So I am going to the Stations of the Cross at our local church. I have never gone before. It is Friday evening and there are about a dozen worshipers in attendance and my family is going to lead the procession. In fact, we are the procession.
My daughter and son flank me with candles and I have the heavy cross. We stand before each station as my wife is at the lectern reading the text for the parishioners to follow and respond to. At the cue of the organ, we move on.
Somewhere along the way the candles go out, first with Mary and then with Ned. Kind of symbolic given what comes next.
Laura reads the text from the proscribed booklet, beautifully. I’m trying to follow along but frankly am kind of distracted by the candles going out and my aching feet. Maybe they are supposed to hurt, maybe that’s the point. To reflect on all this suffering, and then death.
But flanked by my children I am jolted back with the utterance from the lectern: something near the tenth station about how somebody in the storyline has to practice Christianity in secret, “…because of the Jews.”
It’s 2013. This is the church that reared me. At the lectern where I eulogized my father, my wife reads the proscribed text: because of the Jews. After the service I check the booklet- yep, it’s there, she read it like she was supposed to. Imprimatur.
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Though my father would go to the Stations during Lent, this is our first time. To tell you the truth, I’m left a bit devastated. On the ride home, I can’t help but think back to the pogroms that would occur on Good Friday, where houses are torched and people are beat up and killed after church service. Jews. How innocent people who knew that to be on the streets this day was to be a target, instead had to “lay low” on that day. Since childhood I perceived being born on Good Friday as a badge of honor of sorts-so why now I am reflecting on people murdered by angry mobs on that day, throughout history?
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Sometimes I feel the eyebrows arching behind my back for my interest in studying and teaching the Holocaust.
First, the obvious. People I don’t know have railed against me on the Internet, implying that traumatized liberator soldiers are liars. The Jews are lying again. That the survivors are pictures of health. That I should educate myself.
Then, the more subtle. I’m not Jewish. People I do know perpetuate stereotypes about Jews and money, Jews and finance- well, if I was Jewish, very likely at some point in time I would have been forbidden from practicing the trade of my choice. If an angry mob was going to burn down my business and drive me out of my home, my village, maybe I’d go into a more “portable” means of sustaining my family, too.
But also sometimes I think I’m regarded with curiosity by some people in the Jewish community. Some people wonder why I am so dedicated to this mission. Some do not understand why a non-Jew takes the interest to do what I have done, but to me it is simple.
I’m a human being.
It was a Jewish catastrophe, but also an unprecedented tragedy for the entire human race. We all have to deal with it and sort it out. Being an educator, it naturally follows that there are significant lessons here.
I also think I am justified in arguing that these lessons are urgent.
Following the Sabbath, the Jewish mother goes to claim her Jewish son, so many years ago. In 2013, my birthday falls on Easter.
I’ll think about this- meditating on the photos here that I took myself-that maybe it’s time to set aside what keeps us apart. We’ll light the candles again.
And as we begin Passover/Holy Week, I’ll end on this note: “Whether discovered in the story of a nation making the journey from Abraham’s early successes to the Israelites’ slavery and subsequent redemption, or in the story of one who lives, dies and is born again, we must all celebrate that life holds more possibility and potential than we first imagine — that there is reason for hope, and that in celebrating triumphs of hope from the past, we can unleash new stories of hope in the present and in the future.”1