This post by Dr Robin Morrow was originally published on the CBCA Tasmania blog and is reproduced with permission.
It was Jella Lepman who first used the phrase a bridge of children’s books. She was working with children in war-destroyed Germany, and appealed to other countries to send donations of their best books. The German children needed these imported books in the 1940s, because recently they had been fed only Nazi propaganda. Jella Lepman realised the books from other countries were forming bridges that linked their lives with those in other lands. Lepman’s work resulted in the foundation of IBBY (the International Board on Books for the Young), which flourishes today in more than seventy countries.
How do these book-bridges build foundations for peace? Readers who experience a wide and deep range of stories develop empathy – the ability to live for a while in another’s skin. One of…
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Ada Aharoni has been awarded the Prix du Témoignage (Testimony Prize) for this little known WW2 history of Arab-Jewish co-operation.
Text: Solveig HansenAda Aharoni’s Not in Vain: An Extraordinary Life (1998) about Thea Wolf (1907–2005), German Head Nurse at the Jewish Hospital in Alexandria during World War II, has recently been translated into French, titled Thea Wolf – la femme en blanc de l’hôpital d’Alexandrie (also available as an e-book at Kindle). Through the hospital and in some cases with the aid of Egyptian officials, hundreds of escaping European Jews found sanctuary.
The English title of the book, Not in Vain, is derived from Wolf’s own statement, “I did not want to live in vain.” Independent and strong from an early age, she fought the prejudices of her time and became a nurse. In 1932, she left for Egypt and the Jewish Hospital in Alexandria, never to see her family again. Most of them were killed in the Nazi concentration camps.Wolf kept meticulous records throughout her career. After the war, she even tried to find out what had happened to many of the people she helped save. Her notes proved to be valuable to Aharoni while writing and documenting the events that unfolded in the Alexandrian hospital.
Some of the stories are truly remarkable, like the one about the last German ship to visit Egypt before the outbreak of the war. Onboard were thirteen Jewish refugees who were not allowed to disembark and were about to be transported back to Germany. One of the ship’s crew members arranged with the hospital staff to administer a dose of sleeping pills to the refugees in order to put them in an appeared state of coma, after which they were admitted to the hospital. The ship had to leave without them. Later they were smuggled into Palestine, with the co-operation of Egyptian police and port authorities.
In 1947, Schwester Thea left Egypt and moved to Palestine where she continued her work as a nurse. She married Julius Levinsohn, an attorney from Germany, and adopted young Michael, a relative of her father. They moved back to Germany, but after her husband’s death in 1964, she settled in Jerusalem.
Thea Levinsohn-Wolf passed away in 2005 in Frankfurt, the city where she trained to become a nurse.
Ada Aharoni calls her a forerunner of the “new woman.”
Text: Solveig Hansen
“The Golden Age of the Jews from Egypt – Uprooting and Revival in Israel” was launched on September 1 at the Writer’s House in Tel Aviv. Edited by Ada Aharoni, the book tells the stories of some of the families that were forced to leave Egypt after the State of Israel was founded in 1948.
The 2,000 year old Jewish community in Egypt is almost extinct. Out of the 100,000 Jews in 1948, only 12 old ladies are left in the whole country today, as seen in the BBC report Egypt’s Jewish community’s lost future.
The book is mostly written in Hebrew, with an introduction in English. The e-book edition is available for free reading.
At the launch, Zvi Skolnick sang “No Talking,” one of Ada Aharoni’s poems, in Hebrew. She wrote this poem during the 2008-09 Gaza War. It could have been written today. Play it:
By Ada Aharoni
The politicians decided
We do not talk with the enemy
We will beat them because they attack us
We will shed their blood
and that of their leaders
But most of all –
In the meantime, in Sderot in Israel
And in the heart of Gaza
Blood flows and legs are blown away
And little eight-year-old
Twitee from Sderot
And Mohamed from Gaza
Will not play football anymore
How can we convince violent leaders
To talk and not to shoot?
