Professor Joe Goldblatt
A wee lad of around seven years old lingered behind long after his class mates quickly moved on to the next table. Nearly 100 primary school pupils were participating in the Edinburgh Interfaith Association Faith Road Show that annually visits dozens of local Edinburgh schools. These programmes bring together five or six faith leaders representing Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Baha’i’s, Pagans, Buddhists and other faiths along with constables from Police Scotland to educate young children about the diversity of faith beliefs in our city.
Each faith leader speaks to ten children at a time for ten minutes. During each session the faith leader explains their beliefs and shows and tells about several ritual objects that are used to practice their faith. Within one hour sixty children learn a lot about the diversity and similarity of all faiths.
To make my faith of Judaism even more interesting I always begin my session by performing a magic trick. I show a colouring book that seemingly has blank pages. I tell the children that I was poor as a small boy and we could not afford any pictures and I had to use my imagination to create them. Then magically as I quickly flipped the book open black and white drawings suddenly have suddenly appeared on every page.
Then I tell the pupils that thanks to wonderful teachers such as the ones at their school, my imagination soon helped me see even more pictures in my colouring book. When I flip it open for the final time all of the black and white pictures have become full colour and the children always shout “Ooooh!” and “Aaaah” followed by asking “How did you do that?”
Therefore, I was delighted when the young boy stayed behind to thank me for my magic and ask if he could “inspect” my colouring book. However, his next question left me gobsmacked. He looked up into my eyes, raised his small hand and showed me a tiny scar just about his fingers.
He then asked, “Could you please use your magic to make my scar disappear?” I was suddenly and unusually speechless. After a few seconds I knelt down beside him and explained that sometimes the best magic is time. If he gave his hand enough time, as he grew and developed the scar might just become smaller.
He nodded his head in agreement and then moved on to join his other classmates at the next table where a Buddhist was seated on the floor and starting to practice meditation.
As we mark the 22nd anniversary of Holocaust Memorial Day in the United Kingdom I believe we need to find new ways to heal our historic scars and prevent future ones. The actual date of this solemn commemoration is 27 January and this date was chosen because in 1945 Soviet Union troops marched into Auschwitz and liberated the poor souls clinging to life in the Auschwitz concentration camp. The theme for this year is “Ordinary People” to help us understand that the victims and victors were also ordinary people at that time.
This week as we also mark the 78th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the Germans now contemplate whether they should send armoured tanks to Ukraine to provide defence from the bombardment of the former Soviet Union or better known today as Russia. I scratch my head and wonder how we have once again reached this treacherous moment in history and also realise that no magic or imagination on my part could possibly conjure how this has happened nor how it may end.
And so it continues, this long history of evil that we sadly remember this week. A little over 100 years ago my ordinary Jewish grandparents were also forced to leave their tiny home in Kyiv, Ukraine to escape the evil men and women who were sent by the Czar of the Soviet Union to burn their houses and force them to flee. They soon sought refuge in America where they produced eight children.
My father, who like his parents, was an ordinary person caught up in extraordinary times, who later owned a small hardware shop in Dallas, Texas. One day in the 1950’s young men dressed in costumes as Nazi soldiers demonstrated their hatred for Jews by marching and gesturing and shouting “Hiel Hitler” in front of his struggling business.
A few months later, members of the Klu Klux Klan, an American white supremacist group, burned a large cross in the front garden of our home and a few days later, the police came to our family to warn us of a potential car bomb that may be planted in the engine of our automobile.
Now, over a century late since my grandparents boarded ships and fled persecution and seventy years since their son survived other evil threats, we continue to witness the necessity for greater understanding, love and kindness that is needed now more than ever before.
Only seven years ago, I, the grandson and son of ordinary people, was the recipient of a seven page anti – Semitic letter from an anonymous person. At first I hesitated to tell anyone in order to potentially prevent copy – cat crimes and then I realised that evil must be called out, recorded, and challenged.
And this is why week after week I and others visit primary schools all over Scotland so that young children meet an ordinary person and perhaps through our meeting they may come to better understand and even like me and others.
I also hope that one day when my grandsons become older, these children I am meeting, shall love them too because they realise that they are the descendants of ordinary people who happen to be Jewish.
Jesus said he believed that the greatest commandment in the old testament or Jewish bible was “You shall love the Lord Your God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength.” Therefore, if humans are created, as some believe, in the image of God, I believe we must then love one another with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, because as Robert Burns, whose birthday we also commemorate this week, said “We are brothers and (my addition) ‘sisters’ and ‘more’ for all that.
In my opinion, this is the real magic the world needs now from ordinary people to mitigate or even conquer the hate that continues to haunt the human soul.
Professor Joe Goldblatt is Emeritus Professor of Planned Events at Queen Margaret University and the Chair of the Edinburgh Interfaith Association. To schedule an Interfaith Road Show for your school or organisation contact email@example.com