News for Sociology of Religion--Mon Apr 21 06:10:20 EST 1997

    At sundown Monday night Jews around the world will gather to celebrate Passover and to retell the story of the Exodus from Egypt. Exodus, of course, wasn't just about leaving Egypt. It was (New York Times) (*)

    It is one of the world's greatest religious sagas, the story of the Jews' flight from slavery in Egypt 3,000 years ago. For Jews, the Passover story told at countless family seders starting Monday  (*)

    NEW YORK—The job interviews take place with practical, unspoken calculation in Southside's dozens of Hasidic schools. The schoolteacher is desperate for work; the school administrator, (New York Times) (*)

    NEW DELHI, India—As a young man, in 1947, I.K. Gujral, who was named India's prime minister Sunday, joined the vast throngs of Hindu and Muslim migrants who left their homes when Britain's (New York Times) (*)



    c.1997 N.Y. Times News Service<

    At sundown Monday night Jews around the world will gather to celebrate Passover and to retell the story of the Exodus from Egypt. Exodus, of course, wasn't just about leaving Egypt. It was about coming to Israel and building a Jewish homeland. More than at any time in its modern history the meaning of Israel as a Jewish homeland is up for grabs. For friends of Israel, this is no time for a phony unity. This is a time for taking sides. This is a time for using your money, or your pen, or your political clout or your body to make sure you are helping to build an Israel you'd want your own children to live in.

    The secular Israeli government has always given the Orthodox parties and rabbinate de facto authority to regulate all religious affairs and conversions in Israel. Reform and Conservative rabbis had no standing. But in 1995 the Israeli Supreme Court opened the way for challenges to the Orthodox monopoly, particularly on conversions.

    This was hugely important, because under Israel's Law of Return any Jew is eligible for automatic citizenship. So when the Israeli Supreme Court suggested that Reform and Conservative rabbis in Israel might be able to convert people to Judaism it was offering them hope of equal religious status with the Orthodox, and an equal set of keys to the gates of Israel.

    The Orthodox parties responded by striking a deal with Benjamin Netanyahu: They would support his election and he would support a new law—which just passed its first reading in the Knesset _ establishing Orthodox rabbis as the only body authorized to perform conversions in Israel, and effectively delegitimizing Reform and Conservative Judaism.

    This law, argues the Israeli philosopher Moshe Halbertal, ``raises the question what sort of Israel are we going to have? Will it be a narrowly defined Jewish state or a broadly defined home for all Jews?'' Given the radical diversity of how Jews relate to their religion—whether they are Conservative, Reform, Modern Orthodox, ultra-Orthodox, Religious-Zionist or secular—Israel cannot be both a home for all Jews and a Jewish state where only the Orthodox stream of Judaism is considered legitimate.

    ``The moment one group uses the coercive power of the state to force a conception of Jewishness on the whole society, it means many other Jews will not feel at home,'' argues Halbertal, himself a religious Jew. ``In the long run, such a move would destroy both Judaism and the Jewish state. Religious rituals observed purely because of coercion are religious rituals that have no meaning and breed resentment. Orthodox Judaism has a proud tradition. It doesn't need coercive state power to appeal to Jews.''

    What this religious dispute and the current political scandal involving Netanyahu have in common is that they are both rooted in a disregard for the balances and red lines necessary to hold Israeli society and world Jewry together.

    Even though Netanyahu escaped indictment, the attorney general's report made clear that the prime minister and his advisers engaged in some very suspicious behavior. I fear that in his weakened political state Netanyahu will only rely more heavily on his core ultra-nationalist and ultra-Orthodox supporters. This would only widen the splits between Israel's Orthodox parties and the other streams of Judaism, and between those who want to see the peace process advanced and those who want it frozen. Things will get uglier before they get better.

    Overlooked in all this legal brouhaha was the fact that Israel's former President Chaim Herzog died of a heart attack last week. Or was it a broken heart? Chaim Herzog was one of the titans of Israel's history. The son of a great rabbi, he fought the Nazis alongside the British, he served as chief of Israel's military intelligence, he defended Israel against charges equating Zionism with racism at the U.N. Herzog's passing this particular week only reminds us how far Israel's leadership elite has fallen since that founding generation. We are in the age of midgets.

