Posted on 23 April 2011.
Posted on 16 April 2011.
HOST INTRO: In Israel, in East Jerusalem, there’s a protest that happens every Friday . It’s a mixed group, of Palestinians AND Israelis. They’re opposing Jewish settlers who they say have unfairly moved into Palestinian homes, kicking families out. The neighborhood is called Sheikh Jarrah (shake jer-RAH). Protesters have been there every week for over a year and a half, since 2009, and one young man is turning the regular event into a business opportunity. Uptown Radio reporter Jacob Anderson recently traveled to Jerusalem, and filed this audio postcard.
A couple hundred Palestinians and liberal Israelis and ex-pats mingle and chat like old friends. The drum line in the center of the crowd is knows exactly what to do, and they do it well.
The protest has been here since the fall of 2009, when a Palestinian family was evicted from their house. Every Friday, Muhammad Baruthi is here too.
Muhammad barking from his cart
He’s 23, Palestinian, and he’s against the Jewish settlers. But he comes for another reason too: to make a buck.
Muhammad: “Two things in one. I have a job and I agree with them. And help tham”
SOT: . Sound of creaky juicer.
Muhammad is one of two juice vendors at the protest, squeezing orange juice from his portable cart. He cuts the oranges with a small knife, puts each half in the metal juicer one by one, and pulls the lever. He slowly fills a small plastic cup, which goes for 10 shekels, around 3 dollars. He doesnt squeeze juice anywhere else, just these three hours every Friday at the protest. He makes around 200 dollars each week, and says the money buys food and other basics for his nine family members.
Jacob Anderson: “What’s more important to you, money or the protests?”
Muhammad: “The protest, but I make it for them. Because it’s hot.”
Muhammad: I will stay at home. Or find a new job, new work.
Jacob Anderson: Would you like that?
But he’s got job security for now. Life has given him lemons, in the form of Jewish Settlers, and he’s almost literally making lemonade. But he says, if it came down to it, he’d rather give up his weekly income entirely if it meant the settlers would leave.
Jacob Anderson, Columbia Radio News
Posted on 09 April 2011.
The brand new chancellor of New York City Schools wasted no time getting down to business today. This morning, Dennis Walcott faced the Committee on Education’s budget hearing for the next fiscal year. He said Bloomberg’s policies will stand, including the Mayor’s estimate that 4500 teachers will need to be laid off due to state budget cuts.
Walcott began the public meeting on a personal note.
“This morning I dropped my grandson off at his school which also happened to be my own elementary school when I was a child,” he said.
His day quickly got lot tougher. He faced the council and told them that the state’s education budget doesn’t cover the needs of New York City’s one million students.
Several of the nineteen council members blamed the mayor for the school’s financial problems. They said if Bloomberg would support the so-called millionaires tax–income tax on people making over 200 thousand dollars a year, that revenue could help cover school costs. Council Member Charles Barron, from Brooklyn, told Walcott to tell the mayor that.
“When y’all go to lunch or breakfast or caviar at his mansion, whatever you do, I think it’s important to try to influence him that it’s the tax breaks,” Barron said.
Barron fought back when Walcott insisted that people losing their jobs would be unfortunate, but that it was necessary.
“I also do not want to lay off teachers,” Walcott began.
“You don’t have to Dennis,” Barron interrupted. “I know you don’t want to have to lay them off–don’t!”
Barron and others called on the city to use its 3 billion surplus to cover the lost funding. Walcott said it would be unwise to spend it all at once. He spent more time talking about getting rid of the “Last In, First Out” policy, or LIFO, which gives preference to teachers based on seniority instead of performance. He says the policy leads to firing the wrong person.
“The only thing worse than having to lay off a teacher is having to lay off a bad teacher,” he added.
Public school parent Ann Kjellberg attended the meeting, and said her child’s teacher is young, and at risk of getting laid off under “Last In First Out.” But she said completely getting rid of LIFO could mean too much emphasis on test scores. She’s says that’s already happening.
“My kid’s in fourth grade and they started test prep for a test they’re taking in May, in March,” she said. “They spend half the day–more than half the day–preparing for this stupid test.”
Kjellberg fears getting rid of LIFO would make that kind of teaching standard.
Dennis Walcott says he’ll continue to push for the end of LIFO when he goes to Albany next week. As for layoffs, he said pink slips will have to go out by June at the latest, but may be sent even sooner.
Posted on 26 March 2011.
On a Tuesday evening, around 25 people are gathered in a classroom at the One Spirit Interfaith Seminary, on the sixth floor or a nondescript building in Manhattan’s Garment District, near Penn Station. They’re studying the Dhammapada, one of the main Buddhist texts. About a dozen students around the world are also in class: via the webcam in one corner of the room.
The seminary offers a two year, part time degree that’s somewhere in between a Masters of Divinity from a traditional theological seminary and one of those instant online ordination certificates through the Universal Life Church.
The altar in the main classroom displays a Christian cross, a Buddha statue, a Jewish Torah scroll, and other religious objects. Reverend David Wallace leads the group. After class, he says the focus tonight was Buddhism, but it’s not always.
“I teach the Upanishads, I teach the Tao, I’ve taught the gospels, I’ve taught a course on the mystics,” Wallace said.
One Spirit is not alone in its approach. Union Theological Seminary in New York City, which is a traditional, historically Christian school, has explored interfaith territory in recent years. Some Union faculty have taken the lead on courses with names like “Buddhist Meditation and the Psyche,” “Christian-Muslim Dialogue,” and “Studies in Jewish-Christian Relations.”
David Wallace says one difference between a school like Union and One Spirit is that his students approach the scriptures less academically.
“Not as scholars, but as people trying to learn what those old messages were,” Wallace said.
