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Rising Above Religious Differences

Symposium to address cooperation between Jews, Muslims and Christians during the Bosnian War.
San Diego State University's Jewish Studies Program's Initiative For Moral Courage will host the three-day symposium Oct. 14-17.
San Diego State University's Jewish Studies Program's Initiative For Moral Courage will host the three-day symposium Oct. 14-17.

The horrors of the war in Bosnia, a war fought with ethnic identity as a primary driving force, also brought out the courage of some to rise above ethnic and religious differences. Muslims, Christians and Jews joined forces to help each other even in the most harrowing circumstances.

This period is the focus of San Diego State University’s second annual Initiative for Moral Courage symposium — a three-day event with a slate of award-winning films, lectures and a concert that are free and open to the public.

Initiative for Moral Courage

The symposium organizers hope to build on last year’s success and enthusiastic audiences. This year’s Initiative, sponsored by SDSU’s Jewish Studies Program, will focus on stories of courage during the Bosnian war that raged in the early 1990s. The event will be held from Oct. 14-17.

The first day’s programs highlight the theme of Survival in Sarajevo: Jews, Muslims and Christians Working Together During the Bosnian War.

A photography exhibition will be on display from mid-October through mid-November in SDSU’s Love Library.

The exhibition is based on reporter Edward Serotta’s book, "Survival in Sarajevo" about an aid society based in Sarajevo’s Jewish community center, La Benevolencija, and how its members, Christians, Muslims and Jews, came together during the war’s most harrowing days.

Leading experts to give perspective

Serotta, a veteran reporter, will be on hand to open the exhibit and lecture about La Benevolencija’s incredible war efforts. The organization’s former director, Jakob Finci, will tell the incredible story of the Sarajevo Haggadah, a legendary, gorgeous and rare illuminated manuscript from the 1300s celebrating the Passover Feast.

The Haggada was hidden, at great personal risk, first from the Nazis and then again during the Bosnian war, both times by men of Muslim descent who were willing to risk their lives to save a Jewish manuscript.

The program will close on Oct. 14 with a screening of the award-winning film I Came To Testify by Pamela Hogan about a group of 16 women who had been imprisoned by Serb-led forces in the Bosnian town of Foca and who had the courage to break the great silence about the systematic rapes of women during the war.  Pamela Hogan will introduce and discuss the making of the film.

Risa Levitt Kohn, co-Director of the Initiative for Moral Courage and organizer of the event, is moved by the courageous stories coming out of Sarajevo.

“Choosing to act morally even when the choice involves great danger or other horrifying threats is a key element of moral courage," said Kohn, who is also chair of SDSU's Jewish Studies Department.

"Our Initiative seeks to identify and present women and men who have made that choice. We seek to honor them and tell their incredible stories, but we also hope to learn from them and to reflect on the meaning of their actions.”

Film screening, concert

On the second night, Oct. 15, the symposium will feature Berlin Film Festival’s Golden Bear winner "Grbavica: Land of My Dreams," followed by a talk by historian Lawrence Baron.

An evening concert on Wednesday, Oct. 17 by local musicians led by violinist and composer, Yale Strom, will offer music reflecting the mix of Jewish, Christian and Muslim influences on life in the Balkans and will close this year’s Symposium on Moral Courage.

All events are free and open to the public. For event times and locations, please visit the symposium website.

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