Just Look...

Just Look...

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Time is Now

This past week, one of my all-time favorite writers and bloggers, Ann Voskamp, posted a letter on her blog. The letter was to three year old Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian toddler who drowned in the Mediterranean during his family's desperate attempt to get to safety. It is beautiful and it is heartbreaking and it is something that should be read by everyone. At the end of her letter, she called for others to pen letters to Aylan. My letter is below.

Dear Aylan,

I'm sorry.

I'm sorry that I have been so preoccupied with my own silly, trivial life things that I somehow forgot that there are three year olds who are losing their lives in an attempt to save them.

I'm sorry that last Wednesday, I was caught up in news of an impending pastoral change at my church and didn't even see the pictures or hear your name until days after your death.

I'm sorry that, because it's easier to look away in this life, sometimes I choose to do exactly that.

I'm sorry that I teach and preach empathy and often forget to exercise it myself.

I'm sorry that I have never lived in a place of danger, that I have never feared for the safety of my daughters, that I don't know what it's like to lose everything to try and gain something.

I'm sorry that because your reality isn't mine, sometimes I don't see that your reality exists.

I'm just sorry.

But I am also hopeful, and I am awakened, and I am promising you that I will be vigilant with your memory. In the same spirit as another little boy, many years and many miles away, you have reminded me that just because it seems like the entire world is looking away doesn't actually mean they are. There will be those who stand beside, who reach out, who speak up. And I believe that we are raising up a generation who will be the standers, the reachers, and the speakers.

In Sadness and Hope,
Athena Davis

There are lots of ways we can help. Ann has another post entitled "Why Now is the Church's Moment and It Will Take All of Us Not to Miss It" in which she details ways in which we can take action. My Holocaust Literature class is getting started right now on some plans. What can you do?

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

For the Love of Free Stuff

As aware as I am that I still have much blogging to do about my trip (and I am reminded every time I open my blog dashboard because I created new posts with topics for each post I want to do and so there they are, silently mocking me and my lack of time every single time I open it up), I need to interrupt the regularly (overdue) scheduled Israel blogging to write my post on Jen Hatmaker's new book, For the Love!

I was BEYOND overjoyed many, many months ago when, after a friend sent me the link and suggested I apply, I applied at the very last minute and was given a spot on Jen Hatmaker's launch team for this new book. This was my first time to serve on a launch team (although time #2 came on the heels of that one and THAT book comes out tomorrow as well! blog on it to come!) and it was so much fun!

I think the first time I heard Jen was back in 2012 at the dotMom conference. (2011? Not even sure.) Anyway, she made the most powerful impression on me and I rushed back home to pick up a copy of her book called 7. To say that 7 changed my life is an understatement. I feel that it was a path I might have naturally been headed down, but that book was the catalyst that has driven nearly every activity and focus and passion since I read it. I followed it with her husband's (Brandon) book, The Barefoot Church. I know this blog is about Jen ;) but somehow, Brandon's book hit me even harder than 7 had.

Since that fall, I have heard Jen at least three more times and am currently reading Interrupted, the book that actually came before 7. It will shake you around a lot too! I am, unabashedly, a Jen Hatmaker groupie. And do you know why I don't feel weird about that? Because Jen Hatmaker is a Jesus groupie and everything she writes, says, and lives is testament to that fact.

For the Love is just... beautiful. It contains all of her poetic language, her depth of thought, and her unique way of being the vehicle that Jesus uses to drip His love all over you. It also contains her ridiculous wit, her hilarious commentary, and the strange ability she has to make you feel like you are sitting in her kitchen, chatting with her, through her writing.

I talk to my AP kids about classics. One of the criteria for a classic is that it must have multiple layers of meaning and appeal to a broad audience. This book does both of those things and so much more. Our launch group runs the gamut, from high school all the way to... a long way from high school. ;) Each person in this group has testified to having gotten so much from this book. You will NOT be disappointed if you purchase this book. You will laugh hysterically on one page and wipe at tear drops on the pages on the next. Honestly, the chapter she writes to her children is enough reason alone to purchase the book. As a teacher and a mom, I had to stop reading it in public because the other patrons of Superfly were concerned that I was suffering some sort of inner tragedy based on the heaving sobs I was choking back.

I'm doing a double giveaway for Launch Day. I want to randomly select two people, one to receive the book and one to receive a tshirt I designed with my very favorite quote from the book: Be Kind, Be You, Love Jesus.

All you need to do is sign up for Jen's emails OR, if you're already receiving those nuggets, just follow her on any social media platform (pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram). You can sign up for her emails just by entering your email address in the bar in the middle of her homepage. The link is http://jenhatmaker.com/home.htm . Simply leave a comment here to let me know you followed, including your email address so I can let you know if you win and get your mailing info. Drawing is only open to continental US. :)

Happy Tuesday, happy launch day!

Winners were: Lauren Haun (tee shirt since she already had the book) and Wanda Williams!
 Thanks for playing, friends!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Doing Good versus Doing Nothing

We spent one entire day on resistance. When I teach resistance, the most commonly known example that my kids have heard of is the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. And I do spend a day of class discussing that. However, resistance is so much more than armed resistance, than a fight against the perpetrators with sticks and knives and guns. There was a great quote that I heard in our studies on that day and it was, "Resistance doesn't have to be with a gun and a bullet. Sometimes, the easiest resistance is with a gun and a bullet."

I think about Ghandi, about Martin Luther King, Jr., about so many throughout history who have proven that sometimes the harder fight (and more effective one) takes the path of nonviolent resistance. Resistance in the Holocaust took on many forms other than that of partisan fighters... it was cultural, it was spiritual.

The mother who gave her piece of bread to her starving child... the artists who drew and painted with anything they could find on scraps of paper, rocks, walls, and fabric... the teenagers who scribbled poetry and journal entries on pieces of trash... the doctors in the Warsaw Ghetto who knew they were starving and so decided to do studies on themselves as they starved to death, leaving behind a study called Hunger and Disease in the Warsaw Ghetto: Non Omnis Moriar ("I Shall Not Wholly Die"), which was found after the Holocaust and used in medical schools for years afterward... the exams given to students in clandestine schools in the Lodz Ghetto because "God forbid we come to the end of this experience and have a generation of idiots"... the men who wore hats over their kipas so that, in saluting the Nazis, they didn't have to lift their kipa off their head... the people in the camps who continued to practice their faith, even fasting in a place where daily life looked like fasting...

The beauty of educating about this type of resistance is that it enables me to teach my students that being a hero doesn't always look the same. Sometimes it's being the only person in a class who tells a teacher when there is a derogatory group message or a twitter ridicule. Sometimes it's making a choice to befriend everyone, no matter what one's social group has to say about it. Sometimes it's speaking up for your faith or your race or your nationality.

