Imagine a rainbow

According to Rabbi Dovid Freilich, ‘tolerance’ is a bad word.

“There’s been so much conflict, sadly, in the world because of religion. The world creates something in order to stop this conflict: a word being ‘tolerance’,” he said. “Tolerance means agreeing to sit together; you really can’t stand the fellow you’re sitting with, but you’ll tolerate them. It’s not a good word.”

For 30 years, Rabbi Freilich has been the Chief Rabbi of the Perth Hebrew Congregation, a Jewish Synagogue in Menora, Perth. He has also been the Chief Rabbi of WA and one of the Presidents  of the Council of Christians and Jews WA. Preferring not to use the term ‘retire’, Rabbi Freilich left the Rabbinate in July to take-up other interests after 45 years of service.

The Rabbi believes that rather than tolerance, respect should be our priority.

“We should respect each other,” he continued. “Respect involves two things. One definition of respect is you actually feel happy in another person’s happiness. So, respect implies that even though you might be one religion and you see somebody happy and contented in another religion, you’re happy for them.

“We’re all one family in God’s eyes. He knows all his children are different. He knows all his children communicate with him in many different fashions and different ways and find contentment in  those ways. We, as his children, should be happy as brothers and sisters to look at each other and say ‘I can see that my brother or sister is very contented and happy and uplifted by connecting to our father in this way or that way.’”

The Council of Christians and Jews WA, of which Rev Steve Francis, Moderator of the Uniting Church WA, is also a Principal of, formed in 1995 to promote dialogue between the two faiths. The council aims to organise at least four events each year, providing a forum for Christians and Jews to appreciate each other’s differences and similarities. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Jewish people of faith make up around 0.4% of the Australian population.

Globally, the International Council of Christians and Jews was formed around 50 years ago as a way of reconciling relationships following the horrific acts of the Holocaust. There are currently 40  national Jewish-Christian dialogue organisations worldwide. Rabbi Freilich believes the council has been effective in providing a forum for Christians and Jews to show respect for one another.

“It is a marvellous thing,” he said. “We have various functions where the Jewish community and the Christian community join, which is very important because after all, the Judaeo Christian tradition is the main tradition of Australia and number two, Christianity is born from Judaism.

“We’re not against each other; we actually share common values and common traditions. That’s the beauty of it; that we can have a forum to interconnect and discuss.

“The greatest respect is like in a family, when you can talk out your differences. That shows respect and love for each other. [The council is] a good forum for that. And it has actually done that.”

Rabbi Freilich lives by his message to love your neighbour as you love yourself. This is one of his main teachings for his community. He believes that the Precepts, or Jewish commandments, are an important guide that can help fulfil that message.

“What Jesus said, you don’t need the Precepts, just be a good human being; that’s Christianity and I respect that because the ultimate goal is to be a good human being. Love your neighbour as yourself, that’s the ultimate goal.

“But I believe the commentary has to be there to lead you to love your neighbour as yourself.”

Having himself grown-up in Judaism, but attended a non-Jewish school, he is shaped by a troubling childhood experience which taught him how to love. He was bullied at school by a classmate, simply for being a Jew.

“I remember saying to myself, ‘I will never let another human being – Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, I don’t care what it is – suffer like this because of their religion.’ It also taught me to have respect for every type of person, no matter what their religion. Possibly, had I gone to an all Jewish school, I wouldn’t have that same feeling; you think the whole world is Jewish.”

He is passionate about teaching this message to the community, especially from a young age. Some of Rabbi Freilich’s favourite achievements include starting a school in Sydney and a child-care  centre at the Perth Hebrew Congregation in Perth, which he and his wife personally got off the ground. While this centre is run from a Jewish perspective, it attracts families of a wide range of backgrounds in the local community.

“We started an early childhood centre which, although it’s a synagogue, many various cultures and religions are there which I think is very good for the kids,” he said. “It really is a fantastic thing because it encourages integration. The kids who come here see they’re in a synagogue, they understand. It’ll stop anti-Semitism and also help our kids to understand there are other people in the world but them.

“We should be educated from an early age, not later in life. Young kids should be taught respect and love for each other and understanding. Keeping their own identities but at the same time showing respect for all other faiths, because the world is too much in conflict and we should try to make bridges between each other and make a better world.”

Using symbolism from the 60s, a time Rabbi Freilich said inspired him greatly, he turned to the music of John Lennon and The Beatles to help bring home his message.

“Although I’m a Beatle fan and agree with most of their songs, there is one John Lennon song I do not agree with and that is his iconic song, Imagine. The song is popular because its words offer  solace and comfort and promise and hope.

“The words are beautiful. They seem to represent the ideal. It speaks to the universal.

“But a world with no religion, no heaven or hell, living only fortoday; a world with no countries. Do you know who sought to establish such a world? Stalin and Pol Pot and Mao and Hitler.

“It is a world that only allows for conformity, no diversity. And that doesn’t allow for creativity; only uniformity. I cannot imagine a world with only one religion and without differences.

“We should all respect each other’s differences. It’s beautiful having a world with differences; imagine such a robotic world where we’re all the same.”

Rabbi Freilich also reminds us of the biblical story of the Great Flood and the symbolism of the rainbow. In this story, God destroyed the world because it was full of violence and disrespect. As a sign to show God wouldn’t do that again, we were given the rainbow.

“A rainbow is all beautiful colours beside each other, keeping each colour,” he said. “If you follow the example of the rainbow you keep your colours, you keep your traditions, you keep your identities but be beside each other in respect and in harmony – you produce something beautiful.”

After helping his congregation to find a successor, Rabbi Freilich plans to write a pop album emphasising a message of love and peace. To find out more information on the Council of Christians and Jews WA visit www.ccjwa.org.

For more information on the Perth Hebrew Congregation visit www.theperthshule.asn.au.

Heather Dowling

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