Religious Diversity News

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Different Calendars Offer Different Perspective on Upcoming Millennium

Source: Los Angeles Times

On September 5, 1999, the Los Angeles Times reported that
not everybody will be celebrating a new millennium. Baha’is will
celebrate the year 156, Muslims will be in the year 1420, and Jews
will be in the year 5760 along with a total of 40 other calendars in
use around the world which locate people in a time other than 1999.
Even disputes about the Gregorian calendar in both the past and
present offer a different moment for the millennium. Shimel Erfanian,
a Baha’i, stated: “To us, the new millennium has no real
significance…But we realize it may for other people.” Ron Wolfson,
vice president at the University of Judaism, worries that Jews won’t
celebrate Shabbat (December 31st), the way they should: “The
challenge for a lot of synagogues will be to encourage their
congregants to celebrate that Friday night spiritually rather than in
some other form…But if the hoopla around the millennium makes us
pause about the significance of time, how quickly it flies, and its
value and sacredness, then it might possibly serve a useful purpose.”

Jewish High Holy Days – Year 5760

Source: The Kansas City Star

On September 4, 1999, The Kansas City Star published an
article on the High Holy Days as a time to reflect upon the recent
acts of violence against the Jews in the United States. Joseph
Schultz, former director of the Center for Religious Studies at the
University of Missouri-Kansas, told of a prayer on the High Holy Days
which reminds Jews that, “it is only when a united humanity feels it
is responsible for one another and seeks to elevate one another that
we truly realize the sovereignty of God in the world.” Marvin
Szneler, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations
Bureau/American Jewish Committee, stated: “Given the outbreak of
tragedies, it brings hope to us that we are in this world with other
people, and when one is in pain, we all are in pain.”

Jewish High Holy Days – Year 5760

Source: Los Angeles Times

On September 4, 1999, the Los Angeles Times reported that
Jews across the world will celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New
Year, beginning September 10th. Rosh Hashanah begins a 10-day holiday
season that ends with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Rabbi
Lawrence Goldmark, acting director of the Board of Rabbis of Southern
California, spoke about the 10-day celebration: “The Jewish
philosophy is to start the new year off by making amends with our
fellow human beings and God, and the rest of the year you’re in with
a clean slate instead of carrying these burdens on your shoulders

Jewish High Holy Days – Year 5760

Source: The Plain Dealer

On September 4, 1999, The Plain Dealer published an article
on the role of prayer for American Jews. Since only about 11 percent
of the nation’s nearly 6 million Jews attend weekly Shabbat services
(according to the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey), most
American Jews are unused to regular worship and the practice of
traditional prayer. Since the 1990 survey also found that 60 percent
of the Jewish community attends High Holy Day services, many rabbis
run beginner services so that the attending Jews may learn how to
pray the traditional fixed prayers more effectively. In Los Angeles,
Rabbi Shlomo Schwartz, a Hasidic Jew who directs the
outreach-oriented Chai Center, runs beginner services for as many as
3,000 people on the High Holy Days. “It’s like everybody can be a
daddy, but to be a father is different…So you go to parent
effectiveness training. Why should prayer be different?,” stated
Rabbi Schwartz. At Temple Beth Israel in Eugene, Oregon, a
Reconstructionist congregation, the prayer book includes
nontraditional readings from Jewish and non-Jewish sources to allow
people to gain a greater, personal connection to the meaning of the

Jewish High Holy Days – Year 5760

Source: The Seattle Times

On September 4, 1999, The Seattle Times published an
article on “Jews by choice,” a term most rabbis use to refer to those
who have converted to Judaism. In its last survey of Jews in 1990,
the Council of Jewish Federations found that 200,000 of America’s
Jews were converts. Though most Jews convert to Judaism through
intermarriage, some Jews have converted because the “ancient rituals
speak to a spiritual hunger they say always nagged at them.” Rabbi
David Rose of Herzl-ner Tamid Conservative Congregation on Mercer
Island, Washington, who presides over approximately a dozen
conversions each year, stated: “They’re looking for a sense of
community and sense of peoplehood and caring for each other across
national boundaries…Some talk about the focus in Jewish life on
deeds and not creeds. And others are looking for ritual.”

