Noted Holocaust scholar to speak at Seton Hill

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Rabbi Irving Greenberg is recognized as one of the world's leading thinkers and authors of Holocaust education. At the Ethel LeFrak Holocaust Education Conference scheduled for Oct. 21 to 23 at Seton Hill University, this noted scholar will be the conference's keynote speaker in a talk titled "We Have Not Been Saved: The Unfinished Agenda of Never Again."

"The title is a quote taken from Jeremiah when the Biblical Jews were under siege by the Babylonians," he said. "At that time, the Jewish people believed that God would save them by the end of summer, but when summer passed they remained under the same threat. Similarly, those believing that the lessons taught by the Holocaust experience may have ended the threat of genocide are mistaken. Holocaust education remains an unfinished agenda."

Described as a modern Orthodox Jew, or someone who tries to synthesize Jewish values and the observance of Jewish law with the secular modern world, Rabbi Greenberg, who has a doctorate from Harvard, was director of President Jimmy Carter's Commission on the Holocaust, which led to the establishment of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Later, he served on the museum's founding board and council. In 2000, President Bill Clinton appointed him to chair the council.

In the book, "Interpreters of Judaism in the Late Twentieth Century," Steven T. Katz wrote, "No Jewish thinker has had a greater impact on the American Jewish community in the last two decades than Irving (Yitz) Greenberg."

Making his first appearance at the conference at the university, Rabbi Greenberg said he has spoken many times on the ethical and moral issues of the Shoah, which is the Hebrew term for the Holocaust, but his talk at the conference will be a new assessment.

He said some new developments have been accomplished as a result of Holocaust education since World War II. One of the greatest of these is the Christian reaction to its 2000 year hostile portrayal of the Jews.

"Because of this depiction, the Nazis easily made the Jews their victim," he said. "The establishment of the Jewish state was a response to the fact that the world community did not respond adequately to the Jews at risk in Nazi Germany."

Rabbi Greenberg said this sense of guilt and realization of past wrongs on the part of the Christian world has resulted in the re-framing of the relationship between the two religions.

Impetus for a more open dialogue on the Jewish side comes from the realization that Christianity is a powerful force in the world and must be realized as such, he said.

While the Christian-Jewish dialogue is one positive result of Holocaust education, Rabbi Greenberg said much remains to be done. One hopeful development occurred in 1979, he said -- the year the Holocaust Memorial in Washington was created, and when an international convention met in Geneva to decide what could be done with the refugee boat people from Vietnam. As a result, a number of countries took in over one million asylum-seeking Vietnamese.

In other parts of the globe, such as Cambodia, Rwanda and Bosnia, the world has not responded in a meaningful way and genocidal impulses have had horrific consequences, Rabbi Greenberg noted.

"Holocaust education has not gone far enough to create effective international interventions to stop this,'' he said.

One aspect of Holocaust education that gives him the most difficulty, he said, is the imbalance of power in the modern world between potential aggressors and potential victims. Movements such as Black Power and Women's and Gay Liberation try to redress this imbalance, but the only way Rabbi Greenberg sees to relieve the disparity is to transfer more power to potential victims.

"Religion needs to acknowledge that its own truth does not exhaust God's ability to relate to other groups and religions," he said. "Multiple views and multiple religions help create a healthier society and healthier religions. There are many areas -- political, ethical and moral -- that still need to be worked on."

Details: http://ncche.setonhill.edu or 724-830-1033.

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Dave Zuchowski, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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