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Stephen Harper in Israel

Politics and flawed principle

Stephen Harper addresses Israeli Knesset

Stephen Harper has returned from a feel-good trip to Israel on which he was accompanied by an entourage of 208 people, largely at government expense — cabinet ministers, MPs, Senators, rabbis, officials from …

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Christians, Jews, Muslims plan Ottawa colloquium

David Lee: Christian, Jewish, Muslim colloquium

Theologian Hans Kung once said that there will be no peace among nations until there is peace among the world’s religions and there will be no peace without dialogue. The three Abrahamic faith groups in Ottawa – Christian, Jewish and Muslim – have taken that advice to heart.

On November 10, 2013 the three groups will co-host a one-day colloquium at Carleton University in Ottawa. The theme to be addressed is: How can one be a person of faith in the 21st century in Canada?  (By way of transparency: I am involved in the organization of this event).

“We want to fill the hall,” says David Lee, who broached the idea of such an event. Mr. Lee is chair of the 50th anniversary committee of the Ottawa School of Theology and Spirituality (OSTS). “We want to draw upon the experience and wisdom of the three faith traditions to address key issues going forward, regarding future possibilities and challenges for persons of faith in Canada.”

Mr. Lee says that OSTS approached the Jewish and Muslim communities about the idea and the response was encouraging. “People there were enthusiastic about holding an inter-religious event of this kind.  There is a great deal of mutual respect among us.”

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Stolpersteine commemorates Jewish victims

My wife Martha and I spent September 2012 in Europe with about 10 days of that time in Berlin. We rented a small apartment in an area called Scheunenviertel not far from the city centre. We discovered that this neighbourhood had been a centre of Jewish population in the city prior to the Second World War. We were just a few blocks from the gold-domed Neue Synagoge, which had been inaugurated in 1866, destroyed by allied bombing in 1943, and later rebuilt as a museum that opened in 1995. There were an estimated 560,000 Jews in Germany (160,000 of them in Berlin) when Hitler came to power in 1933. Most were either driven into exile or killed. Today there are 100,000 Jews in the country, about 10,000 in Berlin.

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John Baird talks through his hat on Israel

Canada’s foreign affairs minister was talking through his hat recently in Israel. John Baird was on a state visit and repeated at every opportunity that, “Israel has no greater friend in the world than Canada.” Then he would recount his story about how, as a young Parliamentary assistant working in the office of the Conservative foreign affairs minister in the 1990s, he could not stay quiet during the daily briefings about Israel. “I took a pad of paper and drew a white hat on one side and a black hat on the other. Under the white hat, I wrote ‘Israel’ and under the black, ‘Hezbollah.’” This recreated story, like much of what Minister Baird says, smacks of theatre but lacks the ring of authenticity.  But obviously he believes it will play well back at home, where he hopes that the Harper government will be able to rewrite the traditional playbook on Canada’s role as an honest broker in Middle East diplomacy.

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Izzeldin Abuelaish and Remembrance Day

 

Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish (2009)

Although I have attended Remembrance Day ceremonies at the National War Memorial in Ottawa in the past, in 2009 I decided to support a smaller event whose theme was peace and reconciliation. On November 10 I was one of about three hundred people who heard an agonizingly sad but ultimately hopeful speech by Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish. He is a Palestinian paediatric physician and peace advocate whose house in Gaza was struck by Israeli tank shell on January 16, 2009.

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Election 2011, political and religious polarization

By Dennis Gruending

Stephen Harper won his long-coveted majority government in the 2011 federal election, receiving just under 40 per cent of the votes cast by the approximately 60 per cent of eligible Canadians who bothered to show up. An exit poll of 36,000 voters conducted by the Ipsos Reid company on May 2 yielded some predictable results based upon the religious affiliation of voters, but it also served up some surprises. One thing to note is that 55 per cent of Protestants voted for the Conservatives, a number far higher than the number of Protestants who supported other parties. This is not a surprise because evangelical Protestants in particular have provided strong support to the Conservatives in a string of elections.

Secondly, the NDP did well among Catholics, winning 39 per cent of their vote, compared to the 30 per cent of Catholics who voted Conservative and 16 per cent who voted Liberal. The NDP vote rose dramatically in Quebec where a large percentage of people identify as Catholics even if they seldom attend religious services. It is highly likely that those people were voting primarily as Quebecois who were not impressed by what they saw in the Conservative, Liberal or Bloc Quebecois parties. It is unlikely in this case that they were voting based on strongly held religious preferences.

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Canada celebrates Israel: Christian Zionism and the election

By Dennis Gruending

On day 12 of the federal election campaign Stephen Harper was in Markham, Ontario wooing immigrant voters. That same evening in Ottawa several hundred people gathered at a church called the Peace Tower on Bronson Avenue not far from Parliament Hill. There they pledged fealty to the state of Israel and praised Stephen Harper as that country’s Canadian benefactor. The event, called Canada Celebrates Israel, was one of four that occurred in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver within a few days in early April. The rallies featured three Israeli politicians who are members of the Israeli Knesset Christian Allies Caucus, as well as a cast of fundamentalist Christians from Canada. The four events received virtually no coverage in the mainstream media but an Ottawa-based student newspaper did a look-ahead piece in March. In that story one of the tour’s organizers said it was an outreach effort to Jewish and Christian communities to show support for Israel, but it certainly was not political.

Perhaps. But the Conservatives happened to be well represented. Jim Abbott brought greetings on behalf of the federal government. Abbott was the longtime Reform, Canadian Alliance and later Conservative MP for Kootenay-Columbia but has chosen not to run again in the 2011 election. Stockwell Day, the recently retired minister of the Treasury Board, had been billed as a guest speaker at the Ottawa event, but instead he provided a message on videotape. Day was available in person at the Canada Celebrates Israel event in Montreal on the previous evening. The Canadian Jewish News reported on it and described Day as giving “a strongly pro-Israel speech” which earned him a standing ovation. The newspaper described part of his speech as follows: “Day earned wide applause when he said Israel, as a Jewish state, has ‘an aboriginal right to exist’ and that the Hebrew scriptures, written as far back as 1,000 years BCE, provide historically accurate evidence of the Jewish presence in what is now Israel.”

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Reginald Bibby, Beyond the Gods and Back

By Dennis Gruending

Sociologist Reginald Bibby is probably Canada’s closest observer of religious trends. He has been polling on religious practices and attitudes since 1975 and has placed the numbers into context in several books beginning with Fragmented Gods in 1987. Bibby has just released another book called Beyond the Gods and Back, and he spoke about it recently at an Anglican cathedral in Ottawa.

Bibby says that for many years he accepted the secularization thesis commonly proposed by most sociologists and researchers. In its most simple terms, Bibby says, “secularization refers to the decline in the influence of organized religion.” There are a variety of ways to track this situation but the one most often used is the frequency of attendance at religious services. Using Gallup Poll results from 1957, and later his own survey data, Bibby found that weekly church attendance in Canada fell precipitously among the population from 53% in 1957 to 24% in 1990.

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