// Muslim woman breaks through stereotypes in the Neitherlands
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« on: Mar 05, 2008 03:27 AM »

Breaking Through

When Famile Arslan showed up for her first day of work, the receptionist pointed her toward the broom closet. "'The cleaning supplies are over there,'" Arslan recalls being told. "I had to say, 'No, I'm not the cleaner. I'm the lawyer.'" In fairness to the receptionist, Arslan was making history that morning, as the first attorney to wear a hijab in the Netherlands. Ten years on, she has her own practice in the Hague. Her name's on the door, her cat Hussein pads around and a veiled assistant fields phone calls. "People keep telling me how successful I am," says Arslan. "But I'm not all that successful. Had I not been a migrant woman in a hijab, I could have gone much further." Still, when younger Muslims ask Arslan how to climb the professional ladder, she's optimistic. "If you think strategically, this is a great time to be a European Muslim," she argues. "Everyone's focused on us, so it's an opportunity — if you take it."

For European Muslims, the era after Sept. 11, 2001, has been both the best and worst of times. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have strained relations between Europe's governments and its Muslims; there has been a rise in Islamophobic incidents; the specter of Islamic radicalism dominates media debates and shapes government policy. But the era in which Muslims became a feared minority also saw another trend: the rise of a Euro-Muslim middle class. A Gallup poll last year found European Muslims to be at least as likely to identify themselves as British, French or German as the general populations. Migrants' children have begun moving from corner shops and factory floors to offices. They swap business cards at Muslim networking events like Britain's Emerald Network or Holland's Toward a New Start, a group for Moroccans who, in the words of founder Ahmed Larouz, are "the sort of people who say, 'I want to be CEO of Philips.'" Parisian professionals go to Les Dérouilleurs, a networking salon whose name (the Un-Rusty Ones) jabs at the stereotype of les rouilleurs — jobless Maghrebi youth "rusting away" in the banlieues.

That's all good news. More disheartening was news in January that the first person convicted under British laws targeting the preparation of terrorist acts was Sohail Qureshi, a 29-year-old dentist from London. That followed the arrest in Britain last summer of three doctors and an engineer on suspicion of attempting to strike Glasgow's airport with a car containing propane-gas canisters. This has challenged the stereotype of jihadis as disenfranchised madrasah students, presenting Europe with a troubling question: Why would those who have made a success of their professional lives be drawn to violent extremism?

The answer lies in the subtle nuances of Western Muslim lives. What non-Muslim Europeans often see as alienation among their Muslim populations is often integration in disguise. The second and third generation are more confident Europeans than their migrant parents — and they're more confident Muslims, too. In the media, debates over Muslim women being allowed to wear veils in schools, courts and government jobs have been read as a clash between European and alien values. In fact, they're signs of Westernization, flaring up when the daughters of Muslim migrants, armed with European educations and passports, edge toward the mainstream. The debates over the veil are waged not by downtrodden housewives, but by women who are studying, teaching or working as lawyers.

Fatima Zibouh, a Ph.D. candidate and researcher at the University of Liège in Belgium, says her hijab is "not a flag or a symbol, merely a manifestation of my spiritual life." A British teaching assistant, sacked for wearing the face-covering niqab, invoked not Shari'a or tradition but her concern for the rights of career women: the ruling, she said, made her "fearful of the consequences for Muslim women in this country who want to work."

While headlines blare about jihadis, the vast majority of Muslims are spending their time, like other Europeans, at work. The war on terror may create tensions for European Muslims, but in globalized cities and sectors, the war for talent gives them opportunities. On Fridays, the shoe racks at the mosque near Paris' glittering corporate suburb, La Défense, are increasingly filled not just with migrants' sandals, but executives' lace-ups. Prayer rooms at London's multinationals are no longer used by migrant janitors and support staff, but by lawyers, accountants and bankers. Umar Aziz, a litigator in London, recalls a clutch of law firms courting a top-flight Muslim candidate. Aziz's firm, with its prayer room and strong Muslim community, had a clear edge. When a rival firm called and vowed to match any offer, the candidate said: "I'd like a prayer room and ablution facilities." They said they'd have to get back to him on that, so he went with Aziz's firm.

Such moxie is the preserve of the exceptionally talented. And it is far easier to be a practicing Muslim in a globalized London firm than in Denmark, where prayer rooms at work are controversial, or in those German states that have outlawed the hijab for government employees. Islam is traditionally a faith that shapes not just individual souls, but public life. That makes for difficulties. Many Muslims who want to thrive in the European mainstream feel they have to take their cue from Christians and make their faith a private matter, so that they become Protestantized, as it were, at the office. To get on at work, they need to leave their faith at the door. Both in the office and outside it, "Islam is only a problem when it becomes visible," says Omid Nouripour, a Muslim and a Green member of Germany's parliament.

It follows that for many European Muslims, professional success means compromise. Some have to deal with open prejudice. "We want nothing to do with Islam or Muslims," one law firm told Dutch attorney Arslan during her three-year job search. Particularly after terror attacks, stereotypes tend to bubble to the surface. French computer-systems analyst Mourad Latrech recalls huddling around a TV with his colleagues on 9/11. "What are those bastards doing?" said one, as the World Trade Center collapsed. "Oh ... Sorry, Mourad, I didn't see you standing there." Being lumped in with terrorists has become one of the great work-related hazards for Europe's Muslims. "It's not outright discrimination," says Kamal Halawa, a Palestinian surgeon, who has lived in Spain for 40 years. "It's more like mistrust. You notice it in the way your [work] superiors treat you. You have to be continually demonstrating, day after day, that you are the same as everyone else."

