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Five Reflections on America in Transition

This article was published on the Huffington Post Blog November 25, 2016 


In my capacity as the CEO of Tanenbaum (an organization that tackles religious conflicts so that difference will be respected), the 2016 election was hard. The identity politics and lingo of hatred were the opposite of the kind of country we want to live in – from the targeting of Muslims, characterizing homeless Syrian refugees as automatic extremists, to the sudden and growing reality of swastikas in the public space, and the economic, social and racial divide within the country.

In the weeks following the election, I’ve had the chance to reflect with the people around me. It’s been a haunting journey with fear, sorrow, hope and a few hard lessons learned. With respect, I share my Five Reflections with you now.

Reflection #1 The feeling that “I’m in real danger” is palpable.

Immediately after the election, I felt a need to reach out to people I care about, just to touch base. I heard from friends who had supported the President-elect, but were upset about the hate rhetoric and worried that it might not recede. Others shared concerns – their responses left me breathless.

From my Sikh doctor friend, who is also a Major in the U.S. Army:

“I feel that the tone [during and after the election] has created animosity and division. This will be yet another crucible that Sikhs, Muslims and other minorities will endure. … The Republican Party needs to show America that it still cares about ideals such as diversity and religious freedom that have made us great. So far their silence has shown a complicit support of hateful rhetoric and has many of us wondering if America is really two very divided nations?”

From my friend, a successful professional woman, and a Muslim:

“I will never, ever, ever forget the night my babies went to sleep crying in fear. the sick feeling in my stomach got even worse with the appointment of Bannon.”

From an African-American Communications expert:

“I’m dumbfounded by the number of people who voted for Trump who didn’t do so because they are themselves racists, xenophobes or misogynists, but because the racism, xenophobia and misogyny that Trump spewed didn’t even register for them. Of course, being blind to it (or turning a blind eye to it) equates to tacit approval of those mindsets and that’s what so shocking and frankly frightening, especially when it comes to my own mixed-race family that I feel now I must be on constant guard to protect.”

From an academic leader who is Catholic:

“I am trying to ‘lead’ as faculty staff and students struggle with how to respond, from offering sanctuary to undocumented students, to forming a ‘resistance movement.’ Sadly, there has also been some ugliness. Sigh.”

From a Christian woman who cares for other people’s children and their homes:

“What will happen to women in America?”

Reflection #2: The fears are grounded in reality.

In addition to the news of protestors, the debates on whether to acknowledge President-elect Trump as our duly elected leader, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported an uptick in hate crimes after the election (based on reports, not all of which could then be verified). This was alarming given the FBI’s 2015 report that hate crimes had escalated, with a 67% increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes from 2014 to 2015. I am terrified by how some people with racist views have gone public and now seem comfortable freely expressing their prejudice. When did anti-Semitism stop being a dirty word?

But I’m also seeing the ugliness up close, within my personal community.

From a colleague:

“My son’s school had mass protests today after these messages were found yesterday: ‘F—k stupid Latino immigrants … F—k N—s … ISIS is calling, Muslims can leave … (Heart) Trump!’ He was leading the charge (yes, I’m proud of him).”

Photographed at a university in New York | 2016

Photographed at a university in New York | 2016

From a Union Employee Campaigning in Virginia:

“My whole life, I never felt anything about race. But when I was in Virginia knocking on doors for the election, the people would slam the doors in my face, shouting N—.”

Reflection #3: Some people are feeling paralyzed – while others are in “doing” mode, to protect an inclusive social fabric.

I personally witnessed responses from people in my community, and noted with surprise that I had moments of challenge with moving forward. I am a true believer in respectful exchanges and the power of listening to understand rather than confront. So I surprised myself when I attended a one-year old’s birthday party and met someone I had not known from the Midwest.

Though I am almost always a friendly type, I found myself uncomfortable – an unusual experience for me – wondering how to talk about the election and whether we would be able to do so. Though I opted to jump in, as per usual, it was not without trepidation. And that is new. For the record, we shared a concern about division in our country, and what we agreed is a surge in the normalization of hatemongering.

Yet, across the country, and certainly in New York, people dedicated to justice and respect for all came together. Tanenbaum was among the supporters of an important community gathering called #IAMAMERICA, spearheaded by Debbie Almontaser and our interfaith community, which believes in all of us.