Annual Convention of the Islamic Society of North America

Source: Chicago Sun-Times

On September 3, 1999, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that
25,000 Muslims, including Hakeem Olajuwan and Cat Stevens, will
gather in Chicago for the annual convention of the Islamic Society of
North America at McCormick Place. The event will attract 10,000 of
the Chicago area’s 300,000 Muslims. The opening night features an
address by Cardinal Francis George, leader of 2.3 million Catholic in
Cook and Lake Counties. The event comes after a report on Tuesday,
August 31st from the Council on American-Islamic Relations that notes
an increased acceptance of the hijab in the American workplace. Talat
Othman, vice president of the Chicago area’s Council of Islamic
Organizations, stated: “People seem to be becoming more
accepting…As Americans begin to understand Muslims and where
they’re coming from, there is a lot more tolerance.”

Hasidic Man Killed in Police Shooting in New York

Source: The Jerusalem Post

On September 2, 1999, The Jerusalem Post reported that
Gideon Busch, a 31-year-old Hasidic man who lived in Borough Park,
Brooklyn and was known to be mentally ill, was shot 12 times and
killed by four police officers on Monday, August 30th after Busch
attacked the officers with a hammer and refused to be subdued with
pepper spray. When New York City officials were quick to defend the
actions of the police in this situation, “other ethnic groups
intimated that police were more concerned about having shot a Jew
than they had been when police shot blacks and Hispanics.” When a
Spanish-language news broadcast asked city officials why it did not
give a comparable response when a Hispanic was shot, the mayor and
police commissioner contended that they followed procedure for
dealing with the deranged. Despite a Jewish protest on Monday night,
Noach Dear, a city councilman representing Borough Park, expressed
the Jewish community’s respect for the police. Al Sharpton, a black
community activist who lead protests in the controversial murder of
Amadou Diallo by police last winter, went to Borough Park, but was
turned away when residents shouted that he was an anti-Semite.

Vietnamese Buddhists Celebrate Vu Lan in Louisiana

Source: The Times-Picayune

On September 2, 1999, The Times Picayune reported that
150 people gathered at the Bo De Buddhist Temple in Algiers,
Louisiana on Sunday, August 29th to celebrate Vu Lan, the Buddhist
day of appreciation for parents and grandparents. Youth group members
took part in administering the ceremony and preparing the celebratory
feast. The youth group, which includes between 50 and 100 young
adults, meets weekly to study the Buddhist faith and Vietnamese
language and culture. Dien Nghiem, assistant scoutmaster with Bo De’s
youth group, stated: “This is a way that we practice our faith and
also nurture our roots…We’re not only Buddhists, we’re part of the
Vietnamese congregation as well.”

Unity Month in Chicago

Source: Chicago Sun-Times

On September 2, 1999, the Chicago Sun-Times reported
that an interfaith service was held on Tuesday, August 31st, at
O’Hare Airport to kick off the Chicago Commission on Human Relations’
Unity Month. Clarence Wood, chairman of the commission and president
of the Human Relations Foundation, stated: “We’re trying to send a
message that Chicago is working to be a bias-free city…This is the
third annual Unity Day at O’Hare.” However, Wood also noted that 1999
has been a troubling year, with 138 hate crimes reported in Chicago
thus far.

First Graduation of the School of Islamic and Social Sciences

Source: The Washington Post

On September 2, 1999, The Washington Post reported that
the School of Islamic and Social Science located in Leesburg,
Virginia, the only graduate school of its kind in the United States,
held its first graduation of 14 students on Saturday, August 28th.
The school’s founder and president, Taha Jabir Alalwani, stated the
purpose of the school’s education: “The main message…is to build a
bridge between Islam and the West…to understand the values of the
founders of this beautiful country.” The school emphasizes the
historic and social context of the origins of Islamic notions of
jurisprudence and seeks to explore the nature of Western values with
Shari’a, Islamic law. The school has a contract with the Defense
Department to provide the military with much needed military
chaplains; seven of the new graduates will become chaplains for the
armed forces. A new contract with the Justice Department will make
some incoming students to next year’s class chaplains for the U.S.
prison system.