Dear Members of the ICCJ Family,
When writing this meditation, I kept constantly thinking of the book, in fact the tetralogy, known as the Neapolitan Novels by Italian author(s) Elena Ferrante that I am currently reading. Although narrated through the eyes and voice of the main protagonist, Elena, the series masterfully interweaves various stories and points of view to show what individuals, communities, and cities in Italy (and, to a certain extent, around the world) went through from the mid-1940s to the present day. The concepts of memory and multiplicity of perspectives are crucial for Ferrante’s work. A coherent story is possible, yet it always comes to us as a dynamic web of many voices, affirmative as much as dissenting.
I think this might be a helpful notion for us to ponder as we enter the time that leads towards Chanukkah and Christmas.
No matter how dissimilar they might be in several respects, these two festivals remind us of the importance of story for our respective traditions. We are part of a larger story that has been the story of women, men, and children before us, and will (likely) continue after we are gone. We are to embody this story, thus shaping our identity. However, we can also shape this story in turn by integrating into it our own unique stories, the stories of individuals and communities – without being assimilated.
The major or minor tragedies the characters in Ferrante’s tetralogy go through are by and large due to their inability to bring their respective stories to conversation; their inability to relate and respond to the other in an authentic way.
The age we live in is characterized by identity temptations with even the most noble stories being vulnerable against the manipulations by various ideologies. I believe it is our role as Jews and Christians to show how we can tell and live our stories in a way that is open to dialogue, respectful of others, and able to be integrated into larger stories, while retaining their uniqueness.
A few years ago (2014), our immediate past president Phil Cunningham wrote in his Chanukkah and Christmas greetings that these two festivals are reminders, both in their special way, for us of the presence of the Holy One in human history. I would like to suggest that the reminder of this presence can be a resource for us to construe our stories in the way outlined above.
I wish you an inspiring Chanukkah and Christmas time and many good stories, also on behalf of the ICCJ Executive Board, its General Secretary and the whole Heppenheim team!
The views, opinions, and conclusions expressed by the author of this article do not necessarily represent the views of the ICCJ, its Executive Board, or its national member organizations.