Another strong EU anti-Semitism warning. And yes, journalists should keep covering this story

Another strong EU anti-Semitism warning. And yes, journalists should keep covering this story

My wife was born in Israel and most of her extended family still lives there. We have several close friends living there, plus I also have journalist friends and acquaintances in Israel.

It’s wonderful to have so many people I care about in a nation to which I’m deeply connected. However, this means that when we visit, which is often, we generally have a packed schedule. This leaves us little down time for rest and seeking out new experiences, even when we’re there for a couple of weeks or more.

So for that we schedule stopovers in Europe, either going or coming. Just the two of us and a rented car, exploring and hanging out where our interests take us, including  beautiful and nourishing environments. We're also drawn to Jewish historical sites, old synagogues and the like.

We’re now thinking about another trip to Israel this spring or summer. But this time, we’re considering skipping our usual European respite. Why? Because of the increasingly overt anti-Semitism.

We have no desire to either experience it anew or spend our money in societies where the dislike of Jews and Israel are menacingly on the rise.

A disturbing survey, released just last week, by the European Union on the growing insecurity of the continent's Jews — and their increased desire to emigrate — prompted our reevaluation. Here’s part of how Bloomberg reported the survey's chief findings.

Insecurity fueled by anti-Semitism prompted a growing number of British, German and Swedish Jews to consider leaving their countries, according to a landmark survey conducted by the European Union.

Nine out of every 10 Jews sense anti-Semitism is getting worse with some of the most acute concern registered in northern Europe, according to the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency. The survey is the largest of its kind worldwide and polled more than 16,000 Jews in 12 countries.

“Mounting levels of anti-Semitism continue to plague the EU,” said Michael O’Flaherty, the Irish human rights lawyer who runs the Vienna-based agency. “Across 12 EU member states where Jews have been living for centuries, more than 1/3 say that they consider emigrating because they no longer feel safe as Jews.”

Concerns over safety are prompting Jewish communities in some of the EU’s biggest economies to question whether they should remain, according to the data. In Germany, their share soared to 44 percent from 25 percent six years ago.

The BBC ran its online story on the survey under the headline, “Anti-Semitism pervades European life, says EU report.”

Let that sink in for a moment. “Pervades.”

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Still thinking about Chick-fil-A, as well as the emerging face of world Christianity

Still thinking about Chick-fil-A, as well as the emerging face of world Christianity

Every now and then, a magazine like The Atlantic Monthly -- a must-read publication, no matter what one's cultural worldview -- publishes a cover story that transforms how thinking people think about an important issue. At least, that's true if lots of members of the thinking classes are open to thinking about information that may make them uncomfortable.

This was certainly the case in October, 2002, when historian Philip Jenkins published a massive Atlantic cover story that ran with this provocative headline: "The Next Christianity." For those with an even longer attention span, there was the book, "The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity."

Now, before I hit you with a key passage from that important Atlantic piece, let me tell you where we are going in this Sunday think package.

Jenkins was writing about a wave of global change in pews and pulpits, as the face of Christianity moved -- statistically speaking -- from Europe and North America to the multicultural reality that is the Global South. Thus, if you are looking for a "typical" Christian in the world today, it is probably an African woman in an evangelical Anglican (or maybe Methodist) congregation. She is probably a charismatic believer, too.

Now, I thought about that Jenkins piece when reading an amazing new Bloomberg essay by Yale Law School professor Stephen L. Carter, addressing the media storm surrounding that bizarre New Yorker sermon about You Know What (click here for my most recent piece, and podcast, on this hot topic). Here is the dramatic double-decker headline on the Carter piece:

The Ugly Coded Critique of Chick-Fil-A's Christianity

The fast-food chain's "infiltration" of New York City ignores the truth about religion in America. It also reveals an ugly narrow-mindedness

What's the connection here, between Jenkins and Carter?

Hint: Demographics is destiny (and doctrine is important, too). Here is a famous (and long) summary paragraph from the 2002 Atlantic essay:

If we look beyond the liberal West, we see that another Christian revolution, quite different from the one being called for in affluent American suburbs and upscale urban parishes, is already in progress.

