Expediency in Religious Diversity
The recent day dedicated to the Holocaust and the horrors of the German concentration camps under Fascist rule are given greater significance in Alfís recollection of his visit to Auschwitz.
It also raises the question why one ethnic entity has suffered so grievously from its earliest existence with a succession of expulsions, pogroms and forced conversions since the birth of Christ. This was the question my son asked me on a recent visit from Perth.
We discussed some of the similarities in the Scottish experience with the clearance of the Highlands and forced dispersal of its people into alien territory. Both originate from ethnic roots being Semitic or Celtic and lay claim to diaspora status in maintaining their cultural and religious traditions. Incidentally both have produced the greatest number of high achievers in all fields of endeavour with a slight edge in favour of the Scots. We concluded that where their practices markedly differ are in respect of visibility and openness to public scrutiny. Jewish customs and observances are rigidly followed in religious activities that take place in the home and the synagogue and thereby create a sense of secrecy and exclusiveness. Scottish heritage is demonstratively celebrated in events that have great public appeal. In a major sort of old photographs, some of which go back to my late teens, Rosemarie and I came across a set of early colour prints that depict the Highland Games on the Caledonian sports complex in Pretoria, South Africa, pointing to an early influence and favourable impression on my part that is shared by many not of Scottish decent. With the exception of Hanukah, the Festival of Lights, on which incidentally our Christmas is based, other high festival in the Jewish calendar are not publicly celebrated.
However expediency may dictate otherwise as was brought home to me in reading the shocking account of the blockade of Palestine by the Royal British Navy before the declaration of the State of Israel and the suffering of the remaining survivors of the concentration camps, who were unable to find refuge in most countries, many of which they had resided in before their deportation. On page 165 of Operation Exodus the author reports on an incident during the invasion of Europe, when a US Army unit was bivouacked outside a Catholic monastery. On the eve of the Jewish Sabbath Jewish soldiers in the unit wanted to hold a traditional service. But under the prescription for such worship there must be ten men present. With recent casualties there were only nine Jews left. A protestant chaplain pointed to a statue of Christ in the monastery garden and reminded them that Jesus himself was a Jew. The service went ahead with His blessing.
In a second example of a practical solution to religious differences I was told by the son of a Jewish mother and an Irish father that on her death, doubts were raised as to her entitlement to a Christian burial. The officiating priest at the funeral service overcame this with the placing of a richly embroidered shroud over the coffin and the sprinkling of holy water to retrospectively admit her into the Catholic faith and with this, guaranteed her a place in heaven.
It goes to show the possibilities of overcoming religious differences with practical solution.