Day 2 for Seminarians Visiting Israel and the West Bank
June 10, 2010
By Nicole Luna (Hebrew Union College) and La Wanda Williams (Union Theological Seminary).
Imagine the Satmar rebbe and David Ben-Gurion (the first prime minister of Israel) explaining why the Holocaust happened. One blames Zionism as Jews going against Jewish law, the other asserts that the Holocaust proves the need for a strong Jewish state to protect and defend Jews.
Holocaust scholar Dr. Rachel Korazim shared with us this image during her talk about the memory of the Holocaust in contemporary Israeli society. She left us with a challenging and provocative charge: to not be afraid to employ the language of the Holocaust in talking about persecution and oppression throughout the world.
We continued our learning about the Holocaust with a visit to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Israel. A snapshot from the exhibition at Yad Vashem: On display is a gold locket with pictures of two men in uniform, brothers who had fought for Germany in WWI. An inscription on the back of the locket states that the brothers died “in service to their homeland.” Yet because their mother is Jewish, the Nazis at Aushwitz take away her locket with the pictures of her sons as she enters the gas chamber. The locket highlights how Jews who felt completely integrated into European life were not only rejected as an “other” but killed for it.
After visiting the museum, rabbinical students shared their personal family connections to the Holocaust. Students shared the reality that oppression in various forms continues today in America. As future religious leaders we came face to face with the truth that it is imperative for voices of faith to stand up against injustice and to rail against forces of evil that seek to destroy God’s creations. We asked the question: have we, as citizens of the world, learned from the Holocaust?
Later in the afternoon, Col. (Res.) Danny Terza, the primary architect and designer of the security fence/separation wall, shared with us his views and understanding of the barrier. He focused on its role in preventing security. He said that the wall is 746 km in length and that there are computer sensors that detect motion within a certain distance of the wall such that if a sensor is activated, Israeli intelligence can view videotape to identify the cause of the activity. Looking out over the hills of Jerusalem and seeing the close proximity of the West Bank to Jerusalem brought home the need for this security while leaving us with many questions about the effects of the barrier on Palestinian life. A student commented, “If only Israel’s sophistication in security measures matched its efforts toward peace as well.”
Danny Seidemann, an Israeli attorney specializing in Israeli-Palestinian affairs in Jerusalem offered another perspective. He highlighted how the same event can have different meanings for different people. Israeli independence is considered a national tragedy for the Palestinians. We peppered him with questions about the need to divide Jerusalem, what the borders of divided Jerusalem could look like, how the security fence/separation wall affects this, and more personal questions, such as his attachment to the state of Israel as a secular Jew.
Don’t think we’re not having fun also- as we write this three rabbinical and seminarian students are rocking out to the Macarena in the bar at our hotel in Bethlehem!