    That means all the little people have to stand taller. In the Passover service there is a line repeated each year that reads: In every generation you should feel as though you yourself have gone forth from Egypt (to Israel). Amen. Every friend of Israel today must help insure that Israel's uniqueness doesn't get lost in its current desert of moral and spiritual leadership.

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    c.1997 The Boston Globe


    It is one of the world's greatest religious sagas, the story of the Jews' flight from slavery in Egypt 3,000 years ago. For Jews, the Passover story told at countless family seders starting Monday night is one of courage, deliverance and hope.

    But Passover is much more than an ancient tale of extraordinary heroism. It is also a parable for modern times of keeping the faith, of overcoming seemingly insurmountable hurdles.

    It is this theme that has allowed the Passover feast or seder to expand from a strictly family affair into communal celebrations for all those trying to find comfort and wisdom in the story of the Jews' liberation. Today, ``community'' seders aimed at groups who want to find their own unique meaning in the Passover are increasingly widespread.

    Across Greater Boston, there are seders for women, for people with mental illness, recovering alcholics and drug addicts, gays and lesbians, recent immigrants from Russia, people with AIDS, and the elderly.

    And the popularity of community seders extends beyond Jews. Earlier this month, Jews joined in separate seders for blacks and for the Irish, groups that share the Jewish history of suffering under oppression. An interfaith seder in Danvers a few days ago was designed to promote greater understanding.

    In recent years, several Jewish activists said, there has been a surge both in the number of community seders and in the diversity of their themes.

    In Arlington on Sunday, a Jewish-Tibetan seder will be celebrated. Anne Tolbert, a member of the Boston Area New Jewish Agenda, has written a special haggadah, or Passover story, linking Passover to Tibet's suffering at the hands of the Chinese government.

    ``My feeling is that the Passover story, the seder, is about redemption, and that redemption isn't something relevant solely to the Jewish people but relevant to all of humanity,'' said Rabbi William G. Hamilton of Congregation Kehillath Israel in Brookline, who participated in the Irish-Jewish Seder coponsored by the Anti-Defamation League and the Archdiocese of Boston. ``As other groups appropriate the story of the Exodus for themselves, they are able to widen the scope of its significance and derive an enormous measure of inspiration for themselves.''

    To the two dozen or so Jews, all recovering alcoholics or drug addicts, who celebrated a community seder last Wednesday at Temple Ohabei Shalom in Brookline, Passover means finding the strength to break free from the bottle or the needle. They used a haggadah written for recovering substance abusers that makes specific references to the struggle against addiction.

    ``It is a way to understand that our ancestors were also caught up in the same slave mentality an addict gets caught up in,'' said Farshad Sayan, president of the Boston chapter of Jewish Alcoholics, Chemically Dependent Persons and Significant Others. ``Our flight has been from alcoholism and drug abuse. The seder gives us strength to go on and face each day.''

    At the various women's seders held across the Boston area, the special, and often forgotten, role that women played in the Exodus story is celebrated, particularly that of Miriam, Moses' older sister, who as a child announced that her mother would bear a son who would become the redeemer of the Israelites.

    In more conservative Jewish homes, women are not permitted to read the prayers, a custom that rankles Miriam Greenberg. She chose to attend a women's seder last week in Newton.

    ``It's wonderful to come together and learn and remember how important women were to the survival of the Jews,'' she said.

    At a seder held Thursday in a housing complex in Brighton operated by Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly, about 90 people, including many Russian Jews and Asian immigrants, read from a haggadah written in English, Hebrew, Russian and Chinese. Though they did not share the same religion, several of the Russian and the Chinese emigres shared a legacy of oppression and poverty. For all, Passover provided a poignant example of keeping hope alive.

    ``The seder expresses the need for our eternal vigilance in the struggle to preserve and advance the cause of freedom and human dignity,'' the Jewish and non-Jewish elderly celebrants said, reciting from their haggadahs.

    This Thursday at Temple Ohabei Shalom in Brookline, a community seder is planned for people with mental illness. No special haggadah will be used, but Rabbi Howard Kummer will use role playing and a question-and-answer format.

