Our Own Error

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OUR OWN ERROR
‘Do I really want to give this lecture this evening?’ Miriam asks herself as she drives to the Synagogue. She’s still feeling unsettled, because she knows her ideas will upset and anger many people. ‘Come on, calm down; these things never start on time,’ she says, for she’s now stuck in traffic in her BMW. She’s kicking herself for not leaving earlier. Arriving with only a few minutes to spare, she’s amazed at the number of cars and with relief finds what she thinks must be the last space.
Her pale blue car is a present to celebrate her eightieth birthday – a belated gift as she insisted on having her favourite colour. She loves the smell of its new leather. Looking in the mirror, she removes her white woollen hat, runs a comb through her short-cut hair, and then replaces it, adjusting it so that it’s slightly tilted to one side.
She’s still a sprightly woman, of medium height, who walks, unlike most octogenarians, with a noticeably straight back. Of course, there are lines and wrinkles in her face, but it’s beautiful and her blue eyes shimmer as they’ve always done. Getting out of her car, the air stings her nostrils; she’s glad of her warm hat, full length red cashmere overcoat, gloves and black swede ankle boots. The BMW and these clothes are her only birthday presents, all of which Miriam bought, but she doesn’t mind.
Walking briskly across the car park, she admires the mahogany doors as she enters the foyer of the redbrick Reform Synagogue. She knows it well for she is a regular attender. This is not a Shabbat, but rather a Monday evening. Making her way to the adjoining modern hall, with its chandeliers, pale green walls and salmon ceiling, she walks over to Rabbi Klein.
‘Welcome, Miriam, it’s great to see you,’ he says, shaking her hand.
‘Good evening, Rabbi. I thought I’d be late, the traffic was worse than I was expecting. I’m sorry.’
‘It’s always hard to predict. The hall is full as you can see; they’re all looking forward to hearing you.’
Miriam is taken aback by the powerful babble of voices. She admires the tall, lean, and bespectacled Rabbi, and envies his intellect. She is entranced by the manner in which he strokes his beard as he delivers his sermons in a quiet but confident voice.
Some months ago, he contacted the Jewish-Christian Council and suggested that they invite Miriam to give a lecture in the light of her forthcoming novel. The Council was delighted, and invited her to come and speak about herself and the ideas behind her latest book. They asked Rabbi Klein to chair the event.
‘What lovely roses,’ says Miriam as he escorts her to the front of the hall. The dais is bedecked with four beautiful arrangements of white and red roses. He takes Miriam’s coat and hat and brings them into an office nearby. Her dark navy trouser suit makes her look slightly taller and slimmer. She has a bright pink scarf thrown over her shoulder.
Sitting down at the table on the dais and taking a folder from her brief case, she sees many faces looking at her: some are staring intently, some are smiling, and others are reflective. Miriam notices quite a number of students, sitting in twos and threes, whom she recognises from the synagogue. Dr Klein lectures on human rights at their college. There are many people whom she does not know at all among the four hundred or so present.
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‘Please help yourself to still or sparkling water; there’s more on the shelf below the lectern,’ Dr Klein says to her. ‘Here’s the wireless mike, maybe you’d attach it to your scarf. I think we’ll start in two or three minutes, if that’s OK.’
‘I’m ready.’
‘After I’ve introduced you, I will go and sit with my wife in the front row. I much prefer being able to see the speaker, rather than the back of her head if I remain here.’
‘You’ll come back to chair the questions after I finish, won’t you?’
‘Yes, of course.’
He heads off to talk to several people in the audience, and then returns with two of them.
‘Miriam, I’d like to introduce the chairman, Rabbi John Friedman, and vice-chairman, Rev Sally Jones, of the Jewish-Christian Council.’
Miriam stands as they greet her.
‘We’re delighted that you accepted our invitation,’ says Rabbi Friedman.
‘I’m a great fan of your novels, I’m looking forward to reading your new one,’ says Rev Jones.