The Pressure to Conform
Many Muslims make daily choices to blend into mainstream office culture. Consider the Dutch marketing consultant who drinks wine at client lunches. Or the British computer-graphics expert who says he's popping out for a sandwich rather than admit he's going to the mosque. Or Arslan, who had to jettison her cultural values to argue for a raise: "Modesty is an Islamic virtue, but if you're modest, you don't get anywhere in Europe." Just as working mothers do, Europe's Muslim professionals raise issues about white-collar workplace culture and its demands. Those who refuse to compromise — like the female Muslim doctors or dentists who decide to stay at home rather than treat male patients — explode old notions of what it means to be a professional. "If you're calling yourself a professional, you're saying you have a skill set that makes you competitive, valuable and a contributor," says one young Muslim art curator. "But how much are you contributing if you're ghettoizing yourself? How valuable are you if you're not prepared to embrace the culture of an organization?"

Nowhere is the tension between work and faith more pronounced than in France. There, laïcité, or secularism, dictates that religion should be confined to the private sphere. Though the 1978 Islamic Revolution in Iran shattered the long-cherished view that modernization inevitably pushes people away from faith and toward secularism, French Muslim professionals say they often face the assumption from their colleagues that career success will have this effect. "If you're doing well, they assume you're one of them, and so you're secular," says Parisian Muslim Zoubeir Ben Terdeyet, a consultant with an international accounting firm. "Factories have prayer rooms, but for a professional to ask for time off work to go and pray? That shocks them."

Ben Terdeyet is more confident at work than many Muslims. He's not afraid to speak Arabic on the office phone. He doesn't feign illness when he's fasting for Ramadan, or beg off wine at lunch by claiming a headache. He founded the networking club Les Dérouilleurs because he wanted to prove that "it was possible to be a success in France without abandoning your Islamic principles." There's still a way to go, he says. He's envious of tales from London-based Muslims about company-sanctioned prayer breaks. "Ooh, la la," he says, rolling his eyes skyward, the very picture of Gallic consternation. "If I were to ask if I could go pray, the answer would be, 'Why should I do you a favor? Why are you so different from everyone else?' "

Increasingly, however, influential French voices see "diversity as an opportunity, not a problem," says Hakim El-Karoui, who along with Rachida Dati — President Nicolas Sarkozy's Justice Minister — founded the 21st Century Club for minority movers and shakers. A former speechwriter for Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, El-Karoui recalls working lunches during Ramadan when he'd cover his plate with his notebook, so Raffarin wouldn't notice he wasn't eating. Occasionally, he'd face the prejudice of exceptionalism: colleagues would refer to him as "a good Muslim," adding that "not all of them are like him." Now an investment banker at the Rothschild banking group in Paris, he finds his current work culture reassuringly cosmopolitan. "Since the Rothschild family is Jewish, they know better than anyone about respect for minorities," he says. "Diversity is a given for them."

Not so for many French employers. It's difference — particularly visible difference — that challenges laïcité. "The central issue for us is visibility," says Mohammed Colin, co-founder of SaphirNews, a French Muslim news and networking site. It would be "unthinkable," says Colin, to have a veiled Muslim woman in a French ad — and rare to see one at work. Those who can get jobs tend to work in back offices. As CEO of the French communications group CS, Yazid Sabeg is perhaps France's most prominent French-Arab businessman and the author of a study on workplace discrimination. Asked if any of his 4,000 employees wear the hijab, he says he remembers one who did, but adds that she wouldn't have had contact with clients: "I'm against wearing the hijab at work. Shows of religion just result in antagonism between the majority culture and minorities." Recruiters often ask Boujema Hadri, owner of the Paris-based employment agency Very Important Training, if a candidate with an Arab name wears the veil. "They know it doesn't affect women's job performance," he says, "but they're scared." Employers recruit in their own image, he shrugs: "France wants clones — people who look like them."

That said, there's evidence suggesting the evolution of a French hijab economy. "I'll tell recruiters, 'Take a veiled woman — it's cheaper,'" says Hadri. In a country with 8% unemployment — and over double that if you're young and have an Arab name — it's hardly surprising, he says, that "the women don't care. They just want to work." Zeenath Simozrag is a Sorbonne-educated lawyer with two master's degrees and three languages, but it still took her six months to find a job, a fact she attributes to her wearing a head scarf. She now works in a small firm, earning $1,100 for a three-day week — less than half the going rate for someone with her qualifications. When her boss has French-Arab clients, Simozrag is introduced as a colleague, but she says she's not introduced to white clients. Like many professional French Muslims, she has thought about leaving — for Dubai, Malaysia, the U.S. or England, somewhere where she won't be forced to choose between a head scarf and a career.

The stereotyping can start early. Growing up Muslim in a Parisian banlieue, Najett Kaddouri was at the top of her school class every year. When she told teachers she wanted to be a doctor, they'd respond: "Najett, that's just a dream. Think about something you could realistically do." She recalls: "I thought, 'I'm better than the white people in my class. I can do it.'" Eventually she did, but faced hurdles when she donned the hijab. Kaddouri had wanted to wear it since she was 15, but knew that French law meant she had to choose between covering her head and getting an education. "It wasn't just ambition that made me feel education was more important than wearing it, but my religion," she says. "The first word that God said to our Prophet was 'Read.' God gave me intelligence, and I didn't want to waste it."

By 25, Kaddouri was doing well enough at work that she dared to start wearing a head scarf. Her parents, Moroccan migrants, were alarmed. Their brilliant daughter would risk her job over the hijab? Couldn't she just wear it at home? "Don't worry, I know what I'm doing," Kaddouri told them. In some hospitals, nobody minded. But at one, she was asked to remove her scarf. "It's personal," she insisted, mindful that she couldn't say it was religious. She began wearing a surgery cap, until the hospital passed a rule — "designed for me," claims Kaddouri — banning head coverings of any kind. Suspended for five weeks for breaking the rule, she took the hospital to court for discrimination. Jean-Pierre Burnier, the hospital's chief administrator, defends the decision to suspend her. "[Under laïcité], public services like hospitals have a responsibility to respect [religious] neutrality," he says. "This wasn't just a boss's whim." Two years on, the tribunal's decision is pending, and Kaddouri works as a doctor in other hospitals, wearing a hijab.