    ``There is this spirit in the seder that even though you may be in the worst of times there is hope for things being better,'' said Andrew Schiff, director of mental services for Jewish Family and Children's Service, a cosponsor of the seder. ``Many of these people have lived through the experience of being hospitalized and being at a point in their lives where they wondered whether it was worth living. Now many of them are active members of the community living independently, having jobs. In their own ways, they have gone from affliction to survival—so the seder has great meaning and resonance.''

    Community seders often try to address issues of social justice. Jewish scholars and activists note that the Book of Exodus in the Old Testament is considered the first religious text to specifically command believers to tend to the needy.

    ``The sense over these hundreds of years is that while on the one hand the seder is the experience of the biblical Israelites, on the other hand it is the experience of all of us who have been treated wrongly because of the color of our skin or because of our religion,'' said Leonard Zakim, executive director of the Anti-Defamation League of New England.

    The League sponsors Boston's annual black-Jewish seder, which has played a pivotal role in building bonds between black and Jewish community leaders.

    Barry Shrage, president of Combined Jewish Philanthropies, said the universal message of Passover can be found in the opening prayers of the seder recited after a piece of matzoh, or unleavened bread, is broken:

    ``This is the bread of affliction which our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. All who are hungry—let them come and eat. All who are needy—let them come and celebrate the Passover with us.''

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    c.1997 N.Y. Times News Service<

    NEW YORK—The job interviews take place with practical, unspoken calculation in Southside's dozens of Hasidic schools. The schoolteacher is desperate for work; the school administrator, short of funds, can offer only the most minimal of wages.

    But the offers, at perhaps $150 a week for 30 hours of teaching, are made and almost always accepted for one central reason: welfare. The teacher knows welfare payments will supplement a meager income; the school knows employees who also receive welfare will be able to survive on low salaries.

    ``It's a mutual understanding, I suppose,'' said the director of a Bedford Avenue yeshiva in the Southside section of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. ``I know the price they will go for, and that's what I pay.''

    Rabbi Leib Glanz, whose United Talmudic Academy employs about 700 teachers in Southside, said: ``If they can't take what I can pay, I get someone else. I do not count on welfare when I hire. But clearly welfare has been beneficial to the yeshivas.''

    From household incomes to school budgets, public assistance has penetrated the world of Southside's Hasidim. The Hasidim's ability to make the welfare system work for them has provoked both admiration and suspicion among welfare agency officials and many people who live alongside the Hasidim in Southside. The deep roots of welfare show how benefits subsidize industry, but they also call attention to an unsettling question that lies behind the debate about welfare reform: What if work is not enough?

    Where the worlds of welfare and work overlap, welfare reform promises a future without government benefits. Those benefits have been the foundation of a low-wage economy. For other welfare-dependent populations, the policy prescription has been work; for a group where work is already a given, the answers do not come as quickly.

    At least one-third of the estimated 7,000 Hasidic families in Williamsburg receive public assistance, according to neighborhood leaders.

    The benefits, including welfare payments, food stamps and subsidized housing, sustain the families with as many as 10 or 12 children; they fill the cash registers of the kosher supermarkets on Lee Avenue and help underwrite much of the work done by the Hasidim, whether in schools, retail stores or factories.


    The Hasidim, carrying on the traditions of a Jewish movement founded in the 18th century, live in an insular, highly ordered world of prayer and study, their customs governing everything from their clothing to the lines of separation between men and women, boys and girls. They gather for prayer twice a day and strictly honor the Sabbath, requirements that often restrict what jobs they can take, what hours they can work.

    They have their own newspapers as well as their own judicial system for resolving internal disputes. While they live largely apart from the secular world, they nonetheless have an appetite for politics.

    And they have large families: the average household has eight children, neighborhood leaders say. Hasidic parents commonly say that large families are the most satisfying realization of their religion, which tells them to be fruitful and multiply.

    But their religious emphasis has created economic dead ends for many of the Hasidim of Southside. The focus on religious studies results in children ending secular education at age 13, curtailing job skills. Other factors also limit opportunity: discrimination in the mainstream workplace exists; the neighborhood's once-dominant industries, like the jewelry and garment trades, have dwindled; some have difficulty with English, their second language, and the neighborhood's substantial network of private charity, built around wealthy households and loan societies in every synagogue, is already overtaxed.

