During a cold weekend, a 10-foot cross of ice is blessed

A Ukrainian Orthodox parish and a Protestant parish came together yesterday in Montrose to bless a 10-foot cross made of ice.

It’s been a good winter for this sort of thing.

Apparently, carving crosses from ice taken from local rivers and lakes is an old Ukrainian tradition.

“The cross of ice will be a sign of God’s sanctification of all created things, including the gift of water, which is necessary for life. It will also serve as a witness to the unity that is happening among Christians at the local level,” said Metropolitan Michael, hierarch of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church in all of North America and all of South America.

Metropolitan Michael’s local parish, Descent of the Holy Spirit Ukrainian Orthodox Parish, is currently worshiping at the Reformed Church of Cortlandtown. So the two parishes worked on the project together.

That’s Rev. Doug Leonard, pastor of the Reformed Church, on the left, and Metropolitan Michael is second from the right…

The Jewish philanthropist who can’t stand all those Jewish groups

My FaithBeat column on Saturday was about the Madoff fall-out for the Jewish community.

On Thursday evening, I attended a very provocative panel discussion about Madoff at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in NYC. One of the panelists was the always interesting Jewish philanthropist Michael Steinhardt, who has a you-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it estate in Bedford (that’s him feeding one of his ringed tailed lemur monkeys).

Steinhardt made a killing as a hedge fund manager before dedicating his time (and much of his money) to securing the Jewish future — as he sees fit. He was a founder, for instance, of Birthright Israel, the program that sends Jewish teens to Israel as a way to bring out their Jewishness.

He likes to do things his way. Steinhardt is very critical of Jewish communal groups, including many that have been at the heart of Jewish life for a long time.

On Thursday, he used some typically harsh language to describe some of these groups. I didn’t get into it in my column, as I wanted to focus on the question of whether the Madoff scandal will inflame anti-Semitism (the main point of the program). Also, Steinhardt has been saying this stuff for a long time.

But a report in the NYT included this:

Naming names, he called a handful of Jewish agencies “lousy, miserable, corrupt organizations”; he said contributors were “just plain stupid,” for giving them money. “They spend $150 million for about 18 anti-Semitic incidents per year,” he said.

As a result, I’ve gotten several inquiries asking me which names he named. So here goes:

He called the Jewish philanthropic world, in general, “miserable, archaic and unattractive.” Of Jewish groups, he said “So many of them do so little.”

He called the Jewish Agency “a lousy, corrupt agency.”

He belittled the Federation system, saying that there was no reason that Jews should funnel their philanthropic dollars through an outdated institution.

As he has in the past, Steinhardt hammered at the “Jewish defense” organizations. He said that there was no reason to have the ADL, the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress and the Simon Wiesenthal Center. They’re the ones, he said, who spend the $150 million.

I wrote a lengthy profile of Steinhardt in 2004 (which seems to have disappeared from LoHud) and he said the same stuff. He told me then: “It’s a bloody shame. In a perfect world, we would have the luxury of studying the nuances of anti-Semitism. We don’t have the luxury to waste this money.”

At the time, I talked to David Harris, head of the American Jewish Committee, who responded:

I admire people who put their money where their mouth is, and Michael Steinhardt has done very important things for the Jewish community, no question. At the same time, he has blind spots and refuses to acknowledge them. Remove the AJC from the equation and who will stand with the Argentine Jewish community? Who will stand with the French Jewish community as it faces anti-Semitic attacks? Who will defend Israel? Who will engage a rapidly changing America with a dwindling Jewish population? Michael Steinhardt needs to listen to the views of others who are no less committed to Jewish well-being than he.

Steinhardt disagreed then. Apparently, he still does.

Bernard Madoff the Jewish stereotype

When the Madoff scandal first broke and we learned that he oversaw some sort of Ponzi Scheme, I said to a colleague that it was a good thing that Ponzi had not been a Jew.

I said something along the lines of “Could you imagine if we had a Goldberg Scheme? It would require a whole new edition of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”

Weeks later, it turns out that Madoff may go down as Ponzi’s greatest student.

I’ve been thinking about how to write about Madoff’s “Jewish thing.” He was Jewish, of course, and his evil ways ring up every stereotype of Jews as money-hungry and untrustworthy. And he used the Jewish community’s internal interconnectedness — a phenomenon that is hard to describe — to hurt his own people.

Last night, the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in NYC made it easy for me.

They held a program called “Madoff: A Jewish Reckoning” (what a name) and invited heavy-hitting Jewish intellectuals and money managers to talk bluntly about what Madoff means for the Jews.

I’m writing about the program for my FaithBeat column tomorrow.

For now, let’s just say that the participants described Madoff (and/or his doings) as… a curse, an abomination, a revival of Jewish stereotypes, the worst thing done by any Jew since Julius Rosenberg to hurt the image of Jews, a parasite, a sociopath, and the ultimate test of Jewish acceptance in America.

He was even described as an unimpressive investor by Michael Steinhardt, the mega-Jewish philanthropist from Bedford who made a ton on Wall Street.

Miracle on the Hudson

I was in NYC for a story yesterday afternoon and evening and didn’t know about US Airways A320 until it was all over.