Bridging the Divides
Muslims in Britain don't face laïcité, but they must cope with a local tradition held perhaps just as dearly: drinking. "The pub is an important place for bonding and networking in British culture," says Asim Siddiqui, a London accountant. "If you're a Muslim who doesn't drink, it can make it harder to climb up the professional ladder." Looking for an alternative to after-work beers, Siddiqui founded the City Circle, a lecture and charity group aimed at Muslim professionals. On Friday nights, well-heeled Muslims come straight from their offices to nurse cups of tea and catch, say, a Muslim comic doing stand-up, or a lecture on Sufi poetry. Go to a City Circle talk and you won't see a defensive minority turning inward, but educated Britons with the confidence to be self-critical. The week after the July 7, 2005 bombings in London, the weekly panel discussion was boldly topical: "The criminal distortion of Islamic texts."

In the current climate, speaking freely can provoke attacks. Riazat Butt, the religious affairs correspondent at the Guardian newspaper in London, says her major career hurdles came from her own Muslim community: "I've experienced more prejudice and hostility from Muslims than from non-Muslims. Sometimes they get really hostile, saying, 'You're working for the enemy.'" While reporting articles, she's been called a whore, a traitor and a disgrace to Islam.

Such comments reveal a bitter dilemma. Many Muslims, particularly in Britain, feel caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. Criticize the radicals, and they're turncoats; criticize the government, and they're unpatriotic. Last year, a group of prominent Muslims sent a soberly worded open letter to then Prime Minister Tony Blair, arguing that British foreign policy fueled extremism. Government ministers denounced the letter, one calling it "dangerous and foolish." The reaction showed that "well-adjusted, contented and successful British Muslims are considered the biggest traitors of all by the powerful in the British state," wrote columnist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown in the Independent newspaper. "A new abominable social contract is being offered to us. If you Muslims want to be accepted here, you must ... be prepared for an endless conflict or a life in the shadowy margins where you will be kept confined and contained."

Yet though British Islam is known as a religion of protest for alienated youths, it has also been the catalyst of a powerful work ethic. Islam in Britain, writes sociologist Tariq Modood, has been "finely poised between a religion of the ghetto and a religion of social mobility." For Farhan Qureshi, it was watching Woody Allen's films that inspired him to become a movie director. But Islam provided practical and spiritual spurs to success. Waking up on cold English winter mornings to perform Fajr, the dawn prayer, gave him an extra half-hour to write before setting off for his job as an engineer. Islam, he says, also reassured him that his screenwriting efforts were worthwhile: "It teaches you that good work that one does from the heart won't be wasted."

That's a truth that non-Muslim Europeans might do well to remember; after all, in Europe's Dark Ages, it was great European Muslim universities like the one in Córdoba that kept the lamp of learning alight. Islam's stress on education helped propel London barrister Azeem Suterwalla through Oxford and Harvard. "My religion gives me drive and purpose," he says, and it has also helped shape his political and professional views, giving him "a feeling of obligation" to help the Muslim umma. It was a concern about the state of Muslims in Gaza and Kashmir that spurred Suterwalla to become a barrister — and such instincts can, of course, curdle into resentment, even radicalism. "I'm trying to make a difference in a positive way," says Suterwalla. "But there are those who don't know how to cope with it, when they see what's going on in the news." Radicalized fellow Muslims think he's fooling himself by tackling injustice through the courts. "They tell me, 'You're working within the system that is not compatible with Islam,'" he says. "Even some very well-educated people are attracted to radical groups, because of what they see as injustice. The middle class is not immune."

That was underscored when the main suspects in the Glasgow Airport bomb plot turned out to be doctors. According to a 2004 study by Marc Sageman, a former CIA officer and forensic psychiatrist, the stereotype of the jihadi as poor and uneducated needs revision. Of 400 terrorist suspects studied, he found that three-quarters were middle-class or upper-class, with many employed in the sciences or technology. University students and professionals attracted to the rigorous theology of radical Islamist organizations like Hizb ut-Tahrir find in them the same structured, mechanistic precision they've learned to apply on the job to hard drives or computer models. In his recent book about life inside Hizb ut-Tahrir, British Muslim Ed Husain contrasts the aggressive, intolerant Islam he found in Hizb ut-Tahrir to the "Islam of the heart," the tolerant, humanistic Sufism of his migrant parents. In modern Islamic radicalism, custom and humanism are jettisoned in favor of logic and politics. Hizb ut-Tahrir, which targets youth on college campuses, promotes itself as the thinking Muslim's alternative to blindly following parents, mullahs or tradition.

Why would the angry radicalism of groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir appeal to some successful Muslims? Middle-class Muslims don't face poverty, but they can feel a disconnect between their white-collar jobs and their Muslim home lives. "You can still feel alone in a crowd," says Mona Siddiqui, director of the University of Glasgow's Centre for the Study of Islam. "You can spend a lot of time with colleagues and professionals from a completely different culture to you, really nice people to work with, but with whom you don't feel any emotional connection. You have to constantly turn inward, and your circle becomes smaller and smaller." Navigating the gap between a European workplace and the expectations of a migrant community can be intensely stressful, says Fuad Nahdi, a commentator and consultant on Muslim issues to Blair's government: "In terms of alienation, nothing succeeds like success." For Muslims who have made it, the loneliness of the corner office can be a cold contrast to the camaraderie of the mosque.

So this is the disquieting risk facing Europe: that the fallout from violence wreaked by alienated terrorists can create still more alienation among peaceful, moderate professionals. Martijn de Koning, an anthropologist at the International Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World in Leiden, the Netherlands, interviewed a group of twentysomething Dutch Muslims before the 2004 murder of Theo van Gogh by a young Dutch Moroccan angry at the filmmaker's on-screen portrayal of Islamic culture. Back then, De Koning found his subjects were outraged by the fact that it was tough to be Muslim in the Netherlands. By contrast, three years on from the Van Gogh affair, he found apathy, a dulled acceptance by the successful Muslims he interviewed that no matter what they do, they'll never be Dutch. "These aren't disenchanted youth," he says. "They're well educated, and they have jobs. They feel they've done everything right, and still they're rejected."

