THANK YOU. IT’S GOOD TO BE HERE AT THIS IMPORTANT GATHERING TODAY IN BARCELONA. I WANT TO THANK THE ORGANIZERS OF THIS CONFERENCE FOR INVITING ME TO SHARE SOME THOUGHTS AND EXPERIENCES WITH YOU TODAY, FROM MY PERSPECTIVE, AS SOMEONE WHO HAS WORKED IN THIS FIELD –IN ISRAEL AND PALESTINE.
IN THE 10 MINUTES THAT I HAVE BEEN GIVEN TO SPEAK, I WILL OFFER SOME BRIEF REFLECTIONS
ABOUT SOME OF OUR JEWISH SOURCES THAT CAN GUIDE US
ABOUT HOW CONTEMPORARY FILM CAN HELP US TO LIVE TOTHER BY UNDERSTANDING THE OTHER BETTER
FIRST, SOME OF THE SOURCES THAT CAN GUIDE US:
“HOW GOOD AND PLEASANT IT IS TO DWELL TOGETHER AS BROTHERS (AND SISTERS).” THIS VERSE FROM THE PSALMS HAS BECOME ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT HEBREW FOLK SONGS IN ISRAEL AND IN THE JEWISH DIASPORA. WHILE MANY PEOPLE WOULD THINK THAT THIS VERSE ONLY REFERS TO FELLOW JEWS, IT IS CERTAINLY PREFERABLE, IN MY OPINION, TO INTERPRET THIS VERSE AS INCLUDING ALL HUMAN BEINGS. I THINK OF THIS VERSE WHENEVER I AM AT MEETINGS SUCH AS THIS ONE, THE ANNUAL MEETING OF PEOPLE AND RELIGIONS OF THE COMMUNITY OF ST. EGIDIO.
THE SAME CAN BE SAID ABOUT THE VERSE FROM LEVITICUS: “LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”
IN THE BOOK OF LEVITICUS WE READ ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF LOVING ONE’S NEIGHBOR AND LOVING THE STRANGER, THE OTHER:
You shall not hate your kinsman in your heart. Reprove your neighbor, but incur no guilt because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your kinsfolk. Love your neighbor as yourself: I am your God. (Leviticus 19:17–18)
When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am your God. (Leviticus 19:33–34)
These opening passages from the reading of K’doshim, beginning with “You shall be holy” (Leviticus 19:2), teach us in a very practical way what it means to be "holy” and what it means to live with The Other in our world today. They are undoubtedly among the most relevant passages in the Torah.
A key question that has always interested me is; what is the meaning of the word “neighbor” in the statement “Love your neighbor as yourself”? Does it refer only to Jews or to all human beings?
According to some commentators, the Hebrew word for “neighbor,” rei-acha, refers only to Jews. This view is supported by the context in which the phrase appears in the Torah, which can be translated as follows: "You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall not take revenge or feel resentment against the children of your people, you shall love your companion or neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:17–18). According to this view, “Love your neighbor as yourself” does not refer to anyone outside the Jewish people.
So who are our “neighbors” or “companions” today? Are they only our fellow Jews? Or can we include the Other in our interpretation of this verse? Can we extend the meaning to include all human beings
The book of Leviticus (19:33–34) sheds some light on these questions and offers a corrective on the notion that we should love only members of our own tribe or our own collective family. These verses relate to others who live in our midst, “the stranger who resides with you,” that is, the non-Jew. In these verses the Torah is very clear: "you should love the stranger as yourself". Why? Because “you were strangers in the land of Egypt,” that is, because of our history as a persecuted minority in someone else’s land, we Jews should have a special sensitivity to the non-Jewish citizens in our midst.
IF WE ARE GOING TO LEARN TO LIVE TOGETHER IN THIS WORLD WITH OUR NEIGHBORS—MEMBERS OF ALL RELIGIONS AND ETHNIC GROUPS—THEN WE WILL NEED TO EDUCATE ONE ANOTHER BETTER.
I work in the field of film and film is one means of doing this. Film speaks the language of young people and it provides a window into the life and culture of people all over the world. Film can break stereotypes and can reflect deep humanity in people who we have not otherwise have had the chance to encounter on a personal level.
Here are some images from recent Israeli films that illustrate this --
A personnel manager at a Jerusalem bakery tries to make atonement for a migrant worker who gets killed in a suicide bombing attack.
A Palestinian woman must fight to protect her lemon grove.
One woman decides that she must help a foreign worker who has been suddenly deported.
A Palestinian teenage girl finds her life threatened when she enters an Israeli beauty pageant.
A Druze bride is caught in limbo between Israel and Syria.
Members of an Egyptian police band find emotional support and solace when they are temporarily hosted by Israelis in a far-flung desert town.
An Arab soldier recites the Shylock monologue from the Merchant of Venice as his way of begging for water from an Israeli patrol that he encounters in the Sinai desert.
A Palestinian mother takes her son to an Israeli hospital for medical attention to his life threatening disease.
These are some of the memorable yet disturbing images of Israeli and Palestinian filmmaking of recent years. These films can be seen as texts. Film texts as well as religious texts can help us develop greater understanding of the other, so that we can live together in God's world.