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Jewish World Review Feb. 5, 2001/ 12 Shevat, 5761

Suzanne Fields

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What's the Creator got to do with it? -- AN ORTHODOX RABBI once told me that his wife gave birth to all their children in Catholic hospitals. The nurses, some of them nuns, were "soooo nurturing.'' Neither proud papa nor ecstatic mama felt threatened or offended by the crucifix on the wall over her bed.

When my father was a boy he was recruited to play catcher for St. Dominic's in Washington's Parochial League. He told the priest who coached the boys that his last name was Bregmanio -- adding two vowels at the end of his real name -- and that he was Italian.

The priest may or may not have had his suspicions, but after St. Dominic's won the league championship someone told the priest that my father had lied, that he was Jewish, not Italian. He told the team they had to return the trophy. It was a lesson my father never forgot.

I was the precocious Jewish princess in my public school who refused to say the name of Christ when we sang Christmas carols. I shut my lips tight so others would notice. But I showed no resistance to choosing the prettiest ornaments to hang on the tree or even to tuck the tiny Christ child in the cradle in the crhche beneath the tree. I was totally inconsistent in the ways I let my holiday participation come between me and my Hebraic conscience.

Ah, that was then and this is now. We've become so supersensitive about revealing religion in our secular lives that these stories from yesteryear sound archaic, innocent, even quaint. They recall an old-fashioned point of view about other people's religion, when blunt discrimination and tactless judgments made us both more and less aware of our religious differences.

In our politically correct culture, intolerance goes underground. I know Protestant and Jewish women today who wouldn't trust a Catholic hospital because they think theology could color medical decisions. If my father played on St. Dominic's team in 2001, parents of the other boys might sue the school for depriving their sons of the championship. My father's parents might look for a lawyer because St. Dominic's wouldn't let a Jewish boy play ball.

Nobody hears Christmas carols or marvels at Christmas trees in public schools today, and school administrators lie about the holidays with sanctioned seasonal names -- "winter break,'' "spring break'' -- rather than call them for what they are, breaks for Christmas and Easter. The old system had its problems, but we've swung the pendulum wildly in the opposite direction.

We're spoon fed tolerance without having to test our own reactions. In being overly sensitive to another's religion we ignore it, become suspicious of it or pretend it isn't there. The new "Thou shalt not'' is "Thou shalt not bring religious influences into our secular lives.'' Just as religious folk once shunned sinners, the sinners (who would never call themselves that) now shun religious folk. (You could ask John Ashcroft.)

That's why President Bush's initiative to let faith-based organizations compete for federal contracts in social programs is controversial. To unbelievers there's something that's not kosher in religious faith.

But as long as the government isn't endorsing a religion, and faith-based services don't dictate religious adherence (there must be secular alternatives), we're merely strengthening the array of approaches to solve some of our most intractable social problems. They include drugs, alcohol, violence and teenage pregnancy, problems that religious organizations have demonstrated that they deal with better than government bureaucracies. "Religion can't change the facts about the world we live in,'' writes Harold Kushner in his book "Who Needs G-d.'' "It can change the way we see those facts, and that in itself can often make a real difference.''

Barry Lynn, the director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, insists that the new faith-based policy initiative will lead toward government-funding of "religious bigotry.'' But bigotry denotes exclusion, and the president's faith-based initiative is about inclusion. Rather than lowering the wall of separation of church and state, social service workers of both church and bureaucracy who deal with the "wretched refuse'' of the underclass can shake hands in partnership across that wall.

George W. Bush echoes the sentiments George Washington expressed in his famous letter to the Jewish Congregation of Newport, R.I., in 1790: "Happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving on all occasions their effectual support.'' That sounds to me a lot like the Golden Rule.