Famile Arslan has an answer — both for Muslims in Europe who feel beaten down, and for non-Muslim Europeans struggling to navigate the unexpected shoals of a continent with many faiths and many ethnicities. When her more radical Muslim friends talk to her of alienation, she crisply dismisses them. "They keep telling me, 'They're against us.' And I say, 'Guys, who are they? And who is us?'" When all — Muslim or not — can agree that they're one and the same, Europe will finally be able to move on.
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« Reply #1 on: Mar 05, 2008 10:15 PM »

As salaamu alaikum

This was insightful.  How quickly people forget that there was a time in history when women in general were barred from holding certain jobs and only directed into certain jobs, such as cleaning staff, maids, nannies, secretarial/clerical, etc. even if they had the skills to handle other jobs and even managed to get the degree to go into the "professional" ranks.  It is quite disheartening when those same people who may have personally or had family memebers subject to such treatment and assumptions turn around and do the same to others.  Just today as we plan for a Women's History Month event at work were we just talking about the hardships women faced in the not so distant past.

Today we have female heads of state not to mention doctors, lawyers, engineers, CEOs, factory workers, professors, astronauts -- every profession we can possibly think of.  To borrow the phrase "We've come a long way, baby".  Now if only the US could truly become that progressive as to have a female head of state.

As salaamu alaikum

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« Reply #2 on: Mar 06, 2008 06:14 AM »

That was a nice article about stereotypes and the accompanying social phobia.
 There are inter (between) ethnic/religious divides/phobias/exclusions/inclusions as this
 article alludes too. There are some intra (within) ethnic/ideological divides we see going
 on in our lives, communities, masjids, blogs and we have seen occasional outbursts of
 that here too. The following is NY Times article on the ideological divide seen in the
 Jewish faith and how it plays out in their personal life. As Sr Famile says “muslims
 or not we are one and the same….”  Human beings after all