Wow.

It seems that everyone is describing the survival of all 155 people on board as a miracle.

“We had a miracle on 34th Street. I believe now we have had a miracle on the Hudson,” Gov. Paterson said.

Were otherworldly powers at play? Many would surely say yes.

Or was the “miracle” simply the work of a smart pilot and well-prepared rescue crews?

For the survivors and their loved ones, it really doesn’t matter…

Salesians to get new leadership for U.S. branches

The Salesians of Don Bosco — the second-largest Catholic religious order in the world — are getting new leaders for their two American branches.

And both have strong Westchester ties.

Father Timothy Ploch, pastor of Holy Rosary Church in Port Chester since 1999, will next month begin a six-year term as provincial superior of the Salestians’ San Francisco Province — which includes all Salesian activites west of the Mississippi River.

Ploch (that’s him) was also director of the entire Salesian community of Port Chester, which includes Holy Rosary and Corpus Christi Church.

The Salesians’ activities east of the Mississippi are based in New Rochelle. Ploch served as provincial of the New Rochelle Province between 1991 and 1997.

And speaking of the New Rochelle Province, Father Thomas A. Dunne has been chosen to begin a six-year term as provincial on July 1. He will succeed the Very Rev. James Heuser, who has served as provincial since 2003.

The New Rochelle Province includes Salesian High School in New Rochelle, Don Bosco Prep High School in Ramsey, N.J., the Marian Shrine-Don Bosco Retreat Center in Stony Point-Haverstraw, Holy Rosary and Corpus Christi parishes in Port Chester, and a novitiate located at Holy Rosary. Also, Salesian Missions, which raises funds to support Salesian missionary, educational, and social work around the world, is located in New Rochelle.

165 priests and brothers serve the New Rochelle Province.

Dunne is a Brooklyn native who has served the Salesians in many capacities. Since 2006, he has been serving on the provincial council with responsibility for the Salesian Family — sisters, cooperators, and other affiliated groups — and the province’s communications department. He has also been working to start a program for the formation of lay collaborators.

The Salesians focus on youth ministries and education worldwide.

Heuser described Dunne as “a man rich in faith who gives witness daily to a life centered on God and the young. He lives as a brother among brothers, with practical charity and concern for his confreres. Possessing both astute intelligence and wide experience, he is an effective teacher and animator.”

Of Ploch, Heuser said: “It is a great sacrifice for our province, and for Holy Rosary Parish in particular, to let go of Tim. And yet…Tim’s noteworthy and recognized qualities of heart, mind and soul are needed elsewhere at this time. And so…we can rejoice that he will greatly strengthen and enrich the Salesian charism in the Western United States.”

Jewish leader from New Rochelle to take part in National Prayer Service

Rabbi Jerome Epstein, a leader of Conservative Judaism and a New Rochelle resident, is one of three rabbis who will say prayers at the National Prayer Service that will cap the inauguration next Wednesday.

It will be at the National Cathedral.

Epstein has been chief executive of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents about 770 Conservative congregations, since 1986.

The AP’s Rachel Zoll reports that Epstein will be joined by Reform Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Washington-based Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and Orthodox Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, senior rabbi of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

Also, Ingrid Mattson, the first woman president of the Islamic Society of North America, will offer a prayer.

And Archbishop Donald Wuerl of the Archdiocese of Washington is expected to participate.

If you’re keeping score, the National Prayer Service is the one where the Rev. Sharon Watkins, head of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), is to give the sermon.

Bishop V. Gene Robinson, Rick Warren and the Rev. Joseph Lowery will preach/speak at other events.

Speaking about all the inauguration-related prayers, First Amendment scholar Charles Haynes tells Zoll: “I can’t recall any prayers drawing so much attention.”

Reporters once notified NY bishop Farley that he got the big job

The naming of a new archbishop of New York was once a not-so-secretive affair.

At a time when many are wondering how far along the process may be for choosing a successor to Cardinal Egan, I came across this item from the New York Times from Sept. 2, 1902:

“BISHOP FARLEY TO BE NEW YORK ARCHBISHOP

Is Nominated by the Congregation of the Propaganda.”

The article began: “ROME, Sept. 1 — The Congregation of the Propaganda to-day decided to recommend the Pope to appoint the Right Rev. John M. Farley, the Auxiliary Bishop of New York, as Archbishop of New York, in succession to the late Most Rev. Michael Augustine Corrigan.”

The article goes on to explain that Cardinal Gotti, “Prefect of the Propaganda,” presided over a 3 1/2-hour meeting with eight other cardinals. They discussed the recommendations of the bishops and archbishops of the U.S. as well as a group of New York priests, all of whom liked Farley for the big job.

The Times, writing up the proceedings like one might a city council meeting, noted: “The information received showed that Dr. Farley was qualified as the most worthy candidate for the post, both in the lists of the priests and Bishops and in the reports of the Archbishops of the United States. After a discussion, in which all the Cardinals present participated, Cardinal Gotti summed up the expressions of opinion of those present, with the result that the choice of Dr. Farley was unanimous.”

