Saturday, July 20, 2019 -
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Polarization? What polarization?

Unknown bridges

Once in a while a small item catches our eye that speaks volumes. It’s the kind of item that’s buried in the news or not reported at all. What makes it remarkable is that it is commonplace; to be more accurate, the once unthinkable has become commonplace.

Berditchev is a medium-sized city in Ukraine known in Jewish lore for its colorful rabbi of two centuries ago, a spiritual master who famously shed a positive light on every Jew, no matter how far he had strayed. If he were eating, drinking and making merry on Yom Kippur, for example, Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev would praise him for being honest about his flouting the rites of the day. After Rabbi Levi Yitzhak died (1810), Berditchev continued in its grinding poverty; then came the depredations of communism — then the Holocaust. After WW II, Berditchev’s Jewish community was no more, and its revered history but a will-o’-the-wisp.

Against this background, here is the item that caught our eye: A delegation from Berditchev, including no less a personage than its mayor, visited the municipality of a medium-sized city in Israel, Bnei Brak. Accompanying the mayor were the head of a reborn Jewish community in Berditchev and its various other leaders. Delegations from Colorado travel to Israel and particularly to Ramat Negev in order to build economic and other relationships between our state and the State of Israel. The same for the once communist Berditchev and Bnei Brak.

It seems that the relationship between the two cities has been well established; the current visit is just the latest of many such visits going back a number of years. A particular element of the bilateral relationship, surely not found in the Colorado-Israel relationship, is the the preservation of Jewish graveyards in Berditchev and the surrounding region — the very opposite of technological cooperation that is often at the heart of these international arrangements. The descendants of those who collaborated with the Nazis now collaborate in all manner of positive  developments with a city of Jews, much like the positive spin that Rabbi Levi Yitzhak once brought to his flock. The good will of the present between Jew and gentile in Israel and Ukraine revives the spirit that once attached to Berditchev, transcending all the horrible intervening tragedies.

Here we have the mayor of Bnei Brak, who has visited Berditchev, thanking the mayor of Berditchev. Imagine this 30 years ago, or 130 years ago. Impossible! Yet today two mayors sign documents of mutual cooperation between the two cities and hardly anyone notices. That is the greatest evidence of the miracle we too often take for granted in this day and age, which, for all of its polarization, is also witness to bridge-building the likes of which history has never seen.

The religious, political and historical divide between two cities, each emblematic of far larger political realities, is bridged to an extent that no one could have imagined a few decades ago. For all of the current political polarization and growth of anti-Semitism around the world, we also have unprecedented levels of common purpose and collaboration.

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