perspectives reported in the article:
"Protestants should be following their lead, said Carol Bechtel, professor of Old Testament at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan. 'It's always left me baffled and perplexed and embarrassed that we sprinkle our hymns with that name,' she said. 'Whether or not there are Jewish brothers and sisters in earshot, the most obvious reason to avoid using the proper and more personal name of God in the Old Testament is simply respect for God.'"
In Globe West today, Erica Noonan talks with a 19-year-old Framingham man, David Tatarinov-Levin (above), about why he's moving to Israel and enlisting in the Army, and how this connects to the larger phenomenon of American Jews who choose to move to Israel at a time of ongoing instability. An excerpt:
"I feel like this is my path. It's not that I am so in love with army life or shooting guns," Tatarinov-Levin said in an interview at his family's home in Framingham's Saxonville section during a break from packing his bags, a few days before his flight last month to Tel Aviv. "But I am physically and mentally prepared to serve the country now, and I want to do it now."
(Photo by Suzanne Kreiter, Globe staff.)
Rabbi David J. Jacobs (right), who spent 51 years at Temple Beth El, the last active synagogue in Quincy, died Thursday at 81. In today's Globe, J.M. Lawrence reports:
He turned down offers to move to bigger synagogues and stayed with Temple Beth El as the congregation steadily shrank and other Quincy synagogues closed. "The people here didn't want me to go," he told The Patriot Ledger in a recent interview. "Whatever I did for all those years, that's what I have to back me up now."
(Photo by Michael Harrington.)
His dad was raised a Muslim. He is a Christian. And now, it turns out, Barack Obama's wife's cousin is a rabbi. The Forward, a Jewish weekly, reports:
"Michelle Obama, wife of the Democratic presidential nominee, and Rabbi Capers Funnye, spiritual leader of a mostly black synagogue on Chicago’s South Side, are first cousins once removed. Funnye’s mother, Verdelle Robinson Funnye (born Verdelle Robinson) and Michelle Obama’s paternal grandfather, Frasier Robinson Jr., were brother and sister. Funnye (pronounced fuh-NAY) is chief rabbi at the Beth Shalom B’nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation in southwest Chicago. He is well-known in Jewish circles for acting as a bridge between mainstream Jewry and the much smaller, and largely separate, world of black Jewish congregations, sometimes known as black Hebrews or Israelites. He has often urged the larger Jewish community to be more accepting of Jews who are not white. Funnye’s famous relative gives an unexpected twist to the much-analyzed relationship between Barack Obama and Jews in this presidential campaign. On the one hand, Jewish political organizers, voters and donors played an essential role in Obama’s rise to power in Chicago, including some of the city’s wealthiest and most prominent families. But the Illinois senator has struggled to overcome suspicions in some parts of the Jewish community, including skepticism about his stance on Israel and discredited but persistent rumors that he is secretly a Muslim."
In Israel, the perennial "Who is a Jew" debate has taken yet another strange turn, as the orthodox rabbinate that controls religious decisionmaking there retroactively invalidated the 1992 conversion of a woman, effectively annulling her marriage and the faith of her children, apparently because, in part, she and her husband, now seeking a divorce, failed to follow Biblical guidelines about when married couples should have sex. Griff Witte of the Washington Post reports:
Yael's personal trauma has become a cause for Israeli soul-searching over what it means to be Jewish, a term that carries both religious and ethnic dimensions. The case has set off a roiling debate between those who see themselves as saving Judaism and those whose first priority is to safeguard the Jewish state. On one side are ultra-Orthodox leaders who are using their long-standing dominance of Israel's rabbinical court system -- which has authority over marriages, divorces and conversions -- to tighten restrictions governing who can become Jewish. They see themselves as defending the religious purity of a people who, according to their interpretation of Jewish law, need to live apart from other groups. Those on the other side are much more concerned with demographics: They believe that at a time when the number of Arabs living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is poised to surpass the number of Jews, Israel needs all the converts it can get. This group includes secular Jews, but it is led by the religious Zionists, who form the core of the settlement movement in the occupied territories and who feel it is their duty to populate the biblical land of Israel.
Gov. Deval Patrick is expected to to visit Israel in November, according to Jewish community leaders. The Globe's Todd Wallack reports:
"Massachusetts and Israel already have strong ties. In 2004, the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston created the Boston-Haifa Life Sciences Initiative to help cultivate relationships between the cities' life sciences sectors. Haifa is a sister city to Boston. In 1987, the state signed a general accord with Israel on trade, investment, education, and medicine. In 2007, Massachusetts exported nearly $203 million worth of goods to Israel, up 17 percent from 2006. Many Israeli companies already have offices in Massachusetts, and vice versa."