It also enlarges the view of the heroic for all of us. In all of our lives, someone (or many someone's) are watching. They are watching our Christians responded to the Supreme Court ruling on homosexual marriage, how Southerners responded to the Confederate flag question, how Americans responded to domestic terror. My students watched my response to all of those things, and many more, on social media. My daughters watch my response to the homeless man in the grass beside Walmart. I always use a piece with my students when I teach personal responsibility called "Always Go to the Funeral". It has a few lines in it that are so powerful to me:

"In my humdrum life, the daily battle hasn't been good versus evil. It's hardly so epic. Most days, my real battle is doing good versus doing nothing."

The Sound (and Lights) and the FURY

One of our more humorous experiences of the trip happened the night of the Tower of David Sound and Lights show. We got back from class and had almost two hours before we were supposed to meet (those who wanted to) for our optional excursion to the Sound and Lights show. A little group of us girls decided to go eat dinner at "my restaurant" in Mamilla Mall before the show and just planned to meet the rest of the group outside the Tower of David. Our meal took a little longer than we anticipated but we left in plenty of time to get to (what we thought was) the appointed meeting place at the appointed time.

So we waited... and waited... and waited... and finally I went to the Tower to see if they might have already gone in and the person working the entry said the Yad Vashem group was already inside the walls. I went back and got my buddies and we went in where we caught sight of the backs of a few of our group members as they were swallowed up by the crowd entering the courtyard where the show took place. We asked at the gate if we could go in (without tickets) since our group had already entered and they refused, sending us to the ticket window. We tried the ticket window and explained that our group left us without our tickets. They refused to allow us to enter, even though they had proof of payment for 37 from Yad Vashem. The man at the gate came to talk to the ticket sellers (all of this in an unknown tongue... ;) ) and then we were sent back to a younger guy at the gate. Meanwhile, ALL of the waiting crowd had gone in and the show was soon to start. A teenage girl and her mom was at the gate, listening to all of this transpire. The younger girl kept talking to the boy at the gate and I gathered she was working on our behalf (in Hebrew).

Finally, the man who was in charge came to the gate and told the boy he could not allow us to go in, no matter what all we offered (including getting our tickets and bringing them back, getting a group member to bring them out, etc). At that point, the mother of this teenage girl starts LETTING THE OLDER MAN HAVE IT. I mean, she was wearing him out. They kept screaming back and forth at each other in Hebrew and we were basically just swiveling heads like people at a tennis match. I also caught myself nodding along with her, which was hilarious considering I had no clue what she was saying. FINALLY, she must have prevailed because he agreed to let one of us go in to find our group and the other two had to go all the way around the Tower of David to the exit, meeting the one who went in for the tickets. (This is what lead to my roommate, Tiffany, crawling up and down rows in the dark whispering, "Yad Vashem! Yad Vashem!" which is basically the equivalent of whispering, "Holocaust Museum! Holocaust Museum!" in a dark movie theater in the US...)

As we turned to run around to the exit, I looked at the lady and her daughter and said, "Thank you all so very much. We REALLY appreciate it." She said, "I told him I was ASHAMED he treat you this way! ASHAMED of my countryman, treating guests like that!" :) I walked away with a newfound resolve to speak up more often when I see situations where I can help someone out, especially when there is a language barrier.

That angry Israeli lady was our friend that night. :)

Monday, July 27, 2015


Now, the Palmach (you really need to hear me say it because I'm getting really good at the throat clearing sort of sounds that the Israeli's make) Museum... WOW. I am so aggravated that we didn't bring Emma and Kelsey here in October because the would have LOVED it. It is a tribute to the Palmach, the partisan fighters who were the first version of the Israeli Defense Force. I am amazed at their story and the bravery they exhibited with so little during those early days of freedom. The museum itself was incredible, because you progress from room to room, following a video that is the story of a group of them. However, each room is like a movie set and the video projects on the wall (or screens, or tents, or rocks). There are even SMELLS! The part where they were sitting around the campfire talking, we were sitting on logs and the ROOM SMELLED LIKE A CAMPFIRE. I am ENAMORED. 

I also really loved something else that happened. As we went in, there was a wall of black and white photos. I glanced at them as we went in and appreciated them for their beauty. I was even remotely interested in the subjects, but not profoundly so. When we came out, we walked by those photos again. I couldn't make myself walk away because those photos... they meant something. Those PEOPLE meant something. I now had a connection with them. I took a photo of part of the wall (second from the bottom here) and realized that is exactly my goal in Holocaust Literature... I want my students to connect, to connect PERSONALLY with the subjects. If I do that, I have accomplished something valuable.

A Drink of Home from the Sea of Galilee

One week in to our trip, on our first "optional excursion" day, we had a guided tour to Galilee. Much of the day was a repeat of the whirlwind taxi-driver-led Galilee day Kraig and the girls and I had in October, but a few stops were new. Those included the absolutely most beautiful place I have ever seen, St. Paul's Primacy, a church nestled on the beaches of the Sea of Galilee, the site of the Sermon on the Mount, which had closed just as we arrived in October, and a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee.

I'm going to address the topic of religion several more times in these blog posts, and each time I feel a need to include the following disclaimer:
I went to this seminar knowing very well that Judaism was going to be the religion of focus. I mean, HELLO. Israel, the Holocaust... I'm not stupid. I was very interested in learning more, as I feel that my pretty basic knowledge is a little lacking in that section of my Holocaust Lit class. I will also say, up front, that there are many aspects of Judaism that I think we Christians would do well to adopt, aspects such as the attentiveness to the history and many of the traditions. I have in the past, and probably will more in the future, celebrated certain holidays and observed certain traditions. The part I did NOT expect from this experience (and again, bear with me while I explain) is for all of Christianity to be lumped together in one sect: Catholicism. Certainly I didn't expect much in the way of evangelical, Pentecostal tradition, but at the very least I assumed it would be generic Christianity and thus include Protestantism. TO MY CATHOLIC FRIENDS, this is in no way meant to be any sort of slam at you AT ALL. I do not take anything away from your faith and beliefs as fellow Christians, just as I really do not take anything away from Judaism. I am just pointing out that I was caught off guard by the lack of reference to anything Protestant and the assumption that all Christianity was Catholic. I think a lot of my naiveté probably had to do with where I live. I am heavily in the majority where I live and Catholics are a tiny minority. (It should also be noted, and likely will be explored in a later post, that this was one of my first and only experiences in being the minority in ANY way, which I also found to be a helpful experience as I teach the Holocaust and other social issues.) OK. Now that we are all on the same page, let me go on.
Something really strange happened to me on the boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. I had been looking extremely forward to it because A. I have a massive crush on that body of water and B. I love boat rides, but it ended up being so much more than that.

The ride itself was soothing to my soul in a way that only being on water is to me. There is nothing on earth as peaceful as being in a boat, watching the gentle waves lap against the sides, and feeling the calming breeze. At that point, only one week in, the rest of the group was still pretty unknown. I was close to my roommate, Tiffany, and had talked to a few other people, but largely I still felt somewhat on guard in the way that you do when you are faced with the unknown. I leaned back against the wooden side of that boat and just felt the most tremendous release. The boat captain had already told us that his company is the only Christian company on the Sea of Galilee and that he would like to share his story at some point in the journey.

Once we got out into open water, he stopped the boat and told us his own salvation story and that his salvation had happened on a boat on the Sea of Galilee. Then he told us he would like to play some music for us as we returned to the dock. That is when, for the first time in a week, I realized that I had been homesick for MY faith, for MY Jesus. He played "How Great is Our God", "Here I Am to Worship", and several other songs that are songs I HEAR ON SUNDAY MORNINGS! :) I'm not even kidding, I came pretty close to a Pentecostal experience out there on that boat. (I'm thinking THAT would have shocked some people, for sure! HAhahah!) I just sat and let the words pour over me, seep into my spirit, minister to my soul... Looking out on that water and knowing that His feet walked across those waves, hearing "You're altogether lovely, altogether worthy, altogether wonderful to me"... It is a moment I will never forget as long as I live. This on a trip of MANY of those moments... I will always be grateful to that Christian boat captain (of a boat named "Faith", in fact) for providing me with a time to renew my strength and drink in a little bit of HOME.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Get to the Garden

To return to my really unnerving experience in Jerusalem early in my trip, I want to further explore my experience at the Garden Tomb.

First of all, I know that this is a contested site of His burial and, honestly, most people I respect do NOT think it's the actual burial spot. Do you know what else? I don't care one whit. All I know is that both times I have been in that Garden, I have felt an overwhelming sense of His presence. Was He once buried there? Who knows. Does His presence live there right now for me, in an almost palpable sense? YES. 

After my harrowing and frustrating trek through the Old City and the streets around Damascus Gate, after being almost trapped in the bus terminal and being denied access out at any juncture by police and military checkpoints, walking into that Garden felt like the oil of Peace was flowing through my being. I limped in and immediately heard the violin strains of "Great is Thy Faithfulness". I sat down on a bench near the entry and the tears leaked out and down my cheeks. I saw for a while, drained of all energy, fear, and sense of my surroundings, until I finally got up and walked down to take a seat near the tomb. The violinist continued to play, and I wept. 

There were very few people at the Garden Tomb that day (most people probably were smarter than I), so I had a lot of time to sit, listen to the haunting and beautiful sounds of the violin, reflect, and let the place minister to my spirit and my soul. As I leaned back against the cold stone wall, facing the tomb, I thought about the hour or more it took to get there. In the middle of all of the crowds, the misdirections, the wrong turns, the fear, the frustration, there was one phrase rattling around in my head: "If I can just get to the Garden." The thing is, getting to the Garden Tomb wasn't going to completely change my circumstances. I was still going to have to leave, go back into the crowds and heat and weariness, and somehow find my way "home". But I knew that, as soon as I made it to the Garden, I could sit and breathe, rest my feet, drink some cool water, and settle my nerves. It truly represented a Refuge for me on that day.

How many times is this a metaphor for our daily lives? We push through the crowds, take what we assume will be the easy and correct path, only to find blockades and wrong turns and misdirections? We get frustrated, we have tears of anger and dissatisfaction, then the whole experience turns frightening? But in the midst of it all, our heart knows that we just need to get to the Garden. If we can just get to the place (emotionally, spiritually, figuratively) where we feel His presence the most, we can soak in enough peace to get us back out into the fray and "home". I think it's important to know where those places are in our own lives, and also to recognize the signs when we start to near breakdown point so that we can get to the Garden in time to let the calming balm pour over us.

The Girl Who Left Israel

Written en route from JFK to Atlanta, July 24, 2015:

Everybody around me on this plane is sleeping and I’m caught up in reflection. I know we say the same about school years, childhoods, and relationships, but I can’t get over the paradox of time during this seminar. When I rode that Sherrut back to Tel Aviv from Jerusalem last night, it felt like it had been YEARS since my nervous cab ride in the middle of the night on July 4. However, it also felt like it was just a minute earlier.

I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the grace I received for this trip. The decision to go was an incredible struggle, even though I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was something I was meant to do. I miss my girls and Kraig when we are apart even for a night, much less almost half of the summer. And have I ever mentioned my anxiety on this blog? ;) I imagine the worst in every scenario and worry when I hear news of a wreck on a road that a family member MIGHT be on. I wasn’t sure how I was going to handle being across the world for this extended period of time. BUT GOD. While I thought about them often and missed them with a sweet ache, I never felt plagued with deep sadness at being gone. The moment of leaving, as I expected it to be, was so difficult and filled with tears, but the rest of the trip was just a time to rest in His grace. I worried when I got news of the shootings in Chattanooga, had one period of panic when I couldn’t reach anyone while they were at the beach, and had one evening of some … I wouldn’t even call it homesickness, per se, but SOMETHING… but other than those brief times, I was so comfortable and content. It was honestly a miracle of His goodness and I am so very thankful for this chance.

So many pieces of the experience grated against the very fiber of my being, or what I THOUGHT was my being… traveling alone, BEING alone, not knowing anyone, leaving my people, losing three weeks of my summer. I’m not the girl who does things by herself. I had eaten two meals alone in a restaurant in my life (prior to this trip). I try to time my arrival to parties and other social gatherings when someone I know is also going to be there if I can't just ride with them, which is my preference. I was sad this past school year when I found myself alone at lunch on a field trip to Nashville. I also guard my summer like a bulldog, consider my weeks off as gifts that belong to my family and me.

As much as I gained insofar as knowledge and experience on this trip, I think the self-discoveries I made at least equal the rest in value. I want to be careful what I say here and how I say it…
When you are born in a place, a small town, and you grow up, go to college, marry, get a job (at your alma mater), have kids, and start to grow old all in the same place, something gets lost along the way sometimes. That something is YOU. Over the course of a lifetime, people change. And sometimes, when you remain in the same place with the same people, that change stays pushed down in those hidden places. This part is so hard to articulate… I hadn’t realized fully that there was a new person inside me because she hadn’t ever had the opportunity, or felt safe enough, to come out. (I see the irony of finding safety and opportunity in the Middle East…)   In Israel, my sense of insecurities were gone because no one there had any expectation for me. I could fade into the background of the crowd if I wanted to. I could eat alone in a restaurant and not worry that I would see someone who would pity me for not having friends. I could say no to invitations to the terrace or dinner and not feel bad that I was letting someone down. I could also say YES to trips to the Old City and the craft market without being concerned if anyone else was going to go because I was willing, for the first time in my life, to be the only person doing something. I found that person I have always so admired in many of the people around me, the one who does things because she wants to and doesn’t do others because she doesn’t want to without worrying all the time about everyone else and how it makes her look or not look.

I ran around at night and explored new places with new friends. I navigated streets and city alleyways and found restaurants with single table balconies and bookstores. I sat on the terrace and enjoyed the evening, sipping on a Coke while everyone else had wine. I was ME, and I was also NOT me, or at least not the me who has awakened in this body for the past 37 years.