Several of my friends donated to causes that protected the people and the rights that they feared will be lost. One Jewish woman, a lawyer in a major firm, sent out a November 9th email titled “This is not about politics” and encouraged her colleagues to make contributions to organizations that pursue justice.

# 4: Listening to One Another is Hard —- but Informative!

Even from those closest to me, who share my values about trying to put the Golden Rule into practice, I saw how communicating across the divide is not always easy – particularly about the last election. For me, it is important and it happened in an unexpected way.

From my plumber Tony:

I have the world’s best plumber. And when the bathroom started leaking into the dining room, he showed up and quickly, cleanly and with kindness took care of what could have been a holiday nightmare. We’ve always been friendly, and we got to talking about the election. I listened hard, and one thing was crystal clear. Tony had voted for better business opportunities.

“I learned a long time ago that there are two types of businessmen. The good guys who do a good job, charge a fair rate and have to beg to be paid so they can feed their families. And the guys to tell you like it is, what they’ll do, and get paid. President-elect Trump cares about us. He’ll fight for us.”

Tony’s not a hater, bigot or a person who stereotypes cruelly. He is a reason we must not stereotype President-elect Trump’s supporters.

Reflection #5: Amid hate crimes, top government appointments that stir anxiety among many, and the emergence of neo-Nazism (and the alt-right), there are reasons for hope.

These are days when our President-elect properly condemned bigotry and, then, during a meeting with the New York Times, said he disavowed the alt-right, white supremacy gathering held in Washington (where hate-rhetoric about Jews prevailed and gestures from the Third Reich could be seen). As a master of Twitter, however, we note that he could do so much more – like strongly condemning acts of the religious harassment, racism and prejudice, and violence.

And right after the election, I was struck by insights I would not have expected, but appreciate. I read an op-ed by Glenn Beck, who urged on all of us the importance of listening – to those you fear and disagree with. For me, hearing Mr. Beck speak of overcoming the divide, a man I used to consider only divisive himself, was a reason for hope. Equally striking was Nick Kristof’s insight that Liberals readily condemn the stereotyping of Latinos and Muslims, but have been quick to stereotype Trump voters. Honest reflection is a step on the path forward.

Establishing a just society and putting it into practice is a long-term effort. One that is always characterized by fits and starts. We have just come out of a fraught election. For those concerned with justice that honors our differences, this is a time for vigilance. Many have rational fears from the months of divisive rhetoric, recent hate crimes and the fears of more.

Yet, now is the time to take a risk and reach out to people whose religious, political, social convictions are different, and even opposite, from our own. A good place to start may be with the people closest to you – or your plumber. It is time to hone the elusive skill of listening to learn. And what better time to start than during the holiday season?

Swastikas, Headscarves & Beatings

Dear Friends,

Over the past week, Tanenbaum’s phones have been ringing off the hook. Friends, partners and strangers want to know what they can do to keep their families and communities safe. People are frightened by the undeniable wave of bigotry and fear tactics that have been unleashed since November 8th.

Venom is spewing all around us. There have been more than 300 reported hate incidents since Election Day. I’ve heard stories about Muslim children asking their parents if they will be deported, of waking up to swastikas spray painted on local buildings, and name-calling and intimidation we hoped was long behind us. I wish it were, but it is not.

If anything, combating religious prejudice and hatred has never been more urgent. Take a look at a few headlines—from just the past week:

All the while, Breitbart and other like-minded media are calling this trend a lie. We need the volume of our voices to match theirs. And we need our actions to speak even louder.

That is why today, I ask you to support Tanenbaum as we combat religious hate with practical solutions. Help us reach all sides and stop the venom. Our organization is small but our impact is large, and we need your help NOW to make long-lasting change.

Please make a donation today, or even sign up for monthly giving, to help combat religious prejudice, fear and hatred—so we don’t have to wake up to another day of headlines like these.

With gratitude,

Joyce S. Dubensky
CEO, Tanenbaum

An Interview with Deborah Levine, ‘The Liberator’s Daughter’

An interview with Deborah Levine
by Ellie Green

Deborah Levine was born into one of the only Jewish families in British Bermuda. She has since immigrated to the U.S., and now resides in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Deborah is an award-winning author who has written extensively on religion and diversity including, Religious Diversity at Work and Teaching Curious Christians about Judaism. And now, she brings us her historical memoir The Liberator’s Daughter, which details her family history to the present day and, specifically, the life of her father – a Jewish U.S. Army Military Intelligence Officer in the Second World War.

