Monday, November 29, 2010

Support Houses of Worship for All

I'm not one to beat a dead horse, but I really wanted to share this article from Jonathan D. Sarna, titled, When Shuls were Banned in America. Please take a moment to read the article and share with your friends and families.

When New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg stood on Governors Island, in sight of the Statue of Liberty, and forcefully defended the right of Muslims to build a community center and mosque two blocks from Ground Zero, he expressly made a point of distancing himself from an earlier leader of the city: Peter Stuyvesant, who understood the relationship between religion and state altogether differently than Bloomberg does.
As governor of what was then called New Amsterdam, from 1647-1664, Stuyvesant worked to enforce Calvinist orthodoxy. He objected to public worship for Lutherans, fought Catholicism and threatened those who harbored Quakers with fines and imprisonment. One might easily imagine how he would have treated Muslims.

When Jewish refugees arrived in his city, in 1654, Stuyvesant was determined to bar them completely. Jews, he complained, were “deceitful,” “very repugnant” and “hateful enemies and blasphemers of the name of Christ.” He wanted them sent elsewhere.
Stuyvesant’s superiors in Holland overruled him, citing economic and political considerations. He continued, however, to restrict Jews to the practice of their religion “in all quietness” and “within their houses.” Being as suspicious of all Jews as some today are of all Muslims, he never allowed them to build a synagogue of their own.
In 1685, with the British in control of the city, 20 Jewish families petitioned to change Stuyvesant’s precedent so that they might establish a synagogue and worship in public. They were curtly refused. “Publique worship,” New York City’s Common Council informed them, “is Tolerated… but to those that professe faith in Christ.”
Eventually, around the turn of the 18th century, Jews in New York won the right to worship in public, and Congregation Shearith Israel opened America’s first synagogue. Subsequently, in Rhode Island, what is today known as the Touro Synagogue, the oldest synagogue building still extant in North America, was dedicated in Newport in 1763.
Elsewhere Jews were not so fortunate.
In Connecticut, for example, statutes limited the right of religious incorporation to Christians long after the Bill of Rights mandated religious liberty for all on the federal level. It took a special act of the state legislature, in 1843, to ensure that “Jews who may desire to unite and form religious societies shall have the same rights, powers and privileges as are given to Christians of every denomination.” Thanks to this act, Congregation Mishkan Israel opened in New Haven that year; it was only the second synagogue in all of New England.
The New Haven Register viewed the synagogue as a public defeat for Christendom. “The Jews…,” the paper thundered, “have outflanked us here, and effected a footing in the very centre of our own fortress. Strange as it may sound, it is nevertheless true that a Jewish synagogue has been established in this city — and their place of worship (in Grand Street, over the store of Heller and Mandelbaum) was dedicated on Friday afternoon. Yale College divinity deserves a Court-martial for bad generalship.”
Jews continued to “outflank” Christians, owing to immigration, and by 1856 there were enough of them in the nation’s capital to consider opening a synagogue close to the very heart of the federal government. Questions arose, however, as to whether this was legal under the District of Columbia’s Religious Corporation Act. Some contended that only Christian churches could acquire real estate in Washington for public worship, not Jews. In the end, it took an act of Congress to resolve the question. Signed by President Franklin Pierce on June 2, 1856, it established the principle “that all the rights, privileges and immunities heretofore granted by law to the Christian churches in the City of Washington be… extended to the Hebrew Congregation of said City.”
Long afterwards, however, and even down to our own times, synagogues have frequently faced fierce opposition when they attempt to build in locations that some would prefer to see devoid of Jewish religious institutions. In the 1950s, new suburban synagogues commonly had to face down angry neighbors and change-averse zoning boards when they applied for building permits. As recently as 1999, opponents of a new Orthodox synagogue seeking to build in New Rochelle, N.Y., warned residents that the planned structure would bring with it “rats,” “traffic” and “creeping commercialization.” The real fear, one opponent confessed to the Forward, was that “the identity of the neighborhood would change.”
Mayor Bloomberg likely had some of this history in mind when he asked “should government attempt to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property based on their particular religion?” In distancing himself from Peter Stuyvesant and the many others who have defined American religious liberty in narrowly restrictive terms, he reminds us that if today’s target is the mosque, yesterday’s was most assuredly the synagogue.
Jonathan D. Sarna is the Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University and chief historian of the National Museum of American Jewish History.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Globalizing a Monarchy

