Wednesday, June 17

Broken Strings + Religious Persecution

As the Fourth of July approaches, and Americans take the time to reflect upon their freedoms, it's important to remember that throughout history, all around the world, many have been denied those freedoms simply based upon their beliefs...
I am in the right, and you are in the wrong. When you are the stronger, you ought to tolerate me; for it is your duty to tolerate truth. But when I am the stronger, I shall persecute you; for it is my duty to persecute error.  —Thomas Babington Macaulay
Religious persecution is the violence or discrimination of religious minorities, aimed at either forcing them to assimilate or to leave.  The victims are dehumanized and often treated as second-class citizens.  While there are many instances of religious persecution throughout history, we are focusing on the three major religions with an emphasis on anti-Semitism (as it is a Jewish-themed unit).

Early Christians were discriminated against in Ancient Rome.  The Romans were polytheistic, believing in many gods, and they did not like the monotheism (or rule by someone other than the emperor) of this new religion.  When faced with fire, famine, or other difficulties, the Roman emperors would blame it on the Christians, turning the people against them.  It was common practice for these early converts to be fed to the lions at the Colosseum for entertainment!  (a la Beric the Briton)

The Spanish Inquisition was started by the Catholic church to punish heretics…and pretty much anyone who refused to convert to Catholicism. Beginning in the 12th century, and lasting hundreds of years, the inquisition led to the execution of over 32,000 Muslims and Jews. Inquisitors came to a town, gave citizens a chance to admit to heresy, and then doled out punishment to those who confessed and (if not already) converted to Catholicism. Many citizens were expelled from their country, or fled in advance.

Jews have been persecuted for thousands of years. The history of anti-Semitism, from ancient days to the modern world, is the story of how a group of people can become the scapegoat for the world’s fear and anxiety. The Jewish people were enslaved by the ancient Egyptians, targeted by the Catholics during the Spanish Inquisition, and executed for witchcraft throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. From the 18th to 20th century, Jews were blamed for many disasters that befell countries across Europe, particularly economic ones.

By the Russian Revolution and World War I, pogroms were occurring across the soviet region, targeting Jews and gypsies. In post-war Germany, a scapegoat was needed to accept the blame for losing the war. The events and anti-Semitism of the previous eight centuries came together in one tragic event – the Holocaust – which was the most documented and well-known case of religious persecution. As a global people, we hope to remember this tragedy so that it never occurs – to any people – again.

Learn more about the Holocaust in the Yom Ha'Shoah unit.

  • Broken Strings
    • It's 2002. In the aftermath of the twin towers -- and the death of her beloved grandmother -- Shirli Berman is intent on moving forward. The best singer in her junior high, she auditions for the lead role in Fiddler on the Roof, but is crushed to learn that she's been given the part of the old Jewish mother in the musical rather than the coveted part of the sister. But there is an upside: her "husband" is none other than Ben Morgan, the cutest and most popular boy in the school.  Deciding to throw herself into the role, she rummages in her grandfather's attic for some props. There, she discovers an old violin in the corner -- strange, since her Zayde has never seemed to like music, never even going to any of her recitals. Showing it to her grandfather unleashes an anger in him she has never seen before, and while she is frightened of what it might mean, Shirli keeps trying to connect with her Zayde and discover the awful reason behind his anger. A long-kept family secret spills out, and Shirli learns the true power of music, both terrible and wonderful.
  • Beric the Briton - a Story of the Roman Invasion (Classics To Go) by [Henty, G. A.]Beric the Briton
    • The hero of the story is Beric, a young Briton, currently living under Roman subjugation. After he is raised to the rank of chief among his tribe, known as the Iceni, he and his tribe rise up against Roman rule. The strong but untrained Britons are successful in the beginning of the uprising, but are quickly conquered again by the well-trained legionaries. Beric and his small group of men fight to the last, conducting a sort of guerrilla warfare. Finally he and his men are captured, and Beric is sent to Rome as a prisoner/gladiator. In Rome, he becomes friends with some people who belong to the rising sect of Christians. When a Christian girl is about to be given to the lions in the Roman amphitheater, Beric dashes to the rescue and kills a lion single-handedly…
Make / Do
  • Listen to Klezmer music (important to the plot of Broken Strings)
  • Look at the colorized photos in this article.  How do you feel differently about the victims when they are black and white versus when they are colorized?
  • Create a visual.  Gather information about one religion, and create a digital graphic to present the information.  Include interesting facts about major beliefs, sacred texts, festivities and ceremonies, rituals, clothing, places of worship, etc.
  • prejudice
  • secular
  • religious freedom
  • tolerance
  • persecution
  • antisemitism
  • islamophobia
  • martyr
  • ethnic cleansing
  • dehumanize
  • Broken Strings takes place in post-9/11 America.  What parallels can you draw between the treatment of Muslims during this era and the treatment of Jews pre-WW2?
  • If you were creating a new government, how would you address religious tolerance?  What laws would you make?  What consequences would there be for breaking those laws?

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