Peace and Shalom

The Blossom of Life within the Friedensmal

Chapter: Project / Peace & Shalom



Place of Inner and Outer Reconciliation


Introduction

The Jerusalem Friedensmal is more than a physical place; it is a living symbol for the connection of past, present, and future in the pursuit of inner and outer peace. Set against the picturesque backdrop of the Odenwald, a space unfolds that not only makes the wounds of history visible but places them in a context of reconciliation and new beginnings. Here, individuals are invited to see themselves and the world in a new light, shaped by the dignity of the individual and the collective responsibility for peace and freedom. The project is a bold step in German memorial culture, expanding the boundaries of remembrance and opening doors for a future-oriented, decentrally organized society. It is a place where reconciliation is experienced not only as a historical necessity but as a living spiritual practice. Amid the challenges and controversies that accompany the project, it remains a shining example of the transformative power of art and spirituality. It is a place where the soul can breathe and the spirit can rise to bring the world a step closer to the heavenly Jerusalem.


An Idea of Jerusalem

There is really only one goal of the project: Peace and Shalom. This refers to the comprehensive peace anchored in one's own soul. Peace is understood as an attitude that works from the inside out. This is symbolized by the Blüte des Schalom (Blossom of Life) at the center of the Friedensmal. This comprehensive peace leaves no one out. All people have their pain and their joy. Anyone can visit this place and find shalom as peace in their own heart. This place thus has something of the Heavenly Jerusalem. It is not a "monument for the Jews" or a "monument for the Germans", but a shalom for humanity.

The world today conveys a tiring complexity and a feeling of powerlessness. The struggle for shalom in the world actually takes place on a completely different level than in the observable political disputes. They are external effects; the cause is to be found within. It is an inner and spiritual work on collective consciousness. Here binding occurs, and here it can be released. This work must be done so that the necessary resonances for a Shalom in the outer world can be found at all.

Music has the power to express the inexpressible and touch us on a deeper level. A piece of music that captures the essence of this project is '
Return to My Soul' by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, born 1925 in Berlin.



Objectives of the Project


  • The Jerusalem Friedensmal, through its symbolism, demonstrates reconciliation between people and reconciliation with ourselves in our own essence. The project originated in Germany and therefore addresses the traumas affecting the collective consciousness here. Facing the past and having a connection to it is important, even when it involves pain. But it goes beyond that: we must strive to transform the burden of the past into a blessing for the future. Only then can we speak of true responsibility. This place of Shalom serves this purpose.
  • This work is done at the foundation of our culture, which has evolved over more than a thousand years. To ensure sustainability, the spirituality that has emerged and is nurtured within the culture must become visible in the material world; in the language of art, in symbols and monuments. This project serves this goal.
  • Without the idea of peace in the hearts of people, there will be no peace in the world. This place aims to raise awareness for that.

  • "The dignity of the individual is inviolable", states Article 1 of the German Basic Law, formulated in the consciousness of war, persecution, and dehumanization. A person who is aware of their dignity can walk upright on their path in this world. Where does the degradation of the individual begin, such that one can no longer walk upright or wishes to deny others the same? The Jerusalem Friedensmal aims to be a voice that, in this sense, does not oppress but seeks to uplift people.


To better illustrate the importance of dignity and integrity, I would like to share a poem that I wrote in 2014:

Standing Upright

In noise and fight,
to conquer, to win,
does wisdom invite
a bending within?

*
From silence, from core,
richer than gold's gleam,
recall words that restore,
to uplift the soul's dream.


(T. Zieringer, 2014)

The Past

The location chosen for the Jerusalem Friedensmal is a plot of land on a hill along the Bergstraße (Odenwald). Below in the valley, during the last year of WWII in the so-called Third Reich, there was a subcamp of the Natzweiler-Struthof concentration camp. Thus, the themes of war, persecution, and the camp system characteristic of the Third Reich, which "spanned" Europe with concentration camps and numerous subcamps, are also touched upon.

From this location, one can look out over the Rhine plain. Once upon a time, the
"Jerusalem on the Rhine" existed there from the 11th to the 13th century, where Ashkenazi Jewish culture flourished during the High Middle Ages. This culture was destroyed during the time of the Crusades by crusaders, and many German-speaking Jews fled to Eastern Europe (—> Yiddish as the language of Ashkenazi Jews).

