Religious Diversity News

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Jews Offended at Southern Baptist Convention’s Prayer for Jewish Conversion

Source: The Tampa Tribune

On September 10, 1999, The Tampa Tribune reported that
Jews are offended at the Southern Baptist Convention’s plan to pray
for Jews to convert to Christianity during the High Holy Days. David
Freidman, the congregation president at Temple Emanuel in
Winston-Salem, NC, stated: “To do this at this time of year is a
little bit startling…I find it rather sad that they place their
emphasis on converting Jews, rather than looking for common ground
and discourse among all faiths.” The Southern Baptist Convention’s
International Mission Board has published and distributed a “prayer
guide” that attempts to explain the Jewish holidays and suggest how
to pray for Jewish people. Mark Briskman, the Southwest regional
director for the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, stated: “It
shows an element of arrogance because they are specifically targeting
Jews during the holy season.” Herb Hollinger, spokesman for the
Southern Baptist Convention, said that they have similar guides for
other religious occasions, including the Muslim holy month of
Ramadan.

Jewish Community Outreach to Gen-Xers in Chicago

Source: Chicago Sun-Times

On September 10, 1999, the Chicago Sun-Times published an
article on the efforts of the Chicago-area Jewish community to
accommodate young Jewish adults. Kehilla, which means “community” in
Hebrew, is an outreach program begun six years ago that allows
members under the age of 30 to sample services at five temples,
ranging from Reform to Orthodox, and use the Florence G. Heller
Jewish Community Center. Of the 250,000 people who comprise the
Chicago-area Jewish community, approximately 15,000 are post-college
Jews. Jay Tcath, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council,
stated: “Jews of all ages are unaffiliated (with synagogues) and
unengaged with organized Jewish life, but historically the numbers
are higher whenever any generation is that age.” An ad campaign has
also begun on the city’s public transit system, with the phrase,
“nowhere in the Torah does it say, ‘Thou shalt not have a little
fun.'”

Jewish High Holy Days

Source: Los Angeles Times

On September 10, 1999, the Los Angeles Times published
an article on how some rabbis in California are planning to deal with
the recent acts of violence against Jews when they address their
congregations for the High Holy Days. Many synagogues will tighten
security in order to make people feel more comfortable. Rabbi Neal
Weinberg of Temple Judea in Laguna Hills, CA had begun to write a
sermon addressing ant-Semitism, but decided to change it: “People are
coming to synagogue because they’re in pain in their own lives…They
need guidance on how to mend their relationships. That’s what people
are coming for.” Rabbi Bernard King of Congregation Shir Ha Ma’alot
in Irvine, CA stated: “I think we need to be on guard, to defend
ourselves…But we also need to use this as a wake-up call to deepen
ourselves Jewishly so that we don’t give our enemies the control of
whether we live healthy, happy, Jewish lives.”

Controversy Over School Closings for Jewish Holy Days in Ohio

Source: The New York Times

On September 9, 1999, The New York Times reported that
the ACLU has sued the Sycamore Community School District in Ohio for
closing on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur on the basis that the school
district is favoring one religion over another. Officials at the
school district, located in a suburban district 15 miles northeast of
Cincinnati, said that they decided to close for those two days only
because so many students had been absent in previous years that it
disrupted instruction. Bruce Armstrong, the district’s
superintendent, said that about 15 percent of the district’s 6,200
students had been absent on those days. Although Muslim and Hindu
parents in the school district have asked for school to be closed on
their religious holidays, Armstrong contends that only about 6
percent are absent on Muslim and Hindu holidays, which includes a
normal 3.5 percent absenteeism. Although many public school districts
close for the High Holy Days, the ACLU contends that the case should
not affect them. Raymond Vasvari, legal director of the ACLU of Ohio,
stated: “I have been explaining to superintendents all over the east
side of Cleveland that this case is highly fact-specific, and it does
not mean anyone else is going to be sued.” The ACLU contends that the
particular history of how the school district closed on the High Holy
Days is the crux of the case. The school district voted for a
standard threshold percentage for absenteeism on religious holidays
in 1995 that would decide whether the district would close, but the
district chose to disregard that standard when it voted to close on
the High Holy Days in 1997.

