TORONTO — “People of the World Inscribe the Bible” – an international project that had its Canadian debut in February 2007 with the participation of Prime Minister Stephen Harper – was launched in Ukraine last Thursday with help from Toronto businessman Nathan Jacobson.
In the past two years, Amos Rolnik, a septuagenarian Israeli former adman and publisher, has taken the project to 54 countries.
Nathan Jacobson, right, was also involved in a Torah-writing project in Kiev last week.
He came up with the idea of a Bible-related project in 1997 as a way of conveying “the message of Israel to the world.”
The project, which is under the auspices of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and which includes the New Testament, involves each individual participant writing a Bible verse in his or her own handwriting, and in his or her own language.
There is one book for each country – Rolnik cited Tamil, Mandarin, Czech, Italian, Polish and Finnish versions in an interview at the Consulate General of Israel during a brief visit to Toronto.
An Arabic version, launched in Egypt, is particularly important to Rolnik, he said. “I’d like to show that the Bible and peace go together.”
The books will not be published, but will be stored in a yet-to-be-built “Bible House” in Jerusalem.
Jacobson – a native of Winnipeg who has Ukrainian Jewish roots and business interests in Ukraine – told The CJN before he left for the Kiev launch that he wants every Jew in Ukraine to have an opportunity to write a sentence from the Torah. “I look at it as a way to remind them they’re not forgotten, and to keep them close to the religion,” he said.
In addition to underwriting the project in Ukraine, Jacobson bought an RV in order to travel “to every shtetl… [so that] no Jew will be missed.”
Among Jacobson’s previous involvements in Ukraine, he helped found a Jewish orphanage in Kiev. He said the Jewish population in the country numbers at least 200,000.
The project ran into a snag when Rolnik learned that there was no Ukrainian-language version of the Bible.
“I said, ‘It’s impossible. The Bible has already been translated into 2,035 languages,’” he recalled. But, he said, it turned out that – because of the former Soviet regime – that was indeed the case.
Just two weeks ago, however, nine Ukrainian translators who had made aliyah were engaged to translate an initial 300 Bible verses so that the launch could take place as planned Sept. 4 at Kiev’s Brodsky Synagogue, and the project could begin.
Rolnik said he hopes the entire translation will be complete “within a year.”
“People of the World Inscribe the Bible” follows Rolnik’s initial effort, the publication of a book called Children of the World Illustrate the Bible.
Submissions were culled from 800,000 drawings by children in 91 countries, Rolnik said.
To this day, he can’t say why he came up with the Bible as the focus for the project. Growing up on a left-wing kibbutz with socialist parents, it wasn’t a likely choice.
But these days, Rolnik sports an iPod just so he can listen to the Bible. Once he started to familiarize himself with the ancient text six years ago, he “fell in love” with it, he said.
Following the publication of the book, Rolnik founded Bible Valley (biblevalley.org), an interfaith organization whose ultimate goal is creating a 25,000-acre biblical village in Israel, with “everything as it was 3,000 years ago.” It took four years just to finish the master plan, he said.
The project is planned for Emek Ha’ela, just south of Jerusalem, “where David fought against Goliath.”