Counting the Blessings of Freedom by the Light of a Special Menorah
Columnist Jeff Jacoby writes in The Boston Globe (www.boston.com/bostonglobe) on Dec. 16 about the the light reflected by the White House menorah:
"On the seventh night of Hanukkah in 1944, my father was in Auschwitz. He had been deported with his parents and four of his five siblings to the Nazi extermination camp eight months earlier; by Hanukkah, only my father was still alive. That year, he kindled no Hanukkah lights. In Auschwitz, where anything and everything was punishable by death, any Jew caught practicing his religion could expect to be sent to the gas chambers, or shot on the spot.
"On the seventh night of Hanukkah in 2007, I was in the White House. President and Mrs. Bush have made it an annual tradition to host a Hanukkah celebration in addition to the customary White House Christmas parties.
"It was a beautiful and festive event. It was also an unmistakably Jewish one, from the lavish buffet dinner prepared in a meticulously 'koshered' White House kitchen, to the Hebrew songs performed by the Zamir Chorale. There was even a spontaneous worship service in the Green Room, where at one point about two dozen guests assembled for Ma'ariv, the Jewish evening prayers. All this in a White House richly decorated for Christmas and occupied by a president who is devoutly Christian. It is hard to imagine a more compelling illustration of the American culture of religious tolerance and freedom.
"Earlier in the evening, there had been a menorah lighting in the Grand Foyer of the White House. Hanukkah commemorates the victory of Jews who fought long ago to preserve their religious identity in the face of an oppressive government determined to erase it, and President Bush spoke of the ongoing struggle for religious liberty today. 'As we light the Hanukkah candles this year,' he said, 'we pray for those who still live under the shadow of tyranny.'
"He described his private meeting earlier in the day with a small group of Jewish immigrants to the United States. 'Many of these men and women fled from religious oppression in countries like Iran and Syria and the Soviet Union,' Bush said. Among those in attendance was Baghdad-born Ruth Pearl, who was 15 when her family — like so many other Jewish families in the Arab world –was forced to flee from Iraq.
"She and her husband Judea, the parents of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, had come to the White House with their family menorah, which Daniel's great-grandfather Chayim had taken with him when he fled Poland for Palestine in 1924. Daniel was murdered in 2002 by Islamist terrorists in Pakistan; his only crime, observed Bush, 'was being a Jewish American — something Daniel Pearl would never deny.'
"Auschwitz, Baghdad, Poland, Pakistan: In many places, across many generations, to be Jewish has meant to be oppressed, excluded, terrorized. More than most people, Jews know what it means to be a hated minority. And more than most, therefore, they have reason to be profoundly grateful for the United States and its blessings. In the long history of the Jews, America has been a safe harbor virtually without parallel. Nowhere in all their wanderings have the Jews known such freedom, peace and prosperity.
"So I strolled about the White House last week, listening to the Marine Band play 'I Have A Little Dreidel.' By the light of the White House menorah, I thought about my father, and about the unimaginable distance from the hell he knew in 1944 to this place of joy and warmth where I found myself in 2007. I was overcome with a feeling of gratitude and for a moment I was too choked up to speak. To be an American and a Jew is truly to be doubly blessed."
Islamic Persecution of Christians Spreads, Fueled by Saudi Funds
Scholar Nina Shea writes in the National Review (www.nationalreview.com) on Dec. 24 about widespread Islamic persecution of Christians:
"Lands that once were the cradle of Christianity have turned inhospitable to the faith. Intolerant variants of Islam are taking hold in the region, many of them fueled with ideology and funds from Saudi and Iranian extremists.
"The loss of Middle Eastern Christianity has profound meaning for the Church. But it should not be a matter of concern to Christians only. These communities, along with a handful of other non-Muslim minority groups, such as the Bahais, Mandeans, Yizidis, Jews, together with the anti-Islamist Muslims, are the front-line in the worldwide struggle taking place now between Islamist totalitarianism and individual rights and freedoms. The extinction of these ancient communities will lead to more extremism within the region and polarization from the non-Muslim world. This will hurt us all.
"The new religious survey, Freedom in the World, produced by the Center for Religious Freedom, shows that while some Muslim governments do respect religious freedom, none are to be found in the Middle East. Israel is the only 'free' country, and their Christian numbers are increasing.
"The Christian presence in Palestine may hold out no more than 15 years, according to Israeli human rights lawyer Justus Weiner, due to increasing Muslim persecution. Amidst a Muslim population of 1.4 million, some 3,000 Greek Orthodox live in the Hamas-run Gaza strip. An extreme Wahhabi-style group recently emerged, calling them 'Crusaders' and vowing to drive them out. It has succeeded in killing several Christians in recent months, including a prominent member of the community, Rami Khader.
"The West Bank is hardly better. 'No one city in the Holy Land is more indicative of the great exodus of Christians than Bethlehem, which fell under full Palestinian control last decade as part of the Oslo Accords,' states Weiner. This town of 30,000 is now less than 20 percent Christian, after centuries in which Christians were the majority. In the West Bank's only all-Christian town, now called Taybeh and once known by the Biblical name Ephraim, a Muslim mob from a neighboring village torched 14 houses last September to avenge the honor of a Muslim woman allegedly impregnated by her Christian employer.
"Demographic decline isn't perfectly correlated with religious repression. Lower birth rates, conversions and some voluntary emigration also account for shrinking numbers of Christians. Israel's barrier fence, erected recently in its history in response to terrorism, is a hardship and is commonly blamed for the Christian exodus from Palestine.
"But when the decline is so dramatic, when only the Christian and other non-Muslim populations are dwindling and when this pattern holds in country after country, the facts on the ground deserve a closer look. There we see a region-wide, steady, grinding economic, legal and social discrimination, and political disempowerment punctuated by horrific acts of terror by social forces that governments are unable or unwilling to control. The smaller a minority in the brutally sectarian world of the Middle East, the more vulnerable it is and the more rapid its decline.
"Egypt, with some 10 million Copts, has the region's largest Christian minority. The state discriminates against them and frustrates their efforts to build and repair churches. Fanatical Islamist groups rise up and threaten or kill priests and individual Christian believers, especially converts, and the state often fails to bring justice."