FaithWorld

GUESTVIEW: U.S. synagogues, churches collect similar donation amounts differently

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. This article first appeared in the New York Jewish weekly Forward.
dollarsSynagogue Dues Don’t Raise More Money Than Church Gifts By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Which costs more: belonging to a synagogue, or belonging to a church?

A survey conducted by the Forward has found that Jewish and Christian religious institutions appear to raise about the same amount per member, despite the fact that church giving is voluntary and synagogues charge membership dues.

The more than 20 churches and synagogues surveyed by the Forward represent a sampling from a variety of denominations in six cities across America. While there are significant regional and denominational differences, an examination of the aggregate data indicates that the amount raised per individual member is very similar between synagogues and churches. But the level of participation is quite different: While synagogues require roughly the same amount of dues from each of their members, church giving does not appear to be so evenly distributed.

Take Ahavath Achim, a Conservative Jewish synagogue in Atlanta, and Church of the Heavenly Rest, an Episcopal church in Manhattan. The two congregations are broadly comparable: Both serve slightly more than 1,000 middle- and upper-middle class households, have a multimillion-dollar endowment, employ about a dozen people and operate on an annual budget of $2.7 million.

Both draw around half their income from regular fees paid by members. But, like virtually all American churches, Heavenly Rest does not charge dues. Like most synagogues, Ahavath Achim does.

NYPD interfaith Holy Land tour, a different kind of New York religion story

nypd 5 croppedThere used to be a television series about the New York Police Department that ended with the voiced-over sign-off: “There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This has been one of them.” We’ve been hearing mostly about only one of the religion stories in New York these days, the controversy surrounding the planned Islamic center and mosque near the World Trade Center site. On a recent visit to New York, I had the pleasure of hearing a very different type of New York story when I interviewed the NYPD officers who led the unusual interfaith tour of the Holy Land described in my feature here. (Photo: From left – Miller, Nasser, Wein and Reilly at interfaith center in Israel)

I met Sgt. Brian Reilly, Detective Ahmed Nasser and Detective Sam Miller at Reilly’s Lower East Side office and spoke to Detective Larry Wein by phone because he was out investigating a case. The Lower East Side has traditionally been so diverse that it’s almost tailor-made for the kind of interfaith cooperation they highlighted with this trip. “I’ve worked here in the Lower East Side and East Village for 29 years and been exposed to people from all over the world,” said Miller, who is Jewish. “It’s just a melting pot of every race, religion and ethnicity.” The NYPD reflects the city’s diversity, he said:  “This is the most diversified police department in the world. I’m an investigator. When we need a translator, I don’t have to go outside. We have members of the service who can speak any language in the world.”

nypd 2

Reilly is commanding officer of the NYPD chaplains’ unit (4 Catholics, 2 Protestants, 1 Jewish and 1 Muslim) but these men are not chaplains themselves. Instead, they are leaders in faith-based fraternal organizations for NYPD officers. The Holy Land tour was a completely private initiative. “We weren’t working on somebody’s suggestion,” explained Reilly, a Roman Catholic. “We paid it all ourselves. There was a price for the tour and people decided to go or not. We’re fraternal organizations and we decide how to run our yearly trip.”

German commentaries on Bundesbank’s Sarrazin after Jewish, Muslim remarks

bundesbank 1 (Photo: German Bundesbank President Axel Weber at news conference after the bank decided to dismiss board member Thilo Sarrazin, 2 September 2010/Alex Domanski)

Germany’s Bundesbank has voted to dismiss board member Thilo Sarrazin, whose remarks about Muslim immigrants and Jews have divided the country. Following are extracts from Friday’s German newspapers on the central bank’s decision, which must still be approved by the German President Christian Wulff.

BILD (Conservative mass circulation)

“President Christian Wulff is in a horrible jam. If he signs the order to fire Sarrazin, he’ll be viewed by millions of Germans as just another one of those jaundiced political leaders … but if he doesn’t sign it, he’ll have the chancellor and the entire political establishment against him.

“But if Wulff decides to read the book himself, he’ll see that it’s based on a lot of well-documented truths about immigrants, education and Germany’s social state. And unfortunately an appalling, vulgar Darwinism that reduces every person to a hostage of their genetic makeup.

German Jews want central banker sacked for comments on Jews and Muslims

sarrazin (Photo: Thilo Sarrazin at the presentation of his book in Berlin, August 30, 2010/Fabrizio Bensch)

Germany’s Jewish community has urged the central bank  to sack a board member who polarised the nation by making disparaging comments about Muslim immigrants and asserting that Jews have a particular genetic makeup.

Dieter Graumann, vice president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said on Tuesday that Bundesbank board member Thilo Sarrazin was out of line, even as polls showed many Germans support his views.

Sarrazin, 65, has published a book — Deutschland schafft sich ab (Germany does away with itself) — in which he argues Muslim immigrants are undermining German society, refusing to integrate and sponging off the state, according to excerpts in the media.

