You could say I know something about prejudice. I was the oldest of four growing up in a German/Irish neighborhood. My parents were German. Dad was a truck driver. Mom did not work. We lived in our own little world.
Dad’s philosophy was “stick to your own.” You could say my parents were prejudiced against everyone who wasn’t like us. Actually a better word would be “fearful.”
I went to Lafayette High School. My father knew there were Italians there, so he told me, “Stay away from the Italian boys.”
I got to know this Italian guy. He was really nice. So one day I asked Mom if he could come for dinner. She had a fit and said, “Go ask your father.” My father hollered at me and said, “Go ask your mother.” Well, Joe came to Sunday dinner. After dinner Dad went out to work on his car, Joe went out to see what he was doing and hours later they came in talking. After Joe left, Dad said, “He seems like a nice guy.” My sister and brother both married Italians.
We moved into a five-bedroom house near the University at Buffalo. UB was expanding, but the dorms were not finished. So UB people went around asking if anyone would provide a room and meals for a student. My parents said sure. Then they found out their student would be a Jewish girl. Dad was furious and said, “No way.” But Mom said, “Think about the money.”
Well, Phyllis was great. We got to know her and her family and they told us all about Jewish traditions. After she left, she kept in touch. Mom and Dad said she was really nice.
Then my brother went to Syracuse University and his roommate was black. After a while, my brother asked if he could bring John home. My father said, “No way.” My brother said, “But Dad, I live with him every day.” So Dad said OK. John came and my parents liked him. When my brother got married, John was his best man. My parents said, “What a great guy.”
Years ago, we attended a church where our pastor did something unique at Easter. Instead of our pot luck supper on Holy Thursday, he made arrangements with a rabbi to come and do an authentic Seder meal. We really learned a lot.
For many years, I was the administrator of a large group of doctors. It was helpful to understand some of those differences in race and culture. Then a new doctor was hired and he was Muslim. I knew nothing about that culture. I was very fortunate that Dr. Shafik had the patience to explain all about his culture. He is still our primary care doctor.
I retired 12 years ago and became involved with the Network of Religious Communities, an interfaith organization. Then I started writing for the After 50 newspaper. My column is called 21st Century Spirituality – Faith in Action.
One of the doctors I knew, Dr. Robert Stall, who is Jewish, had gotten together with Dr. Othman Shibly, who is Muslim, and they were attempting to counter prejudice. They call their project Building Bridges. So I contacted them last year and wrote an article about them.
Building Bridges’ guiding principles are respecting one another’s personal beliefs and working together for the common good. Western New York is privileged to have the NRC and people like Stall, Shibly and many others. They invited me to be a friend of Building Bridges. I am proud to be one of the first card-carrying Friends of Building Bridges.
I am grateful for those learning experiences.