Tag: Jews

Holocaust Remembrance Day reading: Two survivors find each other, and answers

Holocaust Remembrance Day reading: Two survivors find each other, and answers

‘I am still moved and astonished at our special and rare connection.’

By Bobby Ross Jr. | AP Religion Writer

SOUTHLAKE, Texas (AP) — In George Lucius Salton’s view, it’s nothing short of a miracle.

His daughter, Anna Eisen, called him at his home in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., with a question that sent his mind racing back 60 years to the hell he survived as a teenager.

She wanted to know if her father remembered a man from his native Poland with the last name Waks.

“Ignatz Waks?” Salton replied without hesitation.

Yes, his daughter said.

Of course the 76-year-old remembered him. The two had been together in 10 Nazi concentration camps, he said.

“He was my friend.”

Read the full story.

This story originally appeared on the Aug. 17, 2004, national and international wires of The Associated Press.

Muslims, Jews work together to build Habitat house in Tyler

Muslims, Jews work together to build Habitat house in Tyler

January 26, 2005, Wednesday, BC cycle
Muslims, Jews work together to build Habitat house in Tyler

BYLINE: By BOBBY ROSS JR., AP Religion Writer

SECTION: State and Regional

LENGTH: 739 words


Anwar Khalifa and Neal Katz laugh and joke as close friends do.

The Muslim developer and the Jewish rabbi share meals at each other’s homes, reflect on the similarities in Arabic and Hebrew, and respectfully agree to disagree on politics.

“I consider Neal a friend, not the rabbi or a Jew,” Khalifa said. “If I need something, I can call him up and say, ‘Hey, Neal, help me.’ ”

The unlikely friendship has produced an unusual partnership in this East Texas town: The Muslim and Jewish communities are working together to build a house with Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit, Christian organization.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, many Muslim and Jewish affiliates had days when they teamed up on Habitat projects. But this is the first house entirely sponsored and built by the two groups, said Heather Hughey, director of development for the Habitat for Humanity of Smith County.

Tamiko Seward, the single mother who will live in the 1,100-square-foot house with her 3-year-old son, Jacob, is neither Muslim nor Jewish.

She’s Baptist.

“Everyone gets along so well, you don’t know who is from what religion,” said Seward, a 26-year-old secretary.

For Khalifa and Katz, that’s the point.

Khalifa, 43, said he was taught as a boy in Egypt to hate Jews. But, he said with a smile, his 13-year-old daughter, Sara, won’t grow up that way.

Katz, 31, said he had no particular views on Muslims while growing up in Virginia.

“But it’s very easy in the Jewish community to become distrustful of Muslims,” Katz said. “It takes a big leap of faith and a lot of effort to see the humanity.”

The friends dubbed the Tyler project the Abraham House after the forefather of Muslims, Jews and Christians. They hope the effort will help improve relations and understanding far beyond this city of 86,000 about 95 miles east of Dallas.

“Anwar and I have always been interested in focusing on what brings us together,” Katz said. “We’re not going to sit here and talk about Israel and Palestine and so forth.”

The friendship started soon after Katz moved to Tyler in 2003 to serve as rabbi of Congregation Beth El, a Reform congregation with about 80 Jewish families.

Katz had called Khalifa, president of Pyramid Homes, about buying a house. The rabbi told Khalifa, who directs the East Texas Islamic Society, that he wanted to get to know him regardless of whether he did business with him.

As it turned out, Katz did not buy a house from Khalifa, but the two began meeting for lunch. “And we just hit it off,” Khalifa said.

They have become such close friends that when a Christian customer recently invited Khalifa to church, he accepted but asked, “Is it OK for me to bring the rabbi?”

“It was great,” Katz chuckled, remembering the man’s stunned reaction.

At one of the friends’ regular lunches, Khalifa proposed the joint Habitat project. Katz liked the idea, and plans for the Muslim and Jewish communities to split the $45,000 cost proceeded quickly from there.

“There was some apprehension in my community, but I think they basically relied on my judgment,” Katz said, “and I think his community relied on his judgment that this was something that we could go ahead and do.”

Since last fall, a few dozen Muslims and Jews have spent most Sundays at the project site, framing, hammering and helping however they can. They hope to finish the house by March.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, the Rev. Jane Lovett-Porr, a retired United Methodist minister, showed her support by bringing lunch, making sure that her potato soup with vegetables conformed to both Muslim and Jewish dietary guidelines.

“So many people isolate themselves from other faiths and people that are ‘quote’ different than they are,” Lovett-Porr said. “But underneath it all, we’re just all alike if we decide to give each other a chance to find that out.”

