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Interfaith Inform: April 26, 2022
Kaufman Interfaith Institute


Interfaith Insight
Doug Kindschi
Director, Kaufman Interfaith Institute, GVSU
Current violence and remembered atrocities, bring us to tears
These continue to be challenging days in Grand Rapids and in our world.

The shooting of Patrick Lyoya by a police officer in Grand Rapids has brought to our city the long history of racial profiling and use of excessive force against Black persons.  In this case it was a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo who after 11 years in a refugee camp finally came to the United States for freedom and safety. 

His killing has brought days of protest in our city and beyond, as well as national and international attention. His funeral last Friday was held at Renaissance Church of God in Christ, with its pastor, Bishop Dennis McMurray, presiding.  Lyoya’s special religious commitment and how he found community through his faith were noted. Lyoya’s death shocked his parents, siblings, and two young children, along with the Congolese community.

In Ukraine this past Sunday, the Eastern Orthodox celebrated Easter. But for those under attack it is also a day of mourning for the thousands who have been killed by the invading armies seeking to destroy this free country.

This coming week is also a reminder of past atrocities with the Jewish community’s observance of Yom Hashoah or the Holocaust Remembrance Day.  It corresponds to the 27th day of Nisan in the Hebrew lunar calendar and thus varies from year to year, as does Passover. Two decades ago the United Nations designated January 27, the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1945, as the International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

As a music lover, I recently became aware of Alma Rosé, one of Europe’s greatest and least known musicians. She was born into a musical family with a father who led the Vienna Philharmonic and founded the Rosé Quartet, famous throughout Austria.  Her mother was the younger sister of the great composer Gustav Mahler. 

Alma Rosé founded a women’s orchestra in Vienna and was a master violinist who toured throughout Europe in the 1930s and 40s. While Mahler converted from Judaism to Christianity in order to preserve his life and career as a conductor, Rosé tried to blend in with the Christian culture. As Nazism became rampant and Jews were fleeing, Rosé chose to remain and tour throughout Europe. In 1943 she was arrested in France and later that year sent to Auschwitz.

Musicians with talent were often used to entertain German guards and Nazi leaders who took a kind of perverse pleasure since they actually had control over whether they would live or die. Rosé’s talent gave her a place in the women’s orchestra and soon she became its leader. She saw this as an opportunity not only to save her own life but that of others who were a part of the orchestra’s success.

Very few of her players were professional musicians but Alma realized that the only way they could survive was by playing music at a high standard. She began recruiting new players and having lengthy rehearsals. She placed special emphasis on hiring Jewish women for the orchestra as a way to save their lives in the camp. After a lifetime of denying her Jewishness, Alma now embraced her fellow Jews and worked feverishly to save their lives.

Realizing that being a part of the orchestra saved lives, she created many positions for even those who were less talented by giving them jobs as assistants and score copiers, thereby expanding the size of the orchestra’s operation.  She died unexpectedly by unreported cause at age 38 in April 1944, prior to the liberation of the Auschwitz camp later that year.

Reviewing the atrocities of the past and grieving the unnecessary deaths in our own community as well as around the world drew me to the latest editorial in a recent issue of Christian Century titled, “A Gift of Tears.”  Peter Marty tells of a visit to the Room with Four Thousand Shoes at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The room includes a sign reading, “We are the shoes, we are the last witnesses."

Marty saw a lone woman sitting there sobbing. As he observed her, he also teared up “in the presence of all those shoes. Those baby shoes!” He then writes of the tears of Jesus in the presence of Mary who was grieving the death of her brother Lazarus.

He continues with the observation that humans are the “only animal that is struck with the difference between what things are, and what they ought to be.” Tears, he writes, “put us in touch with essential things that we know to be dear or wrong. And those things have a way of taking up residence in our hearts, often drawing us inadvertently closer to God. Giving ourselves permission to cry is valuable.”

In our current situation and as we remember our history, perhaps our tears are the only response we can make. As Marty writes, “tears remain a biological gift from God.”
2022 Youth Interfaith Service Day Camps 

Intro to Interfaith & Cross-Cultural Understanding: June 13-17
Justice & Equity Immersion: June 20-24
Our Interfaith Service Day Camps provide an introduction to the world of interfaith leadership through visiting sacred sites and building community through service.  Students will build friendships while working with a variety of service organizations doing incredible work in our community. It is an excellent opportunity to engage with peers and neighbors of a variety of cultures, traditions, and world views. 
Click here for more information and registration.

For an archive of previous articles
click here.
For more resources on interfaith dialogue and understanding, see this week's Ethics and Religion Talk column hosted on The Rapidian.