The European Day of Jewish Culture – a true highlight of the European cultural agenda!
News from the celebration all over Europe have once again confirmed the drawing power of Jewish culture as a truly trans-national element of European heritage.
A big thank you, and our most heartfelt congratulations to all participants, both organisers and visitors, for yet another immensely successful European Day of Jewish Heritage!
By Hanna Lorer
“Humanity has proven it is more inclined to build walls that separate people from each other than direct its efforts to building bridges, these ancient facilities that make it easy to achieve one great goal - the establishment of relations among people”.
The purpose of the technical facility “bridge“ is to serve people in crossing from one bank of a river to the other, or any other water body, and also in crossing deep mountain gorges. The simplified notion of the bridge, however, as a means of passage, suggests other allusions, with many-sided metaphorical, symbolic meanings. This gave many renowned thinkers with artistic attitude grounds to interpret the notion ”bridge” not only as a way over a river or a mountain gorge, but also as a metaphor that has another, deeper meaning. It is also necessary to build spiritual bridges, whose elevated goal is the implementation of contacts among people, in the name of common humane goals, for promotion of human rights, for respect and forbearance to the otherness, in the spirit of tolerance.
American writer Ernest Hemingway used the notion of bridge as a metaphor as follows: ”To create mutual relations is tantamount to the building of a bridge. Vitiation of relationships is tantamount to destroying bridges”. In his book For Whom the Bell Tolls, Hemingway wrote: ”For a man standing at the crossroads of fate, the choice of the right way means to find, step firmly and cross the right bridge”.
For humanity, it is more constructive to build bridges that help human communication instead of erecting walls that alienate them. Big Bulgarian poet Valeri Petrov made an appeal to seek ”a magic gold key“, which will open widely the gates that have been built in the fortress walls.
QUOTES BY NOTABLE PEOPLE ABOUT THE SYMBOLIC MEANING OF “BRIDGE”
Own viewpoints on the symbolic character of the spiritual bridges have been put forward by religious leaders and secular thinkers, who see and interpret the existence of the bipolar, contradictory realities in the life of the people in their own way:
The good seems to wither, and evil to flourish; justice seems to vanish, and violence to win; knowledge seems to be concealed, and ignorance to be triumphant; meanness seems to rule, nobility is suppressed, and malice spreads; betrayal seems to stay awake, and loyalty seems to sleep; the lie seems to blossom, and the truth wilts barren; a wronged person stays humiliated, whereas the oppressor takes pride in this; the righteous people, disturbed by these contrasts, while blaming themselves for their existence, direct their gaze to God, with a plea to erect spiritual bridges, on which only the virtues will pass and a “Stop” sign be put for the vices.
Rebbe Nachman, a famous Ukrainian mystic, said: “The entire life is a very narrow bridge, on which everyone, like it or not, must go. There is danger of falling off the bridge; and this may happen if you succumb to Devil’s temptations and then fail as a person. However, if during your lifetime you do good to people, this is ”Mitzvah”, like newly constructed bridges connecting those in need to their benefactors.
The world-famous Nobel Prize winner Ivo Andrić provided a literary interpretation of this term: “A bridge built centuries ago bears silent witness to the good and bad things happening around and on it; it collects, absorbs and keeps them, just like stony memory. The twists in the human fate are concomitant to life, but they happen over the bridge, and the troubled water continues to run under its wonderful and rounded arches”.
At the commemoration of the 25th anniversery of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Pope Francis ІІ reminded that this wall had long symbolised the ideological separation between the countries in the world. In his addresses, prayers and masses he stigmatized its existence, as it is the reason for the sufferings experienced by the people who took a stand against it, and moralised: “Let us build bridges, not walls”.
THE POSITIVE MEANING OF THE “SPIRITUAL BRIDGES”
The spiritual bridges suggest deriving knowledge as a result of the exchange of opinions on different levels. There does not exist a more durable spiritual bridge for believers, who realise their contacts with the Almighty by saying their prayers while passing on the blessed bridge in order to reach to God.
The harmoniously built friendships have a solid foundation and their connecting bridge is stable. The ability to understand and accept the others the way they are, to demonstrate tolerance and respect for the different, to exchange various cultural values, results in mutual enrichment, and makes people not only more knowledgeable or cleverer – it brings wisdom.
The moral courage in man is conducive to building spiritual bridges to establish durable relations with both the like- and otherwise minded. Upstanding are the people who resist the temptations of destructive causes, unscrupulous friendships and ethical compromises. They are the creators of the bright spiritual bridges.
The Torah describes the legend of the conflict between Cain and Abel, which arose because of God’s preference for Abel. This fact provoked envy, hate and desire to revenge in Cain, which incited him to the decision to kill his brother. This is the first fratricide described in the history of humankind, committed due to Cain’s reluctance to attempt to extend to Abel the bridge of reconciliation.
The term “bridge” /in Latin pons, pontis/, as well as its derivatives, has another meaning even as far back as the time of the Roman Empire. “Рontifex” means building bridges, and later the Emperor of the Roman Empire was pronounced Pontificex Maximus. Today the word “pontiff” denotes the head of the Roman Catholic church, whose sacred role is to be the mediator in the creation of a “Spiritual bridge“ between the earth and heaven, between humans and the Almighty.
A wonderful symbol of an invigorating bridge is the fresco painted by the ingenious Michelangelo on the dome of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican – God’s hand reaching for Adam, breathing life into him.
NEED FOR “BRIDGES” IN THE DIASPORA
Many theorists of the social structure of the society define the Diaspora as presence of foreign elements in the national countries, who are most often unwanted, as they are ascribed the introduction of a “hibridity” and “corruption” in the national society. In the event of such so-created intolerance between the local population and the heterogeneous citizens residing in the same territory, defined as Diaspora, the creation of a bridge for the purpose of establishing relations between them is desirable, necessary, imperative, but is very difficult and under certain circumstances impossible – for instance, Fascist Germany, where they deliberately bred complete lack of loyalty and absolute absence of tolerance to the then deemed harmful and especially dangerous foreign, mostly Jewish presence within the Nazi country.
What does it mean to be Jewish in Europe, to live in the Diaspora as a Jew, as minority? How can we express our collective Jewish identity, bearing in mind the differences in the way we exist as Jews in the various countries in the Diaspora? Do we differ, like European Jews from the American ones and from those who consider themselves true Jews, those living in Israel? There is also the question of the effect that the experience in the extermination camps had on the Jews surviving the Holocaust. Has the terrible period in the camps influenced their attitude to the non-Jews that surround them in their new existence? Looking at the heterogeneous picture in that light, it can be compared to a multi-coloured kaleidoscope, in which the figures, albeit of different shapes, are connected to each other and are united under the laws of the Halakhah. The minorities comprising the Diaspora bear more or less the mark of the countries where they reside. This influences the language in which they speak - Ladino or Yddish, the music which is performed, Klezmer or Sephardic, and brings nuances to the synagogal services according to the different trends in Judaism. But despite the specific features that have established themselves, the Jewish life is subject to the laws of the Halakhah, which is a solid defensive bridge. Judaism has survived for thousands of years; it managed to preserve itself, resisting all challenges and mostly the global anti-Semitism.
ESTABLISHING “CONNECTING BRIDGES” FOR THE PURPOSE OF THE GLOBAL ORGANISATIONS
The Anti-Defamation League /ADL/ was founded in 1913 for the purpose of stopping the defamation of the Jewish people, for ensuring just treatment of all subjects in one and the same way and protecting the population from anti-Semitic incidents. At the end of the annual session of the League in 1998, Mr Abraham Foxman, executive director of the organisation, announced the establishment of an award for the noble deeds of every righteous person who contributed to the salvation of the Jews, called “Courage to Care”. On a metal plate, seven bas-reliefs are shown, which depict different episodes of the persecution of the Jewish people with a bridge portrayed as the symbol of salvation.
