The story I am about to relate took place very shortly after the Baruch Goldstein massacre in Hebron in February ’94. For those people too old to remember or too young to know about this; Baruch Goldstein was a Jewish extremist who walked into the Cave of Machpelah whilst the Muslims were at prayer and gunned down nineteen people in cold blood. It was a deed that was condemned by just about everybody in the Orthodox world.
It was in the aftermath of this atrocity that I was invited by the Jewish, Christian and Muslim societies of the Royal Holloway and Bedford College to sit on a panel to discuss the differences between the three religions. The Board of Deputies sent security officers for protective purposes, because we were on red alert fearing repercussions around the world from Islamic extremists.
When I arrived, I was sitting with two other panellists; the Christian chaplain to the University and a Muslim Imam. The Vice Chancellor of the university chaired the event. We were each given twenty minutes to speak about what our religion is all about, beginning with the representative from the oldest monotheistic religion, followed by random questions fielded by the Vice Chancellor.
There were a smattering of Jewish students present in the audience and a few more Christian students. But the amphitheatre soon filled up to almost capacity with young Muslims. Throughout the evening they put forward only one question to me, or what seemed like a question and that was:
The Jews are impostors. They are not the original people of the book to whom the Torah was given. Indeed the term “Jew” is nowhere to be found in the Bible?
You are wrong.
Indeed the Jews were called the Children of Israel throughout the Bible. But, when they went into exile they were called Jews or Yehudim. In the Megillat Esther we read: Ish Yehudi hayah beshushan. “There was a Jewish man who lived in Shushan and his name was Mordechai, the son of Yair the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, a Benjaminite”.
He was called a Benjaminite because that was his tribal affiliation. However, he was called a Yehudi- a Jew because he came from Judah, the Southern Kingdom of Israel.
Indeed we read in the Megillah how after defeating their enemies: The Yehudim- Jews had light, joy, happiness and glory.
After responding I wasn’t asked any more questions- I think they became too afraid that I knew what I was talking about.
It’s important to know how to respond when challenged. It’s also vital to know and to be aware of our wealthy heritage. From whence we come and to where we are going.