January 22, 2006

Interview: Baruch Tenembaum, ecumenic leader

Source:

”Nations frequently hate each other because they ignore each other”.

Predecessor of the inter- religious dialogue, Tenembaum asks everybody to pay homage to those that in the 70′s, in Argentina, saved lives putting at risk their own lives. He believes in the possibility of integrating the Islam and warns us on the danger of confusing religion with power, using it often as an excuse.

Predecessor of the inter-religious dialogue and founder of various institutions ( starting off with the Tarbut School and ending in the Wallenberg Foundation), Baruch Tenembaum considers that the moment has come to pay homage to those that saved lives in the dark years. He considers that in Argentina and in the whole world there are many Wallenbergs ( the Righteous), it is only a question of going out to look for them.

- You said that ignorance is the enemy. How does one face this?

- The worst enemy of humanity is ignorance, because at the same time that we overcome ignorance, that is to say, whilst people learn, study, get to know each other and understand one another, we reach an equilibrium and establish a dialogue; in this peaceful dialogue we find the opportunity to persuade or to be persuaded or to understand that we don’t understand each other. But very often, the problem is ignorance, in the sense that, historically, nations hate each other because they ignore each other and because they can’t explain the causes that lead them to assume certain attitudes. One can see this in today’s world in which, apparently, whims of superstitions or religions seem to prevail. They prevail because we ignore each other, it’s not that we play dumb, but to know is one thing and to recognize is another. However, they are related; knowing somebody is to recognize his values and his faults. This is the reson why I say that ignorance is the worst enemy.

THE ISLAM AND ECUMENICS

- What does one have to do to incorporate the Islam in the ecumenic dialogue?

- It is already incorporated. We began the inter-confessional movement more than 40 years ago and from the beginning we established a contact with the Islamics. The Islamic world is not monolithic. There are different groups and you musn’t forget that when religion is mistaken with power ( this being the case of the Islamic world and of other religions as well), confusion arises between power and religion. Then, in some of the segments of Islamism, in order to justify a political attitude they offer a special interpretation to something established by the Koran.

And here we are, back to ignorance: if one selects ten people walking down the street and asks them if they have read the Bible, I don’t know exactly how many but quite a few read or heard about it for sure. But if you talk about the Koran, the word in itself ”Koran” is practically unknown to them; you rarely find someone who has read it, people know nothing about it, which is a great pity. But how does one establish a dialogue with the Islamic world? I don’t know, I can’t give a global solution. Today there are groups in islamism which are easily accessible. We musn’t forget that the Islamic movement has expanded greatly in Africa. Slavery conditions endanger the stability of societies and there is when religions stepped in to occupy the empty spaces.

- Which is your view of the confrontation between religions that call themselves heirs of Abraham and believe in the same god?

- Christianity proclaims principles that have to do with Noahs’ and Abrahams’ rules. Notwithstanding, we had the Crusades and the Inquisition without Islamism, and we believe in the same god that created man or in the same god that man created. Human beings use religions as an excuse, even though some of them tried to impose themselves using force, like the Crusades in Christianity.

- Where are the Wallenbergs of the year 2000?

- We created the Wallenberg Foundation because a lot of people talk about the Holocaust. They mention the concentration camps, destruction, etc. This is the black side of the coin. We work with the light, with the sunny side.

THE GYPSY GENOCIDE

- Why is it that practically nobody talks about the Gypsy genocide during the Third Reich?

- That isn’t true, people talk about it. I was in Italy attending a Gypsy congress. They are fascinating people, thanks to the quantity of languages and cultures they embrace, it is really impressive. They don’t even inter- marry between different tribes. There are quite a few publications on genocide. Probably not enough has been said, but we must also remember that Gypsies are not like us Jews, spread throughout the whole world and for sociological reasons, not genetic ones, there are many intellectuals between us. The percentage of Jewish Nobel laureates is quite remarkable. And we are everywhere. As we were not allowed to practice certain activities, we had to dedicate ourselves to using our brain. Furthermore, Hitler hated gypsies as much as he hated Jews. Hitler’s followers persecuted Gypsies up to the fourth or fifth generation, the same as they did with the Jews. Their purpose was to create a pure race.

- Does the human being run the risk of becoming brutalized?

- There is an old story in which a boy goes back home and tells his father: ”The teacher wanted to hit me”. The father doesn’t believe him and shouts ” How do you know that he wanted to hit you?” The boy answered ” Because he has already hit me”. Of course, man can turn into a beast. How do we know this? Because he has already turned into one. The difference between a beast and a human being is that the beast kills only when he is hungry, while human being kills even when he is satiated.

- Why is it so difficult to understand another person?

- It isn’t difficult, one must want to understand the other person.

There is a brief legend in which two people were walking in the desert , travelling in the opposite direction, in the midst of a sand storm. And from far they couldn’t distinguish who was coming towards them: whether it was a wild beast or an enemy. They got ready to face them and fight. As they got nearer, the shadows started to dispel and the figures took shape. And when they were near (that is to say when they met and looked at each other), they realized that they could embrace and that is what they did. When you start a dialogue you can understand the other person without having to convince him/her that your ideas are better than his/hers. Understanding causes mutual respect.

THE WALLENBERG MODEL

On the 17 January the world commemorated the 61st. anniversary of Raoul Wallenberg’s ”dissapearance”.

A remembrance plaque was place at a Budapest railway station, where he had rescued thousands of Jews that were about to be deported to Auschwitz.

In Buenos Aires, the principal speaker was Toti Flores, leader of an entrepreneur group of La Matanza (Buenos Aires), which counts with the support of the Wallenberg Foundation.

From his post in the Swedish Embassy in Hungary, Wallenberg prevented the destruction of the two ghettos in Budapest (the only big community that survived the catastrophe). He opened up the ”Swedish Houses” where the persecuted found refuge. He also created fake visas that acted as safe conducts.

Even though he had faced the Nazis (including Adolf Eichman) and the Hungarian Arrow Cross movement, his personal tragedy began with the ”liberation”, at the end of the Second World War. He was captured by the Soviet military counterintelligence and vanished into the fog of the Gulag.

Especially for ” Rio Negro”

THE CHOSEN ONE

This may sound hard to believe but it is one more sample of the Argentine anomaly. It was in this country that the first world interconfessional organization was created: The Argentine House in Israel – Holy Land. In 1966, its mentor , Baruch Tenembaum, created it together with a real ecumenic group: Jorge Luis Borges, Father Ernesto Segura (Secretary General of the Episcopate), Numo Werthein, Raúl Soldi, Zulema Alsogaray and Carlos Sanchez Viamonte, amongst others. Pablo Casals, Pablo Neruda and Pope Paul VI participated directly in this interfaith-dialogue mission.

In 1997 the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation was created with the main headquarters in Buenos Aires and offices in New York, Jerusalem. This NGO, that carries the name of the most important civil hero of the twentieth century, makes a differente approach to the Holocaust, because it emphasizes the actions of the Righteous, the saviours, those that in critical situations never hesitated to face the beast.

Translation: María Pensavalle