On April 6, 1993, the fiftieth anniversary of the uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto, the then Pope John Paul II delivered a most inspirational message: “As Christians and Jews, following the example of the faith of Abraham, we are called to be a blessing for the world. This is the common task awaiting us. It is therefore necessary for us, Christians and Jews, to be first a blessing to one another.”
These are truly eloquent words expressing a beautiful ideal. Christians and Jews should be a blessing to each other because they share the faith of Abraham. We might add that since they also share a basic enthusiasm for life, inspired by Scripture, they regard life itself as a blessing. Throughout the ages, Christians and Jews have contributed immensely to the arts and sciences. One extraordinary event brings together in a single image the mutual blessings that Christians and Jews can confer on each other.
On April 4, 1929, in Berlin, Germany, an event occurred that epitomizes the how perfectly Jews and Christians can be blessings to each other. On that date, Jehudi Menuhin, whose first name is the Hebrew word for “Jew”, performed the prodigious feat of playing the violin concertos of three Christian composers: Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms. Jehudi was but 13 years old at the time. After his exceptional display of musicianship and virtuosity, a 50-year-old man with a shock of white hair, also of Jewish heritage, rushed from his seat in the audience to the dressing room. As duly reported subsequently in the New York Times, he lifted the young musician, kissed him, and said, “Today Yehudi, you have once again proved to me that there is a God in heaven.” The man, an amateur violinist himself, was none other than Albert Einstein. The Old and the New Testaments harmonized and, for a moment at least, all was right with the world. Menuhin, Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms, together with conductor Bruno Walter, all testified to the potential for unification between Christians and Jews.
Music is an expression of life. Without an enthusiasm for life, there would be no music. The Good Book is essentially about the rich potentialities for life that are present in each one of us.
In his book, Choose Life, Rabbi Bernard Mandelbaum, former President of the Jewish Theological Seminary, stresses the blessing of life. “We can arrive at enduring achievement and our own fulfillment,” he writes, “only through the wealth of life itself.” To choose things, he adds, we find that they “divide us and consume us.” But in choosing life, we discover that it “enlarges us, involves us and continues us.” In choosing life we experience, “the beauty of [the] Creation of a tree, of the sky, of a song . . . for these things enlarge us.”
Life, to be enjoyed, must be given and shared. This is well symbolized in composing and performing music. The fact that life must be given away and not be kept as a private possession represents a paradox. Ignatio Silone, in his own way, personified the harmony between Christians and Jews, sheds light on this paradox. Silone’s 1968 book, Emergency Exit, describes his shifts from Socialism to Communism to Christianity. The following year he won the Jerusalem Prize for his literary works that emphasized individual freedom. “Everyone of us is given the gift of life,” he reminds us, “and what a strange gift it is. If it is preserved jealously and selfishly it impoverishes and saddens, but if it spent for others it enriches and beautifies.”
Life is to give. When we choose life, we must choose it in the context of what blessings we can offer each other. In this regard, we are all storehouses filled with potential blessings. In choosing life, therefore, we choose to be blessings for others.