    A 27-year-old Hasidic welfare recipient gave voice to confusion, fear and facts of cultural life that left him without great economic options. He and others interviewed did not want their full identities revealed, citing their privacy and a sense of embarrassment.

    ``I hope to get off; I am trying to get off,'' he said. A teacher who has four children, he conceded that he started his family knowing his restricted economic situation. ``But we don't first have a business and then children. We do what we feel is right, and then try and do our best.''


    One foundation of the Hasidim's economy is an organized, aggressive approach to winning welfare benefits. For example, the office of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg, the Hasidim's main social services center in Southside, has a staff that fills out applications for aid and telephones city officials to contest adverse decisions. Advocates for Southside's Latino poor cite with envy the Hasidim's unified efforts at obtaining public assistance. Current and former city welfare agency officials regard the Hasidim's pattern of obtaining public assistance—the widespread listing of nearly identical incomes that fall just within qualifying guidelines—as circumstantial evidence of manipulation, or even fraud.

    One federal program intended to help make low-income work a more attractive alternative than welfare is the Earned Income Tax Credit, which pays up to $3,500 to a family with an income of $10,000. But among the Hasidim, it does not seem to be as well known as the state welfare program that aids low-income families and childless adults, Home Relief. The size of the credit adds only modestly to a large family's economic picture. Government officials said that they could not estimate how many of the Hasidim are taking advantage of the credit.

    Welfare for the Hasidim, then, is both a lifesaver and a machine to be put to optimal use, something that keeps families safe and businesses running. Dependency is no less ingrained than in the city's more stereotypical welfare recipient—the African-American or Latino single mother.

    But the Hasidim's world of welfare is just as endangered. The new federal welfare law limits benefits for any family to five years. New York state lawmakers are debating Gov. George Pataki's proposal to cut cash benefits. And Mayor Rudolph Giuliani is requiring beneficiaries to work cleaning streets or offices in order to continue receiving benefits.

    The new federal law also means that immigrants who are not citizens and children suffering from behavioral and learning disabilities, groups that are both represented among the Hasidim of Southside, are losing federal Supplemental Security Income.

    ``The myth is that there are no poor Jews,'' said Rabbi Chaim Stauber, who runs a mental health clinic in Southside. ``But Jews, like others, have plenty of people who meet all the criteria for welfare. The politicians only see the red and black ink of budget ledgers. They don't see human faces.''


    The face of welfare in the Hasidim is typically the face of a working father, one who reports his income and is a partner in an intact family.

    One 39-year-old kindergarten teacher, the father of four children, ages 5 through 12, earns $131.60 a week working part-time. His welfare benefits include $217 each month from the state's Home Relief program, $420 a month in food stamps, and medical coverage.

    Work—the return to it or the initial embrace of it—is the solution underlying both the philosophy and strategy of welfare reform. But work, for many Hasidic recipients, is not the central problem; income is.

    Already the kindergarten teacher's household has tasted the changing welfare realities. Although the Hasidim do not bar women from working, the teacher's wife, like many worried about caring for their children, refused the city's mandatory work requirement and the family's Home Relief grant was reduced from $259 to $217.

    As the world of welfare changes, and limits on benefits start to reduce family incomes, concerns are growing among the Hasidim.

    ``It is frightening to think of the chain reaction in our neighborhood,'' said Rabbi Yitzchok Schwartz, who oversees a handful of yeshivas. ``A lot will have to be reorganized. Maybe they will give welfare another name—close one door, open another.''

    ``If we are asked to start increasing salaries,'' Glanz said of the neighborhood's schools, ``we will not survive.''


    The answer, according to government officials, is straightforward: find higher-paying work.

    ``In many ways, this sort of population has a leg up,'' Brian Wing, the acting commissioner of the State Department of Social Services, said of the Hasidim. ``The state is not going to walk away from employment training. Skills development will be the target.''

