May 28, 2016


The Jews of the American Revolution : A ritual for Memorial Day at a cemetery in downtown Manhattan (MEIR Y. SOLOVEICHIK, May 26, 2016, WSJ)

New Yorkers strolling through Chinatown in downtown Manhattan last Sunday might have noticed an unusual flurry of activity: Jewish men and women, a rabbi in a clerical gown, and a color guard gathering in graveyard tucked away behind a wrought-iron fence. Members of the New York synagogue Shearith Israel, the oldest Jewish congregation in North America, were visiting their historic cemetery at Chatham Square.

In an annual ritual ahead of Memorial Day, they were there for a ceremony that few other synagogues in America could perform: honoring the members of their congregation who had fought in the Revolutionary War.

For Shearith Israel, where I am the rabbi, what is most striking is not that its history stretches back to the Colonial period, but rather that so many of its congregants sided with George Washington against England. New York was known as a Tory stronghold: When English forces expelled Washington's troops from the city, King George III's soldiers were greeted with a "Declaration of Dependence" signed by hundreds of New Yorkers, declaring their allegiance to Great Britain.

The Jews of New York, by contrast, were largely of the patriot persuasion, in part because Shearith Israel's spiritual leader, Gershom Mendes Seixas, was known for his vocal support for the Colonists' cause. Like many members of the Continental Congress, even Seixas had hoped for reconciliation with England. As late as May 1776, Seixas gathered his flock in the synagogue, located then on what is now South William Street, to pray that the English would "turn away their fierce Wrath from against North America."

The prayer was unanswered, and when independence was declared, Shearith Israel's members, according to one congregational account, decided "that it were better that the congregation should die in the cause of liberty than to live and submit to the impositions of an arrogant government." 

North Dakota Mosque a Symbol of Muslims' Long Ties in America (SAMUEL G. FREEDMAN MAY 27, 2016, NY Times)

Richard Omar drove his pickup truck through the cemetery gate and pulled to a stop in sight of the scattered headstones. As he walked toward a low granite monument, his running shoes crunched the dry prairie grass and he tilted forward into an unrelenting west wind.

"These are my parents," he said beside a carved granite marker. Then he fixed bouquets of fabric flowers into place with metal stakes, hoping they would last until next spring.

Mr. Omar, a retired electrician, was engaged in an act of filial obligation and something larger, as well: the consecration of a piece of American religious history. This cemetery, with the star-crescent symbol on its gate and on many of its gravestones, held the remains of a Muslim community that dated back nearly 120 years. Up a slight hill stood the oldest mosque in the United States.

The original mosque, erected by pioneers from what are now Syria and Lebanon, had been built in 1929. After it fell into disuse and ruin, the descendants of its founders and the Christian friends they had made over the generations raised money to put up a replacement in 2005.

It is a modest square of cinder blocks, perhaps 15 feet on each side, topped with an aluminum dome and minarets. Several hundred yards off the main highway, on the outskirts of a town with barely 200 residents about 60 miles west of Minot, the mosque and cemetery exist much as they always have, surrounded by fields of wheat and corn and grazing lands. In this spot, all the industrial clamor of North Dakota's fracking boom feels immeasurably distant.

Muslim Scouts hoping to change perceptions (Jim Axelrod, 4/26/16, CBS News)

At first glance, it looks like any other Scout meeting. But take a second look.

Abdul Rashid Abdullah runs a Scout den in northern Virginia for 125 Muslim boys and girls.

"So we sang the national anthem, we did the Pledge of Allegiance, but at the same time, we opened up with the Al-Fatiha, the opening prayer," Abdullah told CBS News.

The Roman Catholic-turned-Muslim and U.S. Army veteran says Muslim Scouting has been around for decades.

Even so, kids like Mohammed says he often has to explain that Muslim Scouts aren't any different.

"When you see a Muslim as a Boy Scout, people don't really know how to react or anything," he said.

Abdullah says that there is a natural overlap between Scouting and Islam.

"Look at the last point of the Scout laws: a Scout is reverent. Someone who gives homage to God, respects God, but also respects others," Abdullah said. "And that's what Islam says."

Earlier this year, President Obama met a group of young Muslim Cub Scouts on a visit to a U.S. mosque.

"You're not Muslim or American. You're Muslim and American," Mr. Obama said. "You're right where you belong. You're part of America, too."

Posted by at May 28, 2016 8:02 AM