Wednesday, 23 April 2008


i found this story on the stuff website today. it's about a jewish woman who has responded to the desecration of her husband's grave by educating people about the holocaust, in an attempt to promote tolerance. i applaud it as a superb response to an event that could have caused her to become bitter or angry.

it's a response i can relate to, because it mirrors some of my own experiences. for me, it was the 9/11 attacks and the bali bombings that spurred me to change the way i was living my life. whereas previously i had concentrated on my work and my family, it became patently clear to me that i now had to move out into the community. i had to speak out against these attrocities, and let people know that my religion does not tolerate this kind activity.

it hasn't been an easy thing to do. i remember about 10 years ago from now, when i would literally be shaking (i mean it, physically shaking) if i had to walk into a room full of people i didn't know. social interaction was really difficult a lot of the time due to my own shyness and lack of confidence. nonetheless, i knew that i couldn't stand by and let the hatred and anger spread through our society as it had been overseas. so i stepped out of my own little world into the big wide one, and wow, what a journey it's been.

i hope that i made and continue to make a difference. yet every now and then i come up against a situation that takes me back to the person i was 10 years ago. it happened today. i was invited to a lunch meeting organised by the institute of chartered accountants, with about a dozen people present. as you can imagine, it was a group of upper-class white people, and i stood out like... well, like a coloured muslim woman in a group of upper-class white people.

it didn't help that i'd forgotten about the meeting when i dressed in the morning, so i was wearing something very ethnic in the arab style, with a reasonable amount of black involved. i'm sure that didn't help. at the start of the meeting, i felt like an invisible person. i could sense that most of these people felt uncomfortable with me, and they didn't really want to talk to me. the people i was sitting next to both turned to talk to people on the other side.

whereas previously i would have been dying inside at this treatment, i now have a strategy. it involves breathing deeply, giving myself positive internal messages, relaxing and waiting. sure enough, within half an hour, i was interacting with everyone on an equal footing. people just need time to realise that i'm like them, but dress a little differently. it doesn't usually take long.

it reminds me of an experience i had last year, when i was filming the close-up easter special on interfaith issues. before filming started, the panel sat down for a chat. this was the first time i met rabbi jack engel. initially he was very reserved towards me. not hostile, certainly not rude in any way. just reserved. i could sense maybe a lack of trust or just that feeling of being uncomfortable.

i didn't let it bother me, and chatted to him before, during (in the breaks) and after filming. the moment we connected was when he was describing to me the level of discrimination his community still faces. he told me about the rude comments and taunts he would get when walking from the synagogue to his home. i told him i knew exactly what that feels like, and we both realised that we had a shared experience. pity it was a negative experience, but the connection was important.

i've only talked to the rabbi once since then. i rang him about a month later to ask his help for a friend who was organising a youth interfaith activity. he response was very positive and helpful, and i believe some young jews participated. i hope that things are getting better for him, and that he can walk home in peace.

so kia ora inge woolf for the work that you're doing. every little bit counts. i hope one day i can visit your holocaust centre, and that we too can connect at an emotional level. all these little connections count. for me, they give me hope of a positive future, of a world where our children can be free from hatred, anger and fear.

No comments: