Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Argue, for God's Sake-Or, a Jewish Argument for Argument

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Argue, for God's Sake-Or, a Jewish Argument for Argument

Article excerpt

It is truly an honor to be in Skopje, but I came with a real sense of anxiety. I wondered to myself after being asked to address you what I could possibly say that would impart any greater wisdom than already exists in this company. What would I teach you? I had no good answer to the question. After thinking about it, I concluded that, like everyone else who is present, I have my own story, and it is perhaps only the personal story that is unique. So I come to tell my story: as a Jew, as an American, and as an active member of the greatest though most poorly organized human association--humanity, the association of the human spirit.

I was first in Macedonia thirty-two years ago. I was traveling after completing my secondary schooling and before entering the university. I knew of Macedonian music and dancing and had heard that it was a beautiful country, so I decided, of all the places in Europe to travel, to make sure I would come here. I did, and I was not disappointed. I loved the country so much that I returned for my honeymoon thirteen years later! My wife and I spent most of our time around Ohrid, but we also visited Skopje and Bitola, traveled along the Vardar, and entered the mountains around Mt. Korabit.

Let me tell you what I love about this country. There is of course the amazing beauty of the land and the music that magically forces the listener to sing along even without knowing the words and often to jump up and dance. There is also the fresh produce and wonderful foods. However, the best thing about this land is its people. The people of Macedonia are the country's best natural resource--not only because they are friendly and warm, intelligent and outgoing, but also because of Macedonia's human diversity. On our honeymoon we would visit an ethnic Macedonian village and then, only a few kilometers away, an ethnic Albanian village. Only a stone's throw away would then be an ethnic Turkish village, and we saw Roma people in Skopje and in other places. We subsequently learned that Macedonia includes a number of smaller communities as well, such as the Wallach.

The color of the different dress, styles of village architecture, radically diverse languages--it was all very moving for us to observe such diversity in people living so closely together. How could it be that such different cultures and nationalities and languages could live side-by-side in relative harmony? To us, your diversity has been your blessing.

However, for you it is also a problem. The vision of such delightful harmony in diversity is perhaps beautiful and romantic viewed from the outside, but it may not represent reality for the people living and toiling in those villages. History has demonstrated that it is not easy for different nationalities (1) to live very closely together in harmony. In fact, history has taught that it is often very difficult and has even led, not infrequently, to violence and war.

The core of the difficulty, it seems, is the human tendency to divide the world into two camps: "Us," and "Them." (2) We human beings seem to be trained from infancy to believe that, whoever we may be, of whatever nation or religion, "We" are essentially better than "They." "We" represent a culture of intelligence and beauty. "They" are primitive or dull. "We" are civilized. "They" are barbaric. "We" are persecuted. "They" are persecutors. This is a football mentality. It is fine when cheering for your own team. It is sinful when it divides human beings and prevents us from respecting the dignity of the other.

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam each teach that God created all of humanity from the first human couple, Adam and Eve. (3) Our religions also teach that God created every human being in a mysterious way that infuses us with some likeness of God, with a part of the divine essence. Some have articulated this second point by saying that all humanity is created "in the divine image," (4) but religious scholars have sometimes objected to associating God with any image, even metaphorically. …

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