Then came this kicker: “The ratification of the Pope is necessary to make the appointment definite.”

The ratification of the pope!

Then it gets even more interesting. The Times reports that Farley knew he was likely to be promoted. But journalists notified him, through his secretary, that he did, in fact, get the appointment!

Farley, “while not questioning the authenticity of the report,” would wait until he gets a letter in the mail — we’re talking weeks — before reacting.

What a different world.

Cardinal Egan, in a column this year for Catholic New York, noted the process for Farley’s selection:

A scarce four months after the death of Archbishop Corrigan in May of 1902, Bishop Farley was chosen by Pope Leo XIII to be the Archbishop of New York. The choice was made after the Archbishops of the United States, the Bishops of New York, and the “Consultors and Irremovable Pastors” of the Archdiocese had all made him their first choice in formal votings. This was the last Archbishop for whom these groups were required to express a preference, inasmuch as the practice was eliminated in the 1918 Code of Canon Law.

One must wonder how Egan and other modern-day bishops would feel about sweating out such a process.

Farley, the seventh bishop (and fourth archbishop) of the then-Diocese Archdiocese of New York, would serve until his death in 1918. The Times, in fact, would report on Aug. 22, 1918, that Farley was ill “at his country home near Mamaroneck, N.Y.”

The Times, in the end, seemed to endorse Farley’s selection: “Bishop Farley has been considered the ‘logical’ candidate for the Archbishopric since the death of Archbishop Corrigan. He is perfectly familiar with the local conditions and the work of his late superior. He is a most popular official of the Church, is diplomatic, is of a very pleasing disposition, and is congenial to all his associates, both of the clergy and laity.”

A pleasing disposition and congenial to his associates. Sounds like he was a swell guy.

The picture is of a portrait of Farley hanging at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers.

A bishop’s annual letter to ML King Jr.

Every year since 1976, a black Methodist bishop named Woodie W. White has written a public “letter” to Martin Luther King Jr., about the progress of racial equality in the U.S.

This year’s letter, as you might expect, is different.

He writes, in part:

As I watch President-elect Obama, a senator from Illinois, giving press conferences, announcing members of his Cabinet or speaking to an urgent matter facing the nation, it still seems like a dream. But it is real. America has elected a black man to what is considered by many the most influential political office in the world!

It seems only yesterday that black people were battling for the opportunity to vote. Many died seeking that right. State by state, it eventually changed. But scarcely anyone glimpsed a future when a black man would be elected president of the nation.

Those days of marches and protests were aimed at simple but important goals: to eat at a lunch counter, to try on a garment before you purchased it, to attend a school in the neighborhood where you lived, to be hired for a job for which you were qualified, and yes, to exercise the most fundamental right of citizenship, to vote.

We sought to be accepted, and to be treated as a person and a full citizen in our own nation.

The letter probably captures the way many African Americans feel these days.

Bishop White was General Secretary of the General Commission on Religion and Race of the United Methodist Church for a long stretch, from 1969 to 1984. He’s now retired, but is bishop-in-residence at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University.

It promises to be a blessed inauguration

So, all those gay-marriage advocates who fumed at Obama’s choice of Rick Warren to give the inaugural invocation have to be mighty relieved by his choice of cleric to pray Sunday at the Lincoln Memorial.

Bishop V. Gene Robinson.

Yes, the openly gay Episcopal bishop from New Hampshire whose consecration upset much of the Anglican world.

Now the other side of the Great Gay Debate must be really smarting.

Slate.com has a smart look at the four main preachers who have been called in for the inauguration: Robinson, Warren, the Rev. Joseph Lowery and the Rev. Sharon Watkins.

I like the headline: “God Bless, and Bless, and Bless, and Bless America.”

The Catholic school struggle continues

The demise of Catholic education continues.

The Diocese of Brooklyn — which covers Brooklyn and Queens — has proposed closing 11 schools at the end of the school year. As part of a major reorganization of schools, the diocese also wants nine schools to merge. Three new schools would be opened in areas of need.

The diocese also plans to “tax” all parishes to help fund Catholic education, hoping to raise $3 million in new revenues.

Across New York state, an average of 15 Catholic schools have closed every year since 1998, according to a Gannett News Service study this past April.

The Archdiocese of New York has closed about 50 schools since 1990. I’m sure that the news out of Brooklyn has many within the archdiocese wondering when the next round of bad news will be coming.

The problems facing Catholic education have been clear. Enrollment is down. Many parents who pay high real estate taxes have decided not to pay a “second” tuition for parochial school. Others simply can’t afford it. Others don’t see the need for a separate parochial education (as their parents wanted for them).

In addition, the costs of running schools have increased greatly over the past 30 or 40 years, thanks in large part to having to pay salaries and benefits for a lay teaching force.

For several years, officials of the Archdiocese of NY have been working on a plan to “regionalize” Catholic education, so that small groups of parishes would be responsible for individual Catholic schools. But things have been moving along slowly.

No doubt, the next archbishop of New York will also have to grapple with how to save Catholic schools.

Pictured: Former students outside St. John the Evangelist School in White Plains, which closed in June 2006.