I watch from the side
At the tragic hen and egg situation
And weep together with all the sorrowful
People from both sides
But still, first and foremost –
Text: Solveig Hansen
The uprooting of the Jewish communities in Egypt following the establishment of Israel in 1948 forms the backdrop in many of Prof. Ada Aharoni’s books. From the Nile to the Jordan (1994) tells the captivating story of young Inbar and her family, and the love story of Inbar and Raoul, a Holocaust survivor.
The review below is by Rachel Unger, IFLAC intern during her semester at Haifa University in 2014.
The novel is available at Amazon, both as paperback and Kindle e-book.
“From the Nile to the Jordan:
An epic and historical novel sublime and forgotten”
by Ada Aharoni
Review by Rachel Unger, 2014
“From the Nile to the Jordan” tells the fascinating story of a young Jewish woman in Egypt after the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. The novel is based on true historical events which have been largely untold and forgotten. This makes the novel unique and very interesting for all readers. Aharoni’s rich, colorful language depicts the melange of cultures her protagonist grows up in and the effects of the changing environment on her formerly innocent life. The novel is beautifully written, poetic, and a definite page turner. Moreover, it is a thrilling romance that will capture the hearts of its readers. It is both a beautiful, deeply personal work of literature as well as a politically important piece, as it brings a forgotten part of history back to life. The story is very relevant to the current crises the Middle East faces and it introduces the often unheard perspective of Jews from Arab countries.
The novel tells the story of a Jewish girl, Inbar, and her family, who were forced out of Egypt when Israel was born in 1948, along with the entire Jewish community. Now, there are only about 10 Jewish widows left in Egypt. This “Exodus” happened in other Arab countries too, and many Jews were forced to leave all their property behind. In this sense, Jews and Palestinians share a history of expulsion. Up to one million Jews were expelled from Arab countries following the declaration of independence of Israel, while there were about 700,000 Palestinian refugees from Israel, according to UNRWA. Aharoni tells the story of Inbar to show how the story of the Jews who were ousted from Arab countries can help bring peace between Israelis and Palestinians, by showing that half the Jewish population of Israel, those from Arab countries, have also suffered from the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Aharoni brilliantly captures both the darkness and helplessness felt by the Jews in Egypt during the “Second Exodus,” alongside the bright passion of youths, the strength of love, and determined hopefulness for a more peaceful and happy future. The characters explore the lights and darks of human nature and the powerful forces of society. The book is a cry for a new era of brotherly and sisterly love that is guaranteed to touch the hearts of readers of all ages from around the globe.
This is a compilation of peace articles by famous writers and philosophers specialized in peace building matters and a summary of their respective point of view. Twelve writers, twelve minds, twelve styles but only one obsession: To resolve the dilemma of war, social violence and the preservation of human life. Love, life, humanity, serenity of thought, familiar peace and other meanings around the need of a change in this crazy, violent and self destructive civilization, are some of the topics in these essays. Peace is possible especially through literature as we explain in the book but also through the education of respect to human dignity… Take a tour on our proposal of solutions to this severe illness that is causing the decadence and perhaps death of our blue planet Earth. Read about diversity of ideals, diversity of resolution of violence in society, from Argentina to Algeria, going through United States of America, Canada, Germany, Norway, Pakistan and many other countries like Israel, India or France. Read and think on your own point of view and rethink this book upon your vision. That is our dream. We cannot wait, we want to read your own creative opinion. MARIA CRISTINA AZCONA
Text: Solveig Hansen
Dr. Shai Har-El is the Founder and President of the Middle East Peace Network (MEPN). His new book, Where Islam and Judaism Join Together: A Perspective on Reconciliation, is due to be released in the summer of 2014. In the book, he quotes “the rope of God” from the Koran and says that Islam and Judaism can no longer be separate dangling ropes next to each other, but be tied together, and “each rope must give up little, surrender a bit of its original length, to achieve a stronger unity.”
Dr. Har-El is has kindly allowed us to publish this piece on his forthcoming book.
