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Sarajevo: Little Jerusalem of the Balkans

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Sarajevo, Cultural Centre of Bosnia and Herzegovina

Sarajevo is famous for its traditional religious diversity, with adherents of Islam, Orthodoxy, Catholicism and Judaism coexisting there for centuries. Due to this long and rich history of religious diversity, Sarajevo has often been called the “Jerusalem of Europe” or “Jerusalem of the Balkans”.

Sarajevo Jewish History

Great rabbis lived in and traveled constantly throughout the region, between Sarajevo and Belgrade and Istanbul, and part of the tragedy of the area's history is that the tradition of interchange was destroyed. ---Dr. Aron Rodrigue, Stanford University

Jewish Sarajevo

Sarajevo was considered second only to Salonika with respect to Sephardi Jewry. The Sarajevo community attracted great spiritual leaders. Among them were

  • Rabbi Shemuel ben Barulch seventeenth century
  • Haham Zvi Ashkenazi, a Hungarian Jew who had been educated in Salonika and adopted the name of Haham instead of Rabbi.
  • David Pardo, born in 1719,
  • Moshe Danon, a nineteenth century figure whose name is connected with the Meggila of Sarajevo.
  • Rabbi Eliezer Papo, author of the Pde Yoets,
  • Rabbi Yehuda Alcalay famous for his endeavors on behalf of a Jewish settlement in Palestine.

Sarajevo Rose: A Balkan Jewish Notebook

Sarajevo Rose is a personal notebook in which the author openly reveals his love affair with the Sephardic Jewish and Muslim cultures of the Balkans, especially as they blossomed in polycultural Bosnia. It is a felt and lived narrative. "My lover was the world: Sarajevo the gift the world gave me" .

The Balkans made a notable contribution to religion, literature, the arts, and mysticism. The author recommends that an academic program of Sephardic studies be inaugurated in Sarajevo and led by Professor Muhamed Nezirovic of the University of Sarajevo, former ambassador to Spain and a "Bosnian Muslim [who] has gone much further than any Jewish scholar alive today in studying the Judeo-Spanish idiom and traditions among the Jews of the South Slavic lands".

The Sarajevo Haggadah

The Sarajevo Haggadah is an illuminated manuscript and is one of the oldest Sephardic Haggadahs in the world, originating in Barcelona around 1350.

The Sarajevo Haggadah is handwritten on bleached calfskin and illuminated in copper and gold. It opens with 34 pages of illustrations of key scenes in the Bible from creation through the death of Moses. Its pages are stained with wine, evidence that it was used at many Passover Seders. An illustrated page from the Sarajevo Haggadah, written in fourteenth-century Spain, shows Moses and the Burning Bush and Aaron's staff swallowing the magicians'

The Sarajevo Haggadah has survived many close calls with destruction. Historians believe that it was taken out of Spain by Spanish Jews who were expelled by the Alhambra Decree in 1492.

Notes in the margins of the Haggadah indicate that it surfaced in Italy in the 16th century. It was sold to the National Museum in Sarajevo in 1894 by a man named Joseph Kohen.

During World War II, the manuscript was hidden from the Nazis and Ustashe by the Museum's chief librarian, Derviš Korkut, who at risk to his own life, smuggled the Haggadah out of Sarajevo. Korkut gave it to a Muslim cleric in Zenica, where it was hidden under the floorboards of either a mosque or a Muslim home.

In 1957, a facsimile of the Haggadah was published by Sándor Scheiber, director of the Rabbinical Seminary in Budapest.

In 1992 during the Bosnian War, the Haggadah manuscript survived a museum break-in and it was discovered on the floor during the police investigation by a local Inspector (Detective), Fahrudin Čebo (later nicknamed (Haggadah), with many other items thieves believed were not valuable. It later survived in an underground bank vault when Sarajevo was under constant siege by Bosnian Serb forces (Siege of Sarajevo -- the longest siege in the history of modern warfare).

 *Sarajevo Haggadah: People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks