NEWS FEATURE: With Faith and Trepidation, Ex-Soviet Jews Pursue Late-Life Circumcision

c. 2004 Religion News Service (UNDATED) In June, two months shy of his 59th birthday, Valeriy Kozlov did the unthinkable: He went under the knife for religious reasons. Kozlov, a Belarus native, followed the example of his friend Leonid Marder, a Russian emigre who was circumcised at age 66. Both resettled in Reisterstown, Md., a city near Baltimore that is home to many ex-Soviet Jews. “As with any operation, a person is afraid of blood _ of being cut,” Kozlov said.

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c. 2004 Religion News Service World Health Organization: Rites Needed to Grieve Tsunami Victims (RNS) The World Health Organization said dead bodies from the South Asia tsunami do not present a major health risk, and families should be allowed to proceed with religious burial rites instead of having to endure mass cremations and graves. The WHO said depriving relatives of funerals for the dead does long-term psychological and emotional harm, and said the health risks posed by dead bodies are exaggerated and misunderstood. “Survivors will feel more at peace and manage their sense of loss better if they are allowed to follow their beliefs and religious practices and if they are able to identify and recover the remains of their loved ones,” according to a fact sheet released by the Pan American Health Organization, the Washington-based field office of the WHO. The waves of water created by a Sunday (Dec.

COMMENTARY: A New Year’s Resolution for Pundits

c. 2004 Religion News Service (UNDATED) In discussing news coverage of religion in 2004, a modified version of Winston Churchill’s famous words applies: Never in the history of reporting on religion has so large and consistent a distortion been imposed on so many by so few. Most religion writers are as seasoned to the human condition as old pastors. They have seen everything and, if they forget little, they forgive a lot. Because they understand the nature and subtleties of the experience of faith in the great religious institutions, they _ unlike many mainstream media pundits _ do not write the kind of shorthand and shortsighted accounts of belief that have appeared so often in a year in which faith was front and center in everything from politics to the movies.

COMMENTARY: Push for Israeli Divestment Is Always Wrong

c. 2004 Religion News Service (UNDATED) The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted last July to “initiate a process of phased selective divestment in multinational corporations doing business in Israel.” Criticism of divestment came quickly from many Presbyterians including clergy and laypeople, progressives and conservatives. At a recent New York City interreligious conference at Auburn Seminary, the Rev. Susan Andrews, a former PCUSA moderator and pastor of the Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church in Bethesda, Md., said the divestment initiative has sparked more negative reaction than any other action in recent memory. She noted the church’s national headquarters in Louisville, Ky., has received a huge number of e-mails, telephone calls and “snail mail” protesting divestment. Some Presbyterian critics of the plan labeled it “anti-Semitic,” a charge church leaders have denied.

NEWS FEATURE: Sex Abuse Training Program Raises Eyebrows

c. 2004 Religion News Service NEW YORK _ On a recent Wednesday evening at St. Anselm’s School in Brooklyn, more than 60 church volunteers, teachers and coaches sat quietly watching a video in a basement meeting room. Subway trains passed beneath the building, periodically rumbling the floor. Suddenly, the room let out a collective gasp.

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c. 2004 Religion News Service Israel, Palestinians Launch Joint Tourism Push for Pilgrims JERUSALEM (RNS) Israel and the Palestinian Authority plan to jointly market their region as a pilgrimage destination, Israel’s Ministry of Tourism announced Sunday (Dec. 26). Israeli Tourism Ministry Director General Eli Cohen and his Palestinian counterpart, Dr. Bajis Ismail, agreed on the plan during a meeting in early December. The campaign, which will initially cost $500,000, will target Greece, Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary.

COMMENTARY: Conscientious Consumers Can Drive Manufacturing Market

c. 2004 Religion News Service (Tom Beaudoin is assistant professor of religious studies at Santa Clara University in California and the author of “Consuming Faith: Integrating Who We Are With What We Buy.”) (UNDATED) You won’t see this fact touted in any clothing ads, but more of us will soon be wearing Mexican jeans. Yet another American clothing manufacturer _ VF Jeanswear, maker of Wrangler and Lee jeans _ recently announced it is moving south of the border to save money. According to government data provided by the National Labor Committee, 96.6 percent of all the clothing we buy in the United States is imported. If you want to see how your body is implicated in the global economy, just look at the tag on your shirt, pants or underwear _ you will likely find that you are strung up by your clothing in a web of labor that crisscrosses the Earth.