I have loved Cleveland, have loved living there and growing there and raising a family there. I always say I’m a roots person and that hasn’t changed. I am so thankful for my small hometown and what it means to be part of it. I wouldn’t have even been on this trip were it not for Cleveland and her people. I wouldn’t change a single thing about my life because that road is what brought me here and brought the people into my life who make it so full. But for the first time in my life, I question my college decision. Not necessarily WHERE I went to college, but certainly HOW I went. I had an almost four year relationship from the end of high school through my junior year in college and, due to that, I viewed college as merely a means to an end, a vehicle to get me to my degree, a hallway I had to go through to reach the living room of real life. I didn’t bother to get to know anyone in my classes, to attend any college activities, to connect in any way with student life other than my activities with the Honors Program. I had a chance on this trip, for the first time ever, to live the life of a college student. I had no responsibilities other than classes and my daily phone call home, no one was depending on me for anything, and I was only accountable to myself. I regret that I allowed a relationship to keep me from studying abroad, that I missed so much living by treading water.

In these three weeks, I made close, special new friends and had fun with new acquaintances and avoided people with whom I didn’t connect or who made me feel uncomfortable. I realized that, in large part, I have spent my life believing that people like me because they have to, that most friendships are based on habit and convenience and not choice. I have always felt like I was in the right place at the right time with the right connections and that’s why I have the relationships that I have. I’m not saying they aren’t true and authentic relationships, just that people wouldn’t seek me out to befriend but rather it’s a matter of circumstance. I have said for my entire teaching career that I am a well-liked teacher because my very first group of tenth grade honors kids and I had a great connection, they were good people and well-known, and they built a reputation for me through word-of-mouth. I think it could have easily gone the other way, had it not been for that first group. They liked me and I liked them and we developed a symbiotic relationship that has continued through the years with all of my kids. I loved teaching in year one because of those kids. Therefore, I started year two with a passion for education, those kids sensed that AND had heard good things from the kids in year one, and so we did well with each other. That year fed my enthusiasm and love and passion even more, etc, etc, etc.. In Israel, I made deep and lasting friendships with people who saw ME. Just me. Not the me who is friends with this person or the me who taught that person or the me who goes to this church or the me who is involved in this ministry or the me who is related to this person or the me who does this or that… just ME. The real, complete ME. And they liked me. And they chose to hang out with me and ask me to do things with them. And it was good.

I don’t know if this discovery of my true self is something that will be apparent to those around me once I return or not. (I feel like all of this is probably making people think I’m going to abandon my family and run off to another country to live. Not the case at all.) It truly doesn’t matter if it is or it isn’t, because I found her and I like her and I want to keep her. I hope I will have the strength to do so. I hope I won’t slip back into my old insecurities and desires to go along, even if they are comfortable and fit me like a favorite pair of jeans. I found a strength of individuality and character that I never knew I had and it will die if I don’t nourish it. As this plane nears Atlanta and my precious corner of the world, I am clinging to the hope that the girl who left Israel is the same one who is going home to Tennessee.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

From Chattanooga to Bergen-Belsen to Jerusalem

I am still so very behind. I plan to catch up (and have a list of topics I want to cover), but this is something I have been wrestling with since last week and I felt like it was finally time to address it. I am using excerpts from a message I sent to a former student (now friend) who was one of several who wrote to me after the horrific shooting of the four Marines, one Sailor, and police officer in Chattanooga. She wrote, as several former students did, of her horror and fear, of her frustration with trying to believe there is good in the world when things like this happen. 

I completely understand those feelings because I have them too. When I first walked in my hotel room and got on Facebook and saw that every post mentioned simultaneous shootings in Cleveland, Chattanooga, and Athens, I panicked. Thankfully, my three were at the beach, so I called my mom to check on them and she explained that the reports of multiple sites in three cities, the mall, etc, were false and that it was at military recruitment offices. Once that initial fear passed, I felt somewhat safer here in Israel than the thought of being at home, which is the height of irony, considering.

Then I turned on the news here. It was overwhelming to see images of my hometown and the site of the shooting, just a few miles away from my college. That, combined with the fact that the last three days have specifically focused on the extermination PROCESS of the Holocaust-- horrific information, awful imagery, heart-stopping feelings-- I just... We went to dinner and I faked calm the entire time. I had several people ask me about it, kind inquiries, and I answered but most of them do not get it. Big city people do not understand small town reactions. They don't get that when something happens in a small town, number one, everyone knows someone connected in some way, and that also, your sense of security is violated in a way that is violent and vile. They also don't get the way small towns come together and feel the joy and horror of the others, no matter the event. We are all connected.

By the time we got back, my insides were trembling. By the time we went to sleep, I was almost paralyzed with panic at the thought of leaving here to get on a plane in Israel and fly to NYC and then into Chattanooga. The entire sense of security in our tiny corner of the world has been ROCKED. I actually said these words the week of July 4: "I mean, ISIS in Syria ain't gonna target Nowhere, Cleveland, TN. I guess if they are calling for lone wolf American followers to act, that might be a problem, but I doubt our area is much at risk for that, either." Hm.

But here is the thing you (my former student, my reader, my friends, anyone who is struggling) have to remember: We were ALL brought into a world where terrible things happen for seemingly no reason. My parents were born to parents who were picking up newspapers out of mailboxes with images of what the liberators found at Auschwitz. I brought a baby home two years after we awoke to a world where people fly planes full of people into skyscrapers. Might the horror one day affect us PERSONALLY, take someone WE love? Yes. Might it one day harm us? YES. Can we live in sadness or fear over the anticipation of that day? NO. We have to keep living, keep being the good, keep reflecting our Father, keep showing love, keep teaching others, and know that it's all we can do to respond to the evil. And guess what? IT'S ENOUGH.

On Thursday, literally as the shootings were taking place (to the minute), I was listening to Frieda Klieger. Frieda is a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and liquidation, Majdanek (one of the most horrific of the camps), Auschwitz, and Bergen-Belsen. She is 94 years young and the clarity of her memory as she described the most vivid horrors of her life, horrors imposed on her by one of the most developed and educated countries in the world... it absolutely amazed me and brought me to tears over and over again. She watched her sister and nephew being sent to their deaths, heard her nephew crying, "But Auntie, what if I never see you again???" She had one single possession with her in the camp-- a family photo. She watched an SS man rip it from her hands and tear it to shreds in front of her face. She kept pausing and saying, "I'll never forget that face... I'll never forget that date... I'll never forget that name... I'll never forget that place... I'll never forget that scene..."

She ended her story by telling us that hers was the first wedding in Bergen-Belsen Displaced Persons Camp. What beauty in the face of such tragedy! The morning of her wedding, she cried constantly, thinking about the absence of her father, mother, siblings, family... And then she put on that dress, and she walked down the aisle to the man who told her he would follow her anywhere on this earth, that he could be happy in any country as long as he was with her.