“Our history was something he didn’t want anyone else to forget.” – Deborah Levine

Aaron Levine witnessed some of worst atrocities committed in the 20th century. And he personally interrogated those responsible. After the fall of Hitler’s Third Reich in 1945, Levine was tasked with liberating concentration camps as part of the Allied war effort and interviewing Nazi prisoners of war.

Levine was prepared, having been trained in interrogation in Fort Ritchie. But the undertaking was haunting. The letters he wrote home to his wife depict the atrocities he found in Germany, including the ‘stench of bodies piled up’ in Nordhausen-Dora (the concentration camp liberated by U.S. Troops in April 1945) and his encounters with people in Germany, many of whom ‘found more fault with Hitler for having lost the war’.

Levine’s daughter recalls conversations with her father. “When I as a child asked him, ‘Well Daddy, did you kill anybody during the war’ he said ‘No, but I did slap somebody once….it was a Nazi prisoner and all he said to me was, ‘The only mistake Hitler made was not killing more Jews’.”

For most of her life, Deborah Levine was unaware of the true extent of her father’s activities in WWII. But when her father was in his 70’s, he presented Deborah with a box of letters – the truth-telling letters he had written to his wife during his time in Europe. It is these letters that Deborah recently complied into her book, ‘The Liberator’s Daughter’. Designed to educate people on both the importance of remembering the Holocaust as an atrocity against the Jewish people, and ‘as a universal lesson’ that such horrors can occur anywhere, at any time, Deborah Levine painfully reminds people that the Holocaust occurred in a ‘cultured, educated society. We are not in America immune to similar things happening.’

Aaron Levine U.S. Army Military Intelligence Officer in WW2

Aaron Levine U.S. Army Military Intelligence Officer in WWII

“The timing of this book was key to me.” notes Deborah. “I feel that we were are at a cross road politically, globally and nationally where the reminder of this history is absolutely required for moving forward logically and successfully”

In promoting her book and speaking out for the continued remembrance of the Holocaust, Deborah has encountered some who deny the very existence of the event. Deborah recalls an encounter with David Irving (an infamous pseudo-historian Holocaust-denier) at a book launch as ‘a wake-up call to me that these conspiracy theories and the holocaust denial movement was appealing across many sectors of the public’. For Deborah, even though only 70 years have passed since the world truly uncovered what was happening in the concentration camps, ‘a lot of it has been forgotten’.

“One of my intentions of this book was that it be both inspirational but also educational.”

Aaron Levine went on to dedicate much of his life to Jewish causes and ‘to the American Jewish archives so that our history would not be lost’. His stories, as present through his letters and the vision of his daughter, provide insight into a man who was intensely proud of his Judaism and was also dedicated to his job in the military. The letters he wrote are a lasting legacy of one man’s experience as a liberator. As such, they are must read for anyone wishing to educate themselves about the Holocaust.

Deborah Levine has worked tirelessly to support religious diversity both within communities and in the work place. In addition to her other publications, she is also the author of Religious Diversity in our Public Schools.

‘The Liberators Daughter’ by Deborah Levine is available for purchase on Amazon.

Author of 'The Liberator's Daughter"

Deborah Levine author of ‘The Liberator’s Daughter”

 

Memories of Selma – All of Them

Today marks the beginning of the last – and ultimately successful – march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama led by Martin Luther King Jr. The march has been commemorated all month because it was a powerful turning point toward justice in the U.S. Personally, I believe that remembering this history – in all its various manifestations – is important. It helps us steady the course and stay true to some of our nation’s core principles.

If you have a moment, please take a look at some of my thoughts in Memories of Selma – All of Them. I’d love to hear what you think!

In peace,

Joyce S. Dubensky,
CEO

Top News Stories 7/18 – 7/24

 

Palestinian boys play at St. Porphyrios, a Greek Orthodox Church in Gaza City where up to one thousand Palestinians have found refuge. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

Approximately 1,000 Palestinians have found shelter in a Greek Orthodox Church in Gaza that was built in the 12th century.
According to a Reuters article published on July 22, 2014:

“We have opened the church in order to help people. This is the duty of the church and we are doing all we can to help them,” Archbishop Alexios said to a Reuters reporter while the sounds of children playing echoed down the hall.

