On Holocaust Memorial Day

Published January 26, 2018 by Austin Tiffany

Holocaust Memorial Day, Christians, Jewish-Christian Relations, Cambridge Theological Federation, Jews, Faith

On 23 January, something moving happened.

Before we explain what that is, let us back up to two weeks prior, on 9 January. The Woolf Institute hosted a one-day conference on Jewish-Christian Relations, attended by students across the Cambridge Theological Federation. I have had the privilege of team-teaching on this course for the past three years. Throughout this course, tomorrow's Christian priests learned about the Jewish faith, contemporary issues pertaining to Anglo-Jewry, and Jewish prayer. The goal is to help broaden their understanding of the ever-diverse, ever-complex world they are called to serve in.

As a part of the conference, we encourage the students to put themselves in the shoes of a Jewish community – understand the tradition, empathise with their concerns, and appreciate the richness Judaism adds to our world. However, it is a constant struggle to communicate everything we think a Christian priest should know about Judaism in one day, and even more challenging to have them think practically about what they have learned and how they can carry it into their future parishes – a vital component in interfaith courses.

Each year, a group of students get a healthy dose of practical application by volunteering to organise the Cambridge Theological Federation's Holocaust Memorial Day Commemoration. Occurring nationwide alongside Holocaust Memorial Day, the planning of this event allows students to put the one-day conference into action. At the CTF's HMD commemoration, this group leads their colleagues through a time of informative reflection, highlighting the atrocities of genocide and what we can do to make sure "never again" becomes a reality.

This year, the students – representing Ridley Hall, Westcott House, and Westminster College – organised a moving commemoration service on the HMD 2018 theme The Power of Words. Alongside periods of reflection, the students unpacked the meaning of words in the form of propaganda in Hitler's Germany, the impact of hate speech in the Srebrenica Massacre, and the powerful story of a survivor of the genocide in Darfur.

Words tell a story, they help us understand the plight of the suffering, and they can promote justice.

Christians – a faith I personally identify with – have an obligation to help our communities remember the horrors of genocides. Priests, especially, have a unique and powerful voice as religious and community leaders to speak out against hatred in all its forms, whether historical, contemporary, local, or international. By bringing this topic to the forefront of conversation, they help us remember stories of pain, struggle, and hope. Through services like this, and the conversations taking place in the days and weeks following, ministers of any faith (not just Christian) can encourage all of us to use our words to promote a message of love and justice. We do this by writing letters to those who represent us, confronting hate speech when we hear or see it, any by listening to and affirming the stories of those on the receiving end of hatred. If the moral arc of the universe is long, Holocaust Memorial Day is a painful reminder of how dark and horrible parts of that arc can be. Yet HMD also reminds us that we can collectively make a difference by speaking out and speaking up against the propaganda of hatred, because the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice.

For the final part of the commemoration, all participants were invited to write words of encouragement – words of hope, peace, love, justice, resolve, prayer – on a sheet of paper and bring them to a table at the front of the room. The responses were heartfelt, painful, hopeful, and moving.

Austin Tiffany is a third year PhD student in the Department of Sociology at the University of Cambridge. He is a recipient of the Woolf Institute Cambridge Scholarship and a Graduate Student of Fitzwilliam College. Austin's PhD research examines contemporary interfaith training of priests and rabbis in the United Kingdom and the United States.

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