Yesterday was one month since Dad's funeral. As I have got older (I'm still getting older, it hasn't stopped) I have begun to realise that whenever he wanted to teach me anything he would do it in one or two pithy sentences, the significance of which would only dawn on me later. When I was a little boy - scarcely more than a toddler - he told me that Jewish people were very warm and generous. So generous in fact that they would volunteer to work on Christmas day in vital industries and and services so that everyone else could have the day off. "Wow," I remember thinking.
My brother John is nine years younger than me. I told him that anecdote after the funeral. Guess what he told me. Yup. When he was a little boy - scarcely more than a toddler - Dad told him that Jewish people were very warm and generous. So generous in fact that they would volunteer to work on Christmas day in vital industries and and services so that everyone else could have the day off.
The same explanation to two little boys all but a decade apart is plainly no coincidence. He wanted to inoculate us against the virus of casual antisemitism (I use the word casual advisedly).
It isn't theoretical. Our family home is at the bottom of Ty Gwyn Avenue. The Cardiff United synagogue opened around the corner in Ty Gwyn Road in 1955. One Saturday morning in September 1981, as Elliot Fine walked to that very synagogue with three of his children, a German ex-pat neighbour - who had already plagued the family - rammed his car into them before getting out and stabbing Elliott to death. I was twenty years old. The same age my son is as I write this.
Up until now, I have always been reluctant to share what I think of as the wisdom of my father's teaching. Could he not be, perhaps, accused by grievance brokers of coming close to insulting or patronizing the people of whom he seemed, to my young ears, to have spoken so warmly? I needn't have worried. I learned yesterday, from reading a biography of Harry Truman, of something or someone called a shabbos goy,
A Shabbos goy (Yiddish: שבת גוי, shabbos goy; Hebrew: גוי של שבת) is a non-Jew who performs certain types of work (melakha) which Jewish religious law (halakha) prohibits a Jew from doing on the Sabbath. Notable examples include Maxim Gorky, Harry S. Truman, Colin Powell, Martin Scorsese, and - my particular favourite - the adolescent Elvis Presley, all of whom assisted their Jewish neighbors in this way.
What was my old man boosting but a mirror image of this? A live and let live world of respect, tolerance, help and interdependence. It is no wonder I miss him so much.
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