Professor Joe Goldblatt
Too often the term “interfaith relations” conjures the image of a few kind hearted folk sharing tea and biscuits in a brief annual ritual to better understand each other’s beliefs. I have learned through my voluntary efforts with Scotland’s oldest interfaith association that our shared roots as human beings, including those with some faith and those with none at all, are very strongly intertwined. Therefore, we must work together every day of our lives to move beyond isolated brief annual encounters to a greater and even deeper and more abiding love for each other.
I discovered what it is to be a member of the “other” when my family of four was the only Jewish clan in a community of 40,000 Christians. My father, who fought against the Nazi’s in World War II, knew that my sister and I could easily become victims of anti – semitism. Therefore, he contacted the local Christian ministers and asked them if they would like us to speak to their Sunday school class about the traditions and beliefs of the Jewish people. Suddenly, we were in great demand.
For nearly one year, on almost every Wedesday evening and many Sunday mornings my sister and I spoke to local Christian children, their parents and teachers about the Jewish people. As a result of these positive interactions we never once experienced an semblance of anti – semitism.
My father probably realised as a young child that we must work even harder to understand and accept those who are different from us. When he was a young boy of six he, his parents and six brothers and sister moved to a small town in Texas to take advantage of the oil boom. There was such a rush to benefit from the future trade associated with the oil industry that there was no housing available. Therefore, papa and his family slept on the ground in a tent until a home became available.
One Sunday morning a Christian woman came to their tent with her son who was my father’s friend. She asked my grandmother if our father would like to attend Sunday Bible School with her son. My Jewish graondmother thought for a moment and then immediately replied by saying, “It couldn’t hurt and it might help.”
Many years later my father lay in a hospital bed recovering from a heart attack. The door to his hospital room opened and to his surprise the senior minister of the First Baptist Church and five of his deacons entered the small room and stood around papa’s bed. The minister asked papa if he and his deacons could pray for his recovery. Papa, perhaps remembering his own mother, replied “What you are really asking is if you may show me that you love me. Of course.” He recovered, was elected and re – elected to the City Council three times and lived for another twenty years. Either their prayers worked and / or the gesture of their love gave my father the added incentive to fully recover. Regardless, he was always grateful for their act of loving kindness.
I suppose that through the values handed down to me by my grandmother and father, I have always had a strong interest in and devotion to positive interfaith relations. Therefore, a few years ago when due to the growing ubuiquity of social media Scotland, experienced a serious spike in anti – semitic activity, I was delighted when the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities (SCoJeC) created a training programme for volunteers to visit local religious and moral education classes to speak about being Jewish. However, as we continued this training I realized that the important element of including show and tell objects was misssing. I offered to secure these ritual objects for use in the classroom and was asked to provide one complete carton for each of our 32 local authorities. Thanks to the generosity of many local and international donors, we succeeded in making Jewish Objects for Education in Scotland (JOES Boxes) available for use by teachers and students in every local authority.
Most recently, I was honoured to have been invited to become the next chair of the Edinburgh Interfaith Association (EIFA) which is to be ratified by the newly elected board following the forthcoming AGM. For over 32 years EIFA has successfully promoted respect, tolerance and understanding of all faiths and none in Scotland’s capital city. Through programmes in the schools, colleges and universities, in churches, mosques, synagogues, temples and most recently on line, this organisation has found creative ways to encourage a better understanding and acceptance of one anothers beliefs.
If I become EIFA’a next chair, I hope to serve as a responsible steward for our past and also an ambitious advocate for our future goals that include establishing a physical interfaith centre in our city where all faiths and none may assemble in person and also simultaneously on line. I hope that this space, as my grandmother, and father taught me so well, shall better enable us to bring folk together to encourage understanding, respect, tolerance, and yes, love.
After all, in recent years, as a result of the #me too and #Black Lives Matters movements, there has been a renewed interest in encouraging individuals and organisation to do more than give lip service to promoting positive change in society. I believe, as do others, that we must not only support one another we must also actively work against evils such as racism, islamophobia, antisemitism and in fact work closely together to become more effective anti – prejudice citizen – activists in our society.
Not too long ago, Edinburgh’s marketing slogan included the adjective “Inspiring”. I believe it is now time to review this slogan and through our combined efforts to earn the right to add the term “Inclusive” to show ourselves and the entire world that Scotland’s capital city is both anti – prejudice and also a special sanctuary where we welcome everyone with open arms and full hearts.
Professor Joe Goldblatt is Emeritus Professor of Planned Events at Queen Margaret University and has been proposed as chair of the Edinburgh Interfaith Association. To read more about his views visit www.joegoldblatt.scot and to learn more about EIFA visit www.edinburghinterfaith.com