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July 28, 2019 5:19 am

Jewish Canadian Art Exhibit Promotes Tolerance Over Hate and Racism

avatar by Paul Socken

Opinion

A Torah scroll. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

A tapestry, currently on display at the Textile Museum of Canada in Toronto, stands as a bulwark against a rising tide of intolerance and nativism across Europe and North America.

“The Tapestry of Spirit: The Torah Stitch by Stitch Project,” the brainchild of Temma Gentles, is an extraordinary and unique work of art. It is the Torah — the Five Books of Moses, and selections from the scriptures and the Quran — woven as tapestry. When the final project is completed, there will be a total of 1,464 hand-stitched text panels.

The creators refer to it as “an inclusive social project,” because the tapestry will be the work of approximately 1,500 volunteers from 28 countries and many faiths. Although guidelines are given in order to maintain coherence and artistic integrity, there is freedom for personal, creative expression in the form of illustrations. Volunteer stitchers have already added colorful and meaningful representations from the Biblical text. The illustrations add a warmth and intimacy to the written words.

Tapestry is an ancient art. One of the world’s most famous tapestries is the Bayeux Tapestry, the only record we have of the Battle of 1066 — the Norman conquest of what is now England. It is a pictorial illustration that tells the story of the battle.

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“The Tapestry of Spirit” is a blend of words and pictures that represents the union of art and spirit. It is about the opposite of battle and conquest: people from different backgrounds, across the globe, contributing to a common vision of human solidarity and fraternity. The “stitch by stitch” project weaves together, from different strands, a single vision — just as the stitchers across the globe are united in creating a powerful symbol of unity in a fractured world.

Art has always had the capacity to express people’s hopes and aspirations. Art can transcend politics and religion to embody the needs and desires of the masses. “The Tapestry of Spirit” project, arising from ordinary people collaborating in the creation of a work of harmony, may prove to be a spark that ignites a passion among individuals across the world to stand up against those who would drive society back to a time of division and enmity.

We never know where spontaneous small acts may lead, but we can hope that this project inspires others to pursue global, collaborative projects that will unite people.

In 1946, after the horrors of World War II, at the founding of the United Nations, Winston Churchill envisaged the building of a “Temple of Peace”: Workmen from all countries “must build that temple” with “faith in each other’s purpose, hope in each other’s future, and charity toward each other’s shortcomings.” He asked: “Why cannot they work together at the common task as friends and partners? Indeed, they must do so or else the temple may not be built. Beware, I say; time may be short. Do not let us take the course of allowing events to drift along until it is too late.”

“The Tapestry of Spirit” embodies one form of Churchill’s dream. May there be many more grassroots movements of ordinary people who seek a world dedicated to a common vision of mutual cooperation and understanding.

Dr. Paul Socken is Distinguished Professor Emeritus and founder of the Jewish Studies Program at the University of Waterloo.

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