March 2, 2008
How Do You Prove You’re a Jew?
One day last fall, a young Israeli woman named Sharon went with her fiancé to the Tel
 Aviv Rabbinate to register to marry. They are not religious, but there is no civil
 in Israel. The rabbinate, a government bureaucracy, has a monopoly on tying the knot
 between Jews. The last thing Sharon expected to be told that morning was that she would
 to prove — before a rabbinic court, no less — that she was Jewish. It made as much
 sense as someone doubting she was Sharon, telling her that the name written in her blue
 government-issue ID card was irrelevant, asking her to prove that she was she.
Sharon is a small woman in her late 30s with shoulder-length brown hair. For privacy’s
 sake, she prefers to be identified by only her first name. She grew up on a kibbutz when
 kids were still raised in communal children’s houses. She has two brothers who served
 in Israeli combat units. She loved the green and quiet of the kibbutz but was bored, and
 after her own military service she moved to the big city, which is the standard kibbutz
 story. Now she is a Tel Aviv professional with a master’s degree, a job with a major
 H.M.O. and a partner — when this story starts, a fiancé — who is “in
This stereotypical biography did not help her any more at the rabbinate than the line on
 her birth certificate listing her nationality as Jewish. Proving you are Jewish to
 Israel’s state rabbinate can be difficult, it turns out, especially if you came to
 from the United States — or, as in Sharon’s case, if your mother did.
In recent years, the state’s Chief Rabbinate and its branches in each Israeli city have
 adopted an institutional attitude of skepticism toward the Jewish identity of those who
 enter its doors. And the type of proof that the rabbinate prefers is peculiarly unsuited
 to Jewish life in the United States. The Israeli government seeks the political and
 financial support of American Jewry. It welcomes American Jewish immigrants. Yet the
 rabbinate, one arm of the state, increasingly treats American Jews as doubtful cases:
 not Jewish
 until proved so.
More than any other issue, the question of Who is a Jew? has repeatedly roiled relations
 between Israel and American Jewry. Psychologically, it is an argument over who belongs
 the family. In the past, the casus belli was conversion: Would the Law of Return, which
 grants automatic citizenship to any Jew coming to Israel, apply to those converted to
 Judaism by non-Orthodox rabbis? Now, as Sharon’s experience indicates, the status of
 by birth is in question. Equally important, the dividing line is no longer between
 Orthodox and non-Orthodox. The rabbinate’s handling of the issue has placed it on one
 side of
 an ideological fissure within Orthodox Judaism itself, between those concerned with
 making sure no stranger enters the gates and those who fear leaving sisters and brothers
Seth Farber is an American-born Orthodox rabbi whose organization — Itim, the Jewish
 Life Information Center — helps Israelis navigate the rabbinic bureaucracy. He
 to me recently that the rabbinate’s standards of proof are now stricter than ever, and
 stricter than most American Jews realize. Referring to the Jewish federations, the
 central communal and philanthropic organizations of American Jewry, he said, “Eighty
 of federation leaders probably wouldn’t be able to reach the bar.” To assist people
 like Sharon, Farber has become a genealogical sleuth. He is the first to warn, though,
 that solving individual cases cannot solve a deeper crisis.
Judaism, traditionally, is matrilineal: every child of a Jewish mother is automatically
 considered a Jew. Zvi Zohar, a professor of law and Jewish studies at Bar-Ilan
 told me that in Judaism’s classical view of itself, Jews are best understood as a
 “large extended family” that accepted a covenant with God. Those who didn’t
 the faith remained part of the family, even if traditionally they were regarded as black
 sheep. Converts were adopted members of the clan. Today the meaning of being Jewish is
 disputed — a faith? a nationality? — but in Israeli society the principle of
 descent remains widely accepted. Sharon’s mother was Jewish, so Sharon knew that she
 was, too. And yet it seemed impossible to provide evidence that would persuade the
Sharon left the office infuriated. Her mother was Jewish enough to leave affluent America
 for Israel; her brothers had fought for the Jewish state. Now, she felt, she was being
 told, “For that you’re good enough, but to be considered Jews for religious purposes
 you’re not.”
Sharon’s mother, Suzie, is 66, a dance therapist, even tinier than her daughter, a
 flurry of movement in the living room of her kibbutz bungalow. Suzie’s maternal
 grandfather, David Ludmersky, was born in Kiev. When he was drafted into the czar’s
 army, he
 deserted, fled to America and worked to send a ticket to Rose, the girl he left behind.
 Merskys (an Ellis Island clerk shortened the name) moved to the small Wisconsin town of
 Wausau, where their daughter, Belle (Suzie’s mother), was born. Suzie has heard that
 didn’t like the place, that they consulted a fortuneteller, that she told them to move
 west to Minneapolis. There David Mersky indeed made his fortune, working his way from
 peddling fruit to owning one of the city’s first supermarkets.
I recount this family history because of its pure American Jewish normality. In
 Minneapolis, Belle Mersky married Julius Goldstein in a Conservative ceremony. This,
 too, was
 typical: Conservative Judaism was the common choice for American Jews leaning toward
 tradition. Julius’s brother became a Conservative rabbi. Belle and Julius raised their
 on Minneapolis’s North Side, “a totally Jewish neighborhood then,” Suzie recalled.
 She went to Sunday school at Beth El Synagogue, a Conservative congregation.
Suzie began college at the cusp of the 1960s, attending the University of Minnesota,
 rooming with a friend from a Zionist summer camp. Her uncle, the Conservative rabbi,
 paid for
 her to go to Israel one summer on a student tour. When she returned to Israel after
 graduation, even the motor-scooter accident was practically part of the standard
 restless-youth experience. She broke her foot, put off her plan to join a dance company
 and took a
 room in a Tel Aviv rooming house. “I was sitting there with my foot up, crutches in
 corner, and this handsome guy came in,” she told me. He was British. He and his best
 friend were living in Holland, “wanted to go somewhere” and drove overland to
“He ended up being my husband,” Suzie said with a laugh. He wasn’t Jewish, a twist
 in the story line. They left Israel together to wander through Europe and married in a
 civil ceremony in England. Those details would later loom immense: Had he been Jewish,
 they married in Israel, she would have had a ketuba, or religious marriage contract
 issued by the rabbinate, for her daughter to show years later. In the excitement after
 Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War in 1967, they decided to return to the country.
 always wanted to live here,” she said, and “we were adventurous.”
Fast forward: Sharon, on her 38th birthday, took the day off from work to make wedding
 arrangements. First stop was the Tel Aviv Rabbinical Court.
The rabbinic courts are an arm of the Israeli justice system. Formally, the judges —
 rabbis with special training — are appointed on professional grounds. In practice,
 positions in the courts and in the state rabbinate are parceled out as patronage by
 political parties. The main function of the rabbinic courts is divorce, also a purely
 religious process in Israel. A secondary function is providing judicial rulings on
 whether a
 person is Jewish. For that, the main clientele is immigrants from the former Soviet
