News for Sociology of Religion--Sat Feb 15 05:24:02 EST 1997

  • No headline.
    When he was growing up, Will Escobar's mother kept a strict kosher kitchen. His grandmother insisted on lighting candles every Friday night to ``give thanks for another week'' and his  (*)

  • No headline.
    Why are Communist and militant Islamic dictatorships persecuting Christians? Why are Western democracies reacting so passively—or not at all? What can be done to ease the repression? (New York Times) (*)

    He said tensions remained too high at the moment for Brcko to be awarded either to the Bosnian Serbs, or to the Muslim-Croat federation, or to the joint government of Bosnia-Herzegovina in  (*)


    c.1997 The Boston Globe


    When he was growing up, Will Escobar's mother kept a strictkosher kitchen. His grandmother insisted on lighting candles everyFriday night to ``give thanks for another week'' and hisgrandfather sang him mysterious lullabies.

    For years, Escobar attributed these rites to Puerto Ricantraditions. After all, he was raised as a Christian, and he had noreason to think his family's rituals were echoes of another,long-hidden faith.

    It wasn't until Escobar became an adult that he began to connectthese practices to Judaism. A little digging into his familyhistory confirmed his suspicions: He did have Jewish roots and theyran deeper than he had ever imagined. His ancestors were run out ofSpain during the Inquisition and their Jewish heritage has beenkept a secret for centuries.

    ``There was so much fear for my family, they changed their faithand kept hidden who they really were,'' said Escobar, 41, ofRoslindale, who, since converting to Judaism, has discovered thathis grandfather's songs were actually Sephardic folk tales. ``Noone wanted to divulge the true history, but they kept up some ofthe traditions as a way of hanging on to who they truly were. Ithas been an amazing discovery for me.''

    Escobar is among scores of people around the world—includingSecretary of State Madeline K. Albright—whose families hid their Jewish past for generations to escape intolerable persecution.

    Like Albright, who says she did not know she had relatives whodied during the Holocaust until the Washington Post researched herlineage, many of those just discovering their Judaism are theoffspring of Holocaust survivors or have roots in pre-World War IIEurope.

    In a desperate attempt to save themselves from imprisonment anddeath as the Germans embarked on the Final Solution, many Jewishfamilies sent their children away to live in convents or they fledand changed their names, trying to mask their Jewishness at allcosts.

    Even after the war, many families, terrorized by the Holocaust,did not reclaim their Jewish heritage. That was the case with thefamilies of Albright as well as of John Silber, chairman of theMassachusetts Board of Education. Silber, who was raisedPresbyterian, knew his father was a German immigrant but did notdiscover his Jewish roots until he traveled to Germany and met acousin who had survived a concentration camp.

    Silber said his father ``shut the door on this part of his life,and it stayed shut.''

    ``People always have to be open-minded about how they judgeHolocaust survivors, and how (the survivors) coped with theissue,'' said Leonard Zakim, director of the Anti-Defamation Leagueof New England. ``A lot of Jews came out of the ashes with apersistent dark cloud hovering over their identity. It is not outof the realm of possiblity that people would come to this countryand not want to impose the burden of Judaism on their children, toprotect them.''

    Grantley Taylor, a psychiatrist who unearthed his hidden Jewishbackground in bits and pieces, believes his grandmother, whoforsook her Judaism, did so to not only to protect her children,but to give them a better life.

    Taylor, 48, discovered that his maternal grandmother chose toraise his mother and aunt as Episcopalians in New York in the 1920sso her daughters would not be subjected to the anti-Semitism shesuffered. She wanted her children to get into prestigious privateschools and have a good education she believed they'd be denied ifthey were practicing Jews, he said.

    So, even when Taylor's mother found out about her Jewish roots,she chose to keep it quite and remain a Christian. When her soninquired about it, she took him aside and ``with a great deal ofshame,'' told him there was ``a drop'' of Jewish blood in thefamily. After he did some research, Taylor discovered that the``drop'' of Jewish blood was actually ``every one of her relativesgoing back to forever.''

    Taylor's journey into his past began when he turned 13. HisProtestant father, who was not ashamed of his wife's ancestry, gavehis son a Bible on his 13th birthday with the inscription, ``Onwhat would have been your Bar Mitzvah.''

