Sunday, March 30, 2003

Sleepy and I didn't get enough done today. I do have one interesting story, from Maria Rosa Menocal's Ornament of the World, a book about religious coexistence in medieval Spain. (Highly recommended, by the way. Readable, lucid, and gorgeously written.) The story goes as follows: In fourteenth-century Spain, someone crafted a very beautiful Haggadah (book of the Passover service). This Haggadah was influenced by Muslim and Christian art and embodied religious coexistence in every hand-painted page. In any case, when Isabella and Ferdinand expelled the Jews in 1492, a Sephardi Jewish family took it with them as they escaped. Somehow, in time, the Haggadah ended up in a museum in Sarajevo.

When WWII came, the Nazis wanted to burn this Haggadah among the other Jewish treasures they destroyed. A Muslim museum curator managed to rescue it, and it survived through the war in Bosnia despite Serbian attacks on the museum. It is now displayed with honor in a special room in Sarajevo... which might have been the end of the story, but it isn't.

One day in 1999, an Albanian Muslim woman and her family fled to a refugee camp in Macedonia, bringing only a few personal treasures. One of these treasures was a paper that the woman's father had cherished. The woman could not read it, because it was written in Hebrew. When she reached Macedonia, she showed it to some Macedonian Jewish volunteers for Kosovar relief. The paper was actually a commendation from the Israeli government to the woman's father, for saving from the Nazis both the precious Haggadah and several Jews whom he had hidden in his apartment. The real end of the story? Well, this Muslim woman, and her family, were immediately offered a home in the land of Israel. At the Tel Aviv airport, they were welcomed warmly by the son of a woman whose life the Muslim museum curator had saved.

In these times of religious strife, it's a story worth recalling, I think.


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