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The other night my family was invited to an informal dinner at the home of our friends, Paul and Marion Wolff. We were treated to a delightful array of cuisine, ranging from Marion’s signature quiche, to the sumptuous garbanzo-bean curry of their Bhutanese son-in-law, Karma. At the start of our meal, candles were lit and Paul shared a traditional Jewish prayer. The ancient words he spoke resonated as a spiritual connection with his tribe going back through the ages. His Hebrew mantra praised God, asked for blessing on the bread and blessing on the liquid of which we would partake. We ate and drank, laughed, and talked about our experiences and our views. We shared with one another about beauty and ugliness, about darkness and light.
Just before Marion launched an equally satisfying dessert, Paul pulled out an old light-blue pouch, cracked it open, and slid out four khaki-colored booklets. On the paper cover of these small passbooks was a black swastika and the verbiage of the Third Reich. Paul opened the first passport and showed it to my wife and me. “Paul “Israel” Wolff,” it read. He showed me a large red “J” stamped on the first page of the passport. “All Jews had the red stamp,” he related, “and were given the middle name Israel if they were a boy, and Sara if they were a girl.” In my hand I held a piece of history. And more importantly, next to me sat two living testaments to the tribulation of an entire race. Not to miss an opportunity, I had my children gather around the table, and we again reminded them of the story of Paul and Marion.
We talked of a time in Germany when no synagogue was left undamaged, a period when no Jew felt safe from violence and malice. We spoke of their exodus from Germany as small children, and of his return as a soldier following World War II. It was a somber discussion, but as fulfilling as the meal we shared.
I asked my children, “How many Muslims are there in America?” They couldn’t answer, so I told them, “About 6 million. Son, that’s how many of Uncle Paul’s people were killed during the Holocaust.”
My son Jibreel, who is a picture of his Jewish great-grandfather (David Zimmerman), and his sister slept with their mother that night. The realization that the entirety of a group could be systematically labeled and nearly exterminated was probably more unnerving than listening to Glenn Beck, or the “scary” movies we seldom let them watch.
Our dinner was a jovial gathering of long-time friends and kindred spirits. We sat together, young and old alike. There was no formality and no barrier to sharing what was in our hearts. It didn’t require pomp, a lecture, or a seminar. By living, sharing, and eating with one another, we could understand each other’s joys and fears. And beyond this, we could continue a tradition of building love, a direction that our creator meant for us to foster.
To inspire hope instead of hate, this I believe is the model for us to follow. For the uninitiated, invite someone to dinner from another community; one that is unfamiliar, or perhaps even anxiety-provoking. They could be Muslim or Mormon, a Jew or a Jehovah’s Witness, but the lessons certainly will be the same. What might start out as what the hard-hearted would call a “Dinner for Schmucks” will become a “Dinner for Soul Mates.”
Dr. Rushdi Abdul Cader M.D. lives in San Luis Obispo and is a fellow of the American College of Emergency Physicians. He is employed by the San Luis Police Department as a tactical physician and is the medical director for the San Luis Obispo Regional SWAT team. Send comments via the opinion editor at email@example.com.