    After delving into his mother's family tree to confirm his trueorigins, Taylor spoke to rabbis, family and friends and searchedhis own soul to find peace with the deception.

    Like many children and grandchildren of families who concealedtheir Judaism, Taylor said he feels a moral and spiritualobligation to renew the faith within his own family.

    He joined a temple, took Hebrew classes and joined an adult BarMitzvah group. His mother is still ambivalent about his choice, hesaid, but she attended his Bar Mitzvah and has encouraged him inhis choice to raise his sons as Jews.

    Louise Kehoe, an author, wrote ``In This Dark House'' in 1995,five years after her father's death led to her discovery of herJewish ancestry.

    Kehoe was told an elaborate story during her childhood inEngland^@by her father, whose name was Berthold Lubetkin.^@He saidLubetkin wasn't his real name: he had made it up to get into WarsawUniversity to study architecture. His daugher said his entirefamily was wiped out in the Russian Revolution, and discussing itwould be too painful for him.

    So Kehoe stopped asking questions. But her curiosities aboutthis hard, controlling man who was deeply troubled all his life,would not go away.

    After his death, Kehoe discovered hidden correspondence fromfamily members she thought were long dead and learned her fatherwas Jewish and that her grandparents were alive until 1940, whenthey perished at Auschwitz.

    ``I went through a lot of emotional turmoil, of moral outrage,''said Kehoe, 48, who moved to the United States 13 years ago withher husband. ``His decision was an act of tearing away somethingthat was an integral part of my human identity. I grew up notknowing who I was.''

    She said she now knows that her father's Communist beliefscaused a rift in his family that was never repaired. He moved toEngland and left not only his family behind in Poland, but hisJewish heritage and his true self.

    She said she has let go of the some of the anger she has felttoward her father. She believes now that his bitterness was a signof the agony he must have suffered knowing he could not make peacewith them before they were murdered.

    Kehoe converted to Judaism and wrote the book in part to honorthe memory of the grandparents she never knew.

    ``Depriving a child of their birthright ... will come back tohaunt, no matter what,'' Kehoe said. ``It is one closet no skeletoncan be in forever. Whether it skips a generation or two, thatcloset door will be broken down.''

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    c.1997 N.Y. Times News Service<

    Why are Communist and militant Islamic dictatorships persecutingChristians? Why are Western democracies reacting so passively—ornot at all? What can be done to ease the repression?

    Every government knows Protestants and Catholics are persecutedin a score of countries. For trying to worship openly and as theirreligion teaches, Christians are arrested and tortured by thethousands—and many killed.

    Among countries with the most vicious records is the one thatthe West courts most lustfully, China. Also on the list areAmerican ``allies''—like Saudi Arabia, where U.S. troops helpingthe monarchy survive or American workers making it richer cannotworship openly or display symbols of their religion.

    Just this week, Reuters reported that 1,000 Pakistani Christianfamilies were driven from their homes by Muslim rioters—villagelooted and churches set afire.

    But the obvious questions above are never answered by Westerngovernments and persons of power—nor asked. The hounds of Heavenpursue with the answers.

    Dictatorships, for all their brutish swagger, are terrified byfree thoughts and minds. They threaten the control without whichdictators fear to govern. By definition, free worship is an enemy.

    Freedom of worship is proclaimed in international agreements onhuman rights. The West has eliminated the support of those rightsas a foreign policy. The overriding policy, suffocating all others,now is trade.

    Freedom is not a menu. Democracies cannot convince dictatorsthat political persecution is permissible but that it will struggleagainst religious persecution—or the reverse.

    Dictatorships do have a human rights policy. Act against anyvariety of our oppressions and we will punish you with loss oftrade. The West answers forthrightly: Yes, master.

    Much can be done to ease oppression, and not long ago was.During the Soviet empire, U.S. ambassadors and visiting officialsregularly met in Moscow with dissidents. The oppressed knew, and sodid the Kremlin, that they had a powerful ally.

    Beijing has cowed Americans into fleeing from Christians andothers it imprisoned for crimes of the mind. The United States,which denounced the Soviet gulag, now gives military honors to thekillers of the Chinese gulag.

