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Yad Vashem 2019

The 2019 Yad Vashem Educators’ Tour presented me with many opportunities to grow as a person.

In total I attended 115 hours of lectures in 17 days. I was studying Holocaust history. The Yad Vashem complex is a collection of memorial gardens, commemorative artworks, classrooms, exhibitions and museums. We were taken on formal guided tours but also had informal opportunities to explore and reflect during lunchtimes. The facilities are excellent and many require multiple visits… you’ll be a different person after a week of lectures so it’s great to revisit places of meaning and find a deeper appreciation.

The classes are truly wonderful. I was initially daunted by the number, nature and scope of the readings and lectures but I quickly found myself engaged at a level I haven’t experienced for a long time. The lecturers are brilliant people. Some lectured, some taught, some engaged in conversation spaces. I listened to world experts and I’ve realised that how I teach the Holocaust requires deliberate attention to specific detail. I’ve decided to teach broad basic topics but then ‘zoom in’ on exclusive topics around ghetto resistance, hope and life. I wished I had joined in more with questions. It actually takes a bit to sink in and it’s all good because I know I can email the lecturers anytime.

I loved every chance to get out and informally explore the city. It was also a chance for the big group to break up into smaller groups. We looked after each other. I visited major sites for Christianity multiple times. I attended a basketball game and went to an album launch party for a local jazz band. Jerusalem is a safe and fun place. I wandered through markets and ate amazing food.

We also had major trips to places of religious, cultural and geographical significance. I placed a stone from STC on the grave of Oscar Schindler. Masada was amazing, floating in the Dead Sea was fun, the boat ride on the Sea of Galilee was peaceful, the River Jordan was spot on, and the Dead Sea Scrolls were special. I didn’t think we’d get to see so many places where the historical Jesus walked and talked. I prayed in the Mount of Olives where Jesus taught us the Lord’s Prayer, I went to Mass in the Garden of Gethsemane, I visited the place of His crucifixion and I went to Bethlehem to see where He was born. I saw the Banksy art works too. This tour packed in so much.

I really liked riding the light rail in Jerusalem, exploring the Old City streets and meeting the locals. I drank strong coffee in a chess shop, read Psalms in a synagogue, chatted to priests, rabbis and musicians and soldiers. Everyone is so welcoming. I was humbled by the hospitality of the locals. I saw glimpses of daily life that were very different to my own.

Most importantly, meeting the Holocaust survivors was intimidating… until they started making little quips. They taught me more about life as a sacred gift. It was extremely humbling to meet Genia and Nahum Manor, whose names are both on Schindler’s list. Nahum said the secret to a great life and marriage is “God and luck”. Daniel Gold was also an inspirational figure because he epitomised words like humility and hero simultaneously.

I knew Yad Vashem would transform my pedagogy and understanding of history but I did not anticipate the other ways I would be changed. Israel got in my heart very quickly. Many people shared the same sense of humour and the same sense of hope. It was wonderful to make new friends and grow with them:

* We discussed many topics

* We laughed lots

* We also found solace in people who understood sadness (when you’re studying children in the Holocaust it’s not easy for a Kiwi dad far away from his own sons)

* We shared a fascination to get out and explore city alleyways and countryside ruins

* We prayed together

For all these reasons I am a better man, a better husband, a better father, and so ultimately a better teacher.

Yad Vashem is for life-long learners who are restless in their teaching practice and who seek an authentic and transformative experience. I look forward to continuing my studies, my friendships and my appreciation of the Jewish culture, society and history.

Stephen Kennedy

Director of Religious Studies