By Ada Sofineti
Growing up in Communist Romania, religion played little role in my life.
I did however notice that my household was a little different than that of the rest of the kids I knew – I got Christmas presents and went to church with my grandmother, but also got gifts and celebrated Bay ram and learned about the Koran from my other grandmother.
I thought nothing of this mix. Never felt any pressure from either side – just love.
From the age of 10 to 15 I lived in Iran. People find it strange when I talk about feeling free and safe there as a young girl. I wore a scarf to keep my hair covered and a long coat, which did not bother me at all. The locals had made a fashion out of it. I took in the culture with the open heart of a child and still have a big place in my heart for all things Persian. One of my dearest friends in the world is Persian. She was asked years ago how she can trust and be friends with a “foreigner”. She laughed it off. Not everyone is open-minded.
At the age of 19 I lived in Israel right next to a Synagogue. I was curious, excited and honored when an unexpected friend invited me to Shabbat lunch with her family. Her grandparents are still two of the most fascinating, well traveled, well read people I have ever met. In their 80’s, they were taking university classes to keep their minds sharp!
Their granddaughter and her now husband taught me more about friendship and generosity when they were just high school kids than I have ever encountered since.
When I was 24, my parents moved to India. Some people there do not eat cows and consider them sacred, the Muslims do not eat pork, and a large number of the population is vegetarian. Each can make their own choices and as an outsider, all I did was respect each one. However, all of them in general have such respect for life that poor people on the streets share their food with street dogs, and they protect every living thing they can; like lizards scaring off the ladies for example, are gently picked up and placed outside.
Their kind hearts are revealed to me over and over as I travel the world and keep finding myself bonding with the Indian passengers of all religions and castes.
I was once stuck in the airport in Jordan with an eight hour delay. I was alone, uncomfortable and bored. A large group of Indian workers from various Arab countries invited me to join them. Not one of them stared at me because of my blonde hair. They made my acquaintance, offered me water and rum; I only drank the water; and they proceeded to tell stories and jokes for the next eight hours, asking me from time to time if I needed anything. I will never forget them.
At the age of 29, when I got married in a Greek Orthodox church, my Muslim side of the family sat there smiling, wiping tears of joy off their cheeks. The person holding my hand through the ceremony, my cousin and maid of honor is Muslim.
My husband’s Greek Cypriot family simply embraced my entire family for who they are: great people; loving family members.
In my parents’ bedroom, regardless of the country they live in (they move around a lot), on my father’s side of the bed, his nightstand holds a Holy Mary and Holy Water, while my mother’s nightstand has a small Koran on it. They have been married for over 35 years and religion has never been an issue.
I have lived in various countries with different religions. With respect and understanding for each country and its people, I only had positive experiences. That is the basis for my parents’ long and happy marriage. That is how the two sides of my family have always been one, and now added my husband’s family in the same circle of acceptance. And that is how I have made friends of all religions, friends that have changed my life and whom I will cherish for the rest of my days.
So after reading posts here and there defending the motives of the shooters in the Paris massacre, I say: NO. It is unacceptable. There is no conceivable reason to walk into a place and shoot people whose language you speak. People of the country you live in!
Killing in the name of religion must stop!
If these people and our youngsters cannot take example from my family and my personal experiences just written in my new little and yet unknown blog, may be they can relate better to blockbuster movies like Lone Survivor, the true story of a mission gone wrong. Regardless of what side of the many wars individuals might be on, may be seeing instead of reading about the bravery and humanity of a Pashtun villager, Mohammad Gulab, who, at the risk of loosing his own life to the Taliban, saved an American navy seal, Marcus Latrell, from certain death.
Mohammad Gulab has since been flown to Texas to visit his friend, the man whose life he saved, even though the two do not even speak the same language.
That is beautiful. That is humanity. That, to me, is true religion.