Two young Sikh musicians and the author at the Uniting for Peace Event
at St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral on 13 November 2023
Professor Joe Goldblatt
“Put on your best clothes. You are going to the Baptist church this Wednesday night.” With those two sentences our father put my sister and I on notice that he was planning on paving the way for interfaith relations between our Jewish family and the 40,000 Southern Baptists who were our immediate neighbours. Papa had a simple philosophy and strategy. He believed that local pastors might welcome my sister and I to visit their local church on the weeknight where children our age came together to study the bible. He also believed that if we visited enough local places of worship that others may like and respect us.
When in the 1950’s Papa and Mama decided to build their new home they chose a neighbourhood in Dallas, Texas that was atypical for a Jewish family. Our home was not in what some described as the Jewish ghetto of North Dallas that was surrounded by Jewish infrastructure such as synagogues and delicatessans. Rather, our small home was located in far south Dallas so that it would be close to Papa’s hardware store. Our wee village was entitled Pleasant Grove and indeed it was most pleasant for our childhood. During our childhood years my sister and I never directly exeprienced discrimination nor anti – semitism despite the fact that our father was one of the first prominent Jewish politicians in our city.
Papa, however, was not so lucky. One day after announcing he would be a candidate for the Dallas city council a group of six men wore Nazi SS uniforms and marched for several hours in front of his hardware store. They were members of a group founded by the fascist George Lincoln Rockwell and known as the American Nazi Party. They were protesting Papa’s decision to run for public office.
That same week two agents from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) visited our home and told our father that he had been recieiving death threats through their office. The agents then escorted us outside and showed us a thin metal wire they had affixed to the bonnet (hood) of our automobile. The lead agent pointed to the wire and told Papa “If this wire is ever broken, do not start your car. Call us instead. A broken wire could mean a bomb has been planted.”
As young children, the gravity of this situation did not really resonate with us as we were all to consumed with school, friends, and leisure activities. However, I still remember my mother entering her house slowly shaking her head from side to side and then serving a dinner that was mostly conducted in silence.
For nearly forty years, fortunately,g I never had an anti – semitic comment directed my way. However, one day whilst I was standing in front of the desk of my University secretary who happened to be from Germany, one of my younger colleagues asked me to use my neotiation sills to, in her words, “Jew the airline down to allow us to receive the cheapest airline ticket” in order for us to travel to an upcoming conference.
Similar to my mother, the German secretary silently would hear these evil antisemitic words I shall call them out.” I do not know what the secretary told my colleague, however, I hever experienced anti semitism again whilst working at that University.
A lot has changed in our world due to the creation of the internet and today racist and antisemitic language is much more common place than when I was much younger. However, there are bright rays of light upon the distant horizon.
Last year the former Consul General for the Federal Republic of Germany asked me if his government could sponsor an exhibition in Edinburgh entitled Expelled! Polenaktion 1938 . I was surprised and delighted that this experienced diplomat offered to bring this exhibition from Berlin, Germany to Edinburgh to tell the story of when the Nazi Party expelled 17,000 Jews within two weeks to Poland simply because of their religion and race. The exhibition will open on 24 January and continue until 2 February 2024 at the University of Edinburgh Chaplaincy Auditorium at Bristo Square in Edinburgh.
This past week the Edinburgh Interfaith Association in cooperation with The Oxford Foundation from England presented a major programme in the history of our city when over 20 faith leaders and performers worked together to promote peace with an audience of nearly 500 persons at Edinburgh’s St Mary’s Cathedral. One of the speakers was a gentleman whose brother was tragically brutally murdered by ISIS terrorists and this man has turned his grief into an opportunity to promote peace throughout the world.
At the end of this programme I led those assembled in chanting the African American poem We Shall Overcome. As the audience rose from their pews holding hands together that stretched toward the heavens with hope I was overcome with emotion as I remembered how far we had come from that day the FBI had visited my childhood home. I also remembered how far we still have to go as the fighting continues in Gaza, Ukraine, and throughout the world.
Perhaps this is the greatest challenge for our generation. We must not only take the first step toward peace in the world. We must hold hands and bring others along with us. After all, the only way to safely arrive at our desired destination of a lasting peace is to bring as many others as possible along with us. I hope with all my heart that as I look beside and behind me that there will be many others of good heart who are willing and ready to join me and others upon this sacred journey.
This journey may begin with a simple commitment to every Wednesday, or any day you choose, to share your story, your faith, and your friendship with as many others a possible.
Professor Joe Goldblatt is Emeritus Professor of Planned Events at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, Scotland and serves as Chair of Edinburgh Interfaith Association and Volunteer Edinburgh. His views are his own. To learn more about his views visit www.joegoldblatt.scot Professor Goldblatt with others from the Edinburgh Interfaith Association annually visits dozens of local primary schools to present their highly acclaimed Faith Road Show where multiple faiths and Police Scotland constables discuss their beliefs, values, and services If you would like to bring this free programme to your school contact firstname.lastname@example.org