Mohammad Farooq, a 29-year-old mechanical engineer originally from Pakistan, said the project offers him a double reward: the joy of helping someone get a home and the satisfaction of making new Jewish friends.

“The more you know about them, the more you understand them,” Farooq said. “I think the ignorance about each other is what breeds fear or animosity.”

Cub Scouts share joy of Hanukkah with Jewish soldiers in Iraq

Cub Scouts share joy of Hanukkah with Jewish soldiers in Iraq

December 6, 2004 Monday

Cub Scouts share joy of Hanukkah with Jewish soldiers in Iraq

BYLINE: BOBBY ROSS JR.; Associated Press Writer


LENGTH: 485 words


If not for Cub Scouts in Houston, Army Spc. Joseph Lowit would find it next-to-impossible to celebrate Hanukkah.

As part of a service project, Pack 1190 from Congregation Emanu El prepared care packages with Hanukkah candles, menorahs and dreidels – giving Lowit and 150 other soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait a way to mark the holiday.

“Thanks to them I can, and I am very grateful,” wrote Lowit, a 26-year-old infantryman from Miami who is the only Jewish soldier on his base in Iraq.

Hanukkah, which starts at sundown Tuesday, commemorates how Jews reclaimed the defiled Jerusalem Temple from a Syrian despot in 165 B.C., and how one-day’s worth of ritual oil that the Jews found miraculously burned for eight days.

The holiday is celebrated by the lighting of a menorah for eight nights.

“Hanukkah is perhaps easier than other Jewish holidays to observe in the field,” said Army Capt. Shmuel Felzenberg, a Jewish chaplain who plans Hanukkah parties in Baghdad and Camp Anaconda, 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Baghdad. “Although having the customary latkes (potato pancakes) and fresh sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts) may be far from easy, the basic menorah lighting observance is relatively easy to facilitate.”

The boys of Pack 1190 talked about what it might be like to be a Jewish soldier at Hanukkah, and decided to make greeting cards and assemble goodie bags for troops.

“I thought it was a worthy cause because … it was giving greetings to people without any family to celebrate,” said 8-year-old Jordan Todes, who crafted many of the cards from construction paper.

Cub Scouts Jarrett Taxman and Mitchell Chaiet played classical tunes outside a bagel shop to raise money for Hanukkah supplies and toiletry items for the soldiers’ care packages.

“There’s some Jewish troops in Iraq that are maybe the only ones in their unit,” said Jarrett, 11. “It’s really hard to celebrate if you’re the only one. I’m just really glad I could help.”

Jewish soldiers represent roughly 1 percent of the U.S. force, making them a “relatively isolated group,” said Army Lt. Col. Mitchell S. Ackerson, the senior Jewish chaplain in Iraq until returning home earlier this year.

“You don’t have 50 guys in a unit who are Jewish,” Ackerson said. “You’ll get two or three if you’re lucky.”

In Lowit’s case, being the only Jewish soldier “can be very difficult … but you manage and my comrades make me feel at home and try to learn and ask questions,” he wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

Lowit, who helps patrol Iraqi towns, said the Scouts’ concern for fellow soldiers made him smile. He has even become “pen pals” with one of the youngsters.

“I love kids and to know that Pack 1190 supports us was great,” wrote Lowit, who has a 4-year-old daughter. “It really touched my heart.”

Frequent-flier rabbis fill need in small congregations around the country


June 23, 2004, Wednesday, BC cycle

Frequent-flier rabbis fill need in small congregations around the country

BYLINE: By BOBBY ROSS JR., Associated Press Writer

SECTION: Domestic News

LENGTH: 774 words


For Jeff Brown, studying to become a rabbi has been quite a journey – and not just in the spiritual sense.

For the last two years, the 25-year-old scholar from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati served as student rabbi at a Reform congregation in this Dallas suburb – roughly 1,000 miles away from his school.

“I can give you tips on flying,” joked Brown, who spent two weekends a month with the 70 families of Congregation Beth Israel.

Fellow student Shana Goldstein worked with a congregation in Natchez, Miss., while classmate Daniel Septimus still leads monthly Sabbath services in Rapid City, S.D.

They’re all part of a group of about 50 Hebrew Union students who, as part of their studies, travel to congregations from the Rockies to the Everglades to help Jewish communities too small to support a full-time rabbi.

“The students love it,” said Rabbi David Komerofsky, the college’s dean of students. “They get real, practical experience. For the congregations, they’re helping to train the students, but also get the services of a rabbi.”

