(Courtesy: Maurice Friedman)
We must work for reconciliation among the peoples, between the races, between labor and management, but we must also work for it in the undramatic situations of our lives—in the everyday. I once witnessed an example of such reconciliation in connection with the reading of Hasidic tales.
In the summer of 1961 I conducted three Buber seminars for the Church of the Fellowship of All Peoples at their ranch in the Valley of the Moon north of San Francisco. As a part of one of these seminars, the members were asked to read Buber’s Tales of the Hasidim and select one to bring to the group, telling what it meant to them and why they selected it. One woman read to us the tales entitled “Drudgery”:
Rabbi Levi Yitzhak discovered that the girls who knead the dough for the unleavened bread drudged from early morning until late at night. Then he cried aloud to the congregation gathered in the House of Prayer: “Those who hate Israel accuse us of baking the unleavened bread with the blood of Christians.. But no, we bake them with the blood of Jews!”(1)
When she finished reading, she told us that her father, a simple man from a poor background, used to tell her and her sisters about his childhood in the Ukraine and about how all the children in his village were warned not to go near the Jews’ quarter for fear of being captured and killed to make blood for the Jewish matzoh at Passover. Her father still believed this millenial superstition that has sprung up again and again from the fear and hatred of the alien. The story Rabbi Levi Yitzhak struck the woman who read it to us not because she too believed this naive yet tenacious myth but because it removed the fear of the alien that lies as its base. It enabled her to experience the situation from the other side—from the side of Rabbi Levi Yitzhak, of the Jewish girls whom he befriended, and of the Jewish employers whom he called to account!
This “reconciliation in the everyday” is not unlike the dialogical approach to the peace movement that Albert Camus takes in “Neither Victims Nor Executioners”:
Some of us should…take on the job of keeping alive, through the apocalyptic historical vista that stretches before us, a modest thoughtfulness which, without pretending to solve everything, will constantly be prepared to give some human meaning to everyday life. (2)
(1) Buber, Tales of the Hasidim. The Early Masters, p. 225.
(2) Buber, Tales of the Hasidim. The Early Masters, p. 244