Planned Muslim Center Encounters Resistance in California

Source: Los Angeles Times

On September 7, 1999, the Los Angeles Times reported that
plans for the Islamic Center of Southern California to build a
400-student grade school in Rancho Santa Margarita, CA have met a
great deal of local resistance. The process of making the school a
reality had been going fine until June, when community
sentiment turned against the project. Protests have mostly
targeted projected increased traffic – the
Islamic Center’s own studies have indicated that
school-related traffic would be more than one-third of the traffic capacity for
its street. The concerns come at a time of rapid expansion in Rancho Santa
Margarita, which had only a handful of residents in 1986 and has
grown to a population of 30,000. Some residents have expressed other
negative sentiments: “Given the lack of practitioners of your faith
in this community, we are again confounded by the logic which
suggests that this site would even be considered.” Although the
growth of Orange County’s Muslim population has increased from 50,000
to approximately 200,000 in just a decade, most of the growth has
gone unnoticed. Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Los
Angeles-based Muslim Public Affairs Council, stated: “This is a test
to see how the Muslim community has integrated into the Orange County
area…There is an apprehension that this is part of a missionary
campaign, whereas in reality it is only a mission for coexistence and
pluralism.” Al-Marayati also expresses doubts over the problems the
new school would create when the community is planning to expand to
include more residents in the near future: “We see a double
standard…It is only more of an issue when it is a Muslim
institution…This project should be an enrichment to the community
there.

Jewish High Holy Days – Year 5760

Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch

On September 6, 1999, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
published an article about a teenage girl, Sarah Reiter of Olivette,
Missouri, who blows the shofar to begin Rosh Hashanah at Temple
Israel in Creve Coeur, MO. The shofar is a Jewish ceremonial
instrument fashioned from the horn of an animal, usually a ram, but
sometimes a sheep, goat, mountain goat, antelope, or gazelle. At
Orthodox and Conservative synagogues, the job of blowing the shofar
is given to an honored male, but the Reform synagogue of Temple
Israel has a tradition of involving young people to blow the shofar.
Rabbi Mark Shook, senior rabbi of Temple Israel, stated that letting
young people blow the shofar is “…a way of connecting; it creates
good vibes in the congregation.”

Jewish High Holy Days – Year 5760

Source: Los Angeles Times

On September 6, 1999, the Los Angeles Times published an
article about the resurgence of the mikvah, a Jewish ritual bath used
for “spiritual purification and renewal.” Four synagogues in Orange
County, California are planning to construct mikvahs, which will
alleviate travel burdens for those residents who had to travel to Los
Angeles County to find a mikvah. Mikvahs are used by all branches of
Judaism and are used for purification before marriage, conversion,
and High Holy Days and after a married woman’s menstrual cycle.
Increased use of mikvahs has been seen in all branches of Judaism,
most notably in the more liberal branches: “As more Jews learn about
their traditions, there’s a greater sense of loyalty to their
ideals,” stated Rabbi David Eliezrie of North County, CA.

Powwow Emphasizes Family and Sobriety

Source: The Denver Rocky Mountain News

On September 5, 1999, the Denver Rocky Mountain News
reported that the 34th annual powwow of the White Buffalo Council,
Denver’s oldest Native American organization, took place on
September 4th and 5th at the Tall Bull Memorial Grounds in Douglas
County, Colorado. The powwow, with signs posted stating: “No Drugs or
Alcohol Allowed on Grounds,” aimed to be a family event.
Cheryl LaPointe, a federal public health official and a Rosebud Sioux
descendant, stated: ‘The stereotype of drunken Indians is changing
with sobriety, where alcohol and drugs are not part of the
culture…Instead, it’s a culture of enrichment and a culture of
pride.” Tasha Gallegos, a Comanche descendant, stated: “We get
together to dance, see friends, be with relatives and just feel
good.”

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.”