‘I’ve addressed quite a number of writers’ conferences over the years, but never an audience as large as this. I hope I can hold their attention,’ Miriam says.
‘You will,’ says Dr Klein.
The chairman and vice-chairman return to their seats and Rabbi Klein walks over to the lectern. The cacophony ceases and everyone in the audience looks towards him.
‘Ladies and gentlemen, you are very welcome to the Martin Buber hall at our Reform Synagogue, here in the heart of the city. Some of you are members of this synagogue, but most of you are not. Our city’s Jewish-Christian Council is hosting this evening’s lecture and have asked me to chair it. I am Solomon Klein, the Rabbi here. It pleases me to see such a wonderful turnout on a winter’s night.
‘From the invitations and notices you will know not only that our guest speaker this evening is Miriam Aron, but also the titles of her ten published novels as well as that of her forthcoming book. Since she wrote the first ten under various noms de plume, maybe you never knew, until recently, that she is the author of this impressive list. I guess quite a number of you have read at least one, if not more, of them. Her latest novel is being launched this week in New York. I believe it will be a great success.’
He tells the audience that Miriam asked him to explain that it was one of his sermons which he preached in the synagogue next door, about two years ago, which was the catalyst for her novel. He was speaking of how the Israelites and the Philistines were at war and about those warriors, David and Goliath (whether historical or legendary), and how each of them expected their nation’s god to fight alongside them, for people believed in those days that each nation was chosen by a particular god to be specially protected by him. He then proceeded to say that a time came when Hebrew thinkers argued that it made better sense to think of
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there being one Creator god, rather than a host of deities. In taking this step forward to reduce the divine population, did those thinkers believe it was Israel’s god who was the Creator of the world and the god of all the other nations he asked that Shabbat.
It was a rhetorical question and he said that the orthodox answer was that they did. He concluded his sermon with another probing question: were those thinkers of old correct to believe that the one God of all the earth continued to regard the people of Israel as his treasured nation with whom he had made an everlasting covenant to protect and uphold them; in fact did they think that he had ever viewed them in this way? Then, thanking Miriam for coming at the beginning of a busy few days, he asks her to address them.
The audience claps loudly, partly to acknowledge the Rabbi’s introduction, but more to show their pleasure that Miriam is here to speak to them. As the clapping dies down, Miriam walks to the lectern and places her sheaf of papers on it. She then looks up to acknowledge and smile at her audience, conscious that she’s also giving them a moment to take her in as she stands before them. Her head moves from left to right. She includes everyone. Her arms are down by her sides, her feet slightly apart.
‘Thank you for the way you have welcomed me. I feel touched and honoured to be here. I remember very clearly that Shabbat Dr Klein has spoken about and I recall driving home to the tree-lined avenue where I live in a house that’s too big for me; but I need an outdoor space for my dogs to play in, otherwise I’d move to an apartment. They gave me their excited affectionate welcome. As I started to prepare my lunch; my mind was going over the Rabbi’s questions. I asked myself:
‘Might it be that our nation has lived under a delusion in thinking of itself as divinely chosen? Shouldn’t those thinkers of old have given up the idea of Israel being a favoured nation and stated categorically that no nation was special, since no nation had a tribal protector god as was once believed? Shouldn’t they have realised that the so-called covenant between Israel and God was not entered into by God, but was something they had invented themselves? What would have been different if that had been true? I began to see connections with the origins of Christianity and that led me ominously towards a road I try to avoid. I opened the oven and saw that the chicken needed another ten minutes; pouring a glass of sherry, I entered my bright book-lined living room.
‘I took my Hebrew scriptures and sat down in my brown recliner armchair. I turned to Hosea and read several verses: “when Israel was a child, I loved him; my people are bent on turning away from me; how can I give you up, O Ephraim! How can I hand you over, O Israel! How can I make you like Admah! How can I treat you like Zeboiim! My heart recoils within me, my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger, I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come to destroy.”
‘Bonzo, my terrier, sensed my inner turmoil. Getting up from in front of the log fire, he came over to me with his tail wagging. He jumped onto my lap. I gently stroked him and, as I often do, started to talk to him.
‘No, Bonzo, I said, I don’t think Israel ever did have a special relationship with God in which they were a favoured nation. That’s the grave error we made. Yes, I’m afraid, Bonzo, it’s a great error indeed. And, because we saw ourselves in that way, we expected special treatment by God as Hosea believed we’d receive. So, we had hopes of a Messiah being appointed and of a messianic age. We were often the
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underdogs conquered by the surrounding powers, and we looked to God to deliver us someday and to restore our fortunes and independence.
‘Those were the erroneous ideas which fired the imaginations of Jesus and the group of his fellow-Jewish followers. They all preached the coming of the messianic age; and after Jesus’ death, those disciples claimed he was the Messiah. That led in some places to so much conflict in the synagogues that his followers were banned from them and the movement over time became a separate organisation and religion. Though I tried to resist it I began thinking of how relationships between Christian and Jew got worse and worse.
‘I closed my eyes and my face contorted with pain. Centuries of suffering came before my mind and the persecution of my people, especially in so-called Christian Europe. I gripped the sides of my armchair and took a deep breath. I’m not going down that road I said to myself, but I see it now – it stemmed from that error and we have suffered for it.
‘Bonzo growled and then started to lick one of my hands. For seventy years, I’ve sought to avoid dwelling on either my nation’s suffering or my own and that means that I rarely speak to anyone about my past and especially my childhood. My books have noms de plume.
‘I undercooked the vegetables in exactly the way I prefer them and the chicken was delicious. I never rest after lunch. Come on, dogs, I said to them, it’s time I fed you and then we’ll go for our walk. I hoped that the exercise, in the afternoon’s wintry sunshine, would get rid of the tension I was feeling. My mind was a washing machine with the contents swishing round inside. The following day I knew I had to embark on writing my next novel. I even thought of a title for it. I would call it “Our own error”.’
Miriam explains that her publishers have been advertising her book as the most controversial she has written. She expects they are correct in this claim, because the world she describes in her novel covers the last two and a half thousand years and Christianity has no place in it nor consequently do the centuries of vicious hatred between Jews and Christians.
This is all because of a courageous prophet who persuades his generation of Hebrew thinkers that it’s preposterous to think of their nation as a treasured favoured people with a special covenant relationship with their God. He convinces them that, though they are surrounded by more powerful nations who constantly conquer them, it is false and futile for Jews to believe that their God will one day restore their fortunes and re-establish their independence in a messianic kingdom.
She tells her startled and astonished audience that in her novel Christianity is not even stillborn. She explains that both John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth held beliefs and expectations based on a misguided belief that the Jews were the chosen people of God who would send a Messiah to re-establish their lives in a kingdom of independence and peace. Any claims by Jesus’ disciples that he was that Messiah can only be regarded as delusory. It was the belief that Jesus was the divinely appointed Messiah, she says to her audience, which led on to further claims that he was the Son of God and divine as well as human. She says that she will not be surprised if some people are too upset and angry to clap her at the end because the ideas in her novel conflict with beliefs which are precious to them.
‘I’m relieved that you don’t look like the kind of people who have come armed with raw eggs and tomatoes which would stain and spoil my new trouser suit – bought, I might say, especially for this occasion,’ she says.
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A ripple of laughter goes through the audience and Miriam feels them relax.
She says the Council asked her to talk about her life story as well as the background to her novel. She tells them that she has been writing now for over forty years and in each novel she has tried to tackle a thorny subject. She has addressed the temptations that come with holding political power and in another novel the continuing abuse of women all over the world and their unfinished struggle for their full place in societies they’ll change beyond recognition and for the better.
