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Jewish reflections from Rwanda

In the east African republic, a commemoration of a national trauma resonates deeply with the Jewish experience

On Monday I had the privilege of being a guest at the #Kwibuka20 National Commemoration Ceremony, marking 20 years since the genocide that happened in #Rwanda. During the segment of the testimony, my simultaneous translation receiver unfortunately stopped working. Although the Kinyarwanda was foreign to my ears, the device wasn’t necessary for me┬áto feel the suffering and pain in the crowd and throughout the country. The raw power of immense and mass human emotion is universal.

Bursts of crying and screams from those suffering from the horrific trauma resonated throughout the stadium and penetrated deeply into me.

Next to me, sat a Rwandan Member of Parliament who did everything she could to contain her emotions. Despite her efforts to stay composed, be resilient, and keep calm, she, too, couldn’t stop her tears and trembling.

We spoke a little before the start of the ceremony — she inquired who I was and where I was from. She was happy to hear that I was Jewish and from Israel, and told me how much she longs to visit Israel, continuing to tell me that she was happy it was me sitting next to her. She said that the strength and perseverance of the Jewish people, and our ability to rebuild after all we have been through, is a source of inspiration for her. I had the honor, to say the least, to lend her my shoulder and strengthen her during her time of suffering when she relived the tragedies she and her people went through.

Despite the differences between the genocide of the Tutsis in 1994 and the holocaust we went through during World War II, as a Jew, I wonder if the suffering of the Rwandan people touched me differently than it did the other people in attendance who came from other nations. One thing is certain, the sense of abandonment that the people of Rwanda feel is familiar to me, as a student of Jewish history.

Indeed it was difficult to be there, but I am humbled by it and grateful for it. I have no doubt that it will continue to influence me in the near and distant future.


About the Author
Barak Raz has background in investment banking and international development with focus on sub-Saharan Africa, and prior to that, as an active-duty IDF officer and spokesman, with his last post as spokesman of the division commanding West Bank operations. Raised in Queens, New York, Barak now lives in Tel Aviv, and is doing an EMBA at Kellogg-Recanati, a joint program of Tel Aviv and Northwestern Universities. Barak earned a MA in Contemporary Middle Eastern Studies from Tel Aviv University (2011) and a BA in Political Science, Judaic Studies, and International Studies from SUNY-Binghamton University (2005).