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Matzoh marketing: Bloomberg offers a clever read on culture, marketing of Judaism lite

Matzoh marketing: Bloomberg offers a clever read on culture, marketing of Judaism lite

When I studied in France as a college sophomore, my host family in Strasbourg were Sephardic Jews, which means I got immersed in Friday Shabbat observances, visited a synagogue where I had to sit in a women-only section and learned the history of the exodus of Moroccan Jews to France. My host family were known as pied-noirs; people who fled North Africa when the anti-Semitism started getting rough.

When I returned to my college in Portland, Ore., I was so fascinated with the culture I’d seen in Strasbourg to the point where I enrolled in a Shabbat course at the local Jewish community center. Learning the Hebrew prayers over the bread and wine plus the candle-lighting ceremony took some time, as did learning the lighter aspects: Israeli folk dancing, baking the famous braided challah bread and learning appropriate Sabbath songs.

Which is why I was amused to see a Bloomberg piece extolling Shabbat observances as the new chic. Titled “Selling Judaism, Religion Not Included,” it begins as follows:

In 2015, while traveling in Israel with 80 young tech professionals, Meghan Holzhauer fell in love with Shabbat dinner, the ancient Friday night tradition in which Jews bless candles, challah, and wine, then share a meal with loved ones. She was so inspired, in fact, that she started spreading the love. In March her travel startup, Canvus, took 40 young professionals to Mexico City, where they celebrated a multicultural Shabbat dinner. She’s now organizing a hip-hop Shabbat for 400 people attending a social justice conference in Atlanta in June. “A lot of Jewish rituals are about honoring friends and family,” she says. “You feel part of something bigger.”
Holzhauer isn’t Jewish. She was raised “Christian-light” by nonpracticing parents, she says, and has no interest in converting. As she explains it, a non-Jew finding inspiration in the Sabbath—or traveling to Israel for that matter—isn’t so different from the millions of non-Buddhists who practice yoga or go on meditation retreats to India. “It’s the latest way that ancient traditions are meeting modern life,” she says.
If there ever was a moment when Shabbat was poised to become the new yoga practice, it’s now…

The article then jumps to the woman behind it all:

“Jewish culture is in the mainstream, it’s popular, and that’s something any brand would want to jump on,” says Danya Shults, 31, founder of Arq, a lifestyle company that seeks to sell people of all faiths on a trendy, tech-literate, and, above all, accessible version of Jewish traditions…  It offers holiday-planning guides; Seder plates designed by Isabel Halley, the ceramicist who outfitted the female-only social club the Wing; and interviews with Jewish entrepreneurs, as well as chefs who cook up artisanal halvah and horseradish. 

It’s really too bad Bloomberg didn’t include a comment section along with this piece, as I would have loved to have seen peoples’ reactions. As we read along, one cannot tell whether the piece is serious or tongue-in-cheek.

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Here we go again: California, courts, abortion, Catholics, colleges, covenants, religious liberty

Here we go again: California, courts, abortion, Catholics, colleges, covenants, religious liberty

Did you think you’ve heard enough about religious employers, the federal government, the Little Sisters of the Poor and so on to last a lifetime?

Buckle up, because a new battle has begun.

It’s based in California, which is becoming the new Ground Zero on abortion. There, the issue isn’t federal laws, as has been the case previously.

It all began when some faculty at two Catholic institutions in southern California wanted health care plans that included abortion coverage. Here, we’re dealing with state laws; in fact, 50 sets of them. As Bloomberg explains:

... State laws on abortion coverage are governed by a different legal regime than federally mandated contraceptive care. The 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act bars Washington from imposing a "substantial burden" on most religious practice and was at stake in the 2014 Hobby Lobby case as well as the Little Sisters case. But it doesn’t apply to the states.  

That’s the crux right there. All the lawsuits we’ve been hearing about for the past few years (Little Sisters, Hobby Lobby) had to do with the feds. That national angle is just one layer of the wider story.

I’m going to include a few paragraphs from the beginning of a Los Angeles Times story to bring you up to date:

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What e-tithing means for the future of church giving in America might surprise you

What e-tithing means for the future of church giving in America might surprise you

I wrote a post a week ago about a dude who likes to say "dude" a lot.

Speaking of which, a Bloomberg Businessweek feature out this week has a "How's it going, dude?" feel about it. That's not to say the piece about electronic giving isn't timely — and fascinating.

From the "skinny jeans" in the lede to the "Hell, yeah" quote at the end, this spritely, 645-word report is not your grandfather's religion trend story.

Then again, that's precisely the point, I guess.

The dude (sorry, couldn't resist) featured up high is a 25-year-old megachurch attendee named Dylan Ciamacco. The news peg is that Ciamacco reaches not for his wallet — but for his phone — when the collection plate is passed:

Ciamacco gives each week, using the app. It takes fewer than five taps, and built-in geolocation means he can contribute at any of the 1,000 churches that subscribe—a feature that’s especially useful around holidays like Easter, when many people travel. lets worshipers set up automatic recurring payments, but because Ciamacco’s paycheck fluctuates with his work as a freelance video producer, he tithes on demand—usually about 10 percent of whatever he’s brought in.

"E-tithing," of course, isn't a brand-new concept. I wrote about the trend for The Associated Press in 2003

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Pope, Paris and ISIS: mainstream media coverage broad but shallow

Pope, Paris and ISIS: mainstream media coverage broad but shallow

Pope Francis didn’t just criticize the ISIS attacks in Paris. He pretty much damned them. His weekend reactions used both religious and humanitarian terms -- "blasphemy," "not human," "homicidal hatred." It was some of Francis' strongest language yet.

But not everyone in mainstream media looked much below the surface -- either at his comments or those of ISIS.

Catholic News Service, of course, spotted the religious content quickly:

The attacks, Pope Francis said, were an "unspeakable affront to the dignity of the human person."
"The path of violence and hatred cannot resolve the problems of humanity, and using the name of God to justify this path is blasphemy," he said.
Pope Francis asked the thousands of people who gathered at St. Peter's for the Sunday midday prayer to observe a moment of silence and to join him in reciting a Hail Mary.
"May the Virgin Mary, mother of mercy, give rise in the hearts of everyone thoughts of wisdom and proposals for peace," he said. "We ask her to protect and watch over the dear French nation, the first daughter of the church, over Europe and the whole world."
"Let us entrust to the mercy of God the innocent victims of this tragedy," the pope said.

And other reports? Well, some simply patched together other reports. One of those was HuffPost, which linked to seven other stories in less than 230 words (although three were other HuffPo stories).  The article also cites Francis saying the attacks are part of a "piecemeal Third World War," drawn from an interview with TV2000, the network of the Italian Bishops' Conference.

It's a phrase he has often used. The Washington Times points out that he said much the same at an Italian World War I cemetery in 2014. But don’t give the Times too much credit for enterprise reporting: It linked to BBC's coverage of the pope's visit there.

Even the combined forces of CBS News and the Associated Press yielded a pitiful 280 words or so on Sunday. And it's nearly all soundbites: "blasphemy," "barbarity," "third world war," "no justification for these things." The main addition was his condolence to French President Francois Hollande, who vowed "merciless" war on ISIS.

One might excuse AP/CBS for haste because the report ran on Sunday morning, but no. Not when Crux, the Catholic newsmagazine of the Boston Globe, ran a more thorough report the day before -- a report that showed a Sunday update:

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Seattle Weekly uses Falun Gong as counterweight to Chinese President Xi

Seattle Weekly uses Falun Gong as counterweight to Chinese President Xi

While Pope Francis was leading a star-studded tour of three East Coast cities last week, there was another international visitor heading for Washington, D.C. -- Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Clearly, Francis won out in the media coverage sweepstakes. Bloomberg may have had the best headline about the junction of the two: (“China’s Xi Can’t Compete with ‘Rock Star’ Pope in U.S. Trip”).

