David Zwartz is a former editor of the NZ Jewish Chronicle, president of the NZ Jewish Council, and was for five years Honorary Consul of Israel. He now chairs the Wellington Regional Jewish Council.
What it means to be Jewish in Aotearoa
By David Zwartz
Sometimes it’s hard to explain what it feels like being a member of a minority group in New Zealand especially when I don’t look different from the Pakeha majority.
When someone who knows I’m a Jew said “Happy New Year” to me at the beginning of October, the time of Rosh Hashanah, Jewish New Year, I felt a warm glow.
It was a gesture of good will towards something that is meaningful for me.
‘Happy Christmas’ is fine too
I should add quickly that I’m not at all offended when people say “Happy Christmas” to me. They are expressing the seasonal greeting of our majority culture and it would be churlish to reply that I’m not a Christian.
The giving and accepting of greetings is part of the person-to-person interchange that we need as relationship lubrication in our society.
There is a possibility, though, of greetings becoming mechanical and meaningless.
I sometimes feel that way about the now-common “Have a nice day!”
Perhaps it will go the same way as the farewell of a few hundred years ago: “God be with ye,” which we now say as “Goodbye.” In the 2500s, supermarket checkout operators (if they still exist) will probably be saying “Handy!”
But getting back to what it feels like being one of Aotearoa’s Jewish community – it wasn’t so good last week, when YouTube video showed the preacher at Manukau mosque making hateful anti-Jewish statements.
They were promptly declared unacceptable by Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy and the Minister for Ethnic Communities, Hon Peseta Sam Lotu-liga.
Equally promptly, the Federation of Islamic Associations of NZ (FIANZ) condemned and rejected the hate speech, and said that it “vehemently opposes all teachings promoting intolerance, prejudices, and discrimination against the followers of any faith including Jewish.”
FIANZ also stood down the preacher permanently from his position on its Religious Advisory Board.
Good on them. Muslims in New Zealand have also suffered from hate speech, and know what it feels like, and what the consequences can be.
Devoy is doing a good job
Dame Susan often gets flak for what she says; personally, I think she does a good job. It is no good pretending that
things are hunky-dory for our many different minority ethnic and religious communities. Better, as she does, to bring the truth into the open, and work for improvement.
Meanwhile, I suggest that around the beginning of June next year we should all learn a Matariki greeting – and use it. It will give a warm glow to quite a few New Zealanders.