Friday, December 23, 2011

Luis Suarez, John Terry & MP Burley - Happy Chanukah

What do lawyers who oppose public Menorahs on state property think of the Rabbis who put them there? What do Pakistani Muslims feel about Jews and America? And how do Greeks feel about Chanukah? A message for the footballers… A few years ago I was invited to light the Chanukah Menorah with Arnold Schwarzenegger when he was Governor of California. During the de-light-full ceremony, at the State Capitol in Sacramento. special mention was made of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivky Holtzberg, agents of good who were murdered a few months earlier during the Mumbai attacks. It was a peaceful and friendly Chanukah experience, where people of all faiths and backgrounds celebrated the religious freedom afforded by America- even the self-proclaimed: "lefty" Jewish lawyer who happened to be walking past during a recess in his trial case. He stopped by while we were setting up and decided to register his protest against religious symbols on state property.
I asked him how his family was doing. He smiled and told me all about them - an unmistakable touch of pride in his voice. After the ceremony he gave me hug. He was inspired, he said, to share the light and warmth, after hearing the amazing story of young Moshe Holtzberg's miraculous survival as told by the Governor. I then rushed off to the airport to get on the standby list for a flight back to Los Angeles. I jumped into a cab, but the driver claimed that he does not know where the airport is. Another cab driver tells me that he does not accept credit cards. A sign from G-d or what?!The third cab driver was happy to take me. He was from Pakistan. Of course you can guess where our conversation went. Well, you are probably wrong. He was a warm and friendly person; I asked him how his family was doing, and how long he's been in America. He told all about his family, and his love for life and his beautiful country - the USA. As we approached the airport I finally asked him to share his thoughts on the Mumbai attacks. My preconceived notion was wrong. Rahim was very upset at what had happened. In broken English mixed with Punjabi, he said, "No Pakistani likes this; this is so, so bad, I am sorry for this..." I arrive at the airport and luckily they book me for a flight. While waiting, Dennis Prager, the famous American Radio talk show host, entertains us and shows us a video he had just filmed of himself with the Governor smoking a cigar. "If you want to make it with people," he says, "don't talk to them about their work or politics. Speak about their hobbies and their families." How appropriate, I think to myself, as I recall my conversations earlier that day. I got on the plane and I'm seated next to a Greek woman. She serves as a psychologist to the Northern California county jails. She wanted to know what all the Amish were doing in town... I laughed and told her that we were actually Jewish, rabbis lighting the Governor's Menorah. She wanted to know the story of Chanukah. Well, she is Greek, but I told her anyway... But then she tells me how her maternal grandfather was killed by the Nazis for resisting them and how her paternal grandfather hid Jews in their village house, thus saving their lives. She told me how she had seen some religious Jews before and wanted to ask some questions but felt uncomfortable. Why do we judge? Why the stereotypes? As the football world deals with racism; and people of all creeds are verbally abused daily in this country for their religious differences, maybe it is time to realise the warm message of Chanukah: The freedom to practice ones religion, and wipe out racism, are not only something to respect, but behind the different coloured skin or different garb is someone to engage with in conversation: How are you? How is the family? Happy Chanukah!

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