Posted Jérôme SEGAL
Representatives of the New-York based Foundation for Ethnic Understanding (FFEU), Rabbi Marc Schneier and Imam Shamsi Ali came to Vienna on November 7th to promote their program for action in Europe. On the occasion of the 75th anniversary of Novemberpogrom (called "Kristallnacht" by the nazis), the first severe and simultaneous pogroms in Germany and Austria. The two men demonstrated their unity of purpose by presenting their program to improve relations worldwide between their two religious communities.
At a press conference held in the morning, Schneier mentioned the enormous demographic difference: there are a hundred times more Muslims than Jews (1.4 billion to 14 million). It should be possible for each community to speak out when the other is under attack. In this respect it is critically important to realize that 82% of Muslims are not Arabs, and do not support the Wahhabi branch of Sunni Islam, which remains hostile to Jews. As examples, Schneier cited the case of headscarves in France, where Jews demonstrated in solidarity with Muslims, and the communal peace demonstration of Imams and Rabbis after the shooting of Jewish children in March 2012 in Toulouse.
The largest Muslim population in the world is in Indonesia (200 million) where Shamsi Ali was born. Many mosques and synagogues cooperate closely with the FFEU actions: imams speak in synagogues and rabbis in mosques. For Schneier and Ali, their religions are almost identical. They cite the parallels in food rules, halal and kosher, and the practice of circumcision. They recommend joint action by both communities against the latest decision of the European council to condemn the circumcision of infants and children, and launched a massive joint Jewish-Muslim petition which will be handed to the European Council on December 1st. In a more historical perspective, both talked about the positive aspects of their long shared history, evoking the Muslims who saved Jews during the Ottoman Empire, and likening the present difficulties, particularly in the Middle East, to “family disputes” among cousins.
Both religious leaders insisted on the necessity to re-read the holy texts. Ali explained that the Hadiths represent the important oral traditions in Islam. Thus, for instance, the sentence of the Quran which says Muslims shall not “make friend” with Christians or Jews is due to bad translation of the term “wali” the meaning of which is that of a “religious teacher” rather than that of a “friend”. By the same token, Schneier explained that the concept of the term “chosen people” should be interpreted as bearing responsibility to guard and promote monotheism but does not imply being superior to others. The theological peace process they advocate is based on such re-reading of the texts.
Both men promote “rationalization of the understanding of religion”, but Schneier’s explanation may sound like an oxymoron. Asked about their views on homosexuality, both became somewhat unease. The rabbi it clearly an “abomination” in the Torah but that he would accept homosexuals if they have “no other choice” and “born that way” (sic). The Imam seemed a bit more open, avoiding the answer saying he is not interested in the sexual orientation of the mosque-goers. If they really want to rationalize religion, since the capital punishment for adultery has been cancelled and since they are now thinking of considering homosexuals as equal humans, it could be wiser to reconsider the position of both religions regarding disputed topics like the forced circumcision of babies and children or the ritual slaughtering, opposed to basic children or animal rights. The “Muslim-Jewish interfaith luncheon”, they organized in Vienna, presented as the first event of this kind in Austria might not suffice to deepen this approach.
(many thanks to George Wolf for the proofreading and editing of this text)
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November 15, 2013 | 11:18 am
Posted Ian Shulman
Oh, the sweet feeling of counting days and nights till several great projects come to life, what can be compared to you? Well, several things: being a part of one of these projects, working for a beautiful cause and looking forward for an event greater project to launch and succeed current enterprises.
It all began this October, at a seminar with a promising name ‘Future Jewish Media Makers’, which gathered 12 Jewish media enthusiasts and professionals for four days in Berlin - a city full of fresh initiatives and endless inspiration, from the Jewish perspective in particular. Participants made their way from different cities and countries, brought along different professional and personal backgrounds, but shared the same intent of using media to change perceptions and bring out the truth. Be it Israeli affairs, Jewish community life in Germany, Jewish-German shared history or other areas, there are countless topics suffering from significantly imbalanced media coverage. Blaming the offenders or recalling the past will hardly restore justice, but raising awareness and providing another viewpoint will certainly do.
If you are looking for a trendy definition to fit the fancy title, I would suggest ‘the Jewish startup incubator”. It is indeed about great ideas, young teams, innovation, social media and the whole bundle of startup-related terms; yet it has a strong Jewish and, if you prefer, social focus. It is not enough for the ideas born here to sound cool (though it is required too); most importantly, they have to make some social or political impact.
The seminar’s initiator Oren Osterer, who is also active as a program director at the European Janusz Korczak Academy and as a researcher at History Channel, invited some truly inspiring presenters in order to provide a solid ground for the future projects. A veteran of German pro-Israeli and pro-Jewish activism and a leading PR and communicational psychology expert Leo Sucharewicz, a delegate of Jewish Agency in Germany and a social media activist Dan Fayutkin, European correspondent of Israeli newspaper Yedioth Achronoth Eldad Beck along with chief editors of Germany’s leading Jewish newspapers Jueddische Allgemeine and The Jewish Voice From Germany David Kauschke and Hartmut Bomhof - there is hardly a better mix of people to teach some great lessons on the essence of media and its implementation in Jewish issues and let the work begin.
Wanna hear more? Well, let’s wait till January, when the second seminar will take place in Munich and bring together the achievements of the past four months and the new project, which is still to be revealed by Oren, but was already perfectly labeled by one of the participants as “GUP” (“Grosses Unbekanntes Projekt’, aka “Big Unknown Project” in English). By that time the current projects are expected to go through the pilot phase and roll out at a full scope. And yes, since this article was delivered to you via another Jewish media project, be sure all exciting updates will come your way.
November 3, 2013 | 9:40 am
Posted by Klaudia Klimek
As Henry Ford put it, coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success. Such was the case with the joint concert-project in Krakow.
A few months ago a representative of the Shomer program from Belarus wrote to TSKŻ Kraków and proposed a collective initiative involving a concert of the Shalom band from Belarus, for the Jewish community in Kraków.
Some time, work and involvement later, there we have it - after a few months, one October evening we find ourselves in the beautiful Tempel synagogue, available to us thanks to the Jewish Community of Kraków. Credit is also due to one other person and here I will quote the words of Lou Vickery. “Four short words sum up what has lifted most successful individuals above the crowd: a little bit more. They did all that was expected of them and a little bit more. Itzchak Horowitz, a member of the Jewish community in Kraków since several years, helped not only with the finance and logistics but did something more than that, he helped the idea become a reality, allowed the event to even take place. Therefore TSKŻ Kraków, as the main organizer, had the privilege of hosting 200 listeners who decided to spend one of their evenings with Jewish music, which came to us all the way from Belarus. However, this concert was not the only joint initiative. Apart from the photographs, we also organized three video recordings where Itzchak Horowitz, not just the co-sponsor but a man of unique vocal talent, performed songs with the band. One seems especially exceptional, due to the innovative idea of combining a prayer for Israeli soldiers which we can hear every Friday in the synagogue, with the popular melody from the 1977 film Raid On Entebbe, which tells of the Mossad freeing passengers from a hijacked Air France flight on June 27, 1976.
Somebody once taught me that at the beginning of each project there is chaos and the organizer (in this case TSKŻ Kraków) must be the squirrel, which slowly puts everything in order and makes it a success. I report that the squirrel fulfilled its duty.
(Below is a recording of the aforementioned song. Enjoy!)
November 1, 2013 | 10:54 am
Posted Pavel Pustelnik
The Museum of the History of Polish Jews was probably the most needed repository of memories in the country. The core exhibition is still under construction, however the Museum’s building is already open for visitors.
- It has been a few years since we started working on the core exhibition. This is how we started the whole project of the Museum. Firstly we produced a concept of the exhibition and the building was tailored to what we wanted to show – says Piotr Kossobudzki, spokesperson of the Museum. The task of fitting the needs of the place must have been challenging and received large interest in the architectonic milieu. Finally Rainer Mahlamäki and his studio Lahdelma & Mahlamäki Architects won the competition. A large, regular hexahedron has landed in the middle of Muranów, an area located not far from the Warsaw’s Old Town.
The place was not chosen by chance. The building is situated in front of the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes, commemorating the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943, in the area that used to be densely populated by the Jewish community. The Museum softly converses with the surrounding architecture and the adjacent park. It opens to the park with a large glass wall resembling a light-green curtain. The entire glass surface is covered with a print designed by Klementyna Jankiewicz, saying "polin", which means "rest here" in Hebrew. When Jews reached Poland in the Middle Ages they decided to settle there – to rest. Sharply defined walls covered all in silk printed glass panels open in a dramatic entrance inviting into an extensive hall. The hall’s unique double-curved walls symbolize the Jerusalem valleys and the Red Sea opened for the Biblical passage of the Jews. It might also seem that the opening in the walls can reflect the drama of Holocaust. The jury of the project competition believed that that the concept of the whole building has been produced “without unnecessary rhetoric, with simplicity and elegance”, which was smartly realized in Warsaw. On its three floors the building hosts not only the exhibition space located in the basement but also offices, information center, auditorium and classrooms.
There is no exhibition though. - Right now the exhibition produced by the Jewish Historical Institute Association in Poland is being installed. We need around 9-10 months to be ready. We decided though, that if the building is ready, all the rooms can be opened any time and the staff of the Museum is extremely eager to start working, we will not wait until the core exhibition is ready, but we will start the programmatic activities earlier – says Kossobudzki. This means that the Museum became a center for culture and education and from the very beginning attracted crowds of guests both from Poland and abroad. Everyday, guided walks are offered in and the Museum invites for its events and temporary exhibitions. So far the Museum has organized several debates, movie screenings, concerts, workshops, meetings and theater shows.
Interestingly, the Museum of the History of Polish Jews is the first public-private partnership type of investment in Poland. Joint efforts of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, Jewish Historical Institute Association in Poland and the City of Warsaw as well as many private donors were needed to launch this 110 million USD worth project. This structure of funding caused some several issues while designing and building of the Museum. For example the head of the Museum has been changes several times. Currently the head is charged with leading the work of the Museum’s team up to the opening and afterwards a new head will be appointed. – One of the features we will be looking for is strong personality. There have been many stereotypes attached to the topic we are dealing here with. We need a visionary who will know how to present the history of Polish Jews both here and abroad – says Kossobudzki.
Indeed, the expectations are high. The Museum of the History of Polish Jews will need to confront the stereotypes about the Jews that still are present in the Polish society as well as explain role of the Jews in Poland in the last 1000 years and today. Before the war, 10% of the Polish population was Jewish or was of Jewish origin and in a result of Holocaust and communist repressions basically the whole population of three millions Jews disappeared from Poland, for the benefit of all a museum like this needed to be created in order to show the richness of the Jewish culture, its significance for Jews and non-Jews. It is also a large awareness-raising enterprise: many Poles are not cognizant of the role that Jews played both in history and in daily life. More importantly however, it is charged with showcasing that the relationship between Poland and Jews is much deeper than just Nazi concentration camps and Holocaust. - Often the groups from Israel or from the US visit only concentration and several cemeteries to later head off home, then they have a distorted view of contemporary Poland but also of the history of Polish Jews – underlines Kossobudzki. Some initiatives are in progress. From April 2013 on the Museum has been hosting groups of students who visit the Museum in the framework of their history classes. Students often experience a clash between the knowledge they can find in their textbooks and what we convey. – Obviously, there is a tendency to show one truth, so when groups will come to visit the Museum and will explore the history of the same period told from a very different perspective. It might well be that it will be a significantly contrastive one. We expect those surprises. Some events that were extremely important for the Poles were not that important for the Jews. At the same time, the period of partitions was extremely interesting from the Jewish perspective, as falling under Russia, Prussia or Austria meant a lot for the Jewish population – says Kossobudzki. In a similar spirit international exchanges are organized. Special attention is given to the groups from Israel. – We are striving to include into their trip to Poland a day that they could spend with their Polish peers. They are able to see that there are not many differences between them. Also the officers of the Israeli army who come to Poland meet their counterparts here.
The opening of the core exhibition is planned for September 2014. The public is expecting that the core exhibition will match the virtuosity of Mahlamäki’s project and contribute to a better understanding of the complicated history it aspires to tell. We shall be in touch from Warsaw soon.
Here pictures: http://www.jewrnalism.org/jewrnalism-gallery/culture/museum-of-the-history-of-polish-jews-416