Friday, 22 April 2011

Shalom! It's Easter

Good Friday, the celebration of a supreme sacrifice to save us all from the consequences of our own depravity. Also a break from work and, this year at least, it's coincided with glorious spring weather, making it difficult to maintain quite the solemnity many would feel the occasion merits.

In any case, like Denis Diderot, I’ve always had trouble getting my mind round the idea of God taking human form as his own son and descending to Earth to suffer and die in order to redeem us all from the terrible fate to which he condemned us in the first place. Still, I’m no theologian and probably lack the subtlety of thought to follow these intricacies.

In passing, I can't resist mentioning Diderot’s neatest statement on religion, when he pointed out that God is a father who sets great store by his apples and far less by his children.

My Jewish roots don’t help with coming to grips with this Easter business. Fortunately, a dear friend who happens also to be of Jewish extraction, is joining us tomorrow. I told her that I felt it right for Jews to get together to mark a weekend devoted to the most famous Jew of all.

‘Karl Marx came a good second,’ she replied.

Well, maybe. But wouldn’t the world be a much happier place if we were of a disposition to prefer Groucho to Karl for this relatively honourable position?

Promintent Jews down the ages
This reminds me of an old story appropriate to the season. My apologies to the many people who’ve heard me tell it before. I like to think it bears the repetition, but you can be the judge of that.

A Jew active in the City of London, whom we shall call Moishe (and you don't get more appropriate than that) became the close friend of an Irish colleague whose name was (naturally) Patrick.

They’d worked together for some time when Patrick said to Moishe, ‘you know, most weekends I go back to Ireland. It would be a great pleasure if I could persuade you to join me some time.’

Moishe was only too glad to accept the invitation and shortly afterwards they both travelled out to Patrick’s village.

Patrick was a generous host and ensured that Moishe lacked for nothing. Wonderful dinners, delightful conversations with friends and neighbours, a pleasant game of tennis, a lovely country walk, all was laid on for him. Until Sunday morning.

‘Moishe, my friend,’ said Patrick, ‘when I’m in the village, I’m rather expected to attend Sunday Mass. I hope you don’t mind if I’m out for an hour or so.’

‘Actually, Patrick,’ Moishe replied, ‘I’ve never been to a Catholic service. Would you mind if I joined you?’

Patrick was only too happy with the suggestion, as long as Father O’Connor agreed. At the church door, he immediately approached the priest.

‘Father,’ he said, ‘this is my friend Moishe, who’s not of our persuasion, but would like to attend this morning’s mass, if you have no objection.’

Father O’Connor had none and Patrick showed Moishe to a pew.

The Mass began. Shortly afterwards there was a ring on a bell and the collecting plate came round. Patrick reached into his pocket and put in a ten Euro note. Moishe, naturally, put in ten euros of his own.

A few minutes later there was another ring of the bell and round came the collecting plate again. Once more, Patrick put in ten euros, but Moishe had no ten euro notes left, so he put in twenty.

To his surprise, it wasn’t long before the bell rang once more and the collecting plate made a further appearance. Patrick had a third ten-euro note, but this time Moishe was obliged to put in a fifty.

By this time, he was beginning to find the experience expensively bought, but fortunately the Mass soon came to an end. As they were leaving the church, Patrick asked Moishe how he’d found the service.

‘Very interesting,’ said Moishe, ‘and in fact I’d be pleased to have the opportunity to ask some questions of your priest.’

Moishe got his chance on the way out.

‘Father O’Connor,’ he said, ‘let me get this straight. That Jesus Christ, wasn’t he a Jew?’

‘Why, yes,’ replied the priest, ‘he most certainly was, his whole life long.’

‘And all those disciples, weren’t they Jews too?’

‘Yes, indeed, now you mention it, good God-fearing Jews.’

Moishe shook his head. ‘You mean we started this business, and then let it get out of our control?’

Shabbat Shalom for tonight, and a happy Easter for the whole weekend.

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