Posted by Mark Paredes
When I arrived in Israel as a young diplomat, Ladino saved me. Although I had studied Hebrew for six months at the Foreign Service Institute in Washington and with a private tutor in Mexico, the rate at which Israelis spoke Hebrew was a little too rapid for me to follow at first. Much to my delight, I discovered that Turkish taxi drivers and some Moroccan and Greek Jews were able to talk with me in a slightly antiquated form of Spanish. During my first few months in Israel, whenever I met a Sephardic Jew, I asked him in Hebrew if he spoke Ladino. If the answer was “sí,” I immediately switched to Spanish. Ladino helped ease the transition to life in Israel for me, and I still listen to Ladino music as often as possible.
Given my affinity for Ladino, I was pleasantly surprised to receive an email earlier this month from Bethany, a Mormon graduate student in UCLA’s Department of Spanish and Portuguese. The university is planning to host its second annual Judeo-Spanish Symposium next month, and she wanted to enlist my help in promoting it. Of course, I would have immediately agreed no matter who had asked me, but the fact that a Mormon was put in charge of publicity for a conference on Judeo-Spanish made me even more willing to lend a hand.
I did ask Bethany why modern linguists and Spanish speakers should be interested in learning about Ladino. Her response is pretty convincing: “The connections between Spanish and Judeo-Spanish are many, and so it's perhaps natural for those who study Spanish to at least have an awareness of them, and to recognize the influence of Judeo-Spanish in various nations of the Americas, from the U.S. to Argentina. The history of Judeo-Spanish is fascinating and complex. Yet, it's not just a historical language, since it's spoken today in many nations around the world. Internet sites like Ladinokomunita have allowed speakers from all over to connect with one another, and they foster dialogue. The music is also thriving, with performers and audiences appreciating the unique style and lyrics. It's important to recognize the vibrancy and cultural importance of Judeo-Spanish--it's not a ‘dead’ language, and there are many people who want to make sure it never becomes one, lest those cultural elements be lost.”
Hats off to Bethany and the students at ucLADINO for all of their hard work. If you’re interested in attending the conference on March 5-6, here is the link with all of the information you need:
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February 18, 2013 | 12:09 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
“While we must practice tolerance and respect for others and their beliefs, including their right to explain and advocate their positions, we are not required to respect and tolerate wrong behavior.” – Elder Dallin H. Oaks, Mormon Apostle
It’s impossible to be a Mormon blogger, especially one who has taken a public position opposing gay marriage, and not weigh in on the Boy Scouts of America’s upcoming decision on whether to lift its ban on “open or avowed” gays, who are currently not allowed to become Scouts or fill leadership positions. The LDS Church has not yet taken a position on the repeal of the ban, though as the largest sponsor of Scouting troops, its voice will undoubtedly be heard at BSA’s highest levels. I would like to share my thoughts on this complex issue, which have evolved over the past few years.
Unfortunately, I find myself in the unenviable position of having to choose between the repeal-the-ban position of people like the activists at Human Rights Campaign, a radical gay rights organization that has been persecuting BSA for years, and the keep-gays-out folks at the Southern Baptist Convention, a leading anti-Mormon religious group. In the interest of full disclosure, I was a Scout for a brief period of time in a small troop. I earned a few merit badges, went on several campouts and jamborees, and generally enjoyed the experience.
First of all, I’m very glad that the Supreme Court has affirmed the right of BSA, as a private organization, to exclude certain groups of people (atheists, agnostics, gays) from its ranks. Whether or not one agrees with the policies themselves, it’s an important principle. By way of analogy, Human Rights Campaign should not have to appoint a known opponent of gay marriage to a leadership position. In effect, this means that devout Mormons, Catholics, Orthodox Jews, Muslims, etc., need not apply. This freedom to exclude carries over into the religious freedom arena, which is an area of increasing concern to people of faith around the country. After all, if private organizations can have the final say on who joins and leads them, then churches can as well.
That said, I’m having a tough time understanding the reason for the bans, which I’ll deal with separately. First of all, telling gay kids that they can’t go camping, earn merit badges, or learn the principles of the Scout Oath and Law with their straight peers seems rather benighted and mean-spirited to me. The president of our senior class was gay, and we would have counted it an honor to have him as a member of our troop. Of course, if there is any inappropriate behavior by Scouts, gay or straight, that violates the Scout Oath to be morally straight (e.g., drinking, taking illegal drugs, sexual misconduct), then their leaders can and should mete out appropriate discipline. However, Scouting’s ban on gay kids only references sexual orientation, not inappropriate conduct, so I oppose it. There is no good reason why gays who uphold the Scout Oath and Law can’t be Scouts.
