During our Sephardic Film Festival this past week, we screened a film telling the intriguing and inspirational life story of Rabbi Ben-Zion Meir Hai Uziel, the first Sephardic Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel. Rabbi Uziel’s motto was “Loving Truth and Peace.” We also screened a film about Muslims saving Jews during the Holocaust, and another film reflecting co-existence and friendship between Jews and Muslims in Morocco. In the very spirit of these films, a delegation of 19 Muslim leaders from France visited Israel this week, for the specific purpose of improving relations between Jews and Muslims in France. During their visit to Yad Vashem, delegation leader Imam Hassen Chalgoumi said this trip reinforced the importance of combatting Islamic fundamentalism and Holocaust denial. “Life is more important than holy books,” Chalgoumi said in a speech outside Yad Vashem.
All of this, while the Hamas terrorist organization and other Islamic extremists launch deadly rockets on civilian populations in Israel, and the IDF enters a potentially protracted military operation in yet another attempt to destroy the terrorist cells in Gaza.
In the spirit of the films we screened this week, and with the visit of the French Imams to Israel – I offer you my translation of of a letter co-authored by Sephardic Chief Rabbi Uziel and Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Herzog. It was written in 1947, during the Hebrew month of Kislev – the same month we started today.
Here is the text of their letter:
21 Kislev, 5708
“A Call to the Leaders of Islam for Peace and Brotherhood.”
To the Heads of The Islamic Religion in the Land of Israel and throughout the Arab lands near and far, Shalom U’Vracha:
Brothers, at this hour, as the Jewish people have returned to its land and state, per the word of God and the prophets in the Holy Scriptures, and in accordance with the decision of the United Nations, we approach you in peace and brotherhood, in the name of God’s Torah and the Holy Scriptures, and we say to you:
Please remember the peaceful and friendly relations that existed between us when we lived together in Arab lands and under Islamic Rulers during the Golden Age, when together we developed brilliant intellectual insights of wisdom and science for all of humanity’s benefit. Please remember the sacred words of the prophet Malachi, who said: “Have we not all one Father? Did not one God create us? Why do we break faith with one another, profaning the covenant of our ancestors?” (Malachi 2:10).
We were brothers, and we shall once again be brothers, working together in cordial and neighborly relations in this Holy Land, so that we will build it and make it flourish, for the benefit of all of its inhabitants, without discrimination against anyone. We shall do so in faithful and calm collaboration, so that we may all merit God’s blessing on His land, from which there shall radiate the light of peace to the entire world.
Ben-Zion Meir Hai Uziel
64 years later, as we begin this year’s Month of Kislev with Israelis under siege from the rockets of Muslim extremists, it is very sad that the Muslim leaders in 1948 never responded to the beautiful overture to peace from the Chief Rabbis. Just imagine what Israel, the Middle East, the Arab World, and the entire world would have looked like this past 64 years had they answered in kind to the above letter.
In the meanwhile, all we can do is defend ourselves, all the while praying and continuing to hope that some day – for the sake of Israeli children, Arab children, and all children – that Muslim leaders might wake up and respond to this letter, or to the many other peaceful overtures of Israeli governments and leaders.
If that would happen, then relations between Jews and Muslims would no longer be characterized as “cool topics” for feature and documentary films, and Imams would not need to visit Yad Vashem to shock themselves into cordial relations with Jews. Rabbi Uziel and Rabbi Herzog’s grand vision would not feel so prophetic, but would be – as they said – the way we lived once upon a time.
Until then, we pray for peace and God’s protection.