You Shall Not Hate Your Kinfolk…

You shall not hate your kinsfolk in your heart. Reprove your kin but incur no guilt on their account. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against members of your people. Love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Eternal. — Leviticus 19:17-18

As I read these famous verses from this week’s Torah portion Parashat Kedoshim, I am still overcome by the incredible testimony of a Rwandan genocide survivor who spoke at JRC last night as part of our Yom Hashoah commemoration. Immaculee Mukantaganira, who now lives in South Bend, IN, lost more than 60 members of her family during the 1994 genocide: her husband, two of her children, her parents, as well as sisters, brothers, cousins, other relatives and close friends. Her words to us were alternately heartbreaking, courageous, and often beyond comprehension.

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of her presentation was her description of how Rwandan society is attempting to heal from this impossibly tragic episode in their recent history. Unlike the Jewish community following the Holocaust, Rwanda is a society in which victim and perpetrator continue to live side by side – where Tutsi and Hutu continue to strive to live as neighbors. Could we even hope to imagine that the Tutsis would ever be able to reach a place where they “do not hate their kinfolk in their hearts?”

To this end, the Rwandan political establishment has outlawed Hutu/Tutsi tribal loyalties in order to promote one universal Rwandan identity. And for the past few years, “Gacaca courts” have been attempting help the country achieve a semblance of justice and reconciliation. The mixed success of these efforts demonstrates how Rwanda is, in so many ways, a nation struggling to understand the true meaning of the verses above.

For her part, Immaculee provided us with one example of a woman who is doing what she can to move past unimaginable pain and hatred to a place of healing and forgiveness. I encourage you to read this article in the South Bend Tribune to learn more about her story.

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