Celebrating diversity before Turkey Day

Way, way back in November of 2002, I went to the Doral Arrowwood in Rye Brook to see the local unveiling of  “America’s Table,” a Thanksgiving reader developed by the American Jewish Committee.

The 15-page reader was designed to help any family, Jewish or not, add meaning to their Thanksgiving meal by discussing the immigrant experience in America.

Close to 50 people from different backgrounds took part, reading aloud. Several talked about the immigrant journeys of their ancestors.

I quoted Rabbi Alfredo Borodowski afterward: “Before I came to this breakfast, I felt weird. Now I feel normal.”

It was a unifying experience. That was the idea.

The Westchester chapter of the AJC has continued to hold annual Thanksgiving breakfasts since then. I’ve been to most of them, so I can tell you that it’s refreshing to hear people of different faiths and backgrounds talk about their stories — which often have striking similarities — just before one of the most American of holidays.

It is a simple yet effective and moving experience.

You can download “America’s Table” here.

This year’s breakfast is tomorrow morning at Manhattanville College. I’ll be the speaker. I only get 10 minutes or so — so I shouldn’t slow things down too much.

I’ll talk a bit about what I’ve learned from covering many groups of people over the years.

This year’s breakfast will also honor three organizations: the Duchesne Center for Religion and Social Justice at Manhattanville; Westchester Youth Councils; and Neighbors Link. Congratulations to them.

The AJC, the Westchester Jewish Council and Manhattanville on putting on this year’s breakfast.

Religion affects thinking on some issues more than others, poll finds

So our religious beliefs affect our thinking on some social issues more than others, according to a new poll from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Not a surprise, I suppose, but an interesting subject to consider.

The issue colored most by religion is same-sex marriage. 35% of respondents said religion was the most important factor in determining their position.

26% said their position on abortion was most influenced by religion. I would have expected the percentage to be much higher, at least 40%.

Religion is far from the chief influence on other hot-button subjects, such as government assistance to the poor (10%), immigration (7%) and the environment (6%).

The immigration result makes sense on at least one level. The Catholic Church is strongly in favor of immigration reform, including amnesty for illegal immigrants already here. Catholics make up a quarter or so of all Americans, but many have their own thinking on this most emotional issue of the day.

The Pew poll cover A LOT of ground. Check it out.

On the abortion question, the Pew people write: “On the issue of abortion, half of Americans (50%) say abortion should be legal in all (17%) or most (33%) cases while fewer, 44%, say it should be illegal in all (17%) or most (27%) cases. Support for legal abortion has edged upward since last 2009, when 47% said it should be legal in all or most cases.”

And on gay marriage: “On the issue of same-sex marriage, about four-in-ten Americans (41%) say they favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally while 48% are opposed. A slight majority of Democrats (52%) favor same-sex marriage, while independents are evenly split (44% favor, 45% oppose) and two-thirds (67%) of Republicans are opposed. Democrats are divided sharply along racial lines; 63% of white Democrats favor same-sex marriage, compared with just 27% of black Democrats and 46% of Hispanic Democrats.”

And on gays in the military:

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By a two-to-one margin, most Americans support allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military (60% favor vs. 30% oppose). The level of support has been consistent in recent years. Majorities of Democrats (67%) and independents (64%) favor allowing gays and lesbians to serve in the military, while Republicans are more divided (47% favor and 43% oppose).

Large majorities of white mainline Protestants (68%), white Catholics (71%), Hispanic Catholics (60%) and the religiously unaffiliated (66%) favor allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military, while support is lower among white evangelical Protestants (43%) and black Protestants (46%). Even among the least supportive religious groups, though, less than half oppose allowing gays and lesbians to serve in the military.

Most New Yorkers oppose downtown Islamic cultural center, poll shows

Sixty one percent of New Yorkers oppose the so-called “Ground Zero mosque,” according to a poll released today by the Siena College Research Institute in Loudonville, N.Y.

Institute Director Don Levy says: “Large majorities of all New Yorkers, every party, region and age give a thumbs-down to the Cordoba House Mosque being built near the Ground Zero site. But only just over half of all New Yorkers, even city residents say they have been following the news about the proposed mosque closely.”

By “New Yorkers,” he’s talking about people across the state, not only people in the NYC region.

Here’s the rest of Levy’s comments:

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Two of ten New Yorkers agree more with supporters that say the proposed Cultural Center would demonstrate the presence of moderate Muslims and serve as a monument to religious tolerance than with opponents that say the project is an offense to the memory of those killed in the attacks on 9/11 and that it displays unacceptable insensitivity.  Nearly four in ten agree more with the opponents and 38 percent think both sides have a legitimate case.  Over half of all New Yorkers and NYC residents either agree that the project would promote tolerance or are, at least, willing to listen.

But when it comes to a yes or no vote, more than a quarter of those that agree with the supporters, nearly half of those that see both sides and virtually all of those that question the appropriateness of the Mosque currently vote ‘No’ on the project.

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The Institute also said that 52 percent of New Yorkers would favor an immigration law like the one passed in Arizona.

Other findings on immigration, according to a release:

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Seventy percent of New York residents say that the presence of 10 to 20 million illegal immigrants poses a somewhat (30%) or very significant (40%) problem to the U.S.,  and large majorities call for comprehensive immigration reform that would include enhanced border security (79%), the creation of a process for admitting legal temporary workers (70%), and implementing a tough but fair path to legalization for those already here (65%).