Monday, September 14, 2009

Isis' story

I would not have found the jornaleros had it not been for Isis. She and her friend were sitting on the bench next to mine in Lafayette Park on Saturday afternoon and I overheard her asking where the rally was. I was wondering too so I asked Isis which rally she was waiting for. After a few phone calls Isis, a self-described guerrilla photographer, was able to determine that the jornaleros were in fact starting at 15th and Constitution. We started to walk over there and our conversation quickly turned to matters of faith.

Isis, a cultural Jew who is pro-choice, told me about filming a confrontation between a group of pro-life demonstrators and some abortion clinic defenders. A young Catholic pro-lifer was giving out rosaries to everyone. One of the clinic defenders took the young man's rosary and threw it in the dirt. Isis was horrified. Although she is a Jew and did not agree with the young man on abortion, she could not bear to see anyone's religious symbol desecrated. She stopped taking photos to pick up the rosary and tried as best as she could to clean it off. Then she handed it back to the young man, apologizing profusely for the disrespectful act of the pro-choice demonstrator.

Isis' story did not end there. As a Jew, she said, she was aware of how many of her ancestors survived the Holocaust because they had been sheltered by Catholic priests, nuns, and lay families. Many of those Jewish children were given rosaries by their hosts, both for spiritual comfort and to conceal their real religious identity from their persecutors so that they would survive physically. She said that many of the survivors kept those rosaries as cherished possessions and when the Holocaust Museum opened, some donated their rosaries to the collection.

I told Isis about St. Maximilian Kolbe, the Polish Catholic priest who volunteered to take the place of a married father in a group of ten prisoners selected to die of starvation, thus saving that man's life at Auschwitz.

Hearing Isis' story was particularly moving as we walked amid the rabid anti-Obama protestors that had invaded our city that day. It is a reminder of how we can disagree without being disagreeable, that we need to work towards respect and civility in public discourse for our mutual survival.

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