Abortion is another human issue she has tried to handle, other topics are the use of torture to protect a nation’s security, then there’s a novel concerned with aspects of religious ethics, which she sees as conflicting with people’s human rights, and more recently she has engaged with the moral challenges of stem cell research in terms of determining the kinds of children we would like in our families.
Pausing to drink some water because her throat feels dry, she says she spent some time persuading her publishers that she wanted to keep her working title; and is glad they agreed. It will be the first of her novels to carry her name. Why she decided to do this she’ll explain later.
Miriam has excellent diction and speaks in an unhurried manner. Her voice is soft and while her accent is refined, there is no sense of snobbery or arrogance in it. She constantly raises her eyes from her text and each time moves her head to look at a different part of the audience. It’s important to her to try to communicate well. She lifts her right hand and takes hold of the side of the lectern, and then she takes a deep breath and exhales slowly before beginning.
She tells them that some of the audience know her background, because in the Jewish community many people are aware that she was one of the fortunate children under a Kindertransport scheme, who was able in 1938 to make a new start outside Germany. They also know that her parents, her four grandparents and at least twenty other relatives were all murdered in Auschwitz. There are other people beyond Jewish circles who know about her past. She lived during the war with a foster family in London, and then after the war she began a new chapter living with relatives of her mother in New Jersey.
Miriam now grips the lectern with both hands and takes another deep breath. She widens her stance. She explains that she was seven and a half when she began living with her foster family and she felt like the flat tyre of a car wheel which has just gone over some sharp nails. Her parents and her four grandparents were her life. It was horrible to be separated from them, though then she didn’t know what an indescribable fate lay in store for them. It was only in 1946, shortly after she’d arrived to live with her mother’s cousins, that she learned the awful facts from the Red Cross.
‘That’s sixty-five years ago now. It seems like another life and another person,’ she says. It’s as if it wasn’t me, but someone else who’d discovered then in 1946 that she’d been an orphan for the last three years without having any inkling of it. But, of course, it’s not another person or another life; it happened to me, it’s all part of my life story.
Looking up at her audience and pausing for a moment before carrying on speaking, she then says that some of them may be like her and share a fascination with the way a seed starts to grow in a tiny crevice in the rocks and soon a wild flower is visible or over time a sapling amazingly becomes a sturdy bush. She sometimes thinks of herself as one of those determined seeds.
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As a seven year old, she had a strong spirit which carved out a lung for itself under the overwhelming weight of a world of grief. Even though she was so young, she sensed the personality that would have developed if her only bread had been her tears. Like an alchemist, she turned those tears into a well of courage – its waters transmuting into steel within her.
Rabbi Klein looks up at Miriam. He’s conscious that he’s seen quite a hard resolute look in her eyes on a number of occasions, but it’s the gentlest of expressions that he sees now. It’s one of the features that make her personality so appealing and attractive to him. He also notices how beautiful the arrangements of white and red roses look. They are set back a few feet from the lectern with two each side of her. He’s tempted to take a photo.
‘Perhaps it’s because of what I’ve had to face that when I see pictures of the aftermath of earthquakes I feel a wordless bond with survivors, and identify especially with children, rescued from under tons of rubble after their world has crashed with innumerable fatalities,’ says Miriam.
She distracts herself after watching such pictures, otherwise she finds herself being drawn back to old wounds. There you have the reason, she informs them, why her novels were written under various noms de plume. It was an attempt at self-protection and, while not completely successful, did work quite well in the early years. She didn’t want her new fame to be linked with her ordeal.
She senses the mood of her audience changing. Many of them are coming to a new appreciation of her. There’s a softness, she notices, in some of the faces in front of her, especially of the women. Those who have never met her are warming to this silver haired author with her fringe half way down her forehead and dark-framed spectacles adding gravity to her face.
She asks if some of them think of her as a courageous woman who had a hard start in life and whose novels are praised for their bravery, and shares with them that one of the enduring conflicts in her inner life has been between this courage and feeling quite cowardly.