 Union. A fairly standard procedure exists for them. It includes examining Soviet-era
 documents, like birth certificates, that list a citizen’s nationality. (In the Soviet
 “Jewish” was a nationality, parallel to “Russian” or “Uzbek,” listed in
 everyone’s official papers.)
At the court, Sharon told me, the clerk who opened her file told her to bring her
 mother’s birth certificate and her parents’ marriage certificate. “I said: ‘But
 mother’s birth certificate doesn’t say “Jewish.” It’s from the United States.
 don’t write that. And the marriage license — they had a civil wedding.’ ” After
 she waited hours to see a judge, he told Sharon to return with “any document that
 testify to her mother’s Jewishness.” She asked a court official if a letter from a
 Conservative rabbi would solve the problem. Her mother has a cousin in Florida who is a
 rabbi, son of the uncle who originally sent Suzie to Israel. No, the official said,
 won’t help. It has to be someone Orthodox.”
“When Sharon called me, she was crying,” Suzie told me. Her daughter said the court
 wanted testimony from an Orthodox rabbi who had known Suzie all her life. “Even if
 was such a thing, he would be dead by now,” Suzie said. Lacking an official document
 labeling her a Jew and without a childhood connection to Orthodoxy, Suzie was again a
 typical American Jew. Nonetheless, she got on the phone. Her cousin in Florida told her
 phone a colleague from Israel’s small movement for Conservative Judaism. He, in turn,
 said Seth Farber would help her. He was right.
Since genealogy is basic to this story, I will point out that Seth Farber’s
 great-great-great-grandfather was the pre-eminent Central European rabbi Moshe
 Schreiber, father of
 ultra-Orthodoxy. My guess is that Rabbi Schreiber would be confused by Farber’s
 approach to religion. Better known as the Hatam Sofer, or Seal of the Scribe, the name
 of his
 work of religious scholarship, he bitterly opposed fitting Judaism to modernity and was
 known for his principle, “Anything new is forbidden by the Torah.” An iconic
 shows him with a long gray beard and a fur hat.
Farber, 41, has a round, clean-shaven face and frameless glasses that make him look like
 an earnest grad student. He grew up in Riverdale, N.Y., attending the kind of Orthodox
 parochial school that, he told me, “celebrated Americanism,” that turned the
 bicentennial into the focus of an entire school year. In college, he maintained that
 balance of Orthodoxy and integration by cycling the length of Manhattan twice daily:
 studying Talmud at Yeshiva University on 185th Street, afternoons at New York University
 for philosophy. He could have done his secular studies as well at the Orthodox
 university, he said, but he wanted “to understand the broad world, to meet non-Jews,
 to be
 exposed to broad ideas” — in short, to span the moat between traditional Judaism and
 modernity that his ancestor devoted his life to digging.
Farber was ordained as a rabbi at Yeshiva University, and in the mid-90s he moved to
 Israel. He completed a doctorate at Hebrew University in American Jewish history and
 his own synagogue. It was the kind of place that ran a Passover charity drive,
 the leavened food that religious Jews would normally throw away before the holiday and
 donating it to a welfare society in the Palestinian town of Bethlehem. He also got
 permission from the state rabbinate to perform weddings.
His organization, Itim, was born of a hike that he and his wife, Michelle, took in a
 barren gorge through the Judean desert. When they arrived at the gorge, they found they
 need ropes to descend the cliffs into the freezing pools along the bottom, and another
 couple offered to share equipment. Along the way, their hiking companions said they
 weren’t married because “they couldn’t find a rabbi they could relate to.” Most
 Israelis imagine a rabbi looking more like the Hatam Sofer than the hiker in soaked
 shorts who offered to perform the ceremony. At the wedding, as nearly the only Orthodox
 among 600 people, Farber said he began to understand how “disenfranchised” many Jews
 in Israel feel when dealing with state-run religion.
He decided to “create a place where the representatives of Judaism” aren’t
 government clerks. Itim distributes booklets that explain to Israelis how to arrange a
 circumcision, marriage or funeral. It helps secular couples find rabbis sensitive to
 their desires
 for their ceremonies. For the last five years, it has run a hot line for Israelis who
 face trouble in the rabbinic bureaucracy. Early on, Farber began receiving calls from
 unable to prove they were Jews. Many were immigrants from the former Soviet Union, but
 some were Americans. Even a letter from an Orthodox rabbi didn’t always help. The
 rabbinate no longer trusts all Orthodox rabbis.
Trust — or lack of it — is the crux. Zvi Zohar of Bar-Ilan University explained to me
 that historically, if someone said he was a Jew, “if he lived among us, was a partner
 in our society and said he was one of us, we assumed he was right.” Trust was the
 default position. One reason was that Jews were a persecuted people; no one would claim
 belong unless she really did. The leading ultra-Orthodox rabbi in Israel in the years
 and after the state was established, Avraham Yeshayahu Karlitz (known as the Hazon Ish,
 the name of his magnum opus on religious law), held the classical position. If someone
 arrived from another country claiming to be Jewish, he should be allowed to marry
 Jew, “even if nothing is known of his family,” Karlitz wrote.
Several trends have combined to change that. In an era of intermarriage, denominational
 disputes and secularization, Jews have ceased agreeing on who belongs to the family, or
 what the word “Jew” means. Ultra-Orthodox Jews increasingly question the Jewishness
 of those outside their own intensely religious communities. The flood of immigrants from
 the former Soviet Union to Israel deepened their doubts. In the Soviet Union, when
 someone with parents of two nationalities received identity papers at age 16, he could
 which nationality to list. A child of a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother could put
 “Jew.” The religious principle of matrilineal descent was irrelevant.
In the United States, the Reform movement responded to rising intermarriage by deciding
 in 1983 to accept children of a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother as Jews if they were
 raised within the faith. The denominations also diverge on how to accept a convert into
 Judaism. Orthodox Jews generally do not regard conversions by non-Orthodox rabbis as
 — either because the rabbis do not strictly follow religious law or because they do
 require the converts to do so. The number of people in America “recognized by some
 movements as Jewish but not by others” is “certainly in six figures,” according to
 Jonathan D. Sarna, a Brandeis University professor and the author of “American
 Judaism: A
Denominational rules are only part of the story. In much of the world, Jewish identity
 has become fluid, part ethnicity, part religion, a matter of choice. “In the United
 States and also in Western Europe there are many kinds of Jews,” Prof. Menachem
 Friedman, a
 Bar-Ilan University sociologist of religion, told me. “People can change religions and
 identities quickly.” But in Israel, belonging has practical consequences: The 1950 Law
 of Return grants every Jew the right to immigration. In 1970, the Knesset defined the
 term “Jew” as meaning “one who was born to a Jewish mother or who converted to
 Judaism.” That was a partial victory for those demanding traditional religious
 criteria. But
 to keep the door open to those who didn’t fit that definition, the amendment also
 granted the right of immigration to the child, grandchild or spouse of a Jew. Each time
