Not for the Dead: Bogdan Białek, Memory and Hope

by Rakheli Hever, ICCI’s Communications & Development Coordinator

In terms of Jewish-Polish relations, the Polish city of Kielce is arguably best known for a single, terrible event in its history: the Kielce Pogrom of July 1946, perpetrated by locals. Just prior to the Second World War, about a third of the city’s residents were Jewish (some 24,000 people). Of the 200 or so who survived the Nazis and returned to Kielce after the war, about 40 men, women and children were killed in the pogrom, and the rest subsequently left the city. Today, there is no Jewish community in Kielce, but the memory of its Jewish past is coming alive in recent years thanks to the work of devoted activists.

One of the leading figures in this process is Bogdan Białek, of Kielce, a publisher, organizer, and founder of the Jan Karski Society, an organization devoted to healing the wounds between Poles and Jews. I had the privilege of attending a lecture by Mr. Białek, who recently visited ICCI’s Educational Center to talk about his work in conserving the Jewish past of Kielce. The lecture was part of “Red-White / Blue-White: Religious, Historical and Social Aspects of Jewish-Polish Relations“, a special ICCI course in collaboration with the Polish Institute in Tel Aviv.

Mr. Białek introduced the story of the Kielce pogrom and the controversy surrounding it in Polish collective memory, using videoclips from “Not for the Dead“, a documentary film about the subject, in which he is featured as the main character.

Continue reading

ICCI Hosts A Multi-Religious Panel Students Visiting from Williams College

By Brian Gillis
ICCI Intern

ICCI hosted a multi-religious panel in Jerusalem on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for a group of students from Williams College, in Western Massachusetts.  The panel, which comprised of young people of different religions and ethnic backgrounds, covered topics ranging from the political consequences of the conflict to how the conflict affects the daily life experiences of young people in Israel and the Palestinian West Bank.

“What I appreciate about this opportunity is that a panel like this makes these experiences more real,” explained ICCI Director Rabbi Ron Kronish when introducing the members of the panel.  The panel included Rabbi Kronish as well as young people directly affected by the conflict on a daily basis: Mariana Handal, a Palestinian Christian who studies social work at Bethlehem University and Anat Zohar, a Jewish Israeli lawyer working in the Ministry of Justice

Williams student, Ben Kaplan, (second to right) asks about how the panelists help grow dialogue within their communities.

Continue reading

ICCI Welcomes Chicago Theological Seminary to Israel with a compelling discussion led by Rabbi Ron Kronish

By Brian Gillis, ICCI intern

ICCI is pleased to welcome Chicago Theological Seminary to Israel for their program from January 17-30 and did so through an initial discussion on the Israeli-Palestinian situation led by ICCI Director Rabbi Ron Kronish

“This dialogue will lead to action,” explained Dr. Kronish as he introduced the major themes of the CTS trip, which includes perspectives on the peace process, interfaith cooperation and understanding as it relates pressing issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

After a long day arriving to Jerusalem and a spectacular visit to the Mount of Olives, the students of Chicago Theological Seminary were immediately engaged into a discussion which will begin a guided process of exploration and discovery that enhances an understanding of “dual narratives,” as Rabbi Kronish put it, on the pressing issues facing Israel, and its political and religious atmosphere, today.

Rabbi Kronish’s discussion covered a multitude of topics including the viability of a two state solution and its alternatives, the influence of western powers on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the religious aspects of the conflict.  A highlight for the students participating in the discussion was Rabbi Kronish’s balanced representation of a variety of diverse perspectives.

Rabbi Ron Kronish (far right) introducing the major themes of the trip to the students of Chicago Theological Seminary.

Francisco Herrera, a Master of Divinity candidate at CTS, was very excited about this element of the discussion: “Just the fact that we are talking to someone on the ground, with no propaganda, who is willing to explain the perspectives of both sides is so helpful.” 

Questions enlivened the conversation afterwards, including one from student Trina Price about the role of America in the conflict, to which Rabbi Kronish responded by focusing on two major fronts, help with the political peace process and help with funding NGOs that are working to bring about peace and stability on the ground. “My biggest focus here is reflected in the question I asked,” explained Ms. Price, “it is the nature of what America, what I really, can do.  We just got here today and after this discussion I am already feeling inspired to ask myself about how I can help.”

Other students were also enthusiastic to begin their process of exploration.  “This is a part of the world we all have to be interested in,” explained CTS student Jim Kolkmeier, “and what we heard in this discussion clears up a lot of misconceptions and lack of understanding that is present in the U.S.”  Jami Scott, also a student at CTS, explained that she appreciates how the trip is organized as a whole: “it is good to see the speaker’s comments come together so nicely with our readings. I feel I will gain an understanding of what the problem is and what the real options are for solutions from this experience.”

The experience of this trip for Chicago Theological Seminary will truly be packed with many perspectives and opportunities for understanding.  The trip is scheduled to include trips to Palestinian Bethlehem, Yad Vashem, the sites of Jesus’ ministry in the Galilee, the Jewish holy cities of Tiberius and Safed, the Muslim Dome of the Rock, and many other cities and towns throughout all of Israel and the West Bank.  The group will also be visiting Jewish, Christian, Muslim and even Druze sites as well as partaking in religious traditions from many faiths represented in the religious menagerie of Israel.

This balance of multiple perspectives will also be seen in the many different and diverse speakers of the program, as explained by Rabbi Kronish.  The program will bring together discussions from Zionist and Palestinian nationalist perspectives, Muslim and Jewish perspectives, and political perspectives from the far right, moderate and far left, often all side by side.

Student Francisco Herrera summarized it well: “I have wanted to come to Israel for a very long time, but I couldn’t find the right way to do it.  To hear both perspectives through this program and really understand what is happening on the ground right now… this is why I came.” 

 ICCI is happy to welcome Chicago Theological Seminary to Israel.

 

Brian Gillis

 

Brian Gillis is a volunteer intern at ICCI in Jerusalem during his winter break from interfaith studies at Columbia University’s Union Theological Seminary.  He has held leadership positions in regional interfaith organizations in the U.S., and was the Religious Dialogue Chair of the Interfaith Council at Harvard University, where he studied the intersection of religion and politics as an undergraduate.