If Frieda Klieger can marry in Bergen-Belsen, board a clandestine ship to Palestine, a ship that was surrounded by British warships in Tel Aviv and then water-cannoned in Haifa, settle in Cypress until she could get to her Promised Land of Israel... If Frieda Klieger can witness the upraised hands of a little boy standing in the Warsaw Ghetto, about to be "liquidated" to Treblinka where his life was likely snuffed out, then become a mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother... If Frieda Klieger can live with terror, day in and day out, as her constant companion for 12 years, then have a career and a life as a citizen... If she can do all of that, we can get up another day, mourn for our losses, create a new "normal" as far as our security is concerned, keep facing evil, and keep being the good.

Gunnery Sgt Thomas Sullivan, Lance Clp Squire K. Wells, Staff Sgt. David Wyatt, Sgt. Carson Holmquist, and Petty Officer Randall Smith understood that. They had committed their lives to fighting terror so that we could live in our naively "safe" worlds. Now our responsibility is to do all that we can to show the world who we are and how we stand. We stand for good, we stand for our soldiers, and we stand against evil. We will not be intimidated. We will not buy in to the hatred that the shooter was expressing. And most importantly, we will not be confused with the difference between standing for good and sharing in evil. I will take Frieda Klieger's life as a testament to the fact that terror and evil start with words. They start with stereotypes. They start with allowing ourselves to be swayed by propaganda and media hype. What happened in Chattanooga, in my sweet home town area, while I was here, is heartbreaking. But it can stop here, or it can turn into heartbreak for more innocent victims, people whose names and dress and faith turn them into easy targets. We are better than that. We have to be better than that.

Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) was a prominent Protestant pastor who emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps.
Niemöller is perhaps best remembered for the quotation: 
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

(Thanks, Leah, for posting this quotation and reminding me of its appropriateness to this topic.)

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

I am Undone

I am undone. 

I knew it would be hard, I knew all that it would entail, I knew what this commitment meant. 

And it's still so much more than all that. 

I've started to question why this motivation, even this fascination, for me to dedicate myself to this study. As hard as this has been, instead of being driven away, I find myself even more drawn in. I am considering paths of action and study I have never dreamed of before now. 

For the first time, here in Israel, I (not me personally, but two other of our group members) have been faced with, at the very least a deep curiosity, at the most an almost hostility toward non-Jews dedicating themselves to this study. It's been a complete shock to me. I often encounter the question in the US, "How did you get interested in the Holocaust?" and more often and usually from students, "Do you have any Jewish background?" I think that was part of the appeal when I was on the "LIVE!" show and the reason strangers contacted me, Ephraim called from Israel to invite me to this conference, and one lady saw fit to send me her grandmother's Yellow Star... It is somewhat unusual for a non-Jewish person in rural southeast Tennessee, an area with little to no Jewish population, to have such a deep connection to the Holocaust. But the responses I typically get are of interest and, in the cases of survivors and the family members of survivors from the show, gratitude. 

So I've started to ask myself... Why? It's a question I've answered pedagogically for myself many times as I write rationale for my class curriculum, applications for grants and seminars and fellowships... But PERSONALLY... WHY? Why am I almost inextricably linked to this topic? 

I don't know that I have a full answer, but I know at least part of it is that it feels intrinsic to me as a Christian. 
Last night, my roommate and I discussed the day's topic of resistance. I told her Solomon Perel's story from "Europa! Europa!" and the way it was received in the survivor community. Some people applauded him for the ways in which he survived (including being in a Hitler Youth school) while others were disgusted by him and felt that he betrayed them, his faith, and his God. In this context, I have always been impressed by this quick-thinking young man who survived against all odds (and was kind of an adorable scamp, too!). But last night, I took his story out of context and applied it to my own beliefs. If ever faced with the question "Are you a Christian?", I hope that my response, no matter the end result, would be yes. I also hope that my answer in regard to my neighbors and rescue and resistance at the time of the Holocaust would have been yes. Of course, this brings up the question of is my answer "yes" today in regard to my neighbors and rescue and resistance? In that respect, I see the study of the Holocaust for me as a constant reminder and challenge to me to live out my faith. I don't always measure up, in fact, sometimes I'm afraid I'm a miserable failure. But it's not long before an Anne Frank's attic or a Gerda Klien's liberator or a Charlotte Salomon's host or a Janusz Korczak reminds me of my responsibility. 

Secondly, it feels intrinsic to me as a parent. 
Although both of my girls thus far have stoutly resisted any effort to expose them to age-appropriate Holocaust Literature, they still know. They know what I do, they know what I study, and they know why I'm here. They know that the same mom who has doggedly guarded her summers for the 12 years of parenthood, has refused any sort of work-related activity during the short two months that I consider THEIRS, is now gone for the entire final three and a half weeks of summer. And they both told me, in their own ways and individually, that they were proud of me and they understood and supported this choice. I believe they support and understand this choice because, regardless of any exposure to the literature or very much to the history other than our brief Yad Vashem visit in October, they get it. They know enough to know that it matters that we continue to learn and study and keep the memories alive. And I have to pass the life lessons of the Holocaust on to my kids... I have to show them that how we treat the weak, the defenseless, the innocent, the outsider, the "other"-- ALL OF THOSE define our humanity, our society, and our faith. We have to get this right. To quote a title of a Southern Lit short story, because "the life we save might be our own".

Finally, it feels intrinsic to me as a teacher. 
Most of this explanation can be repeated exactly from the above commentary, largely due to the fact that I feel much the same obligation to my students that I do to my daughters. We grappled with the question for part of today of why study the Holocaust (in school)? It feels like an obvious answer to me. We study it to preserve the story and to learn from it. The follow up question might be why the Holocaust and not a more recent genocide... My answer to that is two-part: In my class, we DO study other genocides. In fact, this past year due to interest from the class, I spent an entire week on other genocides instead of the day or two I normally devote. But as to why a semester class called Holocaust Literature, Germany remains the culture and country most similar to our own in terms of modern genocide. We have a mindset sometimes of "that can't happen here, not to us" and the study of the Holocaust illustrates that it can and it has, or at least to a country very similar in regard to socio-economics, education, culture, religion, etc.. But aside from the extreme, the warning against genocide, I think as a teacher my job is to do my best to promote civic living, humanitarian service, and informed leading. I am taking a role in the production of the future (and current) members of our society. I have to equip them the best way I know how to be empathetic members of a community. And Holocaust study is, to me, the best way I know how. 

I'm behind on my blogging and have several days to catch up on, but this lunch break response had to come out just now, so the rest will be a little out of order but that's ok. It's time to start back now for a panel discussion of four survivors sharing testimony with us. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

That Refuge

***This is edited and I'm leaving out a few details because, frankly, I try to be careful what I say online when I'm out of the country. The details I'm leaving out are the most harrowing. :) I also have photos and video of various moments but I'll add them later.

