Reports and breaking news

12 Neighbours in a Bathroom!!

One woman told us of a positive experience that had come out of the war—one of many I'm sure. She said that in her apartment building there were no safe rooms or bomb shelters and she lived on the top floor of a north-facing building overlooking the Mediterranean Sea and the Bay of Haifa. In peacetime this is something to be desired but when it's raining katyusha rockets being sent from the north across the bay it couldn't have been worse. Following the guidelines given by the home guard whenever the sirens sounded she, and other neighbours, took cover in the stairwell. Living on a lower and much safer floor was an Arab woman and her family and she decided to invite them into her apartment each time this happened. The home guard also advised people not to be near windows for obvious reasons; so—like most people—they took shelter in their bathrooms and toilets. She told us that the residents of the flats are a mixture of Jewish, Christian and Muslim Arab, and Bahai who, prior to the war, had all kept pretty much to themselves. However, thanks to the kindness of this Arab lady, they found themselves on many occasions huddled together in her tiny bathroom—sometimes up to 12 people at a time.

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Universities and tolerance

THE KENNEDY SCHOOL of Government at Harvard University should not cancel the scheduled speech by former president Mohammad Khatami of Iran. Universities must never submit to censorial pressures by individuals or groups that disagree with, or are deeply offended by, a speaker's ideas.

{josquote}I'm eager to hear Khatami's explanation for his and his country's treatment of women, homosexuals, secularists, Baha'i, and student reformers. And I am confident that Harvard's student body will have the courage to ask Khatami the sorts of questions that mainstream media interviewers have either avoided or have let Khatami evade with empty platitudes.{/josquote}

This does not mean that those who invited Khatami to deliver a lecture on the "Ethics of Tolerance in the Age of Violence"—a subject on which, based on his lifetime of intolerance, he has nothing to contribute—made a wise decision. Would they have invited David Duke to lecture on racial harmony or the late Meir Kahane to educate our students on the proper way to protest? I doubt it.

Khatami is somewhat different, of course, having been president of Iran (whatever that means ). But he is no longer in a position to influence Iranian policy or to answer hard questions about, for example, Iran's current nuclear program or its latest purge of secular faculty members. He could, perhaps, explain why the ``ethics of tolerance" did not inspire him to do anything when hundreds of dissident students were arrested and tortured during his tenure.

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Kids can skip school on Buddha's birthday and 74 other holidays

To keep her perfect attendance record, Tahera Ali's 13-year-old daughter used to go to school for only a couple of hours on the Islamic Day of Ashurah, getting out just in time to attend prayers for what is a holy day of sorrow.

"We wear all black on that date, and she would have to change in the car on the way" to the mosque, said the Bridgewater mother.

This year it will be different.

Using a little-known process that intertwines education and religion, Ali petitioned her district and this year the day was placed on New Jersey's approved list of religious holidays. On these days, individual students may be absent from school due to their faith, without penalty, even though it is not a districtwide holiday.

"I am so glad and thankful," said Ali. "My children haven't been absent since kindergarten."

Setting of the religious calendars for schools can be a complex process, with the list ever-growing as the population of New Jersey becomes more diverse. The calendar now includes six religions and counts 75 days of the school year, almost double the number from 15 years ago.

{josquote}For state officials more familiar with pedagogy than theology, it can be a challenge to sort it all out.{/josquote}

This year, it runs from the Islamic Day of Ascension on Sept. 1 to a Buddhist holiday on June 26 that celebrates His Holiness the 17th Gyalawa Karmpapa's birthdate.

In between are Christmas, Passover and the first day of Ramadan, as well as Buddhist and Baha'i holidays. For state officials more familiar with pedagogy than theology, it can be a challenge to sort it all out.

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Nurtured with faith, a precious and rare flower blooms

From a seed a forest grows … Chris Wates with a mature Grevillea caleyi in the Baha'i temple's grounds.
Photo: Bob Pearce

FOR most religions burning is associated with hell and damnation, but for those of the Baha'i faith fire may be a crucial part of fulfilling their duty to one of Sydney's most endangered plant communities.

The Baha'i National Centre is at Ingleside on a 16-hectare site beside Mona Vale Road, on a ridge above the northern beaches. Formal garden beds were built around the temple and planted with exotics.

But there are also precious remnants of Duffys Forest. Seedlings of a critically rare plant, Grevillea caleyi, associated with the Duffys Forest ecological community, have sprouted in the Baha'i gardens, forcing the State Government to intervene.

{josquote}An exception will be the area immediately beside the house of worship - known as the zone of tranquillity - where the garden beds may stay as they are.{/josquote}

The grevillea occurs only in a few suburbs on the North Shore, centring on Terrey Hills. The Department of Environment and Conservation says there may once have been about 1450 hectares of Duffys Forest. Today fewer than 240 hectares remain, mostly in the Warringah and Ku-ring-gai local government areas.

A mere two hectares of Duffys Forest survives on land owned by the Baha'is but it is so precious the State Government is about to negotiate a management plan to protect it.

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Security in Wilmette tighter 5 years after Sept. 11 terror

On July 3, so many police officers patrolled Gillson Park for Wilmette's pre-Independence Day festival that when a father noticed a man seemingly intent on molesting his son, officers arrested the alleged offender before he had even decided which way to go, police said at the time.

Chief George Carpenter said last week he's not sure the crowd of blue made the arrest easier, but he knows why so many officers were at the park: the attention that he and other U.S. law enforcement leaders now pay to large gatherings five years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on American soil.

"The third of July, there were a whole lot of people down at Gillson Park," Carpenter recalled last week. The extra officers that served there "are part of a plan for a disaster we never envisioned" before Sept. 11, 2001, he said.

"Because of the advent of terrorism, police attention is given to community events that may not have received attention beforehand," he said. "Institutions in the village are more eager to share information about their events, and we might be more eager to pay attention.

{josquote}The Baha'i House of Worship, for example, has always been on our radar because of the history of oppression (of Baha'is) in the Middle East{/josquote}

"The Baha'i House of Worship, for example, has always been on our radar because of the history of oppression (of Baha'is) in the Middle East," he said. "And now we have even more interaction with our Jewish temples."

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