(Photo by George Rizer of the Globe staff.)
The Anti-Defamation League has hired a new regional director to head its New England office, which has been struggling because of a controversy over the national organization's decision not to use the word "genocide" to describe the massacre of Armenians by Turks during World War I. In today's Globe, Michael Levenson reports:
"Derrek L. Shulman, who will take over as the ADL's New England regional director in October, worked for the past 5 1/2 years as political director in the Boston office of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and for nine years before that as a top official in the state Executive Office of Elder Affairs. He takes over at a time of turmoil for the ADL, a 95-year-old organization that was founded to fight anti-Semitism and now has a stated mission to combat 'all forms of bigotry.'"
Helena Bonham Carter, the 42-year-old British actress, talks with Globe correspondent Lynda Gorov about playing a Jewish mum in the new British film, "Sixty Six," about a boy whose dreams of a grand bar mitzvah run into trouble when his big day turns out to coincide with the World Cup. An excerpt:
"Unexpected new information about the Oscar-nominated actress ('The Wings of the Dove,' 1997): She's crazy for scrap-booking, a hobby mostly unknown in England; she's got a bit of a mouth on her; and, translucent skin and Merchant Ivory movie credentials aside, she's no corset queen. Turns out she's Jewish on her mother's side. That last bit is actually relevant, in that her latest movie, 'Sixty Six,' has her playing a classic Jewish mother (well, in this case, mum). Initial reaction (mine) aside, it's in fact not the most against-type casting since Melanie Griffith pretended to be a Jewish/Irish secretary/spy in 1992's 'Shining Through.' Bonham Carter actually describes her own heritage as 'Jewish, Catholic, mongrels, paradoxical.' 'My mother was triumphant: 'You're finally playing your roots instead of the English rose,' she said. 'Still, it was a very fine line not to go completely over the top.'"
The film is scheduled to open in Boston on Friday (at the Kendall).
(Photo shows Gregg Sulkin and Helena Bonham Carter in a scene from "Sixty Six.")
A new summer camp that is trying to use collaborative art projects to forge friendship and communication between Israeli and Palestinian teens has wrapped up its first summer. The camp, called Artsbridge, brought 30 young adolescents from the Middle East to the campus of Endicott College, in Beverly. Globe North published a two-part series on the experiment, by James Sullivan. In today's piece, he reports:
"In many ways, Artsbridge, which ended its first year with a celebratory gallery showing at Endicott earlier this month, is designed like any other summer camp. The students - 15 Palestinians and 15 Israelis - played games, like dodgeball. They did karaoke, scavenger hunts, tie-dying. They played Rock Band and took a field trip to Blue Man Group. They complained about being awakened too early. But these young people, raised in fiercely sectarian neighborhoods from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip, were also asked to participate in dialogue sessions that were sometimes raw and emotional."
The earlier part of the series is here.
(Photo by Jonathan Wiggs of the Globe staff.)
In the Globe's latest Spiritual Life column, Rich Barlow writes of a new liberal Jewish social justice organization, Righteous Indignation, trying to register low-income voters:
"Righteous Indignation, cofounded by Rabbi Or Rose of Hebrew College, takes its name from a book Rose helped edit last winter that was a collection of essays on social justice from progressive Jews. The voter registration drive, sponsored by Righteous Indignation and three other groups representing Muslims, Christians, and Jews, followed a May conference that drew activists from around the country to Hebrew College. It also preceded a planned series of events before the November vote, including presidential debate parties. In the introduction to their book, Rose and his coeditors cull admonitions to do good from Israel's prophets. Jeremiah condemned those who failed to give 'a hearing to the pleas of the needy,' while Isaiah commanded, 'Devote yourselves to justice, aid the wronged, uphold the rights of the orphan, defend the cause of the widow.'"
(Photo, by David Kamerman of the Globe staff, shows Jordan Braunig (left) and Anthony Zuba (right) talking with Clement Lovell-Hines as they work to sign up new voters on Harvard Ave in Dorchester.)
There's an increasing amount of criticism within the Jewish community of the Orthodox rabbinate's muted response to allegations of widespread labor violations at the Agriprocessors kosher meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa.
In the Forward, editor J.J. Goldberg pens an editorial slamming the rabbis who visited the plant recently:
"The rabbis spent three hours touring the plant, met briefly with local Christian clergy and social activists, and gave the operation a clean bill of health. They found no evidence, as one rabbi put it afterward, to suggest that 'someone should not buy things from Agriprocessors.' Well, no — not based on what you might find in a three-hour walkthrough arranged and paid for by the company. But that’s not enough."