The themes of the past are incorporated through the choice of location: The site of peace and freedom was not created as a beautiful idea in the green landscape, but actually at the appropriate place as a next step in healing and reconciliation. This also means that a monument that addresses the responsibility from the past for a "positive path
" today may stand for light, love, freedom, and peace. This is the new element that the "Friedensmal" brings to German remembrance culture.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that there is still so little remembrance culture in our country that focuses on life. Building a
Friedensmal that aims to encourage people today to live in freedom and to take personal responsibility can lead to significant problems. This is also part of the history of the "Friedensmal": It was created outside of state structures on a private initiative and did not fit into the established remembrance culture, which so far knew "only" memorials. Therefore, it was initially marginalized in society. This was accompanied by a "mud fight" in public against the project and its initiator. This happened in our German remembrance culture, whose theme is exclusion and the terrible things that can develop from it.

My thoughts on this: Which government, which power structure, could truly be comfortable with the idea of the citizens of a country wanting to take a sincere path toward freedom and personal responsibility? A politician in a key position wrote to me at the time of the construction work, concerned: "What if even more citizens get the idea to simply build Friedensmal-Monuments?
"


Stepping into Responsibility

This consideration shows how deep the necessary change must go. Achieving peace and "learning something from the past" ultimately means for a society—late but hopefully still in time—to bid farewell to a hierarchically organized social system that operates through power, manipulation, and central control. In its place, a decentralized system should be established in which people freely organize themselves in interaction with each other, and power flows from the bottom up. To me, that sounds like true democracy.

Therefore, an honest reappraisal of the past must call into question the authoritarian power structure, and it is probably no accident that so little has been learned from the past. This became clear to us since the year 2020 (Corona crisis) in the way people and their behavior in the crisis have been handled.


Turning Point

Der Wendepunkt im Garten der Freiheit

Here Comes the Turning Point

"Remembering (a dark past) alone is not enough!” - is the claim of this project as it aims to impact society. What is needed is the responsibility for life that is perceived today. The statement at the site "Where dust turns into light" describes a process that can positively continue into the future. This contradicts the notion of having "finally come to terms" with the past, because where should a positively perceived responsibility ever end? This is not about acting out of guilt, but about genuine awareness. It also offers the chance to reach younger generations. Here, the peace referred to is not the peace of the graveyard but new life; a peace that, lived anew every day, becomes the path itself.

"That we recognize the fences in our interactions and do not seek our lives in the past" - is written on the Stone of Encounter at the outer boundary of the Friedensmal area. Societies, like living beings, are always in a state of change. With the Jerusalem Friedensmal, remembrance is possible, but also encouragement to live. It serves as a sign for positive change towards freedom and light; towards life.

Life is beautiful. Much can be read in the newspapers about the darkness in the world. It is part of our own lives and touches our history, our perceptions, and experiences. And yet we know that we can never be content in a world where ignorance and baseless hatred overshadow what should actually be a life filled with beauty, truth, and goodness.


A Symbol of Identity

Rose der Liebe

If our country does not learn to confront its past in a way that honestly recognizes its weaknesses, that is, takes responsibility, then it will not have the strength to endure as a culture in the challenges of the times. This project aims to be both an impulse and a projection surface for this Turning Point for Life (in the center of the Blossom of Life). The point here is not to once again point out the guilt of the Germans. Through self-awareness, the conditions should be created for our nation to find its inner strength and conviction to shape its future and further development in a positive and life-affirming manner.

The
Friedensmal, with a diameter of 26 meters, is the central element of the design. It stands for a different approach to the past. Art, as a language, is suitable for providing this impulse, and the long-term societal consequences of such an impulse could be far-reaching. There is nothing comparable in Germany. The Friedensmal symbolizes the step from grappling with the past to integration. In it — "what has been learned from the past" — lies the responsibility for active societal engagement for peace and freedom, which requires both civil courage and civic engagement. Thus, the monument becomes a positive, identity-forming symbol for our country.



A Remembrance that Extends into the Future

This place brings to consciousness that a monument can equally address and connect the past, present, and future. The past is not "overcome" here. The past is always a parable for the present, from which the future arises. It repeats itself—albeit always differently—if it has not been understood. In the Friedensmal, this cycle is broken by the Tree of Life, which stands for clear inner recognition. It is surrounded by a "dance floor", a space for encountering the Other within oneself. This space for encounter stands for genuine exchange within the community of other human beings, for one only learns to recognize oneself in communication with the "You" ( (Philosophie Martin Bubers).

The "dance floor
" also stands for a different way of interacting with each other. Instead of quickly categorizing into "opponents and enemies" or "supporters and friends", one sees the other as a dance partner. This opens up a new freedom in dealing with each other. One learns from each other and tries out new figures.