    But William Fish, who runs an employment office on Clymer Street in Southside, said that will be difficult. ``They have six, 10 children, no computer skills,'' he said of the applicants he encounters daily. ``They don't want welfare to be a lifestyle. But it is real. I don't know what the solution is.''

    While acknowledging that real poverty and need exist among the Hasidim, others are less sympathetic. Neighborhood veterans of the fight for public housing in Southside, for instance, say their experiences have convinced them that some Hasidim abuse public assistance.

    ``It is not unnatural for people to get what they can for themselves,'' said Martin Needleman, executive director of Brooklyn Legal Services of Williamsburg, a nonprofit organization that sued the New York City Housing Authority saying that the city gives preferential treatment to the Hasidim. ``But the Hasidim in Williamsburg have a unique, sophisticated and highly efficient capacity to generate documents that support eligibility for public assistance that do not always reflect reality.''

    City welfare officials publicly deny that fraud among the Hasidim is tolerated. But in interviews, a half-dozen current and former agency officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Hasidic manipulation of the system is a problem. Even sympathetic experts on Jewish poverty acknowledge the Hasidim ``work the system.''

    Rabbi David Niederman, the executive director of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg, said he did not believe significant welfare cheating went on. ``You do not have to lie to be eligible for benefits,'' he said. ``Is there somebody who might cheat? Yes. People cheat on their taxes, too.''

    The bright side of this situation is that a sophisticated, organized approach could help the Hasidim succeed where many other groups have failed—moving people from welfare to self-sufficient working lives. Although such efforts have a poor track record, the Hasidim start with other factors in their favor: intact families and a basic, if narrowly defined, devotion to education.

    Already, Hasidic leaders are responding to welfare reform by taking initial steps to expand secular education and high-tech job training, and their long-time attempts at economic development now are infused with a sense of crisis.

    ``The enemy is unemployment or inadequate employment and not welfare,'' said Rabbi Joseph Weber, a leader of one Hasidic congregation, the Pupa sect. ``The only option is to face the enemy and act accordingly.''

    Weber, who runs the Yeshiva Kehilath Yakov, has integrated more vocational training into the school's curriculum, and he is raising money for night classes in computer technology. And Niederman has a plan for creating a ``back office'' operation in Southside, where residents would do accounting and data entry work for financial firms and government agencies.

    ``The unconventional no longer will be out of the question,'' Niederman said.<

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    c.1997 N.Y. Times News Service<

    NEW DELHI, India—As a young man, in 1947, I.K. Gujral, who was named India's prime minister Sunday, joined the vast throngs of Hindu and Muslim migrants who left their homes when Britain's colonial rulers partitioned the Indian subcontinent into the two new nations of India and Pakistan.

    As Hindus with roots in Jhelum, in the northeast of what became Pakistan, Gujral and his family fled east across the new frontier and made a new home in New Delhi, the Indian capital. It was an embittering time for millions of people. Large numbers of Hindus and Muslims were killed by enraged mobs as they migrated, and those who survived were left to struggle with the loss of loved ones, properties, and livelihoods.

    Some migrants never recovered, and some on both sides harbored resentments that developed into support for hard-line policies on issues dividing India and Pakistan. But Gujral, 77, did not allow his memories to harden into enmity. He grew to maturity as an Indian politician with a yearning to do something to ease the tensions that led to three wars between India and Pakistan, The relationship, nearly 50 years after partition, is still marked by deep estrangement and suspicion, particularly over the explosive issue of the disputed territory of Kashmir.

    When he went to India's presidential palace Sunday with other stalwarts of the United Front coalition that elected him as its leader on Saturday, Gujral told President Shankar Dayal Sharma that he was ready to form a new government. It will succeed the one headed by the previous United Front leader, H.D. Deve Gowda, who has been caretaker prime minister since his administration was defeated in Parliament on April 11. Gudral is expected to be formally sworn in on Monday.

    Already, Gujral, who has twice served as India's foreign minister, most recently in Deve Gowda's 10-month-long government, has said that an effort to improve relations with Pakistan will be one of his main priorities. Borrowing from a phrase made famous in the speech made at the moment of independence in 1947 by Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister, Gujral said after his election as party leader, ``We have to formulate another tryst with destiny,'' including an effort to create more neighborly relations with Pakistan.

