Susanna Kokkonen
Speaker on Jewish-Christian relations; anti-Semitism; the Holocaust and persecution

Teaching It, Then Encountering It – Anti-Semitism

For over a decade I have had the privilege of traveling around the world, from the tiniest places to its largest cities, speaking about the Holocaust, Memory and, sadly, anti-Semitism not just in the past but especially today. In 2014, I had my book published on the topic – my special contribution was taking a look at hatred of Jews through the Bible as well as history. Now, in October 2018, my book came out in Swedish. My first Swedish book tour was in the Swedish-speaking minority cities in Finland.

The reception was amazing. People bought the books and discussed the topic. There was almost no end to how much a person could speak and have the audience still gasping for more. The tour was not only successful but made it clear that Christian theology needs to be addressed in this context. Many Christians understand that there are historic roots that anti-Semitism has in our thought. Christian Zionists want to learn and they want to learn through the Biblical narrative. This is the good news.

But – here is the thing. Teaching about anti-Semitism has not equipped me to encounter it anymore than a regular person would know how to encounter unexpected aggression and hatred. This became painfully clear on my last days in Helsinki. Of all places an incident occurred whilst I was waiting in an orderly Finnish line outside a bank. In such lines things like the weather and banks’ miserable services are discussed and so it was here.

And I never tell unknown strangers where I live. But, this time, someone asked. And they looked so ordinary that I believed I could say it. Yes. I live there. In Israel. It was the proverbial red flag before a bull. Instant hate and, very clearly, it was Israel and it was the Jews. Both kills mothers and children. Both cause the world’s problems. At first, I said something but then saw the futility of it. No one was interested in my opinion because I had become the enemy. In fact, this would be laughable if it was not so serious. The man before me I invited another person to enter the vault before him because as he told him “you are on my side”.

Another curious thing was that I somehow now became the representative of G-d and religion. “Science has proven that religion is wrong and people like you cause all the wars”. I had not said anything about myself but somehow they knew that I believe in G-d. That almost makes me happy. Actually it does.  But the context of this whole thing is so very troubling. I stood silent and waited until, mercifully, doors opened and everyone got busy with their own thing.

This incident does not in any way diminish my joy over the book and the book tour. On the contrary, it shows me that my work is important and valuable. Just on the Eve of the 80th Kristallnacht, I encountered anti-Semitism in Finland. I was left speechless and was ill-equipped to deal with it. But still, it confirmed to me that there is a mission to continue. I am on that mission.

Sadly, it also confirmed that a large part of the public has chosen its views and these views will not be changed.

About the Author
Dr. Susanna Kokkonen, originally from Finland, has lived in Israel for the past twenty years. She has a doctorate in Holocaust Studies and has pioneered Jewish-Christian relations including at Yad Vashem, as the Director of the Christian Friends of Yad Vashem. She travels around the world speaking about Israel; the Holocaust, anti-Semitism and current issues.
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