JANE FRASER LAST LOOK
THIS may sound like one of those JewishChristian- Muslim- in- a- lifeboat shaggy dog stories that are all over the internet, few of which are amusing or informative, but this is real life and involves a series of coincidences, all seemingly moving to a new understanding.
On the way to welcome the Pope to Sydney recently, out of all the thousands of people marching the streets to Barangaroo, I bumped into a woman of about my age; it turned out she was from Cape Town. We got on to the subject of religion, and agreed that in South Africa there was far more religious tolerance; there were, after all, bigger issues.
This woman proudly told me she was receiving an award from the Pope for her interfaith activities and then she disappeared.
I’ve always been familiar with Jews; I was at school and university with them, some of my best friends etc, and even members of my family. In fact when I arrived in Australia for the second time with small children in the early 1980s, I went into a pharmacy with my daughter in school uniform, and the chemist’s mouth dropped to her chest. Why, she asked me, are your children at a convent? I told her they are Catholic and she said she thought all South Africans were Jews. An Australian Jewish colleague complained to me that her children, at a private Jewish school, had Japie accents.
But I’ve never found out about Muslims; there are not too many in my suburb, so there’s not a constant reminder of their presence. Intrigued, however, by an invitation from Greek friends to an interfaith cocktail party and chat, my husband and I couldn’t resist, which is where we met Rabbi Zalman Kastel and Haisam Farache, aka the surfing imam, who is greatly respected by young Australian Muslims, who can identify with him.
Some years ago Zalman bumped into Haisam on a train and they talked briefly, but only met again years later. This coincided with a Catholic man, the brother of a colleague of mine, phoning the rabbi to ask some tricky religious questions. The outcome is an organisation called Together For Humanity Program, which is aimed at schoolchildren from all religions, who now spend time at each other’s schools, learning about the differences and similarities in each other’s lives, gradually coming to the conclusion that they’re all kids and have more in common than otherwise. The program is government supported and is active in the eastern states and the Northern Territory, but will soon spread to Western Australia and Tasmania and so on.
It can only be a good thing to introduce religious tolerance to children. As a good friend, a Catholic, once told some schoolboys who questioned him about the relevance of religious tolerance, he had been in Belfast during the Troubles, standing beside a wall that divided the city, on which were names and stories, complaints and messages. There was one, he said, which could only have been written by an Australian. It read: Cut the crap and have a beer.
fraserj@ theaustralian. com. au