LAFD’s public image continues to spiral down. My colleague, Eugene Tong, reported yesterday that someone had gotten on the PA of a fire station in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood (synonymous with L.A. Jewry) and sung, “Who let the Jews out?” to the tune of the Baha Men’s hit song.
That story hit the wire and caught the eye of New Yorker Sam Apple, who is Jewish and two years ago published a book called “Schlepping Through the Alps,” described by The Washington Post as “The liveliest, most unusual travel tale in recent memory.”
To promote his book, Apple created a Passover parody that he put up on YouTube.
Jewcy rated it the second best Jewish Viral Video based on “Jewishness, re-watchability and viral impact (basically, whether you would be proud to forward it).” Apple’s video, which features a distraught Pharoah and a caravan of Israelites driving slammed Caddies through a parted Red Sea, was called “Who let the Jews out?”
Apple, who obviously suffers from Jewish guilt, called Tong to apologize for any indirect harm he may have caused.
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Swiss scientist Michel Mayor, who was credited with co-finding the first planet outside our solar system, is now sleuthing for signs of alien life. What if he finds it? What would that mean for the religious faithful on planet Earth?
It’s a vexing question, mostly because it seems impossible to know the importance of the answer. Two years ago, Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders told me the existence of extraterrestrials wouldn’t contradict theological doctrine. Mormons and Seventh-day Adventists already believe aliens exist, though not the kind that tried to eat Sigourney Weaver. Scientology, on the other hand, is built upon scary space creatures.
From an article I wrote for The Sun (no longer available online):
The theological significance of extraterrestrial life has been debated for centuries. In the Middle Ages, as today, some argued that God could have created worlds better than ours; others maintained that Earth was the center of God’s universe.
“Although it became heretical to deny that God could create other worlds, it was dangerous to claim he had,’ Joseph L. Spradley, a physics and astronomy professor at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill., wrote in 1998 for a fellowship of Christian scientists.
The verdict from most Christians is still out. However, many theologians say, if God did create other worlds and other people, that would not contradict the biblical story of the sin of man being redeemed by the son of God.
“How God shares the story of creation and of love and of the ultimate hope for the restoration of all things in God’s design, I think that can be worked out in many different ways,’ said Philip A. Amerson, president of the Claremont School of Theology, a United Methodist seminary.
There could be different paths to God on different planets, Amerson said. Others accept a more traditional salvation model.
“Saint Paul would suggest to indicate, and it is just a hint, that if there is life on other planets, and these beings needed salvation or redemption, the death of Christ on planet Earth would be a sufficient price,’ said the Rev. John Jefferson Davis, a Presbyterian and professor of theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary near Boston.
Another possibility is that extraterrestrials would not need atonement, Seventh-day Adventists believe. Because these beings would not have been borne of Adam and Eve, they would be perfectly moral beings incapable of sin.
It doesn’t matter what rhetorical polishing President Bush’s team has done to market the “War on Terror.” Outside the United States, it’s perceived as an effort to undermine—even attack—Islam, according to a report by WorldPublicOpinion.org, a research group affiliated with the University of Maryland.
“While US leaders may frame the conflict as a war on terrorism, people in the Islamic world clearly perceive the US as being at war with Islam,â said Steven Kull, editor of WorldPublicOpinion.org.
Muslims have raised concerns about the “War on Terrorism” since President Bush briefly dubbed it a “crusade” back in September 2001. [The word, which conjures up images of medieval battles between Christians and Muslims, was quickly scrapped.]
In Egypt, 92 percent of those polled believe one of the U.S.‘s goals is to weaken and divide the Islamic world. Only four percent disagreed. Seventy-eight percent agreed with the statement in Morocco, and 73 percent shared that view in Pakistan and Indonesia.
While suspicious of U.S. foreign policy, the people polled also expressed opposition to terrorism. Attacks aimed at civilians to carry out political goals are “not at all justified” according to 57 percent of Moroccans, 77 percent of Egyptians, 81 percent of Pakistanis and 84 percent of Indonesians.
U.S. Muslims were not surveyed. Though Muslim Americans might not believe the United States is at war with Islam, they have grown increasingly concerned about home-grown Islamophobia. When I wrote about this two weeks ago, it incited some e-mails that warranted their fears.
But this statement from WorldPublicOpinion’s press release helps explain why some Americans broadly paint Muslims as scary:
Most respondents have mixed feelings about al Qaeda. Large majorities agree with many of its goals, but believe that terrorist attacks on civilians are contrary to Islam.
Many people would stop reading after that first sentence.
“Who still talks nowadays of the extermination of the Armenians?”
Hitler reportedly asked that question of his commanding generals in 1939, as he prepared to rid the world of Jews. Holocaust historians site this quotation when trying to explain Hitler’s rational for how his acts would escape world condemnation. And yet, Jews—who have so much in common with Armenians—have struggled to embrace Armenians as true kindred spirits, diaspora people like Jews, who, though they did not suffer the Holocaust, suffered a holocaust.
Today marks the 92nd anniversary of the beginning of what mosthistorians call the Armenian Genocide. And though most Western countries have recognized the acts as genocide, the United States and Israel have not. The U.S. has not wanted to offend an important military ally, and Israel has been hard pressed to condemn the founding fathers of the best friend in the Muslim world.
But the tide has shifted.
Two years ago, the Daily News’ Lisa Friedman reported that Rep. Mark Lantos, Congress’ only Holocaust survivor, had changed course and now supported a resolution to call the slaugthering of Armenians by Ottomon Turks a genocide. Media outlets have been all over the story this year, the year handicappers predict Congress might finally pass a non-binding resolution calling the atrocities genocide. (The LA Times had a front-page story Saturday and an Opinion cover Sunday.) A January headline in the Turkish Daily Newsproclaimed, “US Jewish lobby warns Turkish MFA: Even we might not be able to block the Armenian genocide bill if you donât move.”