    The new U.S. policy of betrayal of religious and politicalrights was shaped by companies doing business with thedictatorships. They turned President Clinton right around—hisback now to his own promises.

    An American movement for persecuted Christians is justdeveloping. An administration advisory committee on religion metfor the first time Thursday. Tremble, Beijing.

    Why has there been no powerful U.S. constituency for persecutedChristians as there was for Soviet dissidents and South Africanblacks? The answer is in our stars—our business, political andintellectual leaders—and in ourselves.

    American businessmen supported Soviet Jews and evangelicals whenno big trade deals were at risk. Liberal American intellectuals andpoliticians also supported them—and the boycott againstapartheid.

    Now intellectuals and some religious organizations find themovement for Christian religious freedom too conservative on othermatters; all together now, wrinkle noses. Do we really need apolitical litmus test for supporting religious freedom?

    Members of the movement for Christian oppressed tell of otherproblems. They say that Christians do not often enough seethemselves in oppressed Christians far away, as a Jewishindustrialist remembering the Holocaust might see something ofhimself in a persecuted Jewish sweeper in Yemen. And ministers inthe movement are sometimes lectured that the blood of the martyrsis the seed of the church.

    Christian theology is not my specialization. I only know allprisoners for freedom are intertwined in their chains. Who canbelieve that their sufferings will not ease if the chairmen ofBoeing, General Motors, Morgan Guaranty and Microsoft, and U.S.presidents and secretaries of state past and present, rise to saythat the altar must stand higher than the cash register, and pledgeto make it so?

    And if they fail in their duty to do this, where is it writtenthat the rest of us are absolved from doing ours?

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    c.1997 The Independent, London

    BRCKO TO BE UNDER INTERNATIONAL SUPERVISION FOR ONE YEAR: By TONYBARBER LONDON - The northern Bosnian town of Brcko, a focus oftension among Serbs, Muslims and Croats, will be placed underinternational supervision for one year pending a final decision onits status, an American arbiter said yesterday (Friday). ``We willmake a final choice no later than March 1998,'' Roberts Owen toldreporters in Rome.

    He said tensions remained too high at the moment for Brcko to beawarded either to the Bosnian Serbs, or to the Muslim-Croatfederation, or to the joint government of Bosnia-Herzegovina inwhich all three nationalities are represented. ``We are not yetconvinced that any of the three candidates is sufficientlystabilised to take on the situation,'' he said.

    The ruling lessened the danger of an immediate crisis overBrcko, but illustrated the bitterness and suspicions that continueto fester in Bosnia more than one year after the Dayton peaceagreement was signed. Brcko was the focus of such a fierce contestfor control at the Dayton negotiations that the issue was leftunresolved and turned over to an arbitration panel.

    Muslim and Croat leaders argued that the town should be awardedto their federation, which occupies 51 per cent of Bosnia, becausethe town had a Muslim and Croat majority before the Serbs seized itin May 1992. The Bosnian Serbs insisted on keeping control becauseBrcko provides a land link between the two halves of RepublikaSrpska, the Serb entity occupying 49 per cent of Bosnia.

    Passions ran so high that some Western officials feared theBrcko issue could ultimately cause the entire Dayton peacestructure to collapse. When rumours recently circulated in Sarajevoto the effect that Mr Owen intended to award Brcko to the Serbs,the Bosnian Muslim leader, Alija Izetbegovic, threatened to pullout of the three-nation collective Bosnian presidency.

    ``I think that there is no one who could explain to the Bosnianpeople that it should calmly endure this final injustice,'' MrIzetbegovic wrote in a letter to the major world powers. He saidpolitical chaos would break out if Brcko was left in Serb hands,because no Muslim politician would agree to serve on the collectivepresidency.

    No less single-minded, the Bosnian Serbs see control of Brcko asan essential guarantee of their republic's survival. They havethreatened to go back to war if the Muslims and Croats are awardedthe town.

    Mr Owen said one possible solution was to turn the town into aspecial district of Bosnia, with a status similar to that ofWashington DC in the United States. However, Brcko is not the onlydispute still simmering in Bosnia almost five years after the warbroke out.

    The southern town of Mostar, split into hostile Croat and Muslimsectors, has in:ig@l79MJHZY7>RfL'00EF~Ut

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