“At the beginning there were 600 people and today they became a thousand – mostly children and women. Some of those children are a week old,” explained the head of Gaza’s Greek Orthodox minority.

Gaza and Israel: Which side is Tanenbaum on?
To read more about Tanenbaum’s perspective on the conflict in Israel and Gaza, view our blog post by Tanenbaum CEO, Joyce S. Dubensky

Germany, France and Italy condemn anti-Semitic protesters after violent clashes
Many news agencies have reported on the sharp increase of anti-Semitism, although anti-Semitism has been on a slow rise over the past 25 years. Newsweek reported on July 24th that the foreign ministers of Italy, Germany and France have issued a joint statement condemning anti-Semitic statements and acts that have been witnessed throughout anti-Israel protests.

President Obama issued an executive order that bans federal contractors from discriminating against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) employees. Obama first promised to issue the order during his 2008 presidential campaign.
The order does not include any language that exempts religious organizations from following the discrimination protections. However, there is a possible loophole – Obama’s order adds LGBT protections to a previous order signed by President Lyndon Johnson. Johnson’s order does have an exception that allows religious groups to hire only employees “of a particular religion”.

India Mental Health Care
PBS reports on how medical doctors and spiritual practitioners are working together to address mental health in India. There is a dire need for help; in India, only five thousand psychiatrists serve the needs of 120 million people. It is estimated that one hundred million people in India have “common” mental health disorders while 20 million have severe illnesses, e.g. schizophrenia. Watch the video or read the transcript for more.

Who’s watching the spiral of hate?

Who’s watching the spiral of hate?

For those of us who care about acknowledging the humanity in each person- these are dark days.

The Middle East is in flames. Religious practices across Asia and Southeast Asia are being snuffed out – from Christians and Falun Gong practitioners in China to Rohingya Muslims in Buddhist majority Myanmar. Christians are desperately fleeing their homes in northern Iraq. We object to this senseless hatred wherever it is found. And now, we see virulent anti-Semitism in Europe that horrifies us.

If you’re watching, you can see the anti-Semitic anger cutting across Europe as protestors respond to the conflict in Israel and Gaza. While we would always support the right to peacefully protest and express one’s views on the tragedy that is the Middle East, we still have to ask – Why are so many of the current protests devolving into hate, violence and, specifically, targeting hatred toward Jewish people?

At Tanenbaum, we condemn the violence that we see all around us – in the Middle East, in Africa and Asia. And that includes the violence that is threatening European communities, leaving many Jews fearing for their future. Frighteningly, what we are seeing in France and Germany is the tip of an iceberg. Data shows that anti-Semitism is a worldwide illness that has risen over the last 25 years.

As we watch the news unfold, we must pay attention to the violence being perpetrated in the name of religion and as a form of hatred for individuals of particular traditions. In addition to headlines that make us all so sorrowful, we must also make it a point to witness the harm that is not reaching the headlines. And that includes attacks toward Jews just walking on the street to synagogues being set aflame.

As we watch the spiral of hate seemingly spin out of control, we at Tanenbaum recommit ourselves to promoting and practicing respect – for all people. It’s time to end the spiral of violence.  And we all have to be part of the solution.

In Friendship,

Joyce S. Dubensky
CEO

Top five news stories you need to know.

Here are the top stories about religion that you need to know from May 17-May 23, 2014:

The Headwrap Expo: Shifting the Conversation • Orthodox Jewish woman says that school fired her for observing Sabbath • Vaccination exemption issues raising discrimination concerns • U.S. agency urges Myanmar to scrap proposed religion laws • Religious freedom linked to economic growth and innovation

The Headwrap Expo: Shifting the Conversation
On June 8  in Dearborn, Michigan, the 2014 Headwrap Expo celebrated interfaith dialog, fashion, and culture. Billed as “the art of headwrapping and scarf styling,” the Headwrap Expo was presented by the organization Beautifully Wrapped. The organization’s founder, Zarinah El-Amin Naeem, explained how the Expo is a celebration of “fusion — looking at how different cultural aspects, different things that people wear in different parts of the world are adopted across into other cultures.” Naeem explained how the Expo has broad cultural appeal and moves beyond fashion to address issues of unity. 