And on the New York Times's op-ed page last week, an Orthodox rabbi, Shmuel Herzfeld, weighed in:
"Hebrew National used to run a commercial that said: 'We answer to a Higher Authority.' Well, we do. We need to express shame and embarrassment about the reports coming out of Iowa, and we need to actively work to change these matters. Then we should ask ourselves if our behavior and our values need improvement. Only if we truly think about these issues will we truly be keeping kosher."
In the wake of the immigration raid and child labor allegations, the Agriprocessors web site currently features an inevitable plea: "HIRING NOW!"
(The Globe's Irene Sege took a look at a proposal for including ethical concerns in the assessment of whether food is kosher in a story last month.)
UPDATE: Orthodox rabbis respond to the criticism.
(Photo by AP)
Nearly 40 years ago, amid tensions over urban renewal, five Allston-Brighton congregations got together to build an affordable housing project at Barry's Corner. Charlesview (above), with 213 units, is still administered by a board appointed by the three surviving religious institutions: St. Anthony Parish, a Catholic church in Allston; Community United Methodist Church in Brighton; and Congregation Kadimah-Toras Moshe, also in Brighton. Now the congregations are working on a proposal to tear down the Charlesview and replace it with 400 units, called Charlesview Residences, in Brighton Mills. It's all part of Harvard's plan to expand its campus into Allston. In the Globe's City Weekly, Andreae Downs reports:
"Through consolidations over the years, the five original congregations have merged into three: St. Anthony's, Community United, and Congregation Kadimah-Toras Moshe. They serve about 1,300 people, or roughly 85 percent of the neighborhood. But some things haven't changed over the years. 'What's amazing is how the five different congregations are still in lockstep,' Fiorentino said. 'The causes we champion are the same; the ways we go about that are the same.'"
(Photo of existing Charlesview development by George Rizer, Globe staff.)
The Jewish community, like many other communities, has always taken considerable pride in the achievements of its coreligionists, and today, the Forward, a Jewish weekly, publishes a special section on Jewish Olympians, and launches a blog and a series of stories that, according to Forward editor Jane Eisner, will "explore the complex relationship of Jews and sports, and Jews and China.''
Among the Olympians highlighted by the Forward are marathoner Deena Kastor of the U.S., depicted above in a photograph taken by the Globe's Evan Richman at the Olympic Trials Women's Marathon in Boston earlier this year, and baseball player Adam Stern, of Canada, depicted at right in a photograph taken by AP in Fort Myers in 2006, when Stern was playing for the Red Sox.
"The polarizing group that has brought hundreds to City Hall to protest and support Israeli policies in the Middle East, is pushing another non-binding ballot question to city voters in November. The resolution would direct State Rep. Denise Provost, D-Somerville, to 'vote in favor of a non-binding resolution calling on the federal government to support the right of all people, including non-Jewish Palestinians of Israel, to live free from laws that give more rights to people of one religion than another.'"
(Hat tip: Adam Gaffin)
The Conservative movement of Judaism, moving beyond the traditional rules for kosher food, is offering a new seal of approval that would reflect working conditions, treatment of animals, and the environment. The Globe's Irene Sege reports:
"This is an example of the Conservative movement at its best," said Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz of Temple Emanuel in Newton, the region's largest Conservative congregation. "It's adhering to an ancient tradition and at the same time living with ethics and sensitivity to other people."
But not everyone is so thrilled:
Rabbi Chaim Wolosow of the Chabad Center of Sharon, an outreach arm of the ultra-Orthodox Lubavitch movement, is skeptical. "It's an insult to all the religious people and the Orthodox people and all the people who have the highest standards," he said. "It's saying they don't care about the workers and the animals. This assumes the Orthodox people who give hekhshers have not been doing that."
(Photo, by Essdras Suarez of the Globe staff, shows meat freezers at the Butcherie, a kosher grocer in Brookline.)
The New York Times's immigration reporter, Julia Preston, today has a troubling story about the kosher meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa that was raided by the feds in May. Preston, who travelled to Iowa and interviewed workers, reports allegations of "pervasive labor violations." An excerpt:
"Elmer L. said that he was clearing cow innards from the slaughter floor last Aug. 26 when a supervisor he described as a rabbi began yelling at him, then kicked him from behind. The blow caused a freshly-sharpened knife to fly up and cut his elbow. He was sent to a hospital where doctors closed the laceration with eight stitches. But he said that when he returned, his elbow still stinging, to ask for some time off, his supervisor ordered him back to work."
"Lord -- Protect my family and me. Forgive me my sins, and help me guard against pride and despair. Give me the wisdom to do what is right and just. And make me an instrument of your will."