Brown, who grew up in the New Jersey suburbs outside Philadelphia, enrolled at Hebrew Union in 2000 after earning an undergraduate degree in English literature and Judaic studies from George Washington University. Like most Hebrew Union rabbinical students, he spent the first year of the five-year program in Israel, where he learned conversational Hebrew.

He had never visited Texas until he accepted his internship with a congregation comprised mainly of Jewish “immigrants” from the East and West coasts.

“Monday through Thursday, I live the life of a typical graduate student,” Brown said. “But Friday, duties shift and I get on a plane and fly down to Texas. And for 48 hours, I’m Rabbi Jeff. I’m presiding over worship services. I’m teaching classes. I’m officiating at life-cycle events – all the things that a regular rabbi does.”

Colleyville – within earshot of Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport – is a predominantly Christian community of about 20,000. It’s in Tarrant County, where the estimated 5,000 to 6,000 Jews represent a tiny fraction of the 1.4 million total residents.

Until a few families started Congregation Beth Israel about five years ago, Jews in the northeast part of the county drove 20 miles or more to worship.

“We’re on our way to 100-plus families, at which point we’ll be large enough to have a full-time rabbi,” said Lew Friedland, the congregation’s president.

For now, the congregation relies on student rabbis such as Brown, who performed the bar mitzvah for Friedland’s 13-year-old son, Sam.

“The advantage of having a student is that they are absolutely high-energy. Everything is a new experience for them,” Friedland said. “I’d say the only downside is that they don’t have the life experiences that a more mature rabbi would have.”

For the students, the program offers a practical side to the history and theory that dominate classroom instruction.

“When you get to the congregations and live the life of a rabbi, it’s not just theoretical anymore,” said Goldstein, 28, who served a year as a student rabbi in Ishpeming, Mich., and two years in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., before her Mississippi assignment.

She was ordained this month and starts her full-time assignment as assistant rabbi for Congregation Ohabai Sholom in Nashville, Tenn., on Monday.

Septimus, 25, from Houston, flies once a month to Rapid City. Twenty-eight families worship at the Synagogue of the Hills, which is accustomed to welcoming a new student rabbi every few years, he said.

“They understand where the rabbinical student needs to go and how they can help him get to that point,” said Septimus, praising the tiny South Dakota congregation’s dedication to maintaining a Jewish culture.

Brown, who will graduate next year, won’t return to Congregation Beth Israel for a third year. He said the twice-monthly weekends away from his wife, Amy, had been difficult. “Travel makes men wiser, but less happy,” said Brown, who plans to teach part-time in the Cincinnati area.

In a farewell sermon in May, Brown likened himself to Moses, expressing his sadness that the Texas congregation – which is just a few months from getting its own synagogue – will enter “the proverbial Promised Land” without him.

“Thanks for teaching me what it means to have a flourishing Jewish community in a part of the country that sometimes doesn’t feel so Jewish,” Brown told the congregation.

On the Net:

Congregation Beth Israel: http://www.congregationbethisrael.org

Hebrew Union College: http://www.huc.edu

Allegations pose dilemma for churches

Allegations pose dilemma for churches

Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City, OK)
March 16, 2002, Saturday CITY EDITION
Allegations pose dilemma for churches

BYLINE: Bobby Ross Jr., Religion Editor


LENGTH: 1139 words

CLOSE to home, a well-known Jewish rabbi in Oklahoma City and a
longtime Methodist youth minister in Edmond stand accused of
lewd acts against young girls.

In Boston, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese this week reached an
up-to-$ 30 million settlement with 86 people who accused a
now-defrocked priest of child molestation.

The local and national headlines have rocked Oklahoma’s faithful
in recent weeks.

The first reaction: shock.

“Unfortunately, many churches find it so hard to believe of
someone they have trusted, that they either do nothing… or they
keep it quiet thinking that will somehow help,” said Lynn McMillon,
a licensed professional counselor and dean of the Bible college at
Oklahoma Christian University.

“At other times,” McMillon said, “the church or its leaders
really have no idea of the private problems that a minister or
other leaders have.”

Leaders of several Oklahoma denominations – including the United
Methodist Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Christian Church
(Disciples of Christ) and the Episcopal Church – say they require
pastors to attend seminars on the prevention of sexual abuse.

For example, the daylong seminar mandated by the Christian
Church covers appropriate sexual ethics for clergy members and
teaches how congregations can protect themselves from sexual
predators, said the Rev. Thomas Jewell, Oklahoma regional pastor.