NEWS STORY: New Catholic Catechism Hopes to Reach Adults

c. 2004 Religion News Service (UNDATED) The Catholic Church in the United States is on the way to having its first national catechism since the old Baltimore Catechism that children memorized for 80 years. But this new one is aimed at adults _ specifically young adults who have left the church or are on the brink of falling away. “It was a labor of love,” said Bishop Donald Wuerl of Pittsburgh, who shepherded the text through four years, three drafts and more than 10,000 suggested amendments from fellow bishops. “We are trying to reach so many of those young people, young adults, who have drifted away from practice of the faith, and to invite these seekers _ as they are sometimes called _ back to an understanding and practice of the faith.” Each of the 36 chapters opens with a story about a faithful Catholic, most of them Americans.

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c. 2004 Religion News Service Faiths Offer Prayers for Victims of South Asian Earthquake, Floods WASHINGTON (RNS) As relief organizations collect aid for the South Asian victims devastated by Sunday’s (Dec. 26) earthquake and tidal waves, religious groups are holding services for families in the United States who have lost relatives in the disaster. The Washington Buddhist Vihara, whose members are mostly from Sri Lanka _ home to an estimated 18,000 of the 44,000 victims _ will hold a memorial service on Friday (Jan. 31).

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c. 2004 Religion News Service Faiths Offer Prayers for Victims of South Asian Earthquake, Floods WASHINGTON (RNS) As relief organizations collect aid for the South Asian victims devastated by Sunday’s (Dec. 26) earthquake and tidal waves, religious groups are holding services for families in the United States who have lost relatives in the disaster. The Washington Buddhist Vihara, whose members are mostly from Sri Lanka _ home to an estimated 18,000 of the 44,000 victims _ will hold a memorial service on Friday (Jan. 31).

COMMENTARY: Focus, Focus, Focus

c. 2004 Religion News Service (Tom Ehrich is a writer and computer consultant, managing large-scale database implementations. An Episcopal priest, he lives in Durham, N.C. Visit his Web site at http://www.onajourney.org) (UNDATED) After Christmas ends in farewell to our older sons, it is time to sit with some unusually fine gift coffee and to think through decisions facing me in 2005. I start a list, create seven categories, enter 48 bullet points, add up some numbers _ and then go back to the top, scratch out “Decisions,” and enter the word “Focus.” For that will be the critical word in 2005, for me and, I think, for many. We need to focus.

NEWS FEATURE: Hindus Turn to Internet for Temple Prayers

c. 2004 Religion News Service LOS ANGELES _ The online market for Hindu religious services is coming of age, with a plethora of Web sites now catering to the needs of the pious, offering them remote access to temples that have special significance on the Indian religious map. The Web sites offer devotees the chance to have a priest perform pujas, or Hindu prayers, on their behalf at the temple of their choice. They also extend a host of other services, such as online payment for donations and virtual malls for religious products. The remote religious requests are compatible with the Hindu belief system.

NEWS FEATURE: 2004 Saw Religious Films Break Into the Mainstream

c. 2004 Religion News Service (UNDATED) This was an extraordinary year for religion in film because: A. A film about the last hours of Jesus made in two dead languages _ Aramaic and Latin _ is the third-highest grossing movie of the year. B. Religious filmmakers broke traditional artistic boundaries to tell their stories in R-rated movies that pushed the Jesus-film envelope in depictions of violence, drug use and sexuality. C. In some markets, filmgoers could walk into a commercial movie theater this past year and view a retelling of the Passion by a major Hollywood filmmaker, a drama centered on an evangelical revival, and biographies of the Catholic saint Therese of Lisieux and the Islamic prophet Mohammed. The answer most longtime observers of religion and film would give, of course, is D: All of the above.

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c. 2004 Religion News Service Survey: 44 Percent Favor Curtailing Civil Liberties for Muslims (RNS) Americans are almost evenly divided between those who believe that civil liberties for Muslim Americans should be restricted and those who do not, a national study has found. Forty-four percent of those surveyed by the Media and Society Research Group at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., said they believe the U.S. government should curtail civil liberties for Muslim Americans in some way. Forty-eight percent said that such liberties should not be restricted in any way. The survey, which was released Dec.

NEWS STORY: Religious Relief Groups Mobilize Aid for Tidal Wave Victims

c. 2004 Religion News Service (UNDATED) The earthquake and tidal waves that killed more than 23,000 people in South Asia have prompted a massive response by religious and humanitarian aid groups in what one official called one of the most catastrophic natural disasters on record. The 9.0 earthquake on Sunday (Dec. 26) _ centered about 100 miles off the coast of Indonesia _ spawned tsunamis that swept the coasts of the Indian Ocean basin, burying entire villages and displacing at least half a million people. The earthquake was the largest in 40 years, and the fourth largest in a century.