The Two Saints

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My podiatrist is an observant Jew, an Ashkenazi by heritage. Every so often I make an appointment to have a callus trimmed on my little toe. I am fond of Jewish culture and humor and I look forward to our visits. He tells me Jewish jokes and I ask him the meaning of Yiddish words.
In the summer of 2014, Israel invaded Gaza. It was called euphemistically Operation Protective Edge. It should have been called Operation Sadistic Righteousness. The wanton carnage and destruction upset me deeply. I had to book an appointment with my podiatrist and wondered how I would broach the subject of the invasion. I decided to tell him a story:
Many years ago there was a Jewish film festival and I attended one of the sessions. Before the showing of a documentary on Israel, the director, a young Jew from Toronto, gave a prologue and told the audience his intent was to give a humanistic approach. He interviewed everyone in the film with an open-ended attitude. No politics or polemics were allowed in the editing, just people’s stories revealed. When he finished the film, he was shocked; he couldn’t show it anywhere. Not even in his synagogue. Through great effort, he eventually got it shown once on late night cable in Australia.
The film began. I remember an interview with a middle-aged woman of nationalistic fervor who owned an Israeli truck stop with flags flying everywhere. The walls of her café were lined with photos of attack helicopters and men in uniform. The film switched to a Palestinian waiter, a young man who lived with his mother in a mud hovel, and commuted to work on a motor scooter. He was impoverished and embittered.
I regret I didn’t write down the name of the documentary because there was an indelible interview with an orthodox rabbi who lived in one of the settlements. With his beard and ear locks and the skeletal frame of his face with a crooked nose, topped by a Hasidic fedora, he physically embodied the racist stereotype perpetrated by the Nazis, but the first impression melted when he spoke. He became more than a mensch; he was a saint.
Every Friday the rabbi walked from his settlement through the Palestinian area – this was before Israel erected its wall of separation–unaccompanied, without fear, to visit his dear friend the sheikh. They would spend the day communing and praying for peace. At the end of the interview the rabbi looks into the camera and asks: “Who is so arrogant to know what God intends for this land? If we have love in our hearts, everyone can live here peaceably.” Tears trickled down my cheeks.
When I finished my story, my podiatrist responded: “That will never happen.” Angrily he erupted into a diatribe against the Palestinians. They can’t be trusted. They use their children as human shields and the members of Hamas are terrorists. He tells me he lived in Israel and these are facts. His face is flushed and I am flabbergasted. I apologize for upsetting him and I leave.
Since the incident, I have returned to the podiatrist. I will never bring up the subject again and I still consider us friends. I can see in his eyes he has been shaken, not just by my story. I did not return anger with anger. While he raved, I kept thinking of the two saints, the rabbi and sheikh. I am sure both of them have passed from this earth, but I still hold them in my heart like embers of hope.
Stewart Brinton is a writer/musician living in Vancouver, B.C. He’s a senior and a Sufi at heart.