New York mosque opponents react, mayor defends religious freedom

nyc mosque 1A planned mosque and Muslim cultural center near the site of the September 11 attacks, which has triggered national debate, faces a new hurdle after a lawsuit was filed aiming to block the controversial project. (Photo: Demonstrator holds a sign in support of the proposed Cordoba Mosque to be built in New York, July 13, 2010/Keith Bedford)

The lawsuit, filed on Wednesday by the American Center for Law & Justice in Washington whose mission is defending religious freedom, challenges Tuesday’s decision by the New York Landmarks Preservation Commission not to grant landmark status to the 1857 Italianate building currently on the site.

“This issue has nothing to do with religious freedom,” said Brett Joshpe, a lawyer for ACLJ. “Given what the (planned new) building represents, the placement of the project at that location is inappropriate and inflammatory.”

Muslims seek to add Islamic holidays to New York school calendar

new york (Photo:  New York City skyline, December 12, 2009/Jessica Rinaldi)

Muslim parents, students and civic groups are campaigning to add two of their religious holidays to the New York City public school calendar, pinning their hopes on state lawmakers after failing to win over Mayor Michael Bloomberg to the idea. Supporters say there are more than 100,000 Muslim students in the public schools, or about 12 percent of the enrollment.

Putting Eid Ul-Fitr, a holiday marking the end of Ramadan, and Eid Ul-Adha, celebrating the end of

the haj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, on the list of official school holidays will help ease suspicion and reduce anti-Muslim sentiment nearly a decade after the September 11 attacks, they say.

Witness – Writing on the walls in the Holy Land

bethlehem wall 1 (Photo: A Palestinian near the Israeli barrier in the Aida refugee camp in the West Bank town of Bethlehem November 9, 2009/Darren Whiteside)

Alastair Macdonald has been Reuters Bureau Chief in Israel and the Palestinian territories for the past three years. As a foreign correspondent over the past 20, he has previously been based in London, Paris, Moscow, Berlin and Baghdad.  As he ends his assignment in Jerusalem, he reflects in the following story on how he has watched people in the region build an array of barriers, both physical and emotional, to cut themselves off from each other.

With one last exit stamp in my passport, I end a three-year reporting assignment in the Holy Land that has been marked by images of frontiers, by a sense of walls going up and fewer and fewer people finding a way through.

From the minefields of Israel’s frontlines with Syria and Lebanon to the fortified fences around the West Bank and Gaza Strip — much in this month’s headlines — to the walls, old and new, of Jerusalem, physical barriers shape the lives of the 12 million people cut off here in what was once called Palestine.

GUESTVIEW: Who is Jewish enough for Anglo-Jewish schools?

big benThe following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Heather Miller Rubens is a PhD candidate in History of Judaism at the University of Chicago Divinity School.*

By Heather Miller Rubens

On June 11, London’s Jewish Chronicle ran the provocative headline: “Jewish girl’s King David place goes to non-Jew.”  This breaking news is the latest incident in the Anglo-Jewish community’s struggle to establish a means of identifying their own that comports with British law.  Since the British High Court recently declared the Orthodox Jewish matrilineal lineage test in violation of England’s racial discrimination laws, Anglo-Jews have had difficulty determining who counts as Jewish for admissions to Orthodox Jewish schools. (Photo: Big Ben, 9 May 2010/Chris Helgren)

In England, religious schools are permitted to give admissions preference to applicants who share the school’s religious affiliation.  Usually this preference is a matter of mutual agreement between the students and the schools.  Until recently, the Office of the Chief Rabbi (OCR), the designated authority over Orthodox Judaism in England, instructed Orthodox Jewish schools that a child was considered Jewish if he or she was born to a Jewish mother, regardless of his or her level of religious observance.  Failing this, a child could also apply to undergo a conversion that would be recognized by the OCR.  However, in December of 2009 the OCR’s matrilineal test was declared illegal in R v The Governing Body of JFS.

GUESTVIEW: Our American heritage: the Protestant legacy on the Supreme Court

supreme court

The U.S. Supreme Court, 23 June 2003/Brendan McDermid

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Elizabeth E. Evans is a U.S. freelance journalist living in Glenmoore, PA who writes about religion.

By Elizabeth E. Evans

It is hard to evaluate the significance of history while it is being written.  But in considering whether it matters that there possibly will be no Protestant on the Supreme Court when it convenes next fall, one thing is clear – it’s a fascinating time to be a student of Christian practice in America.

Does the lack of Protestants of any stripe on the Court truly matter to anyone save those who might feel upset that their denomination is left out?  Arguably not.  In a time of increasing ethnic and religious pluralism, and with tectonic changes going on within Protestantism and Catholicism in the United States, it is possible that the old categories simply don’t work anymore.

Chronology of five years of Pope Benedict’s papacy

benedict 2005

Newly elected Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican, 19 April 2005/Kai Pfaffenbach

Pope Benedict marks five years as head of the Roman Catholic Church on Monday. Here is a chronology of major events since Joseph Ratzinger was elected pope on April 19, 2005.

2005

August 18-21 – Pope visits his native Germany for the World Youth Days in Cologne. While there, he visits a synagogue.

Nov. 29 – In a first major ruling of Benedict’s reign, the Vatican imposes restrictions on homosexuals becoming priests.