Perhaps the most powerful aspect of the Sarajevo Haggadah is its seemingly everlasting power to connect people. Not just people across the Seder table, although judging from its wine-stained pages, it did that, many times across the years. But more than that, its power to connect people from various backgrounds in the celebration of life.
Located on the Una River in the northwestern region of Bosnia and Herzegovina lies the regal city of Bihac. Even though it has less than 60,000 inhabitants, Bihac has always played an important role in the history of the country. The striking natural beauty that surrounds this settlement is perhaps one of its most appealing features, along with its long and storied history.
Perhaps no other leader embodies the spirit of Bosnian resistance and the nation’s will to survive than Husein-Kapetan Gradascevic, the Dragon of Bosnia. Many years after his death, a popular sentiment among the Bosnian people, Muslims, and Christians alike (particularly in the Posavina region) was that his name could not be mentioned without shedding a tear. The tragedy of his life is in many ways a quintessential embodiment of the dual nature of the Bosnian national spirit.
The northern Bosnian city of Tuzla has always been unique. Its deep connection to the earth and its people’s openness and tolerance are some of its most cherished features, almost quintessential of Bosnia itself. But the town has a long and interesting history as well. Some scholars speculate that the area in present-day Tuzla is one of the longest continually inhabited settlements in all of Europe, spanning some 6,000 years.
Blessed with incredible natural beauty, the central Bosnian city of Jajce was once home to kings and queens. Today, the city remains a remnant of the independent Bosnian kingdom, complete with an old quarter, fortified walls, and a magnificent waterfall that feeds to the rivers below.
When someone uses the term serene – a certain image or place comes to mind. In many ways, the Blagaj Tekija or Tekke is a quintessential place of reflection and in the past, prayer and isolation.
Broken stećak depicted by Hugo Charlemont, 1901.
The Bosnian writer and philosopher-poet Mak Dizdar once remarked that the secrets of Bosnia are hidden in the words inscribed on the ancient marble of the stecci (medieval tombstones). Dizdar was so fascinated by these ancient objects (some dating as far back as the 12th century) that it inspired much of his writing and creative contributions to BiH’s literary heritage.
Like a flock of migratory birds, Bosnians all over the world look forward to summertime with great yearning. It means the smell of cevapi and lamb over coals, the sight of family and friends that were only available over phone and computer monitors for most of the year, and the sounds of the mosque’s call to prayer mingled with church bells. It means the sight of ancient stone bridges, rolling green landscapes, and roaring waterfalls breaking the silence of the day. It means a return home. It means a return to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The academic in me writhed in pain even at the idea of writing something like this. An uncited, cliff-note style summary of hundreds of years of rich Bosnian history? To top it off, incredibly well written with a sharp sense of humor? (OK, maybe not). Don’t do it. Just don’t. It’s not worth it. It goes against everything you’ve been trained to do.
One of the earliest and most potent memories in my mind is the wafting of cigarette smoke, the smell of Turkish (or Bosnian) coffee and rakija at my grandfather’s house.