Recently, Foreign Policy Magazine produced an article, title "God Save the Colonies" by Alex Massie. The article recommends that the U.S. adopt the British Royal Family as its own -- so that the President can be relieved of filling the diplomatic role of Head of State and the Monarchy would encourage unity among the people. While Massie recognizes the historical implications of this idea, he argues that the U.S. public is fascinated by the Monarchy anyway, so we might as well embrace it. I find this idea ridiculous but fascinating - we live in such an interconnected world that Americans are focused on a foreign country's monarchy and invested in their relationships just as much as any American celebrity couple or "king". The traditional isolated America spurning the idea of monarchy embracing it. However, I completely disagree that the U.S. should adopt a royal family in order to unite the country in a way that the President cannot because of bipartisanship. Our President, the most powerful official in the world, must be our diplomat-in-chief. However, I wouldn't disregard the notion of somehow changing our political system in a way to encourage political unity and change the current political discourse from two opposing parties to a more efficient and representative system -- without compromising the ability to pass legislation (or current lack there of). Maybe we should think Prime Minister, instead of Queen...

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Just Listen

So about a week ago the blog The View from Israel posted a piece titled "The Time for Coordinated and Professional Israeli public diplomacy action is now". The post advocates for a 'Public Diplomacy Institute' comprising key players [all men and none from the left-movement] in Israeli advocacy and hasbara -- not a team I would consider adept at successful public diplomacy. The short of it is that I wanted to comment on the blog post, but the comments are moderated by the blogger and he refused to post my comment. So, I'm taking the liberty to post it on my own blog. Here is my response:

While I agree that public diplomacy should be apolitical and a coordinated effort with a clear message, Israel is considered to have one of the most advanced public diplomacy strategies. From the strategic partnership with the U.S. Jewish Diaspora (both monetarily and politically) to being the first nation with a Twitter account and country blog, Israel has a well-oiled hasbara machine. Israel explains, however, what Israeli public diplomacy does not do is listen. Listening is the key component to an effective public diplomacy strategy. Instead of listening to the world, to her Arab neighbors, to her left-leaning public and to the Palestinians, Israel sticks her fingers in her ears and continues to explain without success. In order for Israel's public diplomacy to succeed, more than anything, she needs to start listening.
-Naomi hold a Master of Public Diplomacy from the University of Southern California 

Normally, it wouldn't irk me so much that my comments were not heard but Israel is of great concern to me. Being heard, especially as a left-leaning American Jew -- as a part of a group that does not always stand up and advocate for a better Israel because of the fear of being ostracized from the Jewish community -- and as a strong believer in the state of Israel and the future state of Palestine, I couldn't stay silent. All I am asking is for Israel and its diplomatiya tziboori [דיפלומטיה ציבורי - new public diplomacy] apparatus to start listening.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

May It Be So...כן יהיה רצון

It is not often that I am moved to think about prayer or truly feel other peoples prayers are meaningful enough for me to "re-pray" them (say an Ah'mehyn...Amen in English). However, President Clinton's Op-Ed in The New York Times moved me to take that action -- not just an amen but more of a "make it so".

“Enough of blood and tears. Enough. We have no desire for revenge. We harbor no hatred toward you. We, like you, are people — people who want to build a home, to plant a tree, to love, to live side by side with you in dignity, in empathy, as human beings, as free men. We are today giving peace a chance, and saying again to you, enough. Let us pray that a day will come when we all will say, ‘Farewell to the arms.’” - Yitzhak Rabin, 1993

"Let us pray on this anniversary that his service and sacrifice will be redeemed in the Holy Land and that all of us, wherever we live, whatever our capacity, will do our part to build a world where cooperation triumphs over conflict. Rabin’s spirit continues to light the path, but we must all decide to take it." - President Bill Clinton, 2010

Rabin's words ring true, but should not be taken in their original context, a message directed solely at the Palestinian people--but a message directed at both Palestinians and Israelis and to all people invested in seeing peace in Israel and Palestine, no matter what nationality.

Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they study war anymore
לא ישעה גוי אל גוי חרב לא ימדעו עוד מלחמה
- The Book of Isaiah, 2:2