One of the things on my bucket list is to attend the Jerusalem Biennale. According to their website http://jerusalembiennale.org, “The Jerusalem Biennale is dedicated to exploring the places in which contemporary art and the Jewish world of content meet. It is a stage for professional artists, who create today and refer in their work to Jewish thought, spirit, tradition or experience, to exhibit their work in Jerusalem.”
What I really love about the Biennale is that it brings both Israeli and Diaspora Jews together to share modern creative reflections on Judaism. There are a lot of artists in Israel, and many works by Jewish artists in the Diaspora, but the unifying theme in the Biennale is that the works are on a Jewish theme. The most recent Biennale was actually in 2020 but sadly online. It is a young organization, having been founded in 2013, with the most recent (in-person) event being in 2019 on the theme of “For Heaven’s Sake.”
If you watch the video you will see an explanation of the theme, which is from Pirke Avot 5:17: “Every dispute which is for the sake of heaven is destined to endure.” The theme was chosen to put a positive spin on the way the art exhibits elicit debates and differences of opinion. The idea seems more relevant today than ever, as the phrase “For Heaven’s Sake,” or “L’shem Shamayim,” reminds us that while there are many disputes, the disputes that are l’shem shamayim are worthwhile and holy disputes. In our increasingly polarized world, we would do well to reflect on which of our disputes are truly l’shem shamayim and which are for some other reason, for example for money, power, or prestige.
I like to give the benefit of the doubt to all those who argue passionately for their views on issues that affect entire countries (if not the entire globe) that they are arguing for the right reasons. Perhaps the very fact that different political parties have existed for decades (in Israel) or centuries (in the US) is proof that those that work on their behalf are indeed arguing l’shem shamayim. The more troubling aspect of current polarizing discourse is its tenor and lack of respect and civility. Perhaps by remembering that those who dispute our views (in general) are doing so because of their deeply held beliefs, we can lower the decibel of disrespect all around.
Art, music, food, sports, and other cultural events are venues where even polar opposites can often find common ground. Today, on #InternationalArtistsDay, (October 25th) let’s take a moment to remember that we are all human after all, and the human soul connects to others through art. Celebrating art and artists brings us one step closer to finding our common ground.