02/01/01: Live like the snopses, leave like the snopses
01/29/01: It's education, stupid
01/25/01: "You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows"
01/22/01: Poetry and religion in the Bush administration
01/18/01: Ashcroft can't dance (don't ask him)
01/15/01: Clothes make the First Lady
01/11/01: Pity Jerusalem in the 'peace' process
01/08/01: Laying the political race card
01/04/01: 'What women want' in the new millennium
01/02/01: This year, looking ahead is sure sweeter than looking back
12/21/00: Black power with a Republican face
12/21/00: First impressions of two First Ladies
12/18/00: Challenge for the 'better angels of our nature'
12/14/00: What we've lost sight of
12/13/00: Hillary in the lion's den
12/08/00: Return of the 'second sex' on campus
12/04/00: Politics as entertainment today
11/30/00: Winner vs. whiner
11/27/00: Measuring against history
11/23/00: Memories of Thanksgiving past
11/17/00: In defense of the Electoral College
11/16/00: More than one way to win an election
11/13/00: Sexual politics squared
11/09/00: A Middle East legacy
11/06/00: Filling in the dots at campaign's end
11/02/00: His own man in full
10/30/00: The Oval Office, through a glass brightly
10/23/00: There'll always be an England. Maybe.
10/19/00: The celebrity candidate
10/16/00: 'Ladies night' at the second debate
10/12/00: Gore vs. Bush: Volvo vs. Maserati
10/10/00: We weep for Rami for he is dead
10/05/00: Looking at Lieberman from inside the 'ghetto'
10/02/00: Campaigns, candidates, and kissy-face
09/28/00: Laughing and crying over Joe Lieberman
09/21/00: Targeting teenagers for money
09/21/00: Sexual politics in New York
09/18/00: Surviving the stereotypes and debates
09/14/00: Gloria Steinem runs cheerfully into captivity
09/12/00: Sex in the eye of the partisan
09/07/00: 'Sex and death' on the college campus
09/05/00: Joe Lieberman as a 'Menorah Man'
08/31/00: Rising suns of the conventions
08/17/00: Changing icons: From Loretta Young to Hillary Clinton
08/14/00: The Creator returns to the public square
08/10/00: Bursting with pride, but caution too
08/07/00: Brains, beauty and beastly politics
08/03/00: A candidate with a superego
07/31/00: The sizzling Lynne Cheney
07/27/00: The party of the aging Playboys
07/24/00 Hillary drives the Jewish wagon into a ditch
07/20/00 Conservatives gone fishin'
07/17/00: Snoop Doggy Dogg was a founding father, wasn't he?
07/13/00: When a teenager doesn't need a prime minister
07/10/00: Abortion as cruel and unusual punishment
07/06/00: Surviving 'survivor' TV
07/03/00: Independence Day with Norman Rockwell
06/29/00: Here comes 'something old'
06/26/00: Waiting too long for the baby
06/22/00: Good teachers, curious students and oxymorons
06/19/00: Wanted: Some ants for Gore's pants
06/15/00: Like father, like daughter
06/12/00: Culture wars and conservative warriors
06/08/00: Return of the housewife
06/05/00: Hillary and Al -- playing against type
05/31/00: The sexual revolution confronts the SUV
05/25/00: Waiting for the movie
05/22/00: Pistol packin' mamas
05/18/00: Journalists and the 'new time' religion
05/15/00: There's nothing like a (military) dame
05/11/00: 'The Human Stain' on campus
05/09/00: We've come a long way, Betty Friedan
05/04/00: From George Washington to Mansa Masu
05/01/00: Gore's ruthless doublespeak
04/28/00: Doing it Castro's way
04/24/00: Women's studies beget narrow minds
04/17/00: The slippery slope of anti-Semitism
04/13/00: A villain larger than life
04/10/00: When mourning becomes an economic tragedy
04/03/00: The last permissible bigotry
03/30/00: Seeking the political Oscar
03/23/00: The gaying of America
03/20/00: Pointy-eared quadrupeds on campus
03/16/00: The shocking art of the establishment
03/13/00: Sawdust on the campaign trail
03/10/00: Campaign rhetoric of manhood
03/06/00: The Amphetamine of the People
03/02/00: Elegy for Amadou
02/29/00: With only a million, what's a poor girl to do?
02/24/00: The changing politics of change
02/16/00: Tip from Hillary: 'Let 'em eat eggs'
02/10/00: No seances with Eleanor
02/07/00: Campaigning like our founding fathers
02/03/00: When neo-Nazis have short memories
01/31/00: George W. -- 'Ladies man' and 'man's man'
01/27/00: Dead white males and live white politicians
01/25/00: Smarting over presidential smarts
01/21/00: A post-modern song for `The Sopranos'
01/19/00: When personality is a long-distance plus
01/13/00: French lessons in amour --- and marriage
01/10/00: Reaching for the Big Golden Apple
01/07/00: Liddy Dole as the face of feminism
01/04/00: Hillary: From victim to victor
12/30/99: 'Dream catchers' for the millennium
12/27/99: In search of a candidate with strength and eloquence
12/21/99: The president as First Lady
12/16/99: Columbine with blurred hindsight
12/09/99: Homeless deserve discriminating attention
12/07/99: Casual censors and deadly know-nothings
12/02/99: Why mom didn't make general: A reality tale
11/30/99: Potholes on the road to the Promised Land
11/25/99: A feast for the spirit and the stomach
11/23/99: Fathers need to say 'I (can) do'
11/18/99: Adventures of a conservative pundit
11/15/99: Traveling with Jefferson on the information highway
11/11/99: Wanted: 'Foliage of forbiddinness' for the oval office
11/09/99: Eggs, art and rotten commerce
11/05/99: Al Gore, 'Alpha Male'. Bow wow.
11/01/99: Gay love
10/28/99: Lose one Dole, lose two
10/26/99: Rebels with a violent cause
10/21/99: Reforming parents, reforming schools
10/19/99: The male mystique -- he shops
10/13/99:The campaign of the Teletubbies
10/08/99: Money is in the eye of the art dealer
10/01/99: Lincoln's 'Almost Chosen People'
09/29/99: Introducing Bill and Hillary Bickerson
09/27/99: Must we wait for the next massacre?
09/24/99: Miss America meets Miss'd America
09/21/99: Princeton's 'professor death'
09/16/99: The Cisneros lesson
09/13/99: No clemency for personal politics
09/08/99: M-M-M is for manhood
08/30/99: Blocking the schoolhouse door
08/27/99: No kick from cocaine
08/23/99: Movies don't kill people
08/19/99: A rude awakening
08/16/99: Dubyah and that 'language' thing
08/09/99: Chauvinist sows -- oink oink

©1999, Suzanne Fields. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate