A well-dressed group of college students stood waiting in the cool night air. Outfitted in dress clothes, they appeared as if they were going to church. Last Friday night, however, they attended a Shabbat service. This excursion on the evening of Feb. 3, 2012 was one of several trips organized for students enrolled in the Jewish Cultural Study at Providence Christian College.
Earlier in the afternoon, the students attended an introductory lecture about the Jewish religion led by Dr. Scott Swanson, Associated Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies. At the Shabbat service, they observed the practices of a Reformed congregation, one of the major denominations within Judaism. The service, which took place at the Pasadena Jewish Temple, consisted of singing in Hebrew and a short exhortation by the rabbi. A young girl, whose Bat Mitzvah was planned for the following day, helped lead the service.
On Monday, Feb. 6, the students traveled to the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, CA., where they explored the Holocaust exhibit. Comprised of striking displays led by journalist and artistic narrators, the exhibit presented the story of the Holocaust, beginning with the gradual escalation of resentment and hatred toward the Jews that was produced by the propaganda of Adolf Hitler. Among the displays was a small cafe that resembled a movie set, a reproduction of a German main street, and scenery that gave life to the rubble and destruction of Europe.
A central theme in the exhibit was the hostility which intoxicated the German people against their countrymen. Economic conditions and bitterness over the outcome of the first World War caused them to commit crimes that otherwise would have been unthinkable. This concept is especially relevant for a modern audience because it identifies the ease with which one can be deceived. A small amount of deception can soon lead to the betrayal of beliefs once held sacred.
One of the most sobering displays was a letter sent from Hitler to his most powerful official regarding the status of the “Final Solution,” a meticulously devised program to exterminate all Jews in Europe. Other artifacts included a genuine Nazi uniform, authentic prison clothes from a concentration camp, and the braid of a young Jewish girl who died in the gas chambers.
After the Museum of Tolerance, the students ate lunch at a local Jewish Deli and visited the University Synagogue, located on Sunset Blvd. The tour guide explained the symbols hidden in the stained glass of the sanctuary and opened a Torah scroll for the students.
Undoubtedly, these excursions helped many students learn more about Jewish culture and tradition, leaving them with an appetite for more. In the words of Samuel Bice, a freshman at Providence, “I thought it was very enlightening going to the Museum of Tolerance and learning…about the Jews. When we went to the Shabbat service, I really loved hearing their singing as well.” As the Jewish Cultural Study draws to a close, the students will remember their experiences and continue to be blessed by Shabbat Shalom, or “a peaceful Sabbath,” as they live in the light of the knowledge they have learned.