She has just spoken about adopting noms de plume and now tells them that when she left Germany, all those years ago, she brought one photograph which was of her, her parents and grandparents taken outside the house in which she spent the first seven years of her life. She looked at it every day, but in her twenties she became angry with the cards she’d been dealt in life and also developed a phobia that someday she’d be exterminated. She felt it would be better if that photo was not found among her possessions and so brought it to a bank for safe-keeping.
To their surprise, she tells them that for almost sixty years it has been in a security box transferred from bank to bank as she has moved from one city to another. Probably they think she should have it in a special place in her home: maybe beside her bed or on her desk. Can she not deal with that phobia once and for all?
During the Second World War, the perpetrators of evil in Germany, Miriam says, acted in a historical context created by centuries of hostility between Christians and Jews. She’s now convinced history could have been different, if it had not been for that one profound mistake in Jewish thinking. That, as she’s said already, is the error that lies at the heart of her novel. As Rabbi Klein has explained it was one of his sermons which triggered the thinking that led to her writing her book. She finds his sermons both intellectually challenging as well as pastorally sensitive.
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Rabbi Friedman is sitting beside Dr Klein and leans over to whisper in his ear that no members of his synagogue ever give him feedback on his sermons. If you’d a wife and children you’d certainly get it, Dr Klein responds with a twinkle.
Rev Sally Jones is sitting beside Mrs Klein, who is a dark-haired woman also in her early forties. Sally knew nothing about Miriam’s traumatic childhood and grief or about the fate of her family. She feels that Miriam must be incredibly angry now because she’s come to think that all the suffering was so unnecessary. She wonders how she feels about accepting it stemmed from an error made by her forefathers.
Over the next ten minutes, Miriam relates how her imagination began to picture a world different from the one which history books describe, but without going into so much detail that it would spoil the reading of her book. She says that at an early stage she gave an outline of her story to her publishers and that they pressed her to complete it as soon as she could.
She talks about the extent of her research and the several drafts that she wrote before sending her text to the publishing house about eleven months ago. It was a relief she says to have finished it. It’s the first of her novels to have a dedication, and because of its subject matter it is dedicated to all who were murdered in many places, because of hostility towards the Jews and not just in the camps during the Shoah.
She asks Rabbi Klein to come to the dais as she would like to give time for questions. An elderly man has his hand raised. He wants to know why Miriam has turned her back on the fact that the God of Israel is Lord of history and always takes the initiative. He saved Noah, called Abraham to leave his home, had a special role for Joseph in Egypt and spoke to Moses on Mt Sinai. He dealt with no other nation in this way. From time immemorial there’s been a special relationship between Israel and God. The dreams of a messianic age were a testimony to their trust in him.
Miriam surprises him by referring to her four dogs.
‘Three of them used to have other owners somewhat older than me. We used to meet for coffee most days in the park. I agreed to take on their pets when they died. When I only had my terrier, Bonzo, he was my favourite. Gradually, as I inherited the other animals, my feelings changed. Now I love them all equally. I can’t imagine that a good and just God would ever select a nation to be his specially treasured nation as the prophets described the people of Israel as being. Such an idea is a left-over from the days when each nation believed it had its own tribal god who protected it and favoured it.’
Rev Sally Jones catches Rabbi Klein’s eye with her hand held high and her arm waving from side to side. She wants to know how Miriam can be so dismissive of centuries of Christian spirituality. People accept Christ as their Saviour and live in a daily relationship with him.
‘When you read my novel, or if you do,’ Miriam says not just to Sally but to the audience at large, ‘you will find that I place great emphasis on mystery. If God exists, then God is the biggest mystery of all. How we relate to the divine, if we believe we do, is impossible to properly understand. However,’ she continues, ‘our religious experiences are partly formed as a result of what we hold to be true.