Jews and Muslims Can Build a Common Ground
By Dr. Shai Har-El
I am pleased to announce the publication by Palgrave and MacMillan of my new book, Where Islam and Judaism Join Together: A Perspective on Reconciliation this summer. This book is the result of many years of thinking, speaking and writing about peace. It is a sincere effort to go back to our sacred texts and reinterpret their teachings so that an open space is created to embrace religious pluralism and respect of other people’s truths. In this book, I chose to concentrate only on Islam and Judaism, sister religions that are closely related to one another with roots intertwined in the land, in the language, and in the memories of shared history. Of all religions, they are by far the closest to each other in their fundamental religious tenets, practices and systems of law, and their social, cultural and ethical traditions.
In the introduction to this book, I quoted the beautiful words of the Qur’ān (3:103): “Hold firmly, all together, by the rope of God and be not divided among yourselves; and remember with gratitude God’s favor upon you, for you were enemies and He joined your hearts in love, so that by His grace, you become brothers.” Thus, to be the knotted rope of God that joins people in brotherhood, Islam and Judaism can no longer relate as separate ropes dangling next to each other. In order for them to tie their ropes together, each rope must give up little, surrender a bit of its original length, to achieve a stronger unity.
So we all have a choice: either we become the knotted rope of God that binds us together, or we continue to exist as separate ropes apart from each other. Either we live in unity as brothers and enjoy God’s mercy, or we live apart as enemies and suffer. Like one of Martin Luther King’s pearls of wisdom, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”
It is in this spirit of harmony and brotherhood that I wrote this book – as a place, where I attempt to bridge between Islam and Judaism, and as a tool to promote a greater understanding and appreciation of the two Abrahamic traditions. It is my hope that both Jews and Muslims, in their search for common ground, will adopt the symbol of sharing and bonding represented by the unique symbol of the knotted rope.
The book is intended to create an opening in the minds of the Jewish and Muslim readers to see the light at the end of the dark hostility tunnel and encourage them to embrace each other as brothers and sisters. The ultimate course requires, however, far more than a shift in thinking. The key is action – the actual translation of this mind shift into concrete implementation in the form of peacebuilding and peacemaking.
This book is a call for action!
- A call to reject the argument that religion is a source of conflicts and emphasize the role of religion as a resource for resolving them;
- A call to fight the fanatics among us – those who manipulate religion and turn it into an instrument of hatred and violence – while supporting the voices of peace among us;
- A call to repudiate all cultures of denial and allow infrastructures of mutual trust and reconciliation to be erected instead;
- A call to cast aside exclusivist religious visions and violent passions and replace them with relationships marked by mutual human care and compassion;
- A call to combat the forces of chaos and darkness that divide people and create for them instead peaceful ecology, where they can rejoice in the human diversity of experience, the colorful tapestry of expression and the noble acceptance of each other;
- A call to condemn all senseless wanton acts of violence and engage in peace education in our schools, places of worship, and media networks so that our children and grandchildren live in a safe world and enjoy a brighter future;
- A call to convince the world that Islam and Judaism can and must reconcile their terribly bitter and unholy differences; that this reconciliation would forward the cause of world peace, in general, and help defuse the Arab-Israeli conflict, in particular.
My only hope is that Where Islam and Judaism Join Together would not remain on your shelf, but inspires you to take action in support of Jewish-Muslim dialogue; that the book will ultimately develop into a force strong enough to affect public opinion about the possibility of Islam and Judaism coming together; that the book becomes a sacred gateway, where readers of all nations can embark on a journey of exploration of other people’s culture; that the book becomes, not a monologue, but a start of an open dialogue, a conversation that nurtures mutual respect and understanding.
I invite you to email me your own suggestions of how to build bridges of understanding between Islam and Judaism. I would also be very appreciative if you could spread the word about the forthcoming book, as I believe it is an important contribution to the field of peace studies, and that it will be of interest to scholars, students, practitioners and policymakers.
But the Jewish sages’ teach us, “It is not the study that is essential, but rather the action” (Pirkei Avot 1:17). So I decided to take my own action. I am in the process of establishing a collaborative peacebuilding project between the Middle East Peace Network (MEPN) and the Center for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES) at the University of Chicago, entitled Jewish-Muslim Reconciliation Initiative (JMRI). If you live in the Chicagoland area, you are invited to participate. You are invited to do the same in your own town. Let me know so that I can support you.
