Every year for the past 11 years the AJC Central New Jersey Region brings a group of Princeton Theological Seminary Students on a day trip to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. This year’s trip included 23 amazing students from all over the world including Canada, France, Malaysia, Uganda and Liberia, many of whom shared later that this was their first in depth exposure to the Holocaust.
Even as we struggle with "Holocaust fatigue", we are confronted by what we hoped would never again show its ugly head. Anti-Semitism should have burned itself out long ago, but increasingly, the winds have stirred the embers. Bringing the Jewish experience of the Holocaust directly to Princeton Theological Seminary students opens their minds and hearts to the realities of what it means to be a Jew in today's world. It provides the intellectual space for the students to ask, "Where was the church when this was unfolding?" It forces penetrating self-cross examination, wondering, "Where would I have been?" And more importantly, it leads to the central question, "Where do I stand now?" It is around this last question that meaningful dialogue can begin.
The bus ride home often gives rise to difficult questions. For instance, one student, not wanting to be labeled an anti-Semite, and struggling to give voice to the question, observed that Jewish power and influence appeared to be disproportionate in the USA. While the areas of Wall Street, Hollywood, the media and government were mentioned, the omission of the sciences and medicine, provided an opening to share what is at the core of being a Jew. In essence, we are each commanded to be the best that we can be given our unique endowments, to make the most of ourselves, to make a difference, and to contribute to society and civilization.
Leading this trip each year, and participating in the interfaith discussions which follow it, offer me the opportunity to make a difference, and to deepen understanding not only of the Holocaust but of what it is to be Jewish.