I remember visiting the wall as a teenager, and I certainly recall a presumption of privacy that attaches to the scribbled prayers crammed into the crevices between the stones, which reportedly are periodically removed and buried. But Obama is as public as public gets, and I must say that, to me, his prayer reads like, if it was not constructed for public consumption, it certainly posed no risk to the candidate if it did become public.
And, as some people seem to argue that the prayers at the wall are always top-secret, I also can't help but recall Pope John Paul II's dramatic visit to the Western Wall in 2000. The pontiff, too, had a private moment, in full public view, at the wall, and wrote a note that he placed between the stones. His note, apparently at his request, was removed and given to Yad Vashem for preservation; its text immediately became public:
"God of our fathers, you chose Abraham and his descendants to bring your Name to the Nations: we are deeply saddened by the behaviour of those who in the course of history have caused these children of yours to suffer, and asking your forgiveness we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the people of the Covenant. We ask this through Christ our Lord."
But I'm eager to know your thoughts; send them along, and if enough of you speak up, I'll post them.
Yesterday morning, having attended an event sponsored by the Jewish Organizing Initiative the previous evening, I wondered aloud about the newness and the effectiveness of all the faith-based social justice organizing that I'm seeing and hearing about in Judaism and several Christian denominations, particularly among young people.
A few of your comments:
from Rabbi Jonah Pesner, the director of the Just Congregations program for the Union for Reform Judaism:
"You wondered whether there was a trend, and asked how effective faith-based organizing efforts are at making change. I would pose the question to the several hundred thousand residents of Massachusetts who now have quality, affordable health care access. It has been widely noted, by leaders like Speaker Sal Di Masi, and former Health Care for All chief, John McDonough that a critical component of this tremendous victory of Massachusetts health reform was the hard work of thousands of members of the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization. Through their churches and synagogues, leaders held house meetings, collected tens of thousands of signatures, spoke to the press, and regularly met with legislators. Governors Romney and Patrick as well as Speaker Di Masi attended gatherings attended by thousands of GBIO leaders, and responded to our call for health reform. Over the last ten years, ordinary folks from Roxbury to West Newton, and Lexington to South Boston have joined together in their churches, temples, and other institutions as GBIO. We have brought our collective power to achieve other victories, like more text books in Boston Schools, the passage of the 100 million dollar affordable housing trust fund, which has grown to 250 million dollars and reform in the nursing care industry. For decades on a national level, synagogues, churches, mosques and other religious institutions have joined together through broad-based organizations and had major impact on the passage of living wage laws, construction of tens of thousands of units of affordable housing, reforms in the health care system, and myriad other local campaigns. I am proud of the strong role of the Jewish community in GBIO, and increasingly in broad-based organizing across the country. I have seen first hand how effective we can be as we put our faith in action."
from Margaret Frisch Klein:
"I was intrigued by your blog post and your attendance at the graduation of the young Jews working on social justice issues. I am a fifth year rabbinical student (my final year!) at the Academy for Jewish Religion in New York, largely due to my commitment to social justice. I would have loved a program such as you describe in your blog when I was just out of college. Other Jewish organizations for you to be aware of is Panim based in Washington, DC, and founded by Rabbi Sid Schwarz, Jewish Funds for Justice in New York--check out Rabbi Jill Jacobs and American Jewish World Service run by Ruth Messinger. Finally the Reform Movement has its Religious Action Center, also in DC that has inspired generations of Jews to work for social change--including me and my daughter. I have worked with many of my interfaith clergy on a variety of issues--health care, jobs, housing, schools and more. I have cherished working with organizations like the Merrimack Valley Project (which was actually founded on my dining room table) have brought people of all sorts to improve quality of life and the Greater Lowell Interfaith Leadership Alliance which has hosted summer camps and summer pools in Lowell as part of our mission of being moral leadership, promoting interfaith dialog and being a source of mutual support. So you can see--this is really not a new phenomena.''
from Frances (Cookie) Avrin:
"I just read Young, Religious and Agitating. There is so much going on! My daughter, who was raised in Brookline discovered on-line in her senior year of college, Avodah (you can Google it) a one year Jewish social service corps currently in Brooklyn (where it started) D.C. and Chicago. She was in the 1st group in Chicago last year (after she graduated from college). It has a 3-pronged emphasis -- learning about Jewish commitment to social justice, learning about living together, as a community, on AmeriCorps wages and have a placement in an organization that works on issues of poverty/social justice. My daughter was placed in an incredibly dynamic 10 year old youth development program (Umoja Development Corp.- a major player in the youth development world in Chicago and beyond) in an Chicago low-income public high school on the West Side. The second year (this year) she was hired as staff for Umoja. It has been a transforming experience. Also, she has met other young adults from other religious volunteer group who do terrific social justice work (Catholic Volunteer Corps; Lutheran Volunteer Corps). All of this, however, is in Chicago. Just thought I'd let you know. We are not a religious family but believe this value based (for many -religious-based) progressive social service work is worthy for so many reasons.''