Below is my IG post without the pic because I don't have time to get the computer out and add it and my phone and blogspot aren't photo compatible.
Totally a weird pic and not the kind I usually would post, but for the first time in my life today (scratch that... second. Forgot about a certain evening this past fall) I truly FELT the meaning of the verse "I will lift up mine eyes to the hills where my help comes from". I got a little too cocky and comfortable today and had a harrowing experience that I'll share later on the blog. This pic was in my place of refuge, which ironically happened to be the Garden Tomb. It was taken after I had already cried twice and just collapsed on a bench in relief. When I stumbled in, a violinist was playing "Great Is Thy Faithfulness". I'd say yes it certainly is.

Below is the series of text messages (with some additions) that I sent Kraig once I got back to wifi and familiar ground:

I did the world's dumbest thing. I left the group at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre bc I've seen it. I decided to go to the Garden Tomb. I didn't consider what our guide had told us, that it's the last Friday of Ramadan and the first time in 5 years that Israel had allowed anyone, no matter of citizenship, to come to pray (meaning Muslims). Our guide told us there were 500 buses full of pilgrims from all over here. They had shut down a bunch of roads. I got swept up in a mass of humanity in the Old City headed out to the Arab bus stops and all of the tourist buses at Damascus Gate. First, I slipped and fell but two sweet Muslim ladies and one man helped me up. 

Once out of Damascus Gate, there was an insanely heavy police and military presence. They had set up scaffolding and were up on it, there was a lot of loudspeaker talk I couldn't understand, and there were police and soldiers (heavily armed) every 10 feet or so (in pairs). I remembered the general area of the Garden Tomb but everything looked different with millions of people and markets set up everywhere. I couldn't find the Garden Tomb so I walked forever and asked people and kept getting sent the wrong place. I walked the same ground numerous times. Then I got caught up in the crowds at the Arab bus stop and SAW the Garden Tomb close to me. The police and soldiers had all the roads closed and they wouldn't let me through. Finally they sent me to another checkpoint. Meanwhile, massive crowds of Muslims were screaming at them at the checkpoints to let them through. While I was waiting at one, the crowd got wild and there were several (edited) scary moments.  I literally almost ran away (the people are tougher than I am bc they didn't even move). I kept going to checkpoints and no one would let me through and I was literally trapped in the bus station circle with thousands of people. That's when I finally started crying. Then I finally found a nice soldier who told me to walk three streets around and I could get through. I did and finally got to  the Garden Tomb. I stumbled  in and, no lie, a violinist was playing "Great is thy Faithfulness" and very few people were around. I sat on a bench and cried. And then started breathing again. 

I stayed as long as I could, then I knew I had to get back but I dreaded the crowds again. They weren't as bad this time and I found a water seller and at least called off. I had planned to get a cab back but all the roads are closed and so I couldn't get one there. I walked forever around the Old City, had to make a choice of right or left, went left on a whim and, for the first thing right all day, I looked around and realized the building in front of me is Mamilla Mall (about a half mile from our hotel and where ice been eating dinner)! I thought I had to go all the way back around the Old City perimeter but I was there! So then I teared up again because I hadn't wasted money on a cab and I bought a lemonade and sat down with wifi to text and decompress. It's the first time I have felt A. actually scared and not just nervous like on the bus to Bethlehem and B. helpless since I've been here. I've walked 6.2 miles on Friday, the vast majority of it accidental.

I want to add more of the info on the Garden Tomb and my feelings while there, but it will have to be another post later.

*** I also want to say, and I'll say more later, it didn't matter if the crowd had been Muslim, Jewish, Christian, atheist, or Oprah-religion, it would have still been the same. So please, not commentary on the religion of the masses.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Additional Wednesday Reflections (Historical Museum)

The professor who shared with us about literature pre-Holocaust also told a powerful story from one of the Yiddish tales. A father and his son went to the synagogue to pray. When the father finished praying, he missed son, so he started to look all around for him. When he didn’t find him inside, he finally saw his tracks leading to the forest outside the synagogue. The father followed the tracks and saw him praying beside some trees.  He waited on him to finish, then asked him what he was doing and he said he came outside to pray. The father said, “Don’t you know God is the same everywhere?” The son answer,  “Yes, but I’m not.”

Wednesday morning, we toured the historical museum. It was a uniquely personal and emotional experience and, while I am going to sit on most of the factual type stuff I wrote down (which I will be adding to my curriculum), I want to share some of the specific stories Ephraim told us as we toured the facility.

We had an architecture and history lecture from Ephraim as we all sat on little camping stools outside in the courtyard. In discussing what normal life is like in Israel, he told a story about his time in the military. He had a very close friend who was killed during the Yom Kippur War. Ephraim was the one who had to take his buddy’s personal effects to his family. He said he sat in the living room with the parents and that the dad comforted HIM instead of the other way around. The friend’s father was a Holocaust survivor who lost his entire first family in the Holocaust. He married another woman after liberation, they moved to Israel, and started an orphanage for refugee children.

The book burnings of the Nazi era are pretty widely known. And most people are (appropriately) bothered by it, while we bibliophiles are even horrified by it. On Wednesday, though, I heard something that put the book burnings into perspective for anyone, no matter your level of affinity for books. Between the years of 1900 and 1933, 44 Germans won a Nobel Prize. FORTY-FOUR. A NOBEL PRIZE. As Ephraim stated, when a country like that is burning books, something is dramatically wrong.

The story below is one of the sweetest I have ever heard. It's copied and pasted here from a document they sent us after telling us the story.

The parents - Hanna and Yehuda Hohenstein lived in Berlin with their 7 children. In 1943 the Nazis decided to make Berlin Judenrein-and the Jews were sent to different camps. The Hohenstein's were sent to Terezin- this was a transit camp for many Jews that were deported from Germany and Austria- before they were sent to the death camps.

In Sept. 1943 the father and their 7 children were all sent to the east- to Auschwitz. Hana remained in Terezin-not knowing that she was pregnant with number #8.

In 1944 she was sent to a concentration camp in Germany- Buchenwald.

In April 1944 she gave birth in this camp to a baby boy. She desperately wanted him to survive and she convinced one of the guards to take him out of the camp and place her little baby on a pile of dead bodies- hoping that maybe someone would pass by- hear the cries of a little baby and pick him up and save him. She wrapped up her little son in rags and tied a small piece of cloth around his little wrist with her number inscribed on it. This was his only identification.

A priest walked by and heard the cries of a small baby- he picked him up and took him back to the monastery. They named this little boy- CHERUB- a little Angel-

There he grew up for the next 5 years.

Meanwhile both Hana and Yehuda had survived the Holocaust- together with 2 of their 7 children that were sent to Auschwitz.

Hana was ill and in a hospital in Switzerland- she begged her husband to return to Germany and to Buchenwald and to the villages and monasteries in that area.

He listened to his wife.

He returned to the area of Buchenwald and searched for his son- he finally happened onto one monastery- there the Priest told him that they had sheltered 3 Jewish children- 2 had come with identification- and one- they found as a little baby- they knew nothing about him.