“It’s an intercultural, multi-faith event that brings together all these different groups…We have the Sikh Indians, we have Muslims, we have Christians, we have Jews, we have African Americans, African immigrants, everybody coming together. Once we’re there, we share, we talk about love, we have workshops, we have fashion stylings, fashion shows throughout the day. It’s a whole affair.”

Orthodox Jewish woman says that school fired her for observing Sabbath
Ellen Gastwirth, 41, was hired in 2005 as Director of Education at Temple Judea, a reformed  Jewish synagogue on Long Island. Gastwirth first encountered resistance to her Orthodox observance of the Sabbath when Rabbi Todd Chizner was hired the following year. Her requests for holiday time off were met with animosity. For example, in 2008, Rabbi Chizner questioned her observance by asking “What do you people do on that day that would prevent you from being here?” Harassment from the board of directors and the Rabbi led to the termination of her employment and a new Brooklyn Federal Court lawsuit.

Vaccination Exemption Issues Raising Discrimination Concerns
Two recent court cases address discrimination issues as they relate to objections to vaccination due to religious beliefs.

In Philips v. City of New York, parents argued that their children are unfairly discriminated against. While their children’s school district allows vaccination refusals based on religious beliefs, documentation is required that supports and explains the religious objection. Students that receive accommodation must stay home when another student at the school acquires an illness that is vaccine-protected. A federal judge rejected the parent’s claims, ruling that the First Amendment’s Free Exercise clause does not provide exemption from vaccination requirements.

In Valent v. Board of Review, Department of Labor, New Jersey Appeals Court ruled that a hospital employee who was fired for refusing vaccination is entitled to unemployment benefits. The hospital offers vaccine exemptions to employees for religious beliefs, however, they denied an exemption to the plaintiff because the employee did not object to vaccination due to religious reasons. The court ruled that this discrimination lacked justification and violates the First Amendment.

U.S. Agency Urges Myanmar to Scrap Proposed Religion Laws
In Myanmar, laws have been drafted that intend to protect Buddhists, the country’s majority, by regulating marriages and conversations between people of different faiths.

The U.S. State Department stated that the draft laws should be withdrawn and have “no place in the 21st century”. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom believes that these laws encourage violence against Muslims, Christians, and other religious minority groups. Additionally, the Commission stated that if these draft laws are passed, Washington “should factor these negative developments into its evolving relationship with Burma (Myanmar).”

Religious Freedom Linked to Economic Growth and Innovation
The Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion recently published a study that reviewed GDP growth in 2011 across 173 countries. GDP growth was compared to additional data including religious restrictions and the levels of economic and business related freedoms for each country.

Authored by researchers at Brigham Young University’s International Center for Law and Religion Studies and Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs, the study concludes that countries that allow greater freedom of religion are more likely to have economic growth and innovation.

The Religious Freedom & Business Foundation commented on the report findings by stating, “As the world navigates away from years of poor economic performance, religious freedom may be an unrecognized asset to economic recovery and growth.” Additionally the foundation explained that hostility and restrictions based on religion can create “climates that can drive away local and foreign investment, undermine sustainable development, and disrupt huge sectors of economies”

Palin baptism-terrorism controversy: Top 5 news stories

Sarah Palin calls waterboarding ‘baptism’ of terroristsHungarians march against anti-Semitism after far-right poll gainsBrunei adopts sharia law, others in Southeast Asia consider itSikhs stand up to bullying as they try to build understandingUnited Church of Christ Sues North Carolina to Allow Gay Marriage

Last week’s top news, from our perspective:

Photo Credit: Shemp Howard, Jr. at en.wikipedia

Sarah Palin calls waterboarding ‘baptism’ of terrorists

Republican politician Sarah Palin has caused controversy by comparing the use of torture to baptism. In a speech before the National Rifle Association in Indianapolis last weekend, Palin criticised the Obama administration’s ‘soft’ approach to terrorism.

“Oh, but you can’t offend them, can’t make them feel uncomfortable, not even a smidgen. Well, if I were in charge, they would know that waterboarding is how we’d baptise terrorists,” she said.

This remark has caused waves across political and religious spheres, with critics lambasting Palin for her offhand attitude towards the use of torture and what many see as a disregard for a key Christian sacrament.