The
Jerusalem Friedensmal brings the impulse of a respectful remembrance that is life-affirming and future-oriented into German memory culture. This also reaches the younger generations again, and it would thus convey an understanding beyond (charged) feelings of guilt. The Jerusalem Friedensmal could even serve as a bridge for a deeper understanding of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews  in Berlin. One of the problems in German memory culture is that the impression has arisen that only the suffering of the Others may be spoken about, and dealing with one's own suffering would be the first step in denying the German crimes against the Jews. Psychologically speaking, however, it is actually the case that whoever cannot establish a relationship to their own suffering cannot come to a real understanding of the suffering of another.

Responsibility is a central aspect of this project and a value that is often misunderstood. To better grasp the multifaceted nature of responsibility, I would like to share a poem of mine that illuminates the various dimensions of this concept:


Responsibility means,
taking a step further—
into life

It doesn't mean forgetting suffering, but transforming it

Responsibility means,
taking a step further—

into love

Love asks for the appreciation of life and the dignity of man

Responsibility means,
taking a step further—
into freedom


A Sign of Jewish-Christian Reconcilitation

Jesus was Jewish and never left his faith. He interpreted the Torah but did not establish a new religion. The connection between Judaism and Christianity is also evident in the New Testament, as highlighted in the following quote from the Gospel of Matthew: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them." (Matthew 5:17).

The
Jerusalem Friedensmal can also provide a deeper understanding of our cultural roots. The design consists mainly of symbols rooted in the Christian cultural sphere. The root 'Jerusalem' extends beyond Christianity into Judaism. This is the deepest root of European culture.


Jerusalem - Symbol of Jewish and Christian Culture

The image shows the Austrian Hospice in the Old City of Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the most significant place for both Judaism and Christianity.

In my texts, 'Jerusalem' serves as a metaphor for the common foundation of Judaism and Christianity. The root 'Jerusalem' was deeply wounded through discrimination, persecution, and the murder of Jews in Europe. The injuries to this root have a long and paradoxical history: In connection with the Crusades to liberate Jerusalem from Islam, Christian crusaders destroyed the Jewish "Jerusalem on the Rhine" back home. This event can be considered the first precursor to the Shoah. No reckoning has ever taken place.

With the erosion of Christian faith, Western European societies detached themselves from the
root 'Jerusalem'. The significance of cultural roots and the loss thereof was aptly articulated over a century ago by Gilbert Keith Chesterton: "When a religious scheme is shattered (…), not merely vices are let loose. The vices are, indeed, let loose, and they wander and do damage. But the virtues are let loose also; and the virtues wander more wildly, and the virtues do more terrible damage. The modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. They have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone." This quote from 1908 still sounds like a realistic description of our current situation in Europe. What could make it clearer that healing is needed at the root, as this project suggests?

A culture of the rootless is not viable. It's like a tree: only a tree with roots can reach for the sky.

The idea of healing cultural roots is reflected in the choice of symbols: "Jewish in design is the word 'Yerushalayim' on the
Stone of Encounter, intended to remind us of this root and the associated values of freedom (Torah). The star in the Blossom of Life may also be understood as Jewish. However, this blossom with the star is equally Christian (Star of Bethlehem), just as the Tree of Life in the Friedensmal is. By referencing Jerusalem as the root, Jewish culture is honored. The city of Jerusalem is the most significant place for Christianity.

 

Licht der Liebe

At the same time, both Christianity and Judaism have the metaphor of the heavenly Jerusalem. It is seen as a vision of a world in peace and freedom. According to this view, humans strive to bring the earthly Jerusalem closer to the heavenly Jerusalem, thereby reconciling themselves with God. Both aspects, the root 'Jerusalem' and the "heavenly Jerusalem", are referenced on the Stone of Encounter. Both root and vision are needed! A tree also has both aspects: it can only stretch its branches high into the open sky if it has the roots to do so.



Geopark Bergstraße-Odenwald

"He did not appear to Moshe at Pharaoh's palace, but in the countryside by the side of the road.” The Friedensmal is located along a hiking trail in the open countryside. This has symbolic significance, which also benefits German-Jewish relations. Grandiosity is found in the collective shadow of German culture. Far away from the political capital Berlin, in the southern Hessian province, it is a good place to become simple. Letting go of the complicated and dishonest game that surrounds the simple truths of life brings peace. This is felt at this location with the circle of monuments between "angel wings".   Zu zayn a Mensh / To be a person of integrity and honor.


Shalom and Peace

Peace and Shalom. Rabbi Mordechai Mendelson and artist Thomas Zieringer visited the Jerusalem Friedensmal together.




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