The only identification they had was a small piece of rag with a number inscribed on it that was wrapped around his wrist.

He asked to see the rag with the number- .......................it was his wife's number from Buchenwald!!!!

He reunited with his son- they reunited with his wife and settled in back in Germany in 1950.

The parents gave him a new name- Joshua- Yehoshua- in Hebrew.

In 1962- when Joshua turned 18 years old- they decided to send him to Israel in order that he should meet a Jewish partner - marry and create a family in the Jewish state.

He lives today in Givatiym- outside of Tel Aviv- is married and has children.

This is one Holocaust story with a semi-happy ending.


The Valley and the Friend

Today was just.... A perfect answer to the way I was feeling last night. We started with a session on creating a unit on a pre-war community, which was quite good. From that point, we spent an hour in the resource center where I found entirely too many films I want to use to fit into my Holocaust class. smile emoticon I found two incredible ones on my very favorite person from this period, Janusz Korczak. I kept tearing up watching them. He is my hero in every sense of the word.

After lunch, we had time in the Reflection Center and I decided I could be a better teacher if I had an awesome screen in the floor of my classroom where I could send discussion questions and such. (Also, if I had low lights and soft music. I might be able to make those happen, though.)  But seriously, although the Reflection Center isn't accessible online, it gave me some great pedagogic ideas.

From there, we toured the outside memorials: the Destruction to Rebirth art, the Warsaw memorial, the rail car (Memorial to Deportees), and finally down to the Valley of the Communities.

The cattle car (Memorial to Deportees, or, as I call it, “Journey to Nowhere”) at Yad Vashem is striking. Ephraim was sharing with us the reaction on the part of some of the survivors when the cattle car was brought to the museum. It was a sensitive and traumatic sight for many of them. He said the timing coincided with the start of the first Gulf War. When that war started, gas masks were issued to every person in Israel. They knew that Iraq had SCUD missiles and they wanted to protect their citizens. Imagine the effect of government-issued gas masks… now imagine the effect on a Holocaust survivor. When the second Gulf War happened, same thing… each family was given enough gas masks for every member. For children too young to wear them (babies), they were given a little tent to put the child in. (I CANNOT IMAGINE.) They have them  on a shelf in a closet now. But back to the SCUD missiles… at that time Israel had no defense system so, for the first time, American soldiers were on Israeli soil to shoot the Patriot missiles and intercept the SCUD’s. They did as militaries do and set up parameters for their encampments. In Ephraim’s words: “It was January, it was cold. Everyone needs chicken soup and comfort foods and the Jewish mothers were worried about those poor American soldiers, so they just went right around the blockades into the camps, taking them soup and home cooked meals. The American military wasn’t quite certain what to do with Jewish mothers who ignore barriers. We just like to take care of people here! When the soldiers were here, they came to Yad Vashem. Fatigues, boots, came to see the memorials here. When they came, Israeli children flocked around them, hugging them and singing. I’m not sure if American soldiers have ever been thanked the way those kids did that day.” Did I cry? YES, I did. Our country has its issues, certainly we do. But we also have so many who are so willing to give so much.

The Valley of the Communities... I don't know what to say, exactly. Let me start with this...

This is what it looks like from above. THEN you descend into the memorial and it becomes this...

The idea behind this memorial is that it remembers 17000 European communities whose Jewish populations were destroyed. I can't even express what it was that drew me in to this memorial, but I felt so connected to it. I might not ever get to Poland or Germany or Austria or Hungary. And truthfully, part of the reason I would want to go those places anyway is simply to stand in Lodz, Warsaw, Vilna, Bialystok... to pay homage to those I have read about whose everyday lives were stolen from them in those places. As I walked through this memorial, various towns jumped out at me... the town of Leonard Chill, who talked to my sophomore classes all of those years ago, the town of Gerda Klein, the ghetto where Petr and Eva Ginz lost their innocence... I felt, for just a few moments, that I was strolling through Europe, remembering the lives that were taken and those that were spared.

While there, we were so privileged to meet Ms. Hannah Pick, Anne Frank's best friend. What a precious, precious lady. She met Anne when they were tiny little girls at the grocery school. When it came time for kindergarten, she was terrified as a little refugee girl who knew no one to go to school. Then she saw, from the back, that little girl from the grocery and they became best friends. She said Anne always had a notebook and whenever anyone asked what she was writing, she would say, "None of your business!" :) Anne's special talent was that she could pop her shoulder out of place and back in and she took great pleasure in doing that to entertain her class. Her mother used to say about Anne, "God knows everything; but Anne knows it better." (She giggled as she said this, clapping her hands and saying, "I'm so glad I remembered to tell you that!")

Hannah told the story of their friendship all the way up until the point she went to Anne's house only to find out that the family had gone to Switzerland to live with family. That same day, Hannah's boyfriend was taken in a transport to Mauthausen. She lost her best friend and her boyfriend on the same day. Hannah's life took some crazy turns, as her mother got pregnant twice in the 1940's and the last pregnancy allowed her family to gain some time because pregnant women stayed behind until the babies were born. Her mother had the baby, but he was born dead, then her mother died shortly thereafter. Eventually Hannah, her sister, and her father were sent to Bergen-Belsen. Because her father had contacts high up, he was able to get them on an early list, List 2. Lists 1 and 2 went to Bergen-Belsen. Lists 3-40 went to Auschwitz and Sobibor.

In the camp, toward the end of the war, other transports came in and were divided from them by a high fence. They could hear the other ladies speaking Polish and German, which they didn't know. One day, they heard someone talking who was from Holland, so she yelled over to her. It was the lady who had been hiding with Anne's family (although Hannah just knew her as a neighbor lady at the time). The lady asked if she wanted to talk to Anne, which shocked Hannah because she thought Anne was in Switzerland. Hannah had three meetings at the wall with Anne, moments where they were able to talk briefly (not see each other) and share some moments. Hannah eventually found out that Anne died in the camp.

Hannah was liberated from a train and her description was quite hilarious. Someone asked about libertarian and she said, "I can't tell you anything about it because I slept through it (laughter). Someone said the Germans went by with white flags, but I didn't see that either. I woke to the Russians taking us down." The other HILARIOUS part of her story is that they stopped at one town but she didn't get in quickly enough, so all of the houses were gone. The next town, her group of 10 were told they could only take houses with white flags flying because that meant the occupants had fled. They got a big nice house, the mayor's house. Hannah: "And the mayor, he was a biiiiiiiiiiiig Nazi. How do I know? He had light green wallpaper with dark green swastikas. I think that was a little more than enough."

Mr. Frank is actually who came for her and her sister after the war and who helped get them settled in Israel. The Red Cross would post the names of those who survived at the Central Train Station in Amsterdam (yes, this one)

and he found their names and came to find them. He also sent her the first copy of Anne's diary. For years, whenever journalists came to talk to Mr. Frank, he sent them to Hannah. Hannah's husband called Anne his "second wife. " :)

I didn't know that I would have the chance to meet Anne Frank's best friend, to hear her story. To become, in fact a keeper of her story. However, it's not accidental that I added the Amsterdam layover to my trip. It's yet another Providential piece of this experience. To hear Hannah talk about the little girl whose rooms I saw, whose pages I read was just surreal.

