The 2012 series Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. explores the complex tapestry of American history through the stories of celebrity guests. In Episode 5, Gates explores the family histories of Pastor Rick Warren, Rabbi Angela Buchdahl and Sheikh Yasir Qadhi, and the role religion has played in shaping their individual and their ancestors’ stories.
This hands-on, media-enhanced lesson examines how religion has played a part in attracting immigrants to the U.S. and the role it plays in the lives of modern American families. In the Introductory Activity, students discuss reasons why immigrants have come to the U.S., including the pursuit of religious freedom. Students learn about the quest by Puritans, including Pastor Rick Warren’s ancestors, to freely practice their religion. In Learning Activity 1, students learn about the family stories of Rabbi Buchdahl’s Jewish ancestors from Romania and Yasir Qadhi’s family, originally from India, and how they left their homelands to pursue religious freedom. In Learning Activity 2, students explore the impact of religious stereotypes. Students learn about how young Angela Buchdahl contemplated leaving Judaism after repeatedly being told she didn’t “look Jewish”, and about how Yasir Qadhi faced anti-Muslim stereotypes after the attacks on the U.S. on September 11, 2001. Students watch video segments and read related articles to gain more insight on these stories. In the Culminating Activity, students reflect upon the role religion has played in shaping the U.S. and whether their own family history has been shaped by religion and the quest for religious freedom. Students select from a variety of related themes and write reflection papers.
After completing this lesson, students will be able to:
- Describe how religion has played a role in immigration to the U.S.
- Explain why Puritans came to the U.S. in the 1600s.
- Discuss why Jews in Romania fled the country in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
- Describe why Muslims migrated from India to Pakistan in 1947/1948.
- Discuss the history of Pakistan.
- Discuss the impact of religious stereotypes.
- Identify main facts and summarize key points presented in video and print form.
(2-3) 45-minute class periods
One copy of “Kimchee on the Seder Plate” by Angela Buchdahl or “The New Normal:Muslims Reflect on Life After 9/11” by Sheila Poole for each student.
For Learning Activity 2:
“Kimchee on the Seder Plate” by Angela Buchdahl
Before The Lesson
Print out enough copies of “Kimchee on theSeder Plate” for half the class and enough copies of “The New Normal: Muslims Reflect on Life After 9/11” for the other half. If you have access to multiple computers, students can read the articles online, rather than printouts.
Part I: INTRODUCTORY ACTIVITY
- Ask students to brainstorm reasons immigrants have come to the United States. (Possible responses: To seek a better life, escape persecution, seek religious freedom, etc.) If none of the students mentions seeking religious freedom or escaping religious persecution, ask them why people of different religious faiths might have chosen to come to the U.S. (To freely practice their religions. To escape religious persecution.)
- Ask students to discuss whether the right to practice any religion is guaranteed in the U.S. (Yes. Freedom of Religion is a right guaranteed in the U.S.) Ask students where this right is guaranteed. (It is guaranteed in the First Amendment of the Constitution, which states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”)
- Explain that the PBS series Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., explores the history of the United States through the family stories of well-known Americans. This lesson uses segments from a Finding Your Roots episode featuring Pastor Rick Warren, Rabbi Angela Buchdahl and Sheikh Yasir Qadhi and examines the role religion has played in attracting immigrants to the U.S., and how it has featured prominently in the lives of the featured guests.
- Ask students to name religious groups that fled to the U.S. in search of religious freedom. Explain that this lesson focuses on the stories of Puritan, Jewish and Muslim families who left their homelands at different times in history to freely practice their religions. Let students know you will be showing a video segment discussing an ancestor of California-based Pastor Rick Warren. As they view the segment, ask them to identify Rick’s 9th great-grandfather’s motivation for coming to the United States.
- Play the video segment Seeking Religious Freedom: From England to Roxbury, MA. After showing the segment, ask students to discuss Warren’s ancestor’s motivation for coming to the United States. (Warren’s 9th great-grandfather, William Parke, was struggling to worship as a Puritan in Semer, England in the early 1600s when he decided to escape persecution by sailing to America in search of religious freedom. He came to the U.S. in 1630 on the boat the Lyon. The Puritans wanted to find a refuge to practice their religion, without the influences of the Jesuits or others who they felt were promoting anti-Christian sentiment.)
