In a day and age when compassion and community can seem in short supply, we turn to Etty Hillesum (1914-1943). In early 1941, Etty Hillesum was coming of age intellectually, spiritually and socially in Amsterdam when she began keeping a diary. It was less than a year after the Nazis had occupied Holland, and as Etty’s external world became smaller with each successive restriction of Jewish freedoms, she carefully tended her space within, stocking it with all that she cherished and needed for the challenges ahead of her.
Etty once wryly noted there was so much barbed wire at Westerbork that it could be hard to tell whether one was being fenced in or out. Fittingly, her journals offer us wise guidance for crossing the barbed divisions of our own time. She demonstrated another way, a way of love that she consciously cultivated and equally consciously passed on to others in her written pages.
“It is sometimes hard to take in and comprehend, oh God, what those created in Your likeness do to each other in these disjointed days. But I no longer shut myself away in my room, … I try to look things straight in the face, even the worst crimes, and to discover the small, naked human being amid the monstrous wreckage caused by [people]’s senseless deeds. ….” (134-135)
Realizing that the struggle for inner peace is one with the struggle for justice and the end of war, Etty refused to accept escape from the Nazi transit camp and continued her search for meaning through her own reflections and in service to others.
How do we shoulder the common challenges of our times — not only with all of humanity but with the Earth itself and all life upon it?
These three sessions invite us to explore her philosophical and theological reflections to discover how Etty’s story can be a source of healing for all of us.
April 14: Etty Hillesum as Witness to Healing and Wholeness.
Mary Kaye Medinger, MA, writer, editor, spiritual director, retreat leader, will speak of her own relationship with Etty across time and space.
April 21: She Did Not Speak.
Leslie Morris, PhD, Professor of German and Chair of the Department of German, Nordic, Slavic and Dutch at the University of Minnesota, where she served for ten years as Director of the Center for Jewish Studies, shares how Etty’s writing helped her process the emotional and medical trauma of her own Holocaust family history.
April 28: Can Religion Help Heal a World Broken by Trauma? Etty Hillesum as our Ancestor in the “Qahal goyim” (sacred assembly).
William (Bill) McDonough STL, STD, professor of moral theology, coordinator of the Master of Arts in Theology program at St. Catherine University, and two-time presenter at the Etty Hillesum International Conference, will use Etty’s writings to feed our moral imagination.