‘Someone who believes that the Virgin Mary is the mother of the Son of God might experience an apparition of her, but a Jew or a Muslim would not be likely to do so. Similarly, because Christians hold a particular set of beliefs about Jesus, this accounts for their type of spiritual experiences.’
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She explains that she thinks that a person may hold what later they recognise are erroneous ideas about Jesus, but at the time be convinced that they have a living relationship with him. There’s always the possibility of delusion in religious experiences she tells them and of later recognising the delusory state. However, she wants to stress, metaphorically speaking, that the Christ figure has functioned as a window for many people onto the hidden face of a God whom they believe exists. For her, she says, metaphor, symbol and myth are the appropriate means in which to express divine mysteries of faith.
She says that many Christians agree that the bread and wine taken in a Communion service are not literally the body and blood of Jesus. What most of them fail to see is that the Christ figure as a combination of the human and divine does not mean that Jesus was literally both human and divine. The Christ figure is a symbol or an icon for the divine if held to exist.
Rabbi Klein invites another woman to ask her question. She announces that her name is Sarah Jacob and says that the Hebrew Scriptures contain wonderful visions of the messianic age in which there will be global peace and justice, and the lion will lie down with the lamb. Could it not be, even though human thinking is fraught with inadequacies, that God is able to use even such beliefs as being a treasured and favoured nation and inspire leaders with wonderful visions such as those in the Scriptures?
Miriam says that she agrees that global peace, if it’s based on justice, mercy and compassion, is a noble ideal in any religion, but she rejects all thinking about a messianic age that’s founded on a belief that God took the initiative to choose the people of Israel and give them a special role as a favoured nation. Those are just human claims.
It’s a student who asks the next question. ‘What good will a novel about a fictional past covering the last two to three thousand years do?’
‘I hope it will jolt the leaders of religious traditions, not just Jewish and Christian, to examine the claims of their faiths in the light of modern understandings.’ Miriam replies. ‘Religions still impede progress and support human rights abuses. The contrast between my fictional world and the real history of the same period is stark. There’s obviously no Shoah in my novel nor the vicious hatred between Jew and Christian. I once played Portia in University. I know many of my lines still and some of the other speeches in the Merchant of Venice. It was written as you know by William Shakespeare who was a Christian, but he expressed in the play what both Jews and Christians perceived to be their mutual animosities.
‘Here is Shylock speaking about Antonio,’ she says. ‘”I hate him for he is a Christian; he rails against our sacred nation.” And again Shylock speaking about Antonio: “He hath disgraced me and hindered me of half a million; laughed at my losses, mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies! And what’s his reason? I am a Jew!”
‘Here are some lines spoken by Antonio and Gratiano after Shylock refuses to put his knife to Antonio’s chest to extract his pound of flesh. First Antonio, “Two things provided more, – that for this favour, he presently become a Christian.” And Gratiano says to Shylock, “In christening, thou shalt have two godfathers: had I been judge, thou shouldst have had ten more, to bring thee to the gallows, not the font.”
‘I long for Judaism as a whole to repudiate the out-dated thinking in its scriptures and by doing so distance itself from the mistakes of ancient times. However, at present, I don’t see many signs of this happening. Nor do I see evidence of Christian leaders coming out and saying that Jesus and his followers were under a
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misapprehension in thinking in terms of Messiahs and messianic ages, though I’m aware that some theologians do affirm this. Or to put it bluntly I don’t hear Christians saying that their religion should never have come into being and that it all stemmed from the error we Jews made.’
Miriam surveys her audience, ‘I sense from your faces and your body language that there are, not surprisingly, mixed emotions among you. It can’t be easy for those of you here who are Christians to hear that I think your religion should never have begun, but I am not denying that much good has been done in the name of Christianity as in my own Judaism. Remember I said nobody has to clap at the end. Whatever you’re thinking, I expect at the least I’ve challenged your minds. I hope that leaders in the Jewish-Christian Council may begin to dream of a different future.