However, if you happen to live in the Seattle area, Xi’s visit was a bit hard to miss, because that’s where he spent two days before heading off to DC.

While Xi was ferried from Everett to Tacoma with stops at Redmond’s Microsoft campus and business meetings in downtown Seattle, whole interstates were closed for his 130-car motorcades for his 1,000-person entourage. Last Tuesday, his arrival caused a 17-mile-long backup on I-5 south going into Seattle and his Thursday departure caused similar headaches. The area around Xi’s hotel (the Westin) in downtown Seattle was a no-go zone for ordinary folks, but protestors got as close as they could.

And the religion angle? One was a Falun Gong practitioner who’d been tortured for years in Chinese gulags. A Seattle Weekly reporter happened to find her .

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Yes, Bess Myerson was Jewish -- but don’t ask mainstream media how

Yes, Bess Myerson was Jewish -- but don’t ask mainstream media how

I don't know if time heals all wounds, but it often smooths edges. When Bess Myerson was chosen Miss America in 1945, she reportedly still found hotels and other sites still closed to her as a Jew. But to me as a boy, she was just that pretty brunette panelist on the TV game show I've Got a Secret.

If anything, attitudes changed toward American Jews have changed even more thoroughly. Or maybe, mainstream just don't like to mention religion at all. So many media obits of Myerson, who died Dec. 14, play down her faith and heritage beyond the phrase "the first (and, to this day, only) Jewish Miss America."

CNN does one of the better jobs with Myerson's Jewish connections. It says many American Jews looked up to her as a role model, as they admired Jewish ballplayers Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax.

One of CNN's best remarks, though, is borrowed:

"Her victory was seen by many as a symbolic statement of America's post-war rejection of the crimes and prejudices that ravaged Europe as well as a representation of the vitality of the American Jewish community," noted a biography on the Jewish Women's Archive site.

Most of the report is the "classic rags-to-riches" story -- yes, CNN actually uses that phrase -- of a Bronx girl who became a media figure, then entered public service in New York and took a fling at the U.S. Senate. It also briefly reviews, as do other media, the "Bess Mess," a "mid-'80s scandal involving a romantic affair with a married contractor and an alleged quid pro quo with the judge in his divorce trial."

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Muslim terrorists in Kenya attack people who, uh, aren't Muslims

Muslim terrorists in Kenya attack people who, uh, aren't Muslims

Our GetReligion guru, tmatt, likes to complain how news media talk about "generic Christians" in the Middle East. Well, much of the coverage of Saturday's mass murder in Kenya goes one further -- making the victims into generic "non-Muslims."

Here's the lead of the widely used version by the Associated Press:

Somalia’s Islamic extremist rebels, Al-Shabab, attacked a bus in northern Kenya at dawn Saturday, singling out and killing 28 passengers who could not recite an Islamic creed and were assumed to be non-Muslims, Kenyan police said.
Those who could not say the Shahada, a tenet of the Muslim faith, were shot at close range, a survivor told The Associated Press.

AP later says the killers "separated those who appeared to be non-Muslims  — mostly non-Somalis — from the rest." Their source for much of this? A "non-Muslim head teacher of a private primary school in Mandera [who] survived the attack." (Emphasis mine.)

The Los Angeles Times account follows suit in 800 distressingly vague words.  It says the killers "separated Muslims from non-Muslims," then shot the latter. Even when giving background -- saying the attack "follows the pattern of previous terror attacks in Kenya in which Muslims have been spared" -- it's fuzzy on Muslims as opposed to whom.

If the victims' religion made a difference, what was it? Buddhism? Hinduism? The answer should be obvious  to anyone who checks a database like the World Factbook by the CIA: 82.5 percent of Kenyans are Christian. While the nation also includes people of "traditionalist" faiths, and 2.4 percent are "nones," it's safe to say the main targets last weekend were Christians.

Especially when the Times quotes an Al-Shabab spokesman using the term "crusaders":

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