Interfaith Mission to Prague, Israel

While the May interfaith mission to Prague and Israel from Birmingham may have been the last program in a series of Holocaust education events, the tone at the group’s reunion on June 19 was anything but somber.

Most of the participants in the mission gathered at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute to swap pictures and memories of their trip.

“The Holocaust: Remembrance and Reflection” was centered around two exhibits — Through the Eye of the Needle: The Fabric Art of Esther Nisenthal Krinitz” at the Birmingham Museum of Art, and The Children’s Story: Children’s Drawings from Terezin 1943-1944” at the Civil Rights Institute.

Representatives from the museum and Institute were on the trip. Prague was chosen because of its Jewish history and the proximity to the Terezin concentration camp.

Lester Seigel said it was interesting to put Prague together with a trip to Israel, “and when we got to Yad Vashem, it put it all together.”

Rick Owen said is was special for him to see everything through “so many different eyes.” It was also a chance for him to see places he had visited “in my heart.”

Lawrence Pijeaux, CEO of the Civil Rights Institute, said the mission was “a true learning experience.”

Former Birmingham City Councilman William Bell had participated in a 1986 interfaith trip, and said then that he would return to Israel one day, but with his family. His wife and daughter accompanied him on this mission.

Phyllis Weinstein, who heads the Birmingham Holocaust Education Committee, which worked with the local institutions on the exhibits and surrounding events, said the mission “went unbelievably well.”

In Prague, Weinstein made a presentation to the director of the Jewish Museum, which puts together the traveling exhibits about Terezin. She said organizations often don’t know too much about activities that go on at institutions that their exhibitions, so the Civil Rights Institute had put together a scrapbook about the exhibit’s run in Birmingham and events surrounding the exhibit.

In addition to adults and families seeing the exhibits on their own, over 3,000 children participated in group docent-led tours of the exhibits.

Jim Sokol, who co-chaired “Remembrance and Reflection” with Karen Allen, praised the cooperation among different organizations and institutions. He said the Birmingham Holocaust Education Committee could not have coordinated all of the activities alone. “Nobody could have done it alone.”

He added that since such cooperation has been demonstrated as possible, “you can do it again.”