“An example of that would be, we encourage congregations to have
two teachers in every classroom that involves children or youth,”
Jewell said. “If you have a single teacher in a classroom, that
puts both the teacher and the students at risk.”

In the nine years that Jewell has served Oklahoma’s 175
Disciples of Christ congregations, he said he knows of about six
sexual molestation cases involving pastors.

That’s roughly one every 18 months.

“I don’t think this problem is strictly a problem of the Roman
Catholic Church,” he said.

“I think everyone is very sensitive to the very serious problem,
and no one in today’s climate – I would hope – would try to conceal

Along with mandatory seminars, some denominations – including
the Episcopal Church – tackle the problem by requiring criminal
background checks of potential clergy members and lay people who
work with children.

The Episcopal Church also conducts psychological/psychiatric
assessments of would-be priests, said Charles Woltz, assistant to
Oklahoma Bishop Robert Moody.

“I think we have taken every precaution we can possibility take
to prevent it,” Woltz said. “Should it ever happen, I know the
bishop would act immediately.”

However, Southern Baptists, the state’s largest religious group,
have no formal policies for preventing sexual abuse by pastors.

Leaders of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, an
association of 1,700 Southern Baptist churches, say each
congregation is autonomous.

But Sam Vinall said the state Baptist convention would help any
minister or congregation work through such issues – be it with
free, anonymous counseling or by assigning an interim pastor.

“Though it seems like there have been several cases recently, I
hardly think this constitutes a trend just among ministers,” said
Vinall, the association’s ministerial and planning services director.

“It seems to be a trend in our society, and ministers are not
immune. That fact that many of these cases went unreported for many
years indicates that the change is in an increased knowledge and
reporting of these crimes, and that’s good.”

But a frequent critic of Southern Baptists – the Rev. Jeffry
Zurheide of First Baptist Church of Oklahoma City – said his former
denomination could take a more active approach.

“While a Baptist association or state convention could not
mandate such education/training, it could certainly be strongly
encouraged,” Zurheide wrote in an e-mail.

“Roman Catholics don’t exactly have ‘the corner on’ sins of the
clergy. Keeping all of this hush/hush is a
Baptist/interdenominational issue.”

Oklahoma cases

In the case of Richard Marcovitz, officials at the Oklahoma City
Jewish Community Day School filed a police report when the
Emanuel Synagogue rabbi was accused of inappropriately touching
the buttock and breast areas of two girls, ages 9 and 12.

“The school has been very helpful with the investigation,”
police spokeswoman Sgt. Cris Cunningham said last month. “The
synagogue has not cooperated at all.”

But Robert Epstein, president of the 200-family synagogue, said
that was not the case.

“As soon as I heard there was a child involved in an alleged
situation, I started looking into it,” Epstein said.

Marcovitz, charged in Oklahoma County District Court with 11
counts of sexual misconduct with two women and two children, has
maintained his innocence. He is on paid administrative leave
pending the outcome of the criminal proceedings.

“It’s not for us to make this judgment,” Epstein said. “This was
shocking to us. There are allegations, and we have to wait and see
what the police and the courts determine.”

Janiece Gratch, principal of the Jewish day school, formerly
known as the Solomon Schechter Academy, declined to comment on how
the synagogue handled the matter.

“As the principal of the school… my job is to report anything
that’s even suspicious,” Gratch said. “That’s what I did. That’s
the law… I just did whatever I had to do to protect the children.”

Also, John “Cooper” Ames was accused of molesting two girls,
ages 8 and 9, while he was working as a minister and director of
the Wesley Foundation Campus Ministry at the University of Central
Oklahoma, 311 E Hurd. The ministry is sponsored by the Oklahoma
Conference of the United Methodist Church and North Oklahoma
District of the conference.

“Nobody can believe that happened… but we’re keeping an open
mind,” said Boyce Bowdon, communications director for Oklahoma’s
550 United Methodist churches.

“We’re just trying our best to be accountable and responsible.”

Ames had served for 11 years as a minister and director of the
Wesley Foundation Campus Ministry.

When molestation allegations are made, state Methodist leaders
try to support all involved parties, from the victims to the
accused, Bowdon said.

In mandatory annual training, the denomination teaches clergy
members how to avoid “not just evil, but even the appearance of
evil,” he said.

“Then, when a case does arise – like in this case with Cooper
Ames – we really don’t jump to conclusions. We don’t assume that
just because a person is clergy that they did not do something

“At the same time,” Bowdon said, “we don’t assume that just
because it’s been alleged that it’s grounded in fact.”