A 2019 Lesson From Sarajevo For Jews And Muslims
by Stephen Schwartz
As 2019 begins, America and the world are insecure.
Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer appear ready to return control of Washington to sane and responsible leadership.
Kurdistan, the bulwark of global democracy in the fight against radical Islam, faces abandonment by an American administration obsessed with the narcissistic demands of a feral aspiring dictator, Trump, and controlled by a deep-blue mass murderer, Vlad The Impaler Putin.
The Saudi tyrants have announced a change in their "royal" cabinet, in an obvious attempt to quiet world outrage at the cannibalistic dismemberment of a Sufi Muslim, U.S. resident and journalist, Jamal Khashoggi. As a Sufi, he was judged an apostate and fair game, while traditional Islam prohibits mutilation of the dead. I will never cease mourning brother Jamal and call for MBS MBS: Muslim Brotherhood, Stop Mr. Bone Saw! Saudi "reform" is too little, too late.
Meanwhile, Putin now threatens Ukraine and the Balkans.
President Clinton, that wise man, saved the Bosnians and Kosovars. I fear we will not see his like again.
Yet Bosnia will endure; it always does.
The Sarajevo I love still has lessons for the world. Some are immediate and some are historical.
Most poignant among the latter is the story of the Sarajevo Purim of 1819, 200 years ago.
Then, an unjust governor imprisoned 10 leading Sarajevo Jews, including their mystical rabbi, R. Moshe Danon.
Noel Malcolm's Bosnia: A Short History, in his discussion of the Bosnian Jews and Gypsies, states, "One intriguing story involves the fate of a Jew from Travnik, Moses Chavijo, who converted to Islam, took the name Derviš Ahmed, and began to rouse the local Muslims against the Jews. In 1817 the leaders of the Bosnian Jews complained of his attacks, and had him tried and executed. Some of his followers later complained to the next governor of Bosnia, Ruždi-paša, who seized the opportunity to squeeze some money out of the Jews: he commanded that they pay a recompense of 500,000 groschen, and seized ten leading Sarajevo Jews, including the rabbi, threatening to kill them if the payment were not made. The end of the story, however, is that a crowd of 3000 Muslims took up arms and demanded the Jews' release – which was promptly done."
There is more to this tale. Ruždi-paša reacted to the case by an attack on the Jews in general. The small and poor Jewry of Travnik did not offer much of a target, and they were left in peace. But the governor's eyes turned to the Jews of the great city of Sarajevo; he demanded a payment of 50,000 Turkish gold groschen from them, as indemnity for the dead man. He then ordered the arrest of ten of Sarajevo's leading Jews, beginning with Rav Moshe Danon, the outstanding Jewish spiritual leader in the country. Furthermore, the fine was increased to 500,000 groschen to be paid within three days, or the Jews would be executed.
The situation looked extremely grim. But a well-known Sarajevo Jew, Rafael Levi, who was greatly respected by Muslims, had the idea of appealing to his neighbors' humanity. On the fourth of Heshvan in the Jewish calendar, which fell in October, the night before the hostages were to be executed, Rafael Levi went to the coffee houses where he knew Muslims met and talked, and exhorted them with an emotional description of the dreadful threat hanging over the Jews. It was Sabbath eve, when as a pious Jew Rafael Levi should have remained in his home, but the welfare of the community impelled him to violate religious law.
The Muslims were profoundly touched, and consoled Levi for the tears he shed as he spoke. Then, "all together, as if they were one," the Muslims swore an oath, pledging to give up their lives, if necessary, to save the arrested Jews. The Muslims rushed to the house, overlooking Sarajevo, of Ahmed Barjaktar Bjelavski, the barjaktar or local commander of the Bjelave neighborhood, where Jews and Muslims lived together. Barjaktar Bjelavski swore, "by Allah, I will not allow this injustice!" He summoned the other barjaktars, ordering them to come with their best horses and most loyal servants.
They liberated Rav Danon and the other imprisoned Jews, then followed the Rabbi to the synagogue where he preached the story of Purim to them – the great Jewish holiday celebrated by Balkan Sephardim above all, and which commemorates the rescue of Persian Jewry from a genocidal plot. The incident became known as the "Sarajevo Purim." The Bosnian Muslims later denounced Ruždi-paša to the Sublime Porte in Istanbul.
It is said that throughout this ordeal Rav Danon remained completely indifferent to the events around him. He carried a copy of Torah and assured those who visited him in his cell that there was nothing to fear, that all was foreordained.
I am no rabbi, but I believe in the truths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and I believe all is preordained, even in 2019. America will once again be a healthy democracy; Bosnia-Hercegovina will defend itself; Arabia will be liberated from Saudo-Masochist cruelty. About Russia and Ukraine I have doubts. For the conciliation of Jews and Muslims, I pray without cease. For I, too, am a Sufi.