by Naomi Kisel | University of California, Los Angeles
Passages Ambassador, Naomi Kissel, spoke to 250 students at a Jewish-Christian Shabbat service hosted in the UCLA Hillel building.
It was 1941, the holocaust-era pogroms of the Soviet Union. For those of you who don’t know, the pogroms were an organized massacre of Jews in Russia and eastern Europe . The Nazis were making their way through a small rural village near Pinsk, Belarus. People ran for the forest, climbed in the trees. My Belarussian grandparents, devout Christians, were close to a Jewish family. The father of this family had to go hide, so he asked my grandparents to watch his 5 year old daughter. My father’s aunt, Havrona, hid the toddler in a tall haystack on my grandparent’s farm. Miraculously, the little girl stayed quiet as the Nazis passed through the farm. She survived and her father came home to her. PAUSE My father’s aunt understood the value of being your brother’s keeper. She knew that as a Christian who also experienced persecution, she was responsible for caring for her brother in faith. Galatians 6:2, “ Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
My family was no stranger to religious persecution. Protestant Christians were oppressed by Communists. Growing up, I heard stories of religious persecution that horrified me. The persecution my parents faced strengthened their faith, and they instilled a reverence in me. My faith is the single most important part of my identity. As a kid, I knew my faith was important. My parents almost died multiple times for it. So I sought a connection to their God. Along the way, I found my God. Through my personal relationship with Christ, I experienced the freedom and joy that comes from a life dedicated to him. My faith is still developing and changing, broadening in some ways and narrowing in others. Obviously, we all don’t share the same faith. But we all know what it means to try to find and connect to God.
In 1991, my parents fled the Soviet Union and came to America. Coming to America was my family’s chance to live out their faith freely. The truth is, the global church still faces oppression. What I find so beautiful about faith, is its power to be sustained through times of darkness. Persecution was the shared Jewish-Christian experience for my family. Two generations later, I’m having my own shared experience through this shabbat [at UCLA.] Sadly, they did not get the chance to break bread together. We do. I believe the seeds of community that we are sowing today, will blossom into something beautiful.