- Optional: Remind students that the segment mentions John Eliot, who printed the first Bible in the New World. Ask students what language they think the Bible was printed in. If they answer, “English,” let them know it was not English and ask for other possible ideas. After they have finished guessing, let them know it was Algonquin (a native language). Explain that John Eliot printed a Bible in Algonquin in 1663, so he and his fellow Puritans could spread Christianity to Native Americans in the Massachusetts colony. The first English Bible in North America wasn’t printed until the late 1700s, since it was easier and less expensive to import English language Bibles from England until the Revolutionary War.
Part II: LEARNING ACTIVITY 1
- Explain that the class is now going to learn about another group of immigrants that came to the United States to pursue religious freedom more than two centuries after Pastor Rick Warren’s 9th great-grandfather arrived. Specifically, the class is going to look at the migration of Rabbi Angela Buchdahl’s Jewish ancestors from Europe to the United States. Ask students to list European countries where Jews were persecuted in the late 1800s and early 1900s. If students don’t mention Romania, explain that Romania was one country where Jews were not able to freely practice their religion. Introduce the next segment by explaining that Rabbi Angela Buchdahl’s ancestors came to the U.S. from Romania. Ask students to observe the reasons why Rabbi Buchdahl’s family migrated from Romania to the U.S. as they watch the next video segment.
- Play the video segment Seeking Religious Freedom: From Romania to New York, NY. After showing the segment, ask students to discuss the reasons why Rabbi Buchdal’s family came to the U.S. [Possible answers: In Romania, between 1879 and 1913 most Jews (about 248,000 out of 250,000) were not considered full citizens and there were laws restricting their rights. In 1882, a law was passed which forced them to serve in the military, even though they weren’t citizens, and another law forbade them from selling goods, thus limiting the income of thousands of families. There was widespread anti-Semitic sentiment. A wave of emigration began in 1899, as Jews, including Angela’s ancestors, fled Romania. Angela’s ancestors sailed on a ship to the U.S. and arrived in New York City.]
- Ask students to discuss how Angela’s new knowledge of the persecution experienced by her ancestors impacted her. (She says knowing the hardships her Jewish ancestors endured to practice their faith and pass it along to their descendants highlights the need for her to carry on Jewish traditions.)
- Let students know they will now be exploring immigrants from another part of the world, who were also seeking religious freedom. Explain that you will now be showing a video segment featuring the story of the migration of Sheikh Yasir Qadhi’s Muslim ancestors to the United States. Ask students to observe where Sheikh Qadhi’s ancestors lived prior to coming to the U.S. and their reasons for migrating.
- Play the video segment Seeking Religious Freedom: From India to Pakistan to Houston, TX. After playing the segment, ask students to discuss where Qadhi’s ancestors lived prior to coming to the U.S. and their reasons for migrating. (In 1948, Yasir Qadhi’s grandfather was forced to flee his home of Jabalpur, India with his wife and children, including Yasir’s father. First they fled to Bombay—now Mumbai—India and then fled to Karachi, Pakistan, the newly-partitioned Muslim nation, with the hopes of freely practicing their Islamic religious beliefs and starting a new life. They fled to Pakistan with hopes that there would be a better future there for them, since the land was being specifically created as a Muslim country. The travel to Karachi was a very difficult and dangerous journey. In Pakistan there was sectarian violence between Hindus and Muslims. For Yasir’s father the dream of finding a better life in Pakistan didn’t come true. In 1963, Yasir’s father decided to move to America to seek a brighter future and also practice his faith freely. When he first arrived in Houston, TX he enrolled as a Biology student at the University of Houston. He realized he could practice his faith freely and decided to live there permanently. At the first Eid prayer, there were only 3 people celebrating Eid. He ended up taking on the role of Imam and leading them in Eid prayer.)
- Ask students to discuss what Yasir Qadhi describes happened in 1947. (He mentions that the largest mass migration of humans in the history of humanity occurred in 1947. Over 15,000,000 Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus migrated across borders. A lot of chaos, terror and riots took place during that time, making the journey very treacherous.)
- Ask students to reflect upon the migration stories of the ancestors of Pastor Rick Warren, Angela Buchdahl and Yasir Qadhi. Encourage students to compare and contrast Warren, Buchdahl and Qadhi’s ancestors’ reasons for leaving their homeland and for eventually coming to the United States.
