I mourned when I heard that Elie Wiesel had died. I grew up with this Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate. No, not in Auschwitz or Buchenwald, the concentration camps of his childhood experience, but in the darkened room of my 8th grade Jewish Sunday School class. There on Sunday mornings we watched films based on his classic books about the Holocaust. They were dreary, somber films. Even so, watching them made me a better Jew, and a better Christian.
Early on, from these films, I learned the value of wrestling with God, the post-Holocaust stance of much of world Jewry. I also learned the value of wrestling with my place in humanity. Some post-Holocaust Jews asked “How could God allow this?” I asked, “How could fellow humans turn and look the other away?”
Rather than turn me off from God or religion, these movies instilled in me a deep sense of right and wrong, and the need to watch out for each other. From the conversations that followed the movies, I learned the mantra of my parents’ and grandparents’ generations: “Never again.” Never again to genocide, repression, racism. Never again to silence in the face of injustice.
I’m grateful to Elie Wiesel. His work raised important questions, not just for my 8th grade self, but for the world. He stood for worldwide human rights—for Jews in Israel, the Soviet Union and Ethiopia; for the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa, the Desaparecidos of Argentina, Bosnian victims of genocide in Yugoslavia, the Miskito Indians in Nicaragua and the Kurds.
All of this made me a better Jew because he taught me the value of knowing one’s history. Later, it also made me a better Christian because I understood the danger of the church’s silence in the face of evil.
These days the church is often loathe to venture into “politics,” preferring to be a neutral, conflict-free oasis of spirituality. But when are politics and spirituality ever really separated? Certainly not in Jesus’ day. Nor in our own. Spirituality—especially the spirituality of love—must be lived out in the real world to have real power. Especially in the face of fear, bigotry, and scapegoating.
We live in an age when the words “Never again” seem to have been forgotten. Refugees are once again turned away at crucial borders. Immigrants are eyed with suspicion. The “other” is scapegoated. Violence and power go hand in hand.
What are you teaching in your Sunday School rooms? It can’t be all Veggie Tales, fun and games. There needs to be some substance–where our faith interacts with the injustices of the world. Let’s not be afraid to tell our kids the way it really is. Chances are they already know. And if they don’t, maybe they need to.