and from Molly Zeff, one of this year's JOI fellows:
"Thank you for your blog about JOI, an organization that has completely changed my life. And yes, I believe it is part of a trend--a trend of young people making change and building community at the same time. Kavod House, the National Havurah Institute, numerous independent minyanim (services) in NY, DC, Boston, and elsewhere, the growing network of Moishe Houses all over (of which Kavod House is a part), the Workmen's Circle's young crowd here in Boston...need I go on? We're young, we're enthusiastic, we've got tons of energy and more time than people with kids and a mortgage, and we're interested in building and have already built communities and political power. We are in our twenties and early thirties, we're moving beyond denominations in Judaism to build bridges across observance levels, and we're already creating a proven track record of taking a stand and making change. This is religion at its best and as it should be: a force for power and a source of strength and friendship."
Today in GlobeSouth: a look at a Marshfield cantor's rock band and the world of contemporary Jewish music.
From Jerusalem, where the Globe's Sasha Issenberg travelled with Barack Obama, a report on some criticism from Jewish religious organizations of Obama's position on Jerusalem.
And, for those of you who like a little fiction mixed with your Catholicism, the Globe's travel section explored the Rome of Dan Brown's Angels and Demons. This isn't mentioned in the travel story, but longtime readers will recall that the church that is the site of one of the most gruesome murders in Angels and Demons is now Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley's titular church in Rome. The film crew was barred from shooting inside the church, but O'Malley's spokesman told me the cardinal had nothing to do with that decision, which apparently was made by the diocese of Rome.
Last night I attended the graduation ceremony for a group called the Jewish Organizing Initiative, which, as its name suggests, trains young Jews in community organizing skills. The program is a fellowship for folks in their 20s, who spend a year interning with social change advocacy organizations, and attending regular workshops with one another to discuss both the secular and religious components of social justice activism.
A good friend of mine, Adam Rogoff, is the chairman of the JOI board, and he wanted me to see what the program was all about. The evening ceremony, held in the downtown boardroom of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies, offered a chance for the fellows to reflect a bit on their experience doing something many of them called "agitating.'' They had spent the year working with a variety of community groups, including Rosie's Place, the shelter for homeless women, Health Care for All, which pushes health care reform, and Unite Here Local 26, a labor union for hotel workers. The students seemed genuinely moved by how much they had to push themselves, or be pushed by their mentors, to help members of struggling communities emerge as leaders in various battles on their own behalf.
Social justice movements don't get a ton of attention in the broader culture these days -- one of the fellows even referred to JOI as continuing the mission of the 1960s -- but there's a fair amount of discussion going on in all kinds of religious congregations and movements, from evangelicalism to Unitarian Universalism, about how faith communities might, as they so often say, put their faith into action. Here in Boston, there is a relatively new group of (mostly) young evangelicals, the Boston Faith and Justice Network, working on these issues; the Episcopal Church has a new congregation for young adults, The Crossing, that emphasizes "social justice values,'' and Rabbi Jonah Pesner, formerly with Temple Israel in Boston, is now travelling around the country for the Reform Jewish movement's Just Congregations program, trying to help synagogues figure out how they might actualize their oft-cited support for social justice, and just what that means anyway. And, of course, the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization just marked its tenth year trying to influence policy, on issues like health care and housing, through a coalition of change-minded congregations of multiple denominations.
It's not clear to me whether there's some kind of new trend here or not, and how effective these faith-based efforts are at effecting broad change, but clearly they're affecting individual lives, as the JOI fellows reminded us last night, and for people like me who write about religion, it's something to keep an eye on.
We don't have comments enabled on this blog yet (working on it!) but if you have observations to share, I'm interested -- just shoot me an e-mail.
ANGLICANISM: James Carroll on Lambeth conference
CATHOLICISM: NY Franciscan pleads guilty to child rape in Boston
CHRISTIAN SCIENCE: Mother church president, former Monitor editor Bergenheim dies
JUDAISM: Haverhill synagogue vandalized
SPIRITUAL LIFE: Big role for church credit unions sought
(The Rev. Garvin Warden, pastor of Greenwood Memorial United Methodist Church of Dorchester and a member of the New England United Methodist Federal Credit Union. Photo by Pat Greenhouse, Globe staff.)
ALSO OF INTEREST