One Spirit teaches that openness to different ideas is necessary in a society where faiths have become more blended.
In 2006, a national survey from the University of Chicago found that one in four U.S. households consider themselves mixed faith. Susan Turchin is the director of enrollment at One Spirit, a graduate, and an interfaith minister herself. She says that couples and families are less willing to choose one religion, like Judaism over Christianity or Buddhism. One Spirit grads like her work with a lot of gay and lesbian couples as well, who sometimes feel like outsiders when it comes to traditional religion. She offers wedding and commitment ceremonies custom-tailored to a couple’s spiritual needs.
“So there are several people that are making their living offering those, as well as blessing ceremonies for children that are born into interfaith families,” Turchin said.
She says most ministers keep their day jobs, doing ceremonies on the side. A few graduates have taken full-time positions in traditional congregations, and others are freelance ministers, like Reverend Andrew Harriott, who graduated in 2008.
“I speak at a Church called Sacred Light, volunteer at a home for the aged, I have individual clients from pastoral counseling, I do regular counseling,” Harriott said. “So we have to find a living where we can make a living….Recently we’ve been starting to look at ministry as an industry and as a business.”
One Spirit has enlisted the help of Sandy Fishman, a career consultant for JP Morgan Chase. She helps minsters like Harriott navigate the challenging job market, just like she helped Bear Stearns employees who lost their jobs when their company was absorbed by Chase. Fishman hosted the first One Spirit career panel last August.
“Within the first hour I think forty people signed up,” Fishman said, “because there was a tremendous hunger to come and listen to the people who had graduated, and see what they had done.”
She changed some of the vocabulary for the One Spirit sessions. Instead of “job target,” she talked about “personal vision.” But Fishman is teaching them the same career skills she teaches at corporations– setting goals, interviewing, and networking.
Posted on 05 March 2011.
The Baha’i faith is relatively young. It was founded just over a hundred and fifty years ago by an Iranian Muslim named Mírzá Ḥusayn-’Alí Núrí. Baha’is call him Baha’u’llah. Baha’u’llah moved around the middle east proclaiming that all humanity was one race, and that the ancient religions are equal from Judaism to Hinduism, Buddhism to Islam. God spoke through all their prophets. Bani Dugal, is the Baha’i representative to the United Nations. She say the prophets all have equal station, or standing.
“So, in fact, the Baha’i community is the one community that actually believes in all the sanctity and station of all of the prophets of the different religions in Iran today,” she said.
But what angers devout Muslims was that Baha’u’llah claimed that he was the fulfillment of all those religions’ prophecies. Baha’is call Baha’u’llah the Promised One of All Ages.
Baha’is are the largest religion minority in Iran. Three years ago, in 2008, seven Baha’is leaders–five men and two women–were arrested. Authorities held them for almost a year before charging them with three things: spying for Israel, being the enemies of God, and spreading corruption on earth. Bani Dugal says the indictments sound almost laughably extreme.
“They’re pretty serious charges in Iran, especially that of acting against God and spreading corruption on earth, which carry death sentences,” she said.
The charges are fairly commonplace in Iran, especially spying for Israel. That one is easily leveled on Baha’is: the religion’s world headquarters are in Haifa, Israel. Since the Iranian revolution in 1979, Baha’is estimate around 200 members of their faith have been executed. But for now, the prisoners have been given only 10-year sentences.
At the Baha’i Center in Greenwich Village thiis week, Baha’is celebrated the festival of Ayyám-i-Há, leading up to their new year. About fifty people fill a small performance theater. Twenty of the Baha’is are children on stage, dancing to a drumbeat and singing. Mouhebat Sobhani stands in the back of the room. One of the prisoners in Iran is his cousin, and Sobhani is worried for him, especially since the prisoners were recently moved to a more violent wing of the prison.
“The situation is very tense, very bad,” he said. They put them among the criminals, so this is a more dangerous place.”
The Baha’i prisoners are essentially following in the footsteps of their faith’s founder, Bah’u’llah, who spent years in prison and in exile. Sobhani says the only thing Baha’is and Iranian government can agree on is celebrating the new year on the spring equinox. But he is hopeful at the changes he is seeing across the Arab world could lead to greater tolerance for everyone in Iran, including Baha’is. Najam Haider, assistant professor of religion at Barnard College, is less optimistic.
“The kinds of popular uprisings that you’re seeing in places like Lybia, Tunisia, Egypt, or even Bahrain, can’t be expected in a place like Iran,” he said. “But then again I could be completely wrong, because everybody’s been wrong about a lot of these things.”
Haider specializes in Islamic Law, and says other religious minorities in Iran, like Jews and Christians, are legally protected groups and allowed a certain amount of autonomy. But Baha’is are a separate category, not for legal reasons, but theological ones. ” The Baha’is, by claiming in some senses a prophecy after Mohammed, actually put themselves outside the span of protected communities, and so it’s hard to integrate them into a classical legal discourse of tolerance,” he said.
Haider says that even still, we can’t be sure that the Iranians who do want change for their country would also want change for the Baha’is. “People who might seem quite enlightened, or who might be at that edge of the political spectrum, might still not be completely open to the Baha’i,” he said. “We just don’t know.”
That ideal of tolerance appears especially difficult for Iran to extend to religious minorities that come directly out of Islam, like the Baha’is and the Sufis. Bani Dugal, the Baha’i UN representative, has faith that things will change for the better.
“Baha’is foresee the future of Iran as being very glorious, and the Baha’i writings talk about a time when Iran will be this country looked up to by the rest of world,” she said.
In the case of Iran’s human rights record regarding the Baha’is, that is one prophecy Dugal says has yet to be fulfilled.