- Divide students into groups of 2-3 students each and ask each group to research and find out at least three facts about one of the following topics:
- Puritan migrations to the U.S. in the 1600s
(Encourage students to research the following: where they came from, why they came to the U.S. and where they settled in the U.S.)
- The first Bible printed in North America
(Ask students to include details about why the first Bible was printed, what language it was printed in and how it was used.)
- The history of Jews in Romania
(Encourage students to find out when Jews first arrived in Romania and how their conditions changed in the late 1800s.)
- Romanian Jews’ migrations to the U.S. in the late 1800s/early 1900s
(Ask students to conduct research about why Romanian Jews migrated to the U.S. and how they managed to safely travel to the U.S.)
- The history of Pakistan
(Ask students to find out how and why Pakistan was formed and where people migrated from to come to Pakistan.)
- Migrations between Pakistan and India, beginning in 1947
(Encourage students to conduct research about the massive migrations that occurred from India to Pakistan and from Pakistan to India among the Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs beginning in 1947. Ask students to find out which groups were migrating, why they were migrating and where they were going.)
- Give students about 15 minutes to gather information about their assigned topics. Ask students to present their findings to the class.
- Lead a discussion about the role religion played in motivating religious groups to leave their homelands and eventually come to the United States. Ask students to cite specific examples from their research and the Finding Your Roots video segments. Ask students to compare and contrast different immigrant groups’ backgrounds and their quests for religious freedom.
Part III: LEARNING ACTIVITY 2
- Ask students to reflect upon stereotypes and think about the following:
- What types of stereotypes have they had about other people or groups of people?
- What stereotypes have people had about them?
- What types of behavior or comments based on stereotypes have they witnessed in school? In their community? In the media?
- What are the possible consequences/impact of people stereotyping groups of people?
- “Kimchee on the Seder Plate” by Angela Buchdahl
- “The New Normal: Muslims Reflect on Life After 9/11” by Sheila Poole
Encourage students to summarize and write down at least three facts presented in their assigned article.
- Ask students to share information they learned from reading the articles.
- “Kimchee on the Seder Plate”
(The number of multiracial Jewish families has increased since Angela was a child. In ancient times, Jews were from different cultures and comprised of different races.) Ask students to describe some facts they learned from the essay about Angela Buchdahl and her family. (Her mother, who is Korean, suggested placing kimchee on the Seder Plate—the traditional plate used during the Jewish celebration of Passover. Even though Angela’s father is Jewish, she needed to have a conversion ceremony in order to be considered fully Jewish.) Note: Explain to students that the “giyur” ceremony that Angela mentions is a conversion ceremony.
- “The New Normal: Muslims Reflect on Life After 9/11”
(Even though it has been more than a decade since 9/11 there is still discrimination against Muslims and hate crimes against Muslims in the U.S. Muslims feel like they are under more scrutiny & surveillance than other Americans because of the links between Islamic extremists and 9/11.)
Part IV: CULMINATING ACTIVITY
- Ask students to reflect upon and discuss the role religion has had in shaping the U.S. and to think about whether their own family history has been shaped by religion and the quest for religious freedom. Ask students to reflect on the stories of persecution faced by the ancestors of Pastor Rick Warren, Rabbi Angela Buchdahl, and Sheikh Yasir Qadhi, and the way in which religion has shaped the lives of these religious leaders.
- Ask students to write a reflection essay on one of the following topics:
- Describe the role religion played in shaping the U.S. (Include a discussion about the role religion played in attracting the ancestors of Pastor Warren, Rabbi Buchdahl and Sheikh Qadhi to the U.S.)
- Explore the ways in which their own family history has been shaped by religion and the quest for religious freedom.
- Select one religious group (Buddhist, Hindu, Mormon, Sikh, Catholic, Quaker, Jewish, Muslim, Atheist/Agnostic, Baha’i Faith, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientologists, etc.) and explore the ways in which religion brought them to the United States and how it shaped the lives of its practitioners in the U.S.
- Take a close look at one very observant religious group (Amish, Hasidic Jews, Seventh Day Adventists, etc.) and how they have maintained their traditional beliefs and lifestyles in the modern world.
- Explore religious stereotypes in the U.S. and how they have impacted different religious groups.