Reproduced with permission from the Australian Book Review, the following is my comment on Elisabeth Holdsworth’s essay “If This Is a Jew” printed in the journal’s November 2017 issue.
How much I enjoyed Elisabeth Holdsworth’s illuminating essay “If This Is a Jew”. In answer to a question I put to him several years ago, one of my newly discovered relatives, Jeremy Samuel, gave me an abbreviated version of the ins and outs of the different kinds of Judaism while doing the same in Melbourne’s rush-hour traffic. While the detail of what Jeremy so patiently explained escapes me, the essence of what he said remains and I was delighted to come across an extended explanation in a form that I could read and re-read – and absorb.
In particular, I loved Elisabeth’s description of her ‘feast of audacious hospitality’. I, too, am lucky enough to have friends from the major religions – and while I have allegiance to no particular faith, I take great pleasure in occasional spontaneous visits to different places of worship – be it temple, synagogue, mosque or church – for the sense of unity among the congregation, the peace, calm and hope that somehow thickens the very air and for the uniqueness of the individual services. There is difference in how the message is delivered, but overall, how similar is that message.
And it is this similarity that is the thing. As Elisabeth points out ‘… as so often happens when Jews and Muslims get together, we ended up discussing what unites us rather than what divides us’. My current project is an historical novel based on a friendship between three young men – a Catholic, a Muslim and a Jew – set in fifteenth-century Spain. Even as power-mongering splinters their lives, their friendship stands firm. But as with the recent turmoil in Spain – or anywhere else for that matter – the youth are somewhat discounted.
If I were allowed one wish, it would be that out of the ignorance and upheaval of the current day, understanding and coherence not only eventuates, but triumphs. It begins by educating ourselves and letting go our own fears and prejudices – and ends, I think, in a willingness to listen to others.
Sometimes it takes time to break free from the story we’ve been immersed in all lives to see that the world around us has moved on in the meantime — to stand back in order to separate fact from fiction.
It will be a bit of a balancing act and it will take time and persistence, but as the Paul Kelly song goes: ‘From little things, big things grow …’ A more cohesive, less fearful world? You never know.
I’d like to end with Elisabeth’s reply to my comment: ‘Here’s to audacious hospitality.’
Thank you to all who have taken the time to comment and to contact me this year. My very best wishes for a lovely Christmas, a safe and happy holiday season and a good year ahead for all.
Centre for Stories — Lots happening. Check out their Write Nights, Stories from Country, Women’s Rights are Human Rights (Dec 12) … or book for a workshop/individual mentoring session with inspirational international literary agent Wendy Yorke who will be back in Perth March 2018.
Peter Porter Poetry Prize 2018 — Submission requirements: Up to 75 lines of poetry by midnight December 3. Act now!
Pic credit: iStock/tracielouise