Hungarians march against anti-Semitism after far-right poll gains

Tens of thousands of Hungarians joined a protest march on Sunday against anti-Semitism, three weeks after the far-right Jobbik party won nearly a quarter of votes cast in a national election.

The marchers, many holding European Union and Israeli flags, attended the inauguration of a Holocaust monument on a bank of the Danube where Jews were executed during the war. They then marched in silence through the city to an old railway station from which trains departed 70 years ago for Nazi death camps.

More people are taking part because they fear anti-Semitism is again on the rise, said Miklos Deutsch, 64, a restaurant manager, after a shofar, a traditional Jewish instrument made from a ram’s horn, gave the signal for the march to start.

Brunei adopts sharia law, others in Southeast Asia consider it

The sultanate of Brunei this week becomes the first East Asian country to introduce Islamic criminal law, the latest example of a deepening religious conservatism that has also taken root in parts of neighbouring Malaysia and Indonesia.

From Wednesday, residents of the country dominated by Malay Muslims face conviction by Islamic courts and fines or jail terms for offences like pregnancy outside marriage, failure to perform Friday prayers, and propagating other religions. A second phase comes into effect 12 months later covering offences for theft and alcohol consumption by Muslims, punishable by whipping and amputations.

The death penalty, including by stoning, will be introduced in the final phase a year later for offences including adultery, sodomy and insulting the Koran or the Prophet Muhammad.

Sikhs stand up to bullying as they try to build understanding

Throughout elementary, middle and high school, Prabhdeep Suri has been the only Sikh in his class, and it’s been obvious.“He came home crying three days out of five,” his mother, Harpreet Suri, remembered. “They were taking his patka off almost every day.”

Bullying is a hot topic, and affects children and teenagers who appear or act differently. But unlike others who can hide their religion at school – by wearing a baseball cap instead of a yarmulke, or never mentioning their family celebrates Ramadan – Sikhs literally wear their religion on their sleeves.

United Church of Christ Sues North Carolina to Allow Gay Marriage

It’s the first time for a national Christian denomination to sue in favor of same-sex marriage, citing restricted freedom of religion. Currently ministers who marry couples without a marriage license can face misdemeanor charges punishable by up to 120 days in jail

Man murders 3 people at Jewish-affiliated facilities: Top 5 News Stories

Last week’s top news, from our perspective:

Men pray on the street before the start of the American Muslim Day Parade in 2010 in New York. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Alleged Kansas Jewish center gunman charged with murderDemands That Jews Register in Eastern Ukraine Are Denounced, and DeniedCrosses Spark a Constitutional Fight • NYPD Shuts Down Controversial Unit That Spied On Muslims • Muslims in New York City Unite on Push to Add Holidays to School Calendar

Alleged Kansas Jewish center gunman charged with murder

The man accused of killing three people at two Jewish-affiliated facilities in Kansas made no secret of his racist views, writing letters to newspapers and inviting people to white-supremacist meetings at his home, say those who knew him.

Cross is accused of shooting to death a boy and his grandfather outside a Jewish community center near Kansas City, Kansas, on Sunday and then a woman at a nearby Jewish assisted living facility.

Demands That Jews Register in Eastern Ukraine Are Denounced, and Denied

Worshipers at the Bet Menakhem-Mendl synagogue in this eastern Ukrainian city confronted a horrifying scene as they left a Passover service this week: masked men on a sidewalk handing out leaflets demanding that Jews register and pay a fine or leave the area, witnesses said.

That the leaflets appeared in a highly uncertain political context did little to calm nerves or to dampen high-level international condemnation, including from Secretary of State John Kerry, who said Thursday in Geneva that “just in the last couple of days, notices were sent to Jews in one city indicating that they had to identify themselves as Jews.”

The leaflets were supposedly signed by Denis Pushilin, the leader of the Donetsk People’s Republic, the newly declared and unrecognized state that claims to represent ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine. But that group and other pro-Russian groups quickly denied they had anything to do with them.

Crosses Spark a Constitutional Fight

The Mount Soledad statue is one of at least four war-memorial crosses under legal fire by civil-liberty groups who want them off government land. The cross is a globally recognized symbol of Christian faith. But many veterans and others who have lost loved ones to battles or tragedy value the memorial crosses as monuments of remembrance, invested with historical weight.

