Ladies and Gentlemen,
I have the great priviledge of opening this beautiful exhibition within these historic walls. But before that, let me recall a great and modest man, whom Italy can proudly call her son. This man is late Giorgio Perlasca, who, in the days of the nazi terror in Hungary, courageously and in genously saved Jewish lives in Budapest, from March 19, 1944 to February 1945. What is more, this righteous man, who risked death, kept the secret of his dangerous activity for decades. We, as Hungarian Jews are grateful to him and I thank Providence for allowing me the opportunity to bless him in Italy's capital. According to our faith Giorgio Perlasca, in the same way as the righteous of all nations, will have a share in eternal bliss in the world to come.
And now, let me refer back to and quote His Eminence Archbishop Ternyák’s excellent words.
The contrast between the series of photographs now on display and today’s Jerusalem is heart-rending to realise. What we see in them is, alas, not today’s reality, but a kind of revelation from heaven. When we think of Jerusalem today, we have to pray and with the words of the Psalm, we have to ask Everlasting God to bring peace to Her. But devout prayers are not enough. I think, any one who is concerned should act to bring peace to Jerusalem and the Holy Land. This brilliant series of our friend, Ivan Benda’s encourages us all concerned to pray and, with all our might, stand up for restoring a world where pictures that catch inspired the moments may be verified by the actual reality of life.
The camera is said to be objective. Ivan Benda, I think, took photos of what we call objective reality. But, of a reality that is in harmony with something very personal. That reality is after his and our own heart. Take, for example, the photo of the Arabian woman strolling peacefully within the walls of the old city. Or the one of the Arabian paterfamilias and his son, who bathe a new-shorn sheep in the sea. This picture lies at my heart because it brings me a biblical message from the past of long ago when the now forgotten but then regular festival of batheing the new shorn sheep was still alive.
The photo that combines the view of the Dome of the Rock with that of a tree stretching its branches in many directions refers, at least to me, to the Islam, which also has several branches. The Dome of the Rock, with its references to the Jewish past, is of special importance to me. As Jewish tradition has it, the Dome now rises where the setija, the altar-stone of The Temple stood once. That was the place where the High Priest would lay the offering on the Day of Atonement called Yom Kippur. To this day, when we celebrate Yom Kippur, the holiest of our religious festivals, we repeat the invocation of the prayer once chanted by The Temple’s High Priest. This is how he prayed for Sharon’s Land and people hit in the earthquake: We pray Thee, God our Lord, that their dwellings be not their tombs.
This plea is, alias, in place when we think of today’s Israel and Jerusalem. Ivan’s pictures show us peaceful Arabian people as well as a Benedictine nun, who appears to envelope the whole world in her devotion-filled heart. We can see Christians at the entrance of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and we are shown the Basilica of the Nativity in Betlehem. My wife and I visited both. In Jerusalem we went to Mea Searim, too the most traditional Jewish district, which has preserved something of the past in an atmosphere and milieu reminiscent of Chagall’s paintings, like in the photo where an almost dancing figure walks down the street in unmistakably measured steps.
In another there is a bearded old man sitting below a clock, with a receding younger man somewhat further away. The Caption that could go with it is this: Behold, this is how
hours wear on. These pictures teach me about what Carpe diem at its noblest is. We are here not to abuse but protect life and, at least, help each other.
We wish to thank Ivan for his photographs, which have come from the heart of his hearts. I understand that his spiritual peace is based on peace in the world in general, and on the peace of the Holy Land, which cradled monotheism, in particular.
Now we are here in the city, ab Urbe Condita, whose foundation signified the beginning of our calendar. The photographs here in Rome take us to Israel’s 3000 year old capital, Jerusalem, the Holy City, which appears under several names in both the Holy Scriptures and in Jewish religious literature later in time. One of them is exactly the same as that of Rome. Urbs in Hebrew is Ha-ir – THE CITY.
With all my heart I wish that these photographs may encourage many people to, in want of other means, at least, ask for Jerusalem’s peace in emotions, thought and prayers so that we can rejoice and sing again:
“Jerusalem sel zahav” - Thou golden Jerusalem of radient beauty” and say with the prophet: Rejoice, thou people, in Jerusalem”.
I wish our emotions and acts may be rooted in the teaching of the prophet:
Nation shall not draw sward against nation
and thou shall not teach about waging war.
By József Schweitzer