Valley Beth Shalom, a Conservative Encino synagogue, has begun pushing for Jewish recognition. I covered an event the synagogue held in January that brought together Armenian and Jewish youth for a screening of the moving “Screamers,” a documentary following the rock band System of a Down’s campaign to have the genocide acknowledged across Europe and the U.S.
“Amnesia of the past foreshadows amnesia of the future. Forget yesterday’s tragedy and the threat to tomorrow is denied. Forget the first genocide of the 20th century—the murder of 1.5 million Armenians in 1915—and the memory and atrocities of the first genocide of the 21st century in Darfur turn invisible, and the world response is muted,” Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis of Valley Beth Shalom wrote in this week’s Jewish Journal.
” ... Every genocide is singular. But a kinship of suffering unites us all. To play the shameless game of “one-downsmanship” is an invidious sport. My blood is not redder than yours, my suffering not more painful than yours. Hatred consumes us all indiscriminately.”
Schulweis, who founded the group Jewish World Watch, which is working against the genocide in Darfur, also will preside over a shabbat dinner for Armenians and Jews at his temple Friday night. He will be joined by His Eminence Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, Primate, Western Diocese/Armenian Church of North America.
Turkey does not dispute that more than a million Armenians were killed from 1915 to 1923, but it attributes the deaths to civil strife and notes that many Turks died then, too; there are even statues to who lost their lives.
“Let’s unearth the truth about what happened in 1915 together,” the Turkish embassy said in a full page ad on the back of the LA Times A section Monday. “We can face the truth about our past; we call upon the Armenians to do the same.”
So today, I accepted a writing job at the largest Jewish paper outside New York. I know what you’re thinking. You’re not Jewish. Not religiously. No matter how bushy a beard you can grow. Correct, but I’ll be reporting about a lot more than just Judaism—Jewish life, politics, history and most everything else.
The job will be satisfying both professionally and personally. The weekly format and larger newshole will help me develop my narrative voice and become an expert in a specific field. The subject matter will allow me to learn more about my ancestors while getting a paycheck.
My new digs will be in Koreatown. From the 15th floor suite, I can see Kate’s office and for the first time since we got married, we’ll be able to meet up for lunch. (My first job put us 80 miles apart; the Daily News separates us by 20 miles.)
I’m grateful for the time I’ve had in Woodland Hills, for the opportunities Ron and Melissa have given me to grow, for the shepherding editing of Aron Miller, who brought me here. This unexpected offer brought a tough decision; I’ll miss a lot of people. Brent Hopkins, my good buddy and role model here at the Daily News, had this nice farewell on the paper’s union blog.
During the next two weeks, if you have a good religion story, let me know. And after that, I’ll be taking the religion blog with me. Loyal God Blogites (Mom, I know you’re reading), please come and see what I’m doing for the Jewish Journal.
It’s not often I read an editorial that begins like this:
IN THE BIBLICAL Book of Job, the anguished hero is visited by three friends who attempt to comfort him by drawing airy and sententious lessons from his agonies. Of course, they end up adding to his troubles; Job endures not only the real pains of grief and sickness but the indignity of having his suffering milked for rhetorical effect.
Thanks to the LA Times for this thoughtful reflection on everything politicians and activists can do wrong in the immediate wake of tragedy. Pushing for gun control; insisting a broader right to bear arms. Blaming the university for not reacting quick enough. Dismissing the attack to a shunned lover’s rage.
“I have heard many such things,” Job says. “Miserable comforters are ye all.” No newspaper is in a position to criticize anybody for capitalizing on tragedy or taking convenient positions. There will be time for both in the days to come. But now is a time to respect, quietly, the tears and the pain of this terrible event.
Liviu Librescu survived the Holocaust. But while millions worldwide observed Yom HaShoah Monday, Librescu sacrificed his life for his Virginia Tech students. From the Jerusalem Post, via my favorite blog:
Professor Liviu Librescu, 76, threw himself in front of the shooter when the man attempted to enter his classroom. The Israeli mechanics and engineering lecturer was shot to death, “but all the students lived - because of him,” Virginia Tech student Asael Arad - also an Israeli - told Army Radio.
Several of Librescu’s other students sent e-mails to his wife, Marlena, telling of how he blocked the gunman’s way and saved their lives, said Librescu’s son, Joe.
“My father blocked the doorway with his body and asked the students to flee,” Joe Librescu said in a telephone interview from his home outside of Tel Aviv. “Students started opening windows and jumping out.”
“If you ever forget you are a Jew, a Gentile will remind you.”
So the saying goes. And for me, it was true: I grew up in a Christian home and, aside from my last name, knew nothing about what it was to be Jewish. Except of course, for the jokes, which usually involved terms like “money grubbing.”
It seems today that presidential hopeful Tommy Thompson wasn’t aware of the stereotype that says Jews are stingy money hoarders, a slander that has been used to incite violence and foment malevolence. Here is what he told a group of Jewish activists, courtesy of Haaretz:
“I’m in the private sector and for the first time in my life I’m earning money. You know that’s sort of part of the Jewish tradition and I do not find anything wrong with that.”
Thompson later apologized for the comments that had caused a stir in the audience, saying that he had meant it as a compliment, and had only wanted to highlight the “accomplishments” of the Jewish religion.
“I just want to clarify something because I didn’t [by] any means want to infer or imply anything about Jews and finances and things,” he said.
It’s difficult to imagine someone being so oblivious, but he is running for president. That should be worth something. The headline from the Dallas Morning News’ religion blog says it all: “Next he’ll tell the NAACP that he loves that great fried chicken and watermelon they serve…”
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