 religious parties sought to go further and define conversion by Orthodox rules, Sarna
 “American Jewry would go into crisis mode,” its leaders insisting that Israel
 couldn’t delegitimize the non-Orthodox denominations.
In 1986, the Israeli Supreme Court ordered the Interior Ministry’s Population Registry
 to list Shoshana Miller, a Reform convert from America, as Jewish on her ID card. The
 ultra-Orthodox interior minister resigned in protest. In practice, though, the rabbinate
 paid scant attention to ID cards. Couples registering to marry were asked to bring two
 witnesses who could testify that the applicants were Jews under Orthodox law. The two
 arms of
 the state, secular and religious, operated according to separate rules.
And in the rabbinate, power was shifting to the ultra-Orthodox — the wing of Judaism
 that segregates itself from the surrounding society and culture. In the early years of
 state, those serving in the rabbinate generally identified with the project of building
 Jewish state and felt a connection with secular Jews. Politics changed that. Thirty
 years ago, ultra-Orthodox parties held 5 of the 120 seats in the Knesset. Today, they
 18. Secular politicians need their support to build a stable coalition government. One
 to gain it is to back ultra-Orthodox candidates for rabbinic posts. It is one of the
 stranger alliances that politics can create: the secular politicians regard “Jewish”
 mainly as a nationality, an ethnic identity that includes both believers and
 For the rabbis they have empowered, “Jewish” is exclusively a religious category,
 secular Jews are at best estranged cousins.
The true Era of Mistrust began in the 1990s, with the exodus of Jews from the Soviet
 Union. A semiclandestine agency called Nativ (Route) was responsible for checking
 would-be immigrants qualified under the Law of Return. To establish Jewish identity, the
 agency scrutinized Soviet documents.
At the state rabbinate, marriage registrars adopted their own policy of doubt.
 Increasingly, rabbinate clerks sent anyone not born in Israel, or whose parents
 weren’t married
 in Israel, to a rabbinic court to prove that he or she was Jewish. Rabbi Osher
 the official at the rabbinic courts responsible for checking Jewish status, can’t name
 a date for the change, which apparently emerged without an explicit decision. The courts
 sought the same kind of documents as Nativ did, like birth certificates of the
 applicant’s mother and maternal grandmother listing them as Jews.
The traditional willingness to trust a person who said he was Jewish, Ehrentreu asserts,
 presumed that no one had anything to gain by it. Today, he told me, there are ulterior
 motives — to be able to leave another country and come to Israel, “to be recognized
 here as Jewish, to be able to get married.” That is, Israel’s prosperity, its
 attractiveness to immigrants, is now a reason for doubt.
Friedman, the reigning academic expert on ultra-Orthodox society in Israel, suggests that
 the deeper reasons for doubt are difficult for the rabbis to articulate. In contrast to
 Orthodox Jews like Farber, the ultra-Orthodox have little sense of risk that by raising
 doubts they might exclude a person who is really Jewish. “If you don’t keep the
 and the commandments, O.K., so I excluded you. In any case you weren’t a complete
 Jew,” is how Friedman explains the attitude.
The policy of suspicion is applied to all immigrants. Rabbi Rasson Arussi, chairman of
 the Chief Rabbinate’s committee on marriage, told me that “populations where there
 doubt about Jewishness” include those from Western countries, specifically “the
 sectors connected to Reform Jews.” The rabbinate’s expectations, however, are a poor
 with the United States. American Jews generally don’t have government papers
 to their Jewishness. While a British Jew might turn to his country’s chief rabbinate
 certification that he is Jewish, the very idea of a chief rabbi sounds outlandish in the
 United States.
And as Farber points out, the reign of doubt at the Israeli rabbinate began as it was
 becoming steadily less likely that an American Jew would be able to dig an Orthodox
 contract out of her mother’s drawer. In the generation after World War II, most
 American Jews moved away from even a nominal connection to Orthodoxy. Today, young
 American-born Jews are likely to be two or three generations removed from any tie with
Strikingly, the rabbinate’s doubts extend even to Orthodox rabbis in America.
 “They’re not familiar with them,” Friedman told me. “They say: ‘The rabbis in
 the United
 States, in England, aren’t the kind we know. Someone can define himself as an Orthodox
 rabbi, but really he’s Reform.’ ” A marriage registrar given a letter from an
 Orthodox rabbi abroad certifying that a person is Jewish is now expected to check with
 office of Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, which maintains a list of diaspora clergy whose
 are to be trusted. The list is not publicly available. If the rabbi who wrote the letter
 is not on the list, the applicant is asked for other proof or referred to the rabbinic
Converts, even the children of converts, potentially face greater difficulties, because
 the rabbinate has also become more skeptical about Orthodox conversions performed
 What’s more, under pressure from Chief Rabbi Amar, the main association of Orthodox
 clergy in the United States, the Rabbinical Council of America, is establishing its own
 regional rabbinic courts for conversion. A recent council position paper warns that the
 makes no commitment to stand behind conversions performed by other rabbis. The paper
 also stresses that converts are expected to accept Orthodox religious law, or Halakhah.
The policy has divided the American group. Advocates say that standardization will ensure
 that converts are accepted by all religious Jews. A former council president, Marc
 Angel, a sharp critic, told me the group “decided to capitulate” to Amar and robbed
 individual rabbis of their prerogative to measure the needs and commitment of
 converts. “The rabbinate in Israel has put the Orthodox rabbinate” — meaning
 rabbis in the United States — “on the same level as Reform rabbis,” Angel said. He
 now advocates a position once unthinkable among R.C.A. rabbis: Israel would be better
 if it instituted civil marriage and cut the state’s ties with the rabbinate.
Not surprisingly, leaders of non-Orthodox denominations in the United States sound both
 pained and vindicated when discussing the rabbinate’s policies. “There is quite an
 irony in this,” Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, told
 In the past, “Orthodox authorities in America have basically defended the system, and
 they’ve embraced this religious monopoly as being important and necessary, thinking
 the while that it was directed primarily against us, us meaning the non-Orthodox
 community.” Now their own bona fides are in doubt.
Arnold M. Eisen, chancellor of the American Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological
 Seminary, stresses the damage to Israel-diaspora relations: “All the data shows a
 growing rift between American Jews and Israeli Jews, and the younger you are as an
 Jew, the less that you care about the state of Israel. This is just terrible. And one of
 the reasons for it — not the only reason, but one of the reasons for it — is this
 of insulting treatment of the majority of American Jews by the Israeli rabbinate.”
Seth Farber, a pragmatic idealist, does not expect either the rabbinate or the basic
 disagreements about who is Jewish to disappear. What he rather desperately believes, he
 is that “a conversation has to begin” on how Orthodox Jews — including the
 rabbinate — and non-Orthodox Jews can agree “to trust each other” despite the
 The Israeli rabbinate, that is, should trust a Reform rabbi’s testimony that a