NYPD Shuts Down Controversial Unit That Spied On Muslims

The New York Police Department said Tuesday it would disband a special unit charged with detecting possible terrorist threats by carrying out secret surveillance of Muslim groups.

The squad that conducted the surveillance, known as the Demographics Unit, was formed in 2003. It brought the NYPD under fire from community groups and activists who accused the force of abusing civil rights and profiling.

Muslims in New York City Unite on Push to Add Holidays to School Calendar

It was a gathering remarkable in its diversity from among New York City’s Muslims, a growing group whose members often find it difficult to work together politically because of differences in national origin, language, sect and class. But a single issue has managed to unify them: the push to close the city’s public schools for Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, the most sacred Muslim holidays.

Myanmar Muslims face brutality: Top 5 news stories

For Myanmar Muslim Minority, No Escape From BrutalityCrisis stirs old fears for Ukraine’s JewsThe Woman Who Saved Syria’s JewsDenominations Downsizing and Selling Assets in More Secular EraMuslim Couple Sue Empire State Building Over Discrimination

Last week’s top news, from our perspective:

Photo by Flickr user Adam_Jones

For Myanmar Muslim Minority, No Escape From Brutality

Violence by the Rakhine ethnic group, driven by an extreme Buddhist ideology, has led tens of thousands of Rohingya to flee in the last 18 months through smuggling rings that pledge to take them to Malaysia, a Muslim country that quietly accepts the desperate newcomers.

Thailand is the way station where the Rohingya, denied citizenship in Myanmar by national law, arrive on fishing boats converted to human cargo vessels. If they have money to pay unscrupulous brokers, they leave quickly for neighboring Malaysia.

But those who cannot afford to pay languish in smugglers’ camps hidden in the jungle across southern Thailand, or in the abysmal detention cells of the Thai immigration authorities.

“People are afraid of the Russian tanks. If they get into [the border regions of] Donetsk and Lugansk, why not come here,” asked Shmuel Kaminetzky, the chief rabbi of Dnepropetrovsk.

Crisis stirs old fears for Ukraine’s Jews

The foreboding mood was palpable Friday at the Jewish center of this rambling city of 1 million bisected by the mighty Dnieper River. A gleaming 22-story complex serves as a sprawling beacon of the Jewish revival. It combines a synagogue, a luxury hotel, shops, two convention halls, kosher restaurants, and art exhibits.

Zelig Brez, executive director of the Jewish Community of Dnepropetrovsk, walked past a display in the Ukrainian city’s Holocaust Museum on Friday.

Some people at the center said they were considering leaving for good.

The Woman Who Saved Syria’s Jews

In Syria’s three-year war, which is becoming more sectarian by the day, much has been made of the fate of the country’s minorities. Christians, Druze and Kurds in the country have enjoyed more column inches dedicated to their plight over the last three years than ever before. But one Syrian minority is almost never spoken of—the Syrian Jews.

“If they were there now, what would have happened? I know what would have happened. It would have been the slaughter of the Syrian Jewish community, that is for sure,” says Judy Feld Carr matter-of-factly. Delving into why this slaughter never happened uncovers a story of spy-craft, subterfuge and tightly-kept secrets.

Denominations Downsizing and Selling Assets in More Secular Era

The American Unitarian Association, peopled and powered by this city’s Brahmin elite, announced its presence here in 1886 with a grand and stately headquarters at the very top of Beacon Hill, right next door to the Statehouse.

If anyone doubted the denomination’s might, its next move made it clear: In 1927, strapped for space, the Unitarians finished building a new home next to the capitol on the other side, even persuading the legislature to change the street’s numbering so they could take their address with them.

But the Unitarian Universalist Association, as the denomination is now known, is selling its headquarters building, as well as two grand homes and an office building it owns in the same neighborhood.

Muslim Couple Sue Empire State Building Over Discrimination

Amina and Fahad Tirmizi, a Muslim couple from Long Island, are suing the Empire State Building for $5 million over what appears to be a case of religious discrimination.

According the lawsuit obtained by The Huffington Post, the Tirmizis say their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated when they were “assaulted, battered and forcibly removed” from the building’s observation deck on July 2, 2013 as they peacefully recited evening prayers.