There’s a good reason we’ve learned never to discuss religion or politics in polite company, right? Both topics are emotional, heated and complicated in ways that defy small talk or dinner conversation.
Of course, our wise God has a way of urging us to think about such things, because as Christians — no, as humans — it’s our responsibility to address the tough stuff. We might not have the answers, but we’re obligated to have the dialogue.
Last Saturday night I was in Israel, and our tour group was driving back to Jerusalem from the Dead Sea. As I’m staring out the window, I hear my colleague Sam say, “There it is.”
At dinner later, we asked our guide, Irit, what she thought about this. A native Israeli, Irit made a point of not being political. She was not trying to sway our opinions, but merely sharing from her own experience as a human being confronted daily with the complexity of Middle Eastern life. To her, the wall was doing what it needed to do. Frankly, there was less terrorism now. She no longer had to worry that if she got on a bus, it might explode. She was less concerned about meeting a friend for coffee and never making it back home.
Wow. That was a sobering perspective.
Also sobering was our visit the following day to Yad Vashem, Jerusalem’s Holocaust museum.
At least half of the museum, which is beautifully designed, is devoted to the back story. It details Adolf Hitler’s rise to power and the ways he spread Nazi beliefs. The museum also goes into great detail about the creation of Jewish ghettos, well before Jews were being sent to concentration camps.
The ghettos, to me, are an under-reported portion of the Holocaust. The horrors of disease, overcrowding, fear, humiliation and utter marginalization began long before I had realized. I suspect most Americans would be surprised by what they don’t know.
Part of the exhibit shows a letter from Ohio Senator Robert A. Taft explaining the reasons he would not support a proposal that the United States accept Jews who were fleeing Europe. It’s impossible for us to know exactly what he knew at that time, but superficially, his reasons made sense: Where would these newcomers live? How would the country support them? What about the language barriers? How could the US support new immigrants when it was struggling to support its current citizens?
Do those questions sound familiar to you? They should.
Aren’t they similar to the questions the US faces today in regards to immigration? Aren’t we the country where people want to build a wall to separate ourselves from Mexico?
Is that wall so different from the one around Palestine?
Is the situation is Palestine so different from the Jewish ghettos of the 1930s and ’40s?
It’s all in the perspective, isn’t it?
None of these questions has a simple answer. But each of these questions needs to be asked, discussed and prayed about. We owe that to each other and to ourselves.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Justin McIntosh