Jewish

Bill Tammeus 1-04-2017

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Huston Smith, the man who helped the world understand other faiths, perhaps more than almost anyone else, died on Dec. 30 at age 97.

I first learned of it when my oldest sister, who lives in Berkeley, Calif., not far from Huston and Kendra Smith, sent me a note saying he had breathed his last about 7:30, the morning of Dec. 1, at his Berkeley home.

I was surprised that it took until Jan. 1 for a news story to show up about the death of this remarkable religion scholar.

Image via RNS/Tom Heneghan

All was apparently going fine until Micha Brumlik, a retired Frankfurt University education professor and respected Jewish commentator, wrote last June that the popular toy was “anti-Jewish, if not even anti-Semitic.”

The problem, he said, was the inscription on the open pages of the Bible that the Playmobil Luther holds. On the left is written in German: “Books of the Old Testament. END,” while the right page says “The New Testament, translated by Doctor Martin Luther.”

Image via RNS/Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

The United States Congress is about as Christian today as it was in the early 1960s, according to a new analysis by Pew Research Center.

Nearly 91 percent of members of the 115th Congress convening on Jan. 3 describe themselves as Christian, compared to 95 percent of Congress members serving from 1961 to 1962, according to congressional data compiled by CQ Roll Call and analyzed by Pew.

Eboo Patel 12-21-2016

Imagine receiving this message on your voicemail: “Dear Mr. Gonzalez, we regret to inform you that your heart surgery has been canceled. The medical professionals scheduled to perform it, Doctors Sarna and Latif, have discovered that they have serious disagreements about Middle East politics. Consequently, they are refusing to work together. We will do our best to find you other doctors, before your condition becomes fatal.”

Seem far-fetched? In my mind, it is the logical outcome of the manner in which many Jewish and Muslim groups have chosen to engage each other in recent years. Or, rather, not engage.

Image via RNS/Sai Mokhtari/Gothamist

Melissa Grajek was subjected to all kinds of taunts for wearing the hijab, but an incident at San Marcos’ (Calif.) Discovery Lake sealed the deal.

Her 1-year-old son was playing with another boy when an irate father saw her and whisked his son away, telling Grajek: “I can’t wait until Trump is president, because he’ll send you back to where you came from.”

The man then scooped up a handful of wood chips and threw them at Grajek’s son.

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Winter isn’t coming — it’s already here. With it comes the hope — if not the time — to curl up under the covers, or by the fire, and read a good book. Here are seven titles you won’t find on the religion shelf at the bookstore, or library, but that nonetheless use religion and spirituality themes to propel the story.

Faiza Patel 11-23-2016

Image via RNS/Carlos Barria

This election season has been an anxious time for Muslim Americans. After the election, my Facebook feed was filled with Muslim mothers wondering how to explain to their children that the new president is a man who had proposed requiring them to register with the government, and called for a ban on people of their faith coming to the United States.

As we try to absorb what this election means, we must contend with how Muslims have been cast. For the president-elect, we are either terrorists or terrorist sympathizers, who are conflated with the threat of “radical Islam.” For the most part, Democrats too see Muslim Americans through a narrow counterterrorism lens.

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The day after President-elect Donald Trump appointed a man accused of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia as his chief strategist, two of the nation’s largest Jewish and Muslim advocacy groups formed an unprecedented partnership to fight bigotry.

The American Jewish Committee and the Islamic Society of North America, on Nov. 14, launched the new national group: The Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council. Though Jewish and Muslim groups have cooperated before, the size and influence of these two particular groups — and the prominence of the people who have joined the council — marks a milestone in Jewish-Muslim relations.

Image via RNS/Reuters/Ronen Zvulun

Hoping for divine intervention – or Jewish votes – Donald Trump wrote a short prayer to be inserted in between the stones of the Western Wall.

Trump’s team photographed and sent a copy of the handwritten prayer to Ynet News and Yedioth Ahronoth, Israeli sister publications. The original was handed to David Faiman, a Trump advisor, who was heading to Israel, the news outlets reported.

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The incident seems like a straightforward hate crime: Swastikas sprayed in and around the New Jersey home of an Indian-American running for Congress earlier this month.

But the vandalism is steeped in religious and ethnic irony.

Image via RNS/Yoli Shwartz/Israel Antiquities Authority

The site where, nearly 2,000 years ago, the Roman army breached the outer walls of ancient Jerusalem, before capturing the city and destroying the Second Jewish Temple, has been discovered, the Israel Antiquities Authority says.