At a congress convened by the International Peace Foundation, held on 09.11.2009, the main discussed topic was “Bridges-dialogues for understanding and peace”. It was attended by a number of famous people, among which several Nobel Prize winners, of which one was the only scientist from the Weizmann Institute in Israel - Prof. Ada Yonath. She delivered a report entitled “Building bridges between the molecules in a living cell”.
There is an organisation called “Bridge of Solidarity”, whose goal is to establish connections between specialists working in similar areas. Creating a fruitful bridge between them allows for the establishment of close professional connections, sharing experience, increasing the useful effect of different technologies, and forming creative teams.
IMPACT OF THE “SPIRITUAL BRIDGES” IDEA ON ARTS
The versatile spiritual meaning of the term “bridge” has found a place in modern music, too. There are works in which the key word is “Bridge”. For example, the song “Under the Bridge“ performed by Anthony Kiedis with the world-known band Red Hot Chili Peppers, or that by Simon and Garfunkel – “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, by Pink – “Bridge of Light”, “Burning Bridges’ performed by the band “One Republic”, etc. The dual role of the bridge is wonderfully reproduced in the film “The Bridges of Madison County“ starring Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood, which can both connect and separate. Influential are not only the musical and drama works, but also the silent arts, such as dance, ballet and pantomime, which have a beneficial influence by sending the spectator feelings and emotions that comprise positively charged spiritual bridges.
A powerful factor for establishing spiritual connections between various people in a concert hall, who differ socially, in terms of race, gender and nationality, immersed in the beauty of a musical composition, bond silently with one another, establishing a spiritual bridge under the influence of the effect of the musical piece. This is a wonderful example of the creation of a very similar spiritual state by the impact of the musical piece. Although abstract as a sense, it is universal in terms of effect, and is even more valid for the prayers in the temples during religious services, whose aim is not only to throw a bridge between those attending the service, but also to carry them, via the heavenly arc, to the celestial dwelling place of the Almighty.
The Indian pacifist and humanist Mahatma Gandhi appealed to people in his entire life to be tolerant and benevolent to one another, to entwine in their thinking the idea of lending a helping hand. He was dead against the incantation “an eye for an eye”, as he believed such a punishment would turn the entire world into a truly blind person.
Martin Luther King, known throughout the world for his idea for building bridges between people in the name of tolerance, in many of his speeches emphasised that waging wars, as early as in the most ancient times, was a destructive factor for the noble erection of the spiritual bridges that peace needs. He championed brotherhood among people, and fought against racial discrimination and the establishment of a unity with the help of the hand reached out as a bridge. He preached philanthropy and the following quotation belongs to him: ”Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Crossing a bridge, in the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends on the other bank”.
The Ten Commandments are the universal spiritual code, a powerful, global spiritual bridge. The power with which their content is charged determines their boundless importance and obligation to the people on Earth – to comply with a common morality.
In accordance with the resolution adopted by UNESCO, 2015 is declared “YEAR OF THE LIGHT”. The world is preparing to celebrate it with various, topical events. With the current topic for holding EDJC this year, “Bridges”, we can join this global celebration, led by the profound conviction that the positive appeals of the spiritual bridges, addressed to the humanity for tolerance and peace, bring light.
A curious fact, as a symbol in the artistic arrangement of the European currency– Euro, valid in a large number of the EU member countries, is that the notes do not feature human profiles, which are typical of the banknotes of each country, but have bridges outlined on the front, and arches on the back.
Similarly to gold shine and shed light the eyes of all people who are ready to lend, like a bridge, a helping hand to every person in trouble. The golden radiance brings peace in people’s souls and lays the foundations for the creation of elevated bridge from earth to heaven.
By Hanna Lorer