    Gujral also pledged to attack the political corruption that is endemic in India. And he promised a renewed effort to tackle the problems of poverty, illiteracy and disease that have kept India close to the bottom of many tables that rate the progress of developing nations. In a nation with 950 million people, 350 million of whom are officially considered as living in poverty, pledges to ease deprivation and to crack down on a pervasive political culture of kickbacks and nepotism and graft have been part of every prime minister's mantra.

    But promising to improve relations with Pakistan is by no means so obvious a step. That is especially true for a leader who, in Gujral's case, will confront a political opposition led by the Bharatiya Janata Party, a right-wing Hindu chauvinist group. The Hindu party has advanced steadily in recent elections with policies that harp on the need for vigilance against Pakistan and on the rights of India's Hindu majority to fashion a country that does not ``bow its knee'' to the minority of 120-million Indian Muslims.

    The first test for Gujral's approach is likely to come in mid-May, at a regional meeting in the Maldive Islands, where the Indian prime minister is scheduled to meet separately with the new Pakistani prime minister, Nawaz Sharif.

    As foreign minister, Gujral laid the groundwork for reduction of tensions with Pakistan by unilaterally easing travel and visa restrictions for Pakistanis visiting India. He also said that India, as by far the largest nation in the region, can afford to be generous with its neighbors, several of which have long resented domineering attitudes that they believe have inspired India in the past.

    Whether Gujral can overcome obstacles that have embittered relations with Pakistan, notably over Kashmir, is widely doubted in India. But assessments of Gujral that filled the pages of Indian newspapers Sunday emphasized aspects of his character that suggest he might be more willing than some of his predecessors to break new ground. Among those was his willingness, demonstrated at key moments in his political career, to take an independent stand, even at risk to his own career.

    One example was Gujral's experiences in 1975 with prime minister Indira Gandhi, Nehru's daughter, after she declared an emergency, suspending civil liberties and arresting thousands of political opponents. Gujral, who had been a key member of Mrs. Gandhi's ``kitchen cabinet'' during her early years as prime minister, was her information minister at the time. He rejected a demand by Mrs. Gandhi's son, Sanjay, that he be allowed to censor the news bulletins of All-India Radio.

    In response, Gujral was booted out of the Cabinet and named ambassador to Moscow. He later joined anti-Gandhi dissidents from the Congress Party in forming the Janata Party, forerunner of the party that dominates the United Front, the Janata Dal.

    Before joining the Congress Party, which led India to independence, Gujral was a member of India's underground Communist Party, which was strongly linked to the Soviet Union.

    But as the envoy to Moscow, he persuaded Mrs. Gandhi, who lost an election in 1977 but returned to power in 1980, to express opposition to the Soviet Union's 1979 invasion of Afghanistan. That was a break from India's earlier record of supporting Soviet military ventures in Hungary and Czechoslovakia, and it led Mrs. Gandhi to tell the Soviet leader, Leonid I. Brezhnev, privately that the Kremlin had blundered in Afghanistan.

    At other times, Gujral, who sports a Lenin-style goatee, has been criticized for hewing to leftist shibboleths. He has supported India's move away from socialism toward a market economy and foreign investment, and he said today that maintaining good relations with the United States was one of his main aims. But Gujral has sometimes seemed to embrace causes for no better reason than that they put him in an anti-American camp. One example was his early support, as foreign minister in 1990, of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

    One thing on which most Indians agree is that Gujral may be the most educated of all those who have risen to be their prime minister. He was born Inder Kumar Gujral in Jhelum on Dec. 4, 1919, the son of two activists in the independence struggle against Britain, Narain and Pushpa Gujral. Like his parents, Gujral served time in prison during World War II for his political activities against the British, but he managed to complete two doctorate degrees at colleges in Lahore and in New Delhi, including one in literature.

    He speaks fluent Urdu, the national language of Pakistan, and spends part of his leisure time writing Urdu couplets, a poetic form that traces back to India's Mogul emperors. His wife, Sheila, with whom he has two sons, is a poet and author, and his brother Satish Gujral is a prominent architect.

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