Archaeologists made the discovery last winter, during an exploratory survey at a future construction site, the IAA said on Oct. 20.

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A report released on Oct. 19 by the Anti-Defamation League does not directly indict Trump for this upswing in anti-Semitism. But it explicitly connects some of his supporters to the hate speech.

“The spike in hate we’ve seen online this election season is extremely troubling and unlike anything we have seen in modern politics,” said ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt.

Image via REUTERS / Kacper Pempel / RNS

Pope Francis on July 29 paid a silent visit to the Auschwitz concentration camp where he spent intense moments in prayer, embraced Holocaust survivors, and met those who risked their lives to help Jews persecuted by the Nazis.

But while Francis made no speeches during his time at the notorious camp, where more than 1 million people, mostly Jews, died during World War II, he left a simple written plea in the guest book: “Lord, have mercy on your people! Lord, forgiveness for so much cruelty!”

Noah Leavitt and Talia Kim-Leavitt with their kids Ari and Talia. Image via Kim-Leavitt family / RNS

Noah Leavitt and Helen Kiyong Kim’s marriage is one of an increasing number of Jewish-Asian pairings in the U.S., a trend evident in many American synagogues. The two Whitman College professors have just released the first book-length study of Jewish-Asian couples and their offspring.

Though JewAsian is geared toward social scientists, the chapters in which they excerpt and analyze their interviews with 34 Jewish-Asian couples will interest any readers curious about intermarriage in general, and the evolving American-Jewish community in particular.

Eboo Patel 6-06-2016

Louis Armstrong in the studio, wearing the Star of David.

IN THE EARLY 20th century, a group of esteemed scholars gathered in a little northeastern pocket of their own making and concerned themselves with the question of finding a distinctly American music. Where was this music? How might it develop? Could there be, out there somewhere, an American Bach?

They looked far and wide in the places that they knew; they searched for faces that they might recognize; they listened deeply in the idioms with which they were familiar. And they came away disappointed.

Jazz critic Gary Giddins chortles as he recounts the tale, pointing out that if these American Brahmins had simply deigned to take a train south from Boston to New York City, and stepped into the Roseland Ballroom on a Thursday night, they would have experienced the American Bach, Dante, and Shakespeare all rolled into one: Louis Armstrong.

Born to a 15-year-old who sometimes worked as a prostitute, raised in a New Orleans neighborhood so violent it was known as “the Battlefield,” sent to a juvenile detention facility at 11 for firing a gun into the street—his early years would surely put him on the pipeline to prison today.

Had that occurred, the distinctly American music that Louis Armstrong created might never have happened. The American songbook, as we know it today, simply would not exist.

Image via United States Holocaust Memorial Museum / RNS

At Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Capitol, speakers warned of anti-Semitism as a problem of the millennia, and hate speech as a challenge that threatens present-day America.

Eight elderly survivors of the Holocaust — which took the lives of 6 million Jews, including 1.5 million Jewish children — lit six candles at the Capitol’s Emancipation Hall on May 5 as a United States Holocaust Memorial Museum official told of the death camps they survived, and of those who had risked their lives to save them.

Image via Reuters/Jonathan Ernst/RNS

President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland, would be the current court’s fourth Jewish justice if confirmed.

For Jews, who represent about two percent of the population, holding 44 percent of the seats on the court might be a point of pride.

But is it anything more than that?

Ryan Hammill 2-10-2016

Image via CJ Hanevy / Shutterstock.com

Bernie Sanders’ primary victory in the Granite State Feb. 9 made him the first-ever non-Christian to win a presidential primary in U.S. history. In addition, depending on whether you count Barry Goldwater as Jewish (his ancestors were Jewish but he identified as Episcopalian), Bernie Sanders could be considered the first Jewish primary winner in history as well.

Image via REUTERS/Vincent Kessler/RNS

Claude Chiche doesn’t wear a skullcap, but he has strong opinions about them. “There are some here want to take off their kippah because they’re afraid,” said Tunisian-born Chiche, referring to the Hebrew word for yarmulke or skullcap. “But they shouldn’t accept this; they shouldn’t give in to fear.”

Image via REUTERS / Charles Platiau / RNS

As France marks the anniversary of the terrorist shootings that targeted a kosher supermarket and a satirical weekly, a new report warns anti-Semitism here continues to rise, taking a myriad of underreported forms.

“Violence targeting Jews and Jewish sites has led to a heightened sense of insecurity, and an increasing number of Jews are relocating in or outside France for security reasons,” U.S. advocacy group Human Rights First wrote in a report published Jan. 7.

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