I respectfully ask all Jewish and Muslim spiritual leaders, scholars, educators, opinion makers and community leaders, to join hands, in the spirit of the Torah and the Qur’ān, and open a constructive interfaith dialogue to which this book is a modest contribution. I believe that with our shared vision of peace and prayer of hope, we together could succeed where politicians have failed miserably.
May you all embrace the following inspirational message of the Arab poet and philosopher Khalil Gibran (1883-1931):
I love you, my brother, whoever you are – whether you worship in your church, kneel in your temple, or pray in your mosque. You and I are all children of one faith, for the diverse paths of religion are fingers of the loving hand of one Supreme Being, a hand extended to all, offering completeness of spirit to all, and eager to receive all.
A WOMAN AND A MOTHER CAN BE A GODDESS OF PEACE
Ada Aharoni’s book of Poems
YOU AND I CAN CHANGE THE WORLD
BY DR. SHUJAAT HUSSAIN (INDIA)
The imagination of a poet is for a better world, this imagination imparts visions of peace and harmony where the citizens of the world could lead a happy and prosperous life. And such an imagination of a poetess becomes unflinching thought and her thought is as a dream. She dreams in her words, lines, couplets, triplets, stanzas, and throughout her poetry. This is the case with Prof. Ada Aharoni, an Israeli contemporary poetess. She knows what comes from the lips reaches the ear. But her poetry comes from the heart so it reaches the heart of the people. Her poems contain grand and eternal messages that cover the universe.
She dreams her dream of peace and it becomes reality. She shares her dream with the mothers of the world, women of the world who are the unending source of human beings on the earth. I am writing it to tell the readers about how she is making exactly that happen, by cultivating an approach which is different, she utilizes the power of thought of her poems as a force for peace and compassion.
There are many great poets from Israel, among them Zelda, Yehuda Amichai, T. Carmi, Bialik, Rachel and of course my favorite poetess Prof. Ada Aharoni because of her focus on the theme of peace. Her poems contain much loss, suffering, and death. One notable element is that there is in many of the poems sympathy with the innocent victims. Her poems do not exalt the glory of war. She is not at all for Governments whose economy depends on the sales of arms and ammunition to kill innocent people of the world. She is obviously and absolutely humane and caring with a great deal of sympathy for the victims. You and I Can Change the World reflects a certain truth of the way she sees Israel in particular and the world in general. She hates, condemns and curses war. She appears at the present scene as a messiah of peace and convinces soldiers of wars, guns, barrels, grenades, bombs and missiles and war mongers, with bouquets of flowery and fragrant words that join hearts together, diffuse tension, bombs, barrels, criticizes diplomatic webs of war and creates a congenial culture of peace.
In this book she yearns for a world beyond war. Prof. Ada Aharoni asserts in the Preface, “I truly believe that poetry is one of the best vehicles for spreading the message of peace that is deep in the hearts of most people of the world. It is the fittest tool for speaking from the heart to heart. In the following poems I have poured my yearnings, my hopes, confusions, frustrations, but above all, my profound conviction, that You and I Can Change the World.”
Prof. Ada Aharoni is highly qualified and widely acclaimed bilingual poetess and writer. More than 30 books to her credit which have been translated into several languages of the world. She is of the view that literature and culture can help and heal the urgent ailments of the global village, such as war, conflict and poverty.
There are five pillars on which the “forte” of You and I Can Change the World rests – Women and Peace, Peace With Our Neighbors, Peace Poems by Hebrew Poets, You and I Can, and Poems Put to Music.
Cosmic Women describes the creation, importance and responsibility of women. Aharoni tells philosophically that the women are born to foster and save the children on earth:
When you chose earth
As home for your vast roots
At the beginning
Of the great human family,
It was for life –
Not for death.
You, who were born of the nucleus,
From deadly nucleus mushroom
Save your children
SAVE YOUR CHILDREN