The celebrations for Guru Nanak will last all year as an opportunity for renewal and recommitment to his ideals. The theme for last week’s event was ‘Service to Humanity’, a theme running through the whole year. Sikhs are well known for their hospitality and service. Gurdwaras offer a community meal each day to which everyone, no matter their creed, race, position in society are welcome. But this year Sikhs throughout the world will be engaging in is a special scheme to plant a million trees as a ‘gift to the entire planet’, something the planet desperately needs in the light of the report just published by the United Nations on the perilous state of our world. In the state of Punjab there is a plan to plant 550 samplings in every village and here in Scotland 550 will be planted in the ancient Caledonian Forest.
Another event I attended last week was Yom HaShoah, the annual memorial of the Holocaust at which the Jewish community remember all those murdered by the Nazis. This is a particularly moving evening. Not only does it take place with survivors and those who were part of the kindertransport present but members of the community submit the names of their relatives who died in the various concentration camps and these are displayed as we stand in silence. Then the memorial prayer is said and the mourner’s kaddish sung. It’s impossible not to be touched by it.
The guest speaker this year was a Christian journalist from Berlin who has been researching the fate of the approximately 40 Jewish residents who lived in his apartment block and who died between 1933 and 1945. Now each year, over a weekend near Yom HaShoah, the doors of houses and apartments where Jews once lived are open, the names of the former residents and their stories told through exhibitions, art, music, poetry, readings and talks. All homes have a history and this is a poignant and unique way to remember people and families who suffered persecution in Berlin. It sets up a meaningful relationship with them and keeps their story alive. We too were asked to remember individuals. We were given a candle and asked to let it burn in memory of someone who had perished. My candles were lit in memory of Jacques Herzmil of Paris who perished at Auschwitz in 1942, aged 10 and Nikolai Shnaider of Gaysin who perished at Gaysin in 1943, aged 4. Surely they have now become part of me.
The third event of the week was the meeting of the Religious Leaders of Scotland, a group that has met twice a year for the last 18 years or so and, as a consequence, have formed strong ties and good friendships across the faiths. This was a particularly good and honest meeting which started with a remembrance of the bombings in Sri Lanka. We met in the Mosque and the Imam movingly asked pardon for what his co-religionists had done, reminding us that it was neither in his name nor in the name of the true and authentic followers of Islam. Such atrocities do happen but we can use them to double our efforts to work together and show the world that friendships and respect across faiths is not just a possibility but in some instances a reality.
This set the tone and we reflected a bit on some of the issues facing us in society today – the ever present possibility of assisted suicide becoming law, the abolition of nuclear weapons which are housed in one of the most beautiful parts of Scotland (and not wanted by the Scots) and the paper on Human Fraternity for Peace and Living Together (the one signed by the Pope and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar University) which raised for us questions of education and citizenship. They were all too much to be dealt with but they’ve laid the ground work for further discussion and the realisation that a much longer meeting is needed and will be planned for. The Pope and the Grand Imam warned against what they called indifferent conversations. Our meeting certainly didn’t fall into that category. There’s great satisfaction in a meeting of minds and hearts that deals with real issues and a sense of common concern for the society in which we all live, even if we weren’t to agree on the details.