Given the new safeguards in place for Scouting volunteers, the arguments against gay leaders are also less than convincing. Let’s take the most obvious objection first: adult men who are attracted to males shouldn’t be leading a group of young men. Yes, there are gay men who abuse kids, although most gay men do not. There are also straight men who abuse kids, although most do not. BSA now thoroughly vets its leaders and has instituted new common-sense rules, including one prohibiting a leader from being alone with a Scout. No system is foolproof, and there will always be perverts who seek positions in Scouting and in schools in order to prey on the vulnerable. However, in my experience being gay doesn’t make a youth leader more likely to engage in this behavior.
I have played soccer since age seven, and one of my favorite coaches was Pat. Every good player in middle school wanted to be on Pat’s regional select team, and she coached us to the gold medal in the Mid-Michigan Olympics. We all understood that the quiet woman who watched silently from the sidelines during our games was more than a friend to Pat, but none of us cared. Pat never discussed her personal life with us, and we never asked. We were there to learn how to score off a corner kick, not to discuss lifestyle choices, and Pat was a superb coach.
Ditto for Mr. K., a transplanted Scotsman whom my father sought out to conduct a summer clinic on passing for some of his best soccer players. I do recall hearing a few locker room jokes about the coach’s limp wrist, but they weren’t any nastier than the jokes we told about our other coaches. Once again, Mr. K. was a wonderful coach who helped me improve my passing speed. We all knew that he “played for the other team,” so to speak, but he was there to teach us a specific skill, and he did it very well. Truth be told, I do recall that a few more dads than usual showed up for Mr. K’s first practice, then left us alone after they saw that he was a serious coach. Come to think of it, one sure way to increase fathers’ involvement in their sons’ troop might be to appoint an openly gay Scoutmaster.
I am opposed to Scouting’s ban on gay leaders because it only specifies orientation, not behavior. I don’t believe that sexual orientation itself should disqualify someone from teaching kids to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, etc. In addition, the ban underestimates the influence of other role models besides Scoutmasters (e.g., parents, teachers, church leaders, coaches) in a Scout’s life.
In the end, the best course of action would be for the BSA to lift the ban on gay Scouts and leaders while allowing local units, primarily in the interest of religious freedom, to retain the right to exclude people whose behavior fails to meet their standards.
The Boy Scouts is the youth program for LDS boys, so one certainly shouldn’t expect the church to appoint a Scoutmaster who has a same-sex partner, lives with his girlfriend, or has another lifestyle that is at odds with the church’s moral teaching. However, this kind of exclusion would be based on behavior, not sexual orientation per se.
At the same time, I’d like to see Human Rights Campaign head Chad Griffin and his radical gay activist colleagues put a halt to the sickening boycott of the Boy Scouts that has gone on for many years. Mr. Griffin & Co. don’t have another youth character-building program to put in its place, mind you: they just want to destroy an organization that has produced tens of thousands of leaders worldwide. When your most significant contribution to society is organizing vulgar gay pride parades around the country (which included NAMBLA members – pedophiles -- in their early years), you lose the moral high ground in this debate. I certainly don’t oppose the Scouting ban because I agree with the radical gay activist agenda. I just feel that it discriminates against a group of people for no good reason.
How can I reconcile my opposition to the BSA ban on gays with my opposition to gay marriage? I view them as two unrelated institutions. For me, marriage between a man and a woman is a divinely-sanctioned relationship that will exist in eternity. I support traditional marriage because I believe that God is married. I do not believe that God is a Boy Scout.
Let us pray for BSA to lift the ban on sexual orientation and for gay rights activists to find another target for their unquenchable wrath.
February 11, 2013 | 10:46 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
Like most people around the world, I was rather surprised to hear that Pope Benedict XVI has decided to become former Pope Benedict XVI. He’s the first pope in 600 years to resign, and it will be interesting to see whom the cardinal electors elect to succeed him (let us pray it’s not Cardinal Roger Mahony). They’ve been given a lot more advance notice than usual, and have ample time to discern whether God wants them to select another European pope or venture into new ecclesiastical territory with a Latin American or African pontifex.
Even under normal circumstances, succession in the Catholic Church takes far longer than in the LDS Church, where the passing of the prophetic mantle is instantaneous. Our church is led by 15 apostles, who are also considered to have prophetic authority. The leader of the church is always the senior apostle by date of ordination, and he is usually referred to as “the prophet,” a modern Moses, the only man on earth authorized to receive revelation for the entire church as the presiding high priest in Israel.
When the prophet dies, the authority to lead the church immediately falls upon the most senior apostle (again, by date of ordination, not age). In other words, in order for a newly-ordained apostle to become the head of the church, 14 other apostles have to die first. This ensures that whoever becomes the prophet will be a seasoned leader with decades of experience directing the affairs of the church worldwide. The current prophet, Thomas S. Monson, was ordained an apostle at age 36 and became the president of the church when he was 80.