As soon as I can figure out why my videos won't post on FB, the blog, OR YouTube, I'll get the full video of her presentation posted.

Keeper of the Stories

So, last week before I left for this trip, I shared a post on my deep instinct to document, to write, to share, to record. I’ve always been a journal-keeper, photo-taker, letter-writer, and now social media-documenter.

The moment that probably captured me most in Yad Vashem was when we were in the Warsaw portion and Ephraim was talking to us about the milk cans. (For those unfamiliar with this story, the inhabitants of the Warsaw Ghetto took it upon themselves to record and document the lives of those living in the ghetto. Then they preserved them in milk cans and buried them. The cans were found years later and provide historical documentation of those in the ghetto.)

This need to preserve is unique to humans, but it is not unique to a certain people group. We want to be remembered. We want our loved ones to be remembered. We all have a story and our individual stories create the story of humankind. He told the story of Simon Dubnow, a Jewish historian who wrote an eight volume history of the Jewish people plus several other books. As he was being lead away to be shot, he turned and yelled, “Juden! Shraybn!” “Jews! Write it down!”

It took my breath away in that moment, but the more time I have reflected on it, the more I have been arrested by those words. His time on this earth was over. But even in that moment, he had the presence of mind to remind those around him to remember. And the only reliable form of memory is documentation.

 I always tell my students that I feel a tremendous responsibility to record any and all accounts I hear of Holocaust events so that I can pass them on to the people in my classroom, those around me, the people in my home. In that way, I see myself as a keeper of their stories, the ones who are either already no longer with us or who don’t have much time left on this earth. As I share with my students, THEY become the keeper of the stories as well. It’s how WE are “writing it down”.

And to take all of this one step further, each of the teens in my classroom has a story of his or her own. I want them to feel safe to share their stories through discussion and journaling, to realize the value of their lives and their stories, and to preserve them for future generations. It’s why I type things my kids say into a notes document on my phone, why I share funny things they do on fb, why I spend time blogging, why I have documented every moment of this trip, why I basically typed a transcript into my phone of every word Ephraim said during our museum tour…. To Remember.

Everyone! Write it down!

It's Getting Real

      ***Real Talk***Real Talk***Real Talk***Real Talk***Real Talk***Real Talk***Real Talk***

So... The euphoria is wearing off and reality is starting to set in. On Wednesday, we spent four hours in the historical museum at Yad Vashem. Ephraim took us through on a guided tour, something I will likely have more to say about later, but it was a very uniquely personal and emotional experience. Afterward we reflected on our time there, which provoked lots of strong emotions in everyone (all types of emotion). We ended the day with a study of the antecedents of Holocaust writing, which I enjoyed immensely (being a literature teacher). When we got back to the hotel, I was having lots of emotions. 

Tuesday night is the first night I have slept moderately soundly. My body is having some weird issues which I think are provoked just from making the time, climate, etc, adjustment (heart palpitations, etc). Food concerns are (as always due to my pickiness) kind of a challenge (although I did tell someone, when you are studying the Holocaust, it's kind of impossible to complain about food selection). Anyway, I came back from the museum and declined invitations to have dinner at a pub with a group, nor did I visit the market with another group that included my roommate (if you know me, declining a market trip is very.rare.). I knew that my brain needed some breathing room. I rested on the bed, cruising social media, feeling sad that I couldn't talk to the girls, feeling alone... I texted a few friends who did their best to pep me up from a world away, texted Kraig who sent me a list of restaurants I might like from Trip Advisor, then made myself get up and go to dinner. 

As I strolled down the road to the Mamilla Mall, headed for what is becoming "my" dinner spot, I spent some time in self-reflection. To be totally honest, I was feeling really guilty for not being exhilarated by #myadventureofalifetime2015 . I mean, this trip was only made possible through some amazing kindness, some huge miracles, some generosity by the folks at Yad Vashem, and the incredible gift from Fund for Teachers, not to mention  the people in my life who are making sacrifices by taking care of my kids, my family for giving me up for this long, etc.. 

Then I realized... I don't have to feel guilty. Reality is setting in. I was startled when it hit me that, after these three weeks, I will have been in Israel longer than I have ever been ANYWHERE in my life. As much as I love Bear Paw and as often as we go, I have never spent three weeks straight at Bear Paw. Even though I am enjoying the company of many alongside me, I am still (relatively speaking) alone.... separate from anyone who truly knows and loves me. As passionate as I am about the topic, I am immersed in tough topics all.day.every.day. It's mentally and emotionally exhausting. And it's SCHOOL. And we all know that school is HARD WORK. 

So, by the time I got to the cafe, I had decided to allow myself some grace...some space for all of the emotions provoked by this journey. I enjoyed a peaceful meal with a good book on a patio near the Old City. And it was good.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Tuesday Thoughts

Tuesday was a day consisting of 8 hours of study of anti-Semitism. We started with ancient history and worked our way all the way to modernity. I think what struck me the most from Tuesday was the .... contrast, I guess is the best word... between the view of Christians in regard to anti-Semitism that was presented versus the view I have of Christians in regard to anti-Semitism. And, it made me wonder if being from an evangelical tradition is part of what gives me a different perspective. We watched a film called "The Longest Hatred" and, before we watched it, he told us that Christians would likely be offended by it. First of all, I wasn't. I am well aware of the ways that religion has served as a weapon throughout history and I have seen the propaganda regarding Christians and Jews. However. This is not the reality I see from my own people today. The overwhelming feeling of Christians I know is one of great support for Israel and her people. I see people with pro-Israel bumper stickers, I get an email from an organization called "Christians United for Israel". Now, I understand that support of Israel does not necessarily make you a card-carrying member of the Jewish fan club, but it also certainly make an anti-Semitic sentiment rather impossible.

My very favorite Tuesday session was the last one on Intellectuals and anti-Semitism in the Modern World. He allowed a question and answer session at the end and it was so very interesting. One thing that he stated that I would like to use in class discussion, and something people frequently ask me about, is what makes the Holocaust unique as compared to other genocides. His answer (and I'm not 100% I agree with all of it, but that's what will make it great for my kids to analyze):
1. the fanaticism leading up to the genocide
2. the racist/religious approaches
3. an established hatred that was worldwide
4. the intensity of the destruction
5. the speed of the destruction

Tuesday night we got to go on a tour of the Western Wall tunnels. This is something the girls and Kraig and I didn't get to do, so I was really excited and it was truly an incredible feeling, to be underneath the modern world and so much closer to the historical one. It was also fun to do something with our entire group and be able to spend some time getting to know people. There are several really sweet girls here that I hope to get to know better and of course, my roommate ROCKS.