The Weekend Australian - Review - - Rear View -

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

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