As Jews around the world celebrate Purim, the feast commemorating Queen Esther saving the Jewish people from massacre by the ancient Persian empire, we are reminded that religious intolerance can still be an influential factor in modern-day international relations. The potential for these dynamics can be readily observed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Throughout the past few decades, observers have raised the issue of whether criticism of Israel’s policies, or more broadly criticism of the state of Israel as a whole, is synonymous with or leads to anti-Semitism. For instance, the United Nations Human Rights Council has repeatedly focused on criticizing or condemning Israel. Additionally, some observers have denounced the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement as an attempt to delegitimize Israel that contributes to a worldwide increase in anti-Semitism. However, some who object to this characterization argue that it serves to invalidate their criticisms of particular Israeli policies, especially in regard to Palestine.
Under the new administration and its interpretation of protections for religious freedom, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is now working to protect health practitioners who decline patients or refrain from conducting certain procedures based on their moral or religious convictions. Roger Severino, the official behind the new Division of Conscience and Religious Freedom, has cited religious freedom as a “primary freedom, a civil right that deserves enforcement and respect.” Under this interpretation, health practitioners are able to refuse to perform procedures like abortions or vasectomies, and companies are allowed to refuse to cover contraceptives and/or sterilizations in their health insurance plans. Religious freedom claims in the field of healthcare have come up frequently in the past, especially with regard to morally and emotionally charged issues such as abortion. For example, in January 2018 a nurse in Illinois complained to the HHS about abortion mandates that were in conflict with her religious beliefs and therefore violated her constitutional right to religious freedom.
Boasting a host of independent bookstores, small theaters, art exhibitions, and acclaimed literary figures, Belfast is a liberal arts major’s dream. Now that I’ve called this place home for two months, I can say the city lives up to its reputation as a vibrant arts and culture capital. Events and panels are happening all the time, and the wider community is very active and engaged with the arts. I think this popularity can be ascribed in part to art’s acceptance of all points of view: not that every piece strives for universality, but that the medium itself flexibly adapts to shine light on what the forward-marching peace process has left in the dark.
When I first arrived in Costa Rica, I was amazed by the brightly colored flags flying from all the cars and people honking their horns and making noise in the streets. This atmosphere of excitement wasn’t about a soccer game or a religious festival, though—it was election day. On the way home from the airport, I saw at least six different political parties and candidates represented by flags, signs, and T-shirts. That evening, I went with my host mom to the polls to watch the process in action. We drove to the local elementary school, where we were escorted by a 10-year-old “election guide” to the right classroom, and my host mom took her paper ballots, marked them, and turned them in to the proper boxes as election monitors watched over the process. She was voting for both president and diputados, or representatives to Costa Rica’s one-house congress, since all positions are elected at once every four years. After returning home, we watched the results roll in on TV: the diputados were split between many parties, while the presidential race showed a shocking early lead for Fabricio Alvarado, a conservative evangelical musician, while the other 12 presidential candidates vied for second with varying degrees of success.
Last weekend, I took some time by myself to visit the NS-Dokumentationszentrum, a museum documenting the history of right-wing extremism in Germany. The rigid, box-shaped building made of striking white stone stands just meters away from the building where Adolf Hitler signed the Munich Agreement, which annexed portions of former Czechoslovakia. With candor and detail, the museum chronicles the ways in which extremism has and does infiltrate all layers of society, but also the ways in which civilian resistance has manifested itself. Starting with the reign of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (also known as the Nazi Party), the museum works its way through four floors of history and ends with modern-day events that we hear about too often on the news today, like the increasing popularity of the right-wing Alternative for Germany Party.
Contemporary Russia grapples with a unique challenge: it is a country born anew, from the ashes of the Bolshevik Communist experiment that systematically overturned imperial culture, re-forging the empire from its very roots. Russian Slavic identity is ancient, building on centuries of history and tradition. The Russian Federation, however, is quite new, and it is seeking to reinstate popular, pre-Soviet traditions into contemporary Russia and thus cultivate an inclusive yet modern culture that celebrates its Slavic Russian roots. The dramatic loss of prestige felt following the fall of the Soviet Union left many feeling humiliated, and the government has worked hard to re-instill pride and patriotism in its people. As can be expected, the Russian Orthodox Church has played an essential role in this process, steadily regaining influence and standing in post-Soviet Russia, returning to its historical position as a bastion of national pride and unity. The examination of two vastly different holidays sheds light on how the preservation and promotion of historical identity have influenced the curation of contemporary Russian culture.
As a hijabi woman that has lived most her life in America, I am always acutely aware of the fabric that is draped around my head. At times it has made me a vulnerable target of Islamophobia, but that is only a small portion of the challenge I frequently find with it. Wearing the hijab in the United States is like walking around as a Muslim billboard, and it has often made me a spokesperson for an entire faith. My actions, opinions, and interests are attributed to over a billion other people on this Earth—which can be a blessing in some ways but overwhelming in others.
For three years, the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) generated significant friction between American Indian groups in North Dakota and the U.S. government. The construction of the pipeline was most often viewed through an environmental lens; however, certain sections of land on which the pipeline is built also hold spiritual significance. The Meskwaki and several Sioux tribal nations, among others, believe the environmental hazard the pipeline poses to the water’s purity directly threatens their ability to use this space for sacred rituals. In a Washington Post article one advocate equated the spiritual significance of the land to that of Bethlehem for Judeo-Christian religions. Still, in January 2017 the pipeline was approved by executive order, and in April 2017 it was completed. More recently, President Donald Trump announced the plans to dramatically reduce the amount of land included in the Bear Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah, which also generated a concerned response from local tribal leaders. As in the DAPL case, the land affected by the change has religious significance to a number of American Indian nations, who originated the effort to create the Bear Ears National Monument. In an NPR interview, a Ute tribal leader expressed his concern that the reduction could damage the land’s historical and religious integrity. Despite legal challenges, the Bureau of Land Management has drafted plans to move forward with the reorganization of the Bear Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante land.
The Mahane Yehuda Market, colloquially referred to as the Shuk, bustles on Friday morning. Customers jostle with each other while fighting the clock. As bubbies (grandparents) elbow their way towards the best challah for their precious kinderlach (children), young adults crowd the many bars, and children beg their parents for candy and juice, it’s hard to imagine that by 3:00 p.m., the hustle will have died. As Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, approaches, the franticness increases. Vendors try to get rid of their last pita, veggies, and fruits. They shout over each other. The exclamations of shome (eight), tesha (nine), and esser (10) serve as a reminder of the numbers I’d learned in class the day before.
Incredibly jet-lagged, I made my way to my first full day of class in Tokyo. Professor Joseph Shaules of Keio University kept me fully attentive during his class on cross-cultural understanding of Japan despite my lack of sleep. One of the first things he brought to the class’ attention was the existence of Oz moments. When coming into an unfamiliar environment, anything could trigger an "Oz moment." An Oz moment is an instance when you see something that makes you think to yourself, “I’m not in Kansas anymore.”