On a personal note, I was elated when Pope Benedict XVI was elected, and I certainly hope that the cardinals will elect another charisma-challenged European pope. The Catholic Church is in decline in Europe, and electing yet another pope from that continent will change little. From my LDS perspective, the last thing that Mormons should want is for a charismatic African or Latin American cardinal to take up residence at the Vatican. Africa and Latin America are the areas of highest growth for the Mormon Church, and having a German theologian as pope for the past eight years has allowed our missionary work to flourish in many Catholic countries around the world. I believe that our missionaries will continue to enjoy success regardless of who heads other churches, but they might have a harder time knocking on doors in Abidjan or Accra if a personable, eloquent African were heading the Catholic Church.
I wish Pope Benedict well, and hope that his successor will continue to uphold traditional Catholic moral teachings in a world that sorely needs them.
February 6, 2013 | 11:52 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
One of my first blogs on this site dealt with immigration, an issue on which many Jews and Mormons have rather liberal leanings. I won’t repeat here what I have already written, but I would like to draw upon my prior diplomatic experience in Mexico to contribute a perspective that is often lacking in the emotional debates on immigration that take place daily in our media and living rooms.
To begin with, every time I hear someone say that illegal aliens chose to come here instead of waiting in line like his ancestor/relative/neighbor/friend did, I want to yell at the TV or radio. Having just obtained a green card for my lovely wife, a process that involved much waiting and many fees, I do have a renewed appreciation for the importance of following the law. My wife visited the U.S. on three occasions before our marriage, and at no time did she overstay her visa by even a day. So, having paid a bundle of money and filled out countless forms in order to get a green card, why don’t I now feel very strongly that illegals should be tarred and feathered? Because most of them don’t have the same option that my wife did to enter this country. In other words, there literally is no line for them to jump.
Let’s take Mexico, a country I know very well. If you’re an average working-age Mexican, it’s unbelievably difficult to get even a tourist visa, let alone a work visa. On some days our visa denial rate at the consulate in Guadalajara was 90%. The truth is that most Mexicans can’t qualify for American visas. However, judging from the comments of callers to certain radio programs, you’d think that most Mexicans have the option of getting a visa and flying to the U.S., yet for some reason choose to make illegal and risky border crossings in order to live in the shadows here. Every week in Guadalajara I would hear rejected visa applicants tell me that they had tried the legal way, and would now have to do what they had to do in order to cross the border. While it’s true that many legal tourists overstay their visas every year, we must remember that for most illegal Mexican immigrants, and for illegals from many other countries, there simply is no legal line for them to stand in.
Another argument that riles me is the apples-to-oranges comparison often made by a caller or commentator whose great-grandfather came here from Italy legally, never looked back, and became fully integrated into American society. Having learned the languages of the four foreign countries in which I have lived, I am a firm believer in assimilation into one’s host culture as much as possible, and applaud those who do so. That said, if you’re going to make this comparison, then please make the circumstances as identical as possible.
First of all, if it had been as hard for your great-grandfather to get an American visa as it is for most Mexicans today, you’d probably be living in Canada right now. My great-grandmother, of blessed memory, came to the U.S. from Slovenia at a time when we welcomed immigrants with open arms. Secondly, geographical proximity makes a big difference. My great-grandmother never looked back once she got off the ship in New York because she didn’t have a choice. There were no airlines, no Skype, no affordable international phone calls, etc. It was either assimilate into American society or be miserable forever.
What if, at the time of her one-way trip to America, there had been 110 million Slovenians living just south of the U.S., where millions of their former compatriots were living? Would it have been as easy for her to assimilate? What if she had been denied a visa? Can I be 100% sure that she wouldn’t have made a run for the border in order to be with her fiancé? Nothing that I have said here diminishes the respect and, yes, reverence that I have for the sacrifices and heroism of many of our immigrant ancestors. I do feel, however, that their experiences from a different time and place shouldn’t be used to demonize contemporary illegal immigrants, who are often making choices under vastly different constraints and circumstances.
Of course, one can always argue convincingly that illegal aliens can make the choice to stay in their native countries instead of coming here. Every American I have discussed this with who makes this argument about Mexicans has only been to, say, Puerto Vallarta, Cancun, Mexico City, and other large, popular cities, if they’ve been to Mexico at all. Once you’ve visited small towns in the interior like Yahualica and Atotonilco, this argument, though true, becomes somewhat less convincing.
I’m certainly not an immigration expert, but I hope and pray that whatever immigration package is passed by Congress ultimately lessens the demonization of illegal aliens, most of whom came to this country in search of a better life for themselves and their families. It would be especially nice if the new laws finally gave them a legal line to stand in.