 mother is Jewish. For Farber, there is a price to overwhelming doubt: It means
 “writing thousands of people, if not hundreds of thousands, out of the Jewish
With no grand compromise in the offing, Farber works on individual cases. Over the last
 five years, he said, he helped more than 100 people prove to the rabbinate that they
 Jewish. The amount of detective work he undertakes demonstrates his own dedication. But
 it also shows how difficult it can be for people from typical American Jewish
 to provide evidence of an identity they regard as self-evident.
Mark Rashkow, whose wedding was saved by Farber’s intervention, described him as
 “relentless.” Rashkow came to Israel from Chicago in 2003 to woo the woman he loved
 as a
 young volunteer 30 years before at Kibbutz Hazorea. Both he and she were at the end of
 marriages. A year later, just days before their wedding, the local rabbinate informed
 him that he had yet to show he was Jewish. A rabbinate official in the town of Afula,
 Hazorea, dismissed a letter from his Conservative rabbi in America, saying, according to
 Rashkow: “It doesn’t interest me. He’s a goy.”
Growing up in Chicago, Rashkow said, “I thought my first name was ‘kike’ until I
 was 12.” But when he found Farber via an Internet search just a few days before his
 planned wedding, the only leads Rashkow could provide him with were his maternal
 grandmother’s name and her approximate year of death. “Seth Farber, to me, was like
 an angel sent
 from heaven,” said Rashkow, who told his story at an exuberant pace. Farber began
 phoning Jewish cemeteries, working late into the Israeli night to reach Chicago in
 daytime. On
 the fourth or fifth call, he succeeded: the voice at the other end had the name listed
 in a section of the graveyard belonging to a society of Jews who’d come from Sokolow,
 Poland. A cemetery employee sent pictures by e-mail of the gravestone, which was replete
 with Hebrew.
The next step was finding a birth certificate for Rashkow that showed his mother’s
 name, and one for his mother that listed her mother — thereby establishing his link to
 gravestone. A lawyer whom Rashkow knew in Chicago rushed to the courthouse to get the
 papers. Farber then contacted the Chicago Rabbinical Council, an Orthodox body
 recognized by
 the Israeli rabbinate, to certify Rashkow as Jewish. The faxed letter arrived a day
 before the wedding, and Rashkow was able to marry the woman he had dreamed of for 30
Suzie, Sharon’s mother, called Farber on a Sunday morning, the start of the Israeli
 workweek. He asked her for her grandmother’s maiden name, which she didn’t recall,
 told her to ask someone in Minnesota to find her maternal grandparents’ tombstones.
“The hunt is on,” he wrote me in an e-mail message that night. He contacted the
 Chicago Rabbinical Council, which provided the names of the rabbi of an Orthodox
 synagogue in
 Minneapolis and his predecessor. Farber called both. Neither knew Suzie’s family, and
 the synagogue had no record of her grandmother. An old friend of Suzie’s in
 went to the courthouse and got a copy of her parents’ marriage license, signed by a
 rabbi. Farber did a Google search for his name and found that he had been a leading
 in the Conservative movement — meaning the license was at best weak supporting
 before an Israeli rabbinic court. Once again, the link to an Orthodox community was
Farber went to the Web site of Ellis Island and ran searches for Suzie’s family members
 in the repository of records of the “teeming masses” that arrived there. The
 manifests of arriving ships list “race or people” of immigrants, and “Hebrew”
 meaning Jew — is one designation. But he was unable to locate any record of Suzie’s
 grandmother. “I’m a little less confident than I was,” he told me on the third day
 of his
Online, he found the Portage County Historical Society of Wisconsin. He sent the group an
 e-mail message about Suzie’s mother, born as Belle Mersky in 1907, asking “if, by
 any chance, there might be synagogue records of her birth available to you.” It was a
 geographical near miss; Wausau is in neighboring Marathon County. His message was
 to Rabbi Dan Danson of Wausau’s sole synagogue, a Reform congregation. But it had no
 archives of births from before 1988. Another dead end.
By now, though, Farber had phoned the Marathon County Register of Deeds, seeking
 Suzie’s mother’s birth certificate. The request, he was told, had to come from an
 relative. Fortunately, Danson offered to help, and Suzie sent him the necessary
 information by e-mail. By Friday morning — five days after Suzie first called Farber
 — Danson
 was at the Wausau courthouse with the papers and $20 of his own money. Belle Mersky’s
 birth certificate, faxed to Farber’s home, showed that her mother’s maiden name was
 Rose Reuben.
Suzie’s niece visited the Jewish cemetery in Minneapolis where her grandparents were
 buried. The tombstones, originally placed flush with the ground, were now covered with
 grass and sod. She went home, returned with a shovel, and uncovered the evidence. In the
 photo of the gravestone that she sent by e-mail, above the name Rose Mersky in English
 Hebrew: “Rachel, daughter of Moshe,” with the date of death, the sixth day of the
 Hebrew month of Elul, in the year 5714 (1954).
A week into the search, evidence was coming together. In a school project her son once
 did, Suzie found a family photo of her grandmother’s grandfather, Mikhael Ludmersky,
 archetypal 19th-century Eastern European Jew with a white beard and black cap. From her
 family’s Conservative congregation in Minneapolis she received yahrzeit cards for her
 grandparents — records used to remind relatives of the anniversaries of their loved
 ones’ deaths, when the kaddish prayer should be recited. Even given the source, it was
 supporting evidence.
Farber arrived at the Tel Aviv Rabbinical Court about two weeks after Sharon’s first
 visit. He’d called and arranged with a judge to be squeezed in before the day’s
 of divorces. He had power of attorney, so Sharon didn’t need to appear. He wore a
 suit and a gold tie, and his face was narrow and taut. “Now I’ve moved up from
 detective to lawyer,” he said. He was ushered into a tiny courtroom, where three
 dressed in the black coats of the ultra-Orthodox, sat at a raised bench. Farber
 and made his case to one. He showed the series of birth certificates of Sharon’s
 maternal line, with the surnames Goldstein, Mersky, Reuben. “These are all clearly
 names,” he said. He presented the picture of the tombstone of Rachel, daughter of
 and the photograph of Mikhael Ludmersky in his black cap, and the rest of his exhibits.
 judge said to wait outside.
Twenty minutes later, a clerk called Farber in and presented him with a one-sentence
 judgment stating that Sharon is a Jew.
Gershom Gorenberg is the author of “The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the
 Settlements, 1967-1977.” His last article for the magazine was about the construction
 of Israel’s security barrier through the West Bank.



Does it remind you of the Shia vs Sunni/ Sufi vs Salafi squabbles Wink

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« Reply #3 on: Mar 22, 2008 11:28 AM »

i guess the main thing from the first part of the article...if ive understood correctly is about being assertive and confident about what your doing which involves:- to do your job competitively well while also having enough faith in Allah to do your islamic duties (whether hijab or prayer or not drinking).

but they can feel a disconnect between their white-collar jobs and their Muslim home lives.

this is an important point that i didnt find an answer to...its more like pretend to blend in while at work?

i didnt read the second article tho, ill come back later to continue that one.
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