The 2019 Yad Vashem Holocaust educational seminar personified participative intercultural transformation. What does that mean? Well: jump-in and be part of the discussion, enjoy the fun and laughter, and the sheer gentle kindness of each other, whilst pausing in awed surprise at our genuine differences from each other. That’s just on a personal level. A very important place to start, because the seminar brought home to us, repeatedly, that the Holocaust, and all that flows from it, is fundamentally about unique individuals who were murdered. We listened to stories, and the people became ‘alive again’, momentarily, to us. That is hugely right, within our belief in the sanctity of all life on earth, and the cherishing by God of each person, totally without exception.
And then there are, we realised, the systems of understanding and government, the unquestioned norms of behaviour which become fixed, and seemingly ‘set in stone’, rather more swiftly and seamlessly than one might expect, or desire, in the light of the atrocities that can result when restraints are removed. Many years ago I had experienced the normative expectations of the Apartheid system of depersonalising evil in South Africa, and I made the connection with Hitler’s obsessions against Jews, which became normalised once he was in power. It was clear that the Holocaust was unique, but humankind also commits many other personal and social forms of dehumanisation. Our topic of focus was, we knew before we stepped onto the plane at Heathrow, unlovely; but we also knew it to be a necessary focus, for the human race has become worryingly adept at forgetting what we find painful to remember, and then it becomes cyclical.
The determination of the twenty-one of us who flew from Heathrow to Tel Aviv on 16th September was the evil of the Holocaust would not become cyclical. Rather, that our minds would be educated and our hearts grow in wisdom, whilst our wills become more finely tuned towards love in action. We had come on board knowing that “the purpose of the Yad Vashem seminar is to educate church leaders about the Holocaust and to equip them to be advocates for Holocaust education and Christian-Jewish relations when they return to their churches and communities.” It is an aim, rightly, for the Christian and Jewish moral high ground. It is for the thriving of God’s good but broken world. It is for building the common good of all humanity. For me, this heart-felt aspiration began at Yad Vashem to be a road still to be travelled together for fullness of life.
We greatly enjoyed each other’s different takes on that fullness of life. Wandering around Jerusalem’s old city, welcomed into fantastic hospitality in both synagogue and homes for Shabbat, pumping the blood round our bodies as we climbed the fortress of Masada in 40c and then, quite amazingly floating in the sunny, salty Dead Sea – all interspersed with lectures, workshops and fascinating tours. All this, and more over drinks in the evenings, facilitated, joyfully, the intercultural transformation. We returned full-up and over-flowing with it all, but changed.
The change was partly down to the group experience, and Rob Thompson and Yiftach Meiri richly blessed us with their human kindness, down to earth fun, and pedagogical excellence. The intercultural transformation was also grounded in the programme of study. I will not name each of the lecturers – they were all worth it! The whole experience formed a very powerful lens through which to view the Holocaust and to enrich the wisdom of our hearts.
Huge gratitude to all involved.
Would I commend it to you? “You bet!”
The Revd Dr Ian Terry
Team Rector of the Bournemouth Town Centre Parish