This mural depicts some events in the history of the Jewish people. Some of the images such as the story of Moses and David and Goliath are well-known, timeless stories, with meaning and principals that transcend cultures. Moses, for all his greatness, also had a great many imperfections (as for that matter as did Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, etc.). This remains an important idea to keep in mind when judging or labeling other people in our own time.
The next image depicts the sacking of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., as expressed and celebrated by the Arch of Titus in Rome. Among other things depicted on the Arch are people going into slavery and Holy objects from the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, specifically silver trumpets and the sacred Menorah which are pictured being looted. The Menorah that is depicted on the Arch of Titus was used as the model for the emblem of the modern state of Israel.
Hillel is depicted standing on one foot holding the Torah. He was once asked to explain the meaning of the Torah while standing on one foot. An equal prestigious Rabbi – at the time – dismissed the questioning man and refused to discuss the issue. Hillel, however said, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. This is the whole Torah: the rest is explanation: go and learn”. Hillel recognized brotherly love as the fundamental principal of Jewish moral law.
Hillel is one of the most important leaders and thinkers in Jewish history. He lived from 110-10 C.E. Another one of his well-known quotes is, “If I am not for myself, who will be? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”
18 Mila Street was the headquarters for Mordechai Anlewiez and Jewish resistance during the final destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto. The story was also told by Leon Uris in his novel “Mila 18”. Several of the survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto started a Kibbutz in Israel in WWII. They were one of the first areas in Israel to be attacked by the Egyptian Army during the 1948 War of Independence. I visited this Kibbutz when I was 18 and met some of those survivors and very same fighters from the Warsaw Ghetto. They had named their Kibbutz after Mordechai Anlewiez, ie., Kibbutz Yad Mordechai.
The railroad car represents the trains that took the people to concentration camps during the Holocaust. There is a song, “The Southbound Train”, that I heard performed by the folk group Smyth and Taylor during one of my trips to Westcliffe. Both the song and the reaction of the audience were very moving to me, and a real testimony to the people of Westcliffe.
Masada is a peculiar mountain formation in Judea, close to the Dead Sea. In 73 A.D., three years after the destruction of Jerusalem, approximately 900 survivors of the revolt against Rome were under siege and surrounded by Roman legions. When their defeat was certain, the leaders directed a mass suicide rather than submit to humiliation and slavery. This battle and this war are well-described by the contemporary historian (and traitor) Flavius Josephus. My 10th grade high school World History teacher assigned me the subject of Masada for a term paper. He reasoned that as a Jewish person I should know something about the subject (which at the time I did not).
I found the subject very fascinating and inspiring but being a lifelong procrastinator did not get the term paper done until midnight the night before it was due. My loyal and loving mother kindly stayed up all night typing what was a very long paper and so began a lifelong interest in this subject. Eventually one of my daughters would have her Bat Mitzvah on Masada. Today, branches of the Israeli defense forces often take their Oath of Allegiance on this mountain and it is ironic that the Israeli defense forces are alive and well today while the legions of Rome no longer exist.
I have often thought however about the emotions the defenders must have had the night before their fortress was about to fall. They had been part of the original zealots who revolted against Rome in 67 A.D. and had seen their entire country fall and Jerusalem be sacked during the subsequent six years. In spite of their impending defeat, they still controlled their own fate and their mass suicide left a message of defiance and freedom that is remembered well today.
The depicted immigrant has a Bible under his arm and Menorah in his satchel. I have often thought that the big advantage that the Jewish people had when dispossessed of their lands, as opposed to Native Americans, was their ability to transport their culture well-contained in the Bible and Talmud. So much of the Native American Indian religion and culture was attached to their sacred lands, features of their topography, and their native animals. Detached and disposed from these things, their culture struggled. Although the Jewish people are tightly bound to Zion, “If I forget Thee Oh Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its cunning”, the religion can always be transported in the Bible and this has enabled survival of the people over many continents and many years.
The Cathedral of Learning depicted on the immigrant’s satchel is the landmark of the University of Pittsburgh. My family has been in Pittsburgh for over 100 years and the University of Pittsburgh has played a major role in our lives. There is also depicted in the scene, a father with a distraught son looking at broken white stick and the hands of four lifelong friends holding a mutually won and hard-earned trophy.
The quote, “He who saves a life, it’s as if they saved the entire world” is taken from the Talmud. This quote emphasizes the importance and value of each human life. A life can be saved medically of course but by being a positive role model, a supportive friend, lending a helping hand or giving good advice at the right time, every one of us is given a chance and an opportunity to “save a life”.