‘There are two lessons which many of you, I imagine, are learning better than I am and practicing much more diligently than I do. One lesson I go on learning from one decade to the next is that life is full of surprises. Two years ago, I could not have known that I would be writing my book and then delivering this lecture you are listening to. Another lesson which I go on trying to put into practice is that, no matter how costly it is, it is worth seeking out the truth wherever the journey may take me, though I know I can never be certain I’ve found it. I still take sips from that well of courage.
‘Perhaps you recall that there’s one matter I have not dealt with. Why does “Our own error” carry my real name? It’s my eleventh novel and I’ve now decided it’s my last. I’ve dedicated a vast amount of time to researching and writing my books. By nature, I’m something of a loner; over the years I’ve become rather reclusive, but not totally withdrawn: remember the other dog-walkers I used to have coffee with in the park and my attendance here each Shabbat.
‘However, it’s still true that like a Trappist monk or an enclosed Carmelite nun, I don’t mix much with other people, but despite that my novels show my attention has been focused on the world in which we all live, as are the prayer-filled minds of those in religious orders.
‘Now, I want to come out of my writer’s den. There’re many people whom I want to meet and perhaps make friends with as well. So in this decade, which may be my last, I want to live much more publicly. So I felt it was appropriate that “Our own error” should be published under Miriam Aron’s name. I still feel angry and unhappy when I recall that the suffering of all of us Jews stems from our error though was not caused directly by it. Yet I’m also glad I now realize this so clearly.
‘I fly to New York tomorrow. Perhaps in the future, maybe after you have read my novel, some of you will get in touch and we can talk together, whether we agree or disagree, it’ll be good to do so. I thank you all for your attention.’
Miriam takes her papers and sits down. After sustained applause, with most people rising to their feet, the Rabbi says his words of thanks to Miriam and the audience. Then to her alarm it’s as if everyone starts talking at the same time. It’s like being near an aeroplane revving its engines on the runway. By comparison with this noise level, the audience’s applause was like a whisper. Her talk clearly has excited many people as well as angered some.
‘I doubt you want to battle your way to the door where you came in, would you prefer to leave by a side door near the office where I left your coat?’ asks the Rabbi.
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‘Yes, I would. If you or the Council want, I don’t mind coming back another day for a panel discussion or something like that,’ says Miriam, stepping down from the dais with the Rabbi. Coming out of the hall, he walks with her to her car.
‘In the light of your address this evening, what do you think religious leaders of my generation could be doing?’
‘While I think of an answer, let’s assume this is one of your rhetorical questions, so why don’t you answer it first?’
‘The Islamic tradition traces its roots back to Abraham.’
‘That’s true.’
‘I’d like to see Jews, Christians and Muslims confess together that their respective cumulative religious traditions show how our forebears claimed to know too much, conceived and believed in a host of erroneous ideas, many of which they claimed to be God’s thoughts and Will, and they committed innumerable iniquitous deeds.’
‘Then what would you want them to do, Rabbi?’
‘That’s the hard part; I’m not sure yet.’
‘I’ve a feeling that the tectonic plates underlying all religious traditions are shifting. Something new will emerge, but what it will be I do not know. It’ll be for future generations to make the discoveries,’ says Miriam.
They reach her car.
‘Come and see me in a week or two if you can spare the time,’ she says. ‘I’ll want to show you something you’ve never seen before.’
‘May I ask what you mean?’
‘You’ll see it on my coffee table in my living room. I decided as I was giving my lecture this evening that I would take that photo from the bank and have it framed. It will be a tangible reminder to me of those invisible spirits who watch over me. I guess they still look on me as their much loved only child and treasured grand-daughter. My fond memories of them and my love for them have never waned.’
© Andrew Furlong 2010
A slightly modified version of this fictional story was submitted to the 2010 Moment Magazine – Karma Foundation Short Fiction Contest. The author has permission from Moment Magazine to reproduce his story.

It can be found on his website http://myhome.iolfree.ie/~andrewfurlong/

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