Korean Canadian Christian co-chairs Holocaust Education Week

Lily Kim
Lily Kim

This year’s Holocaust Education Week (HEW), from Nov. 2 to 9, offers a lot of diversity.

Among the 160 or so programs, panels and lectures is one that will examine the Holocaust’s rallying cry of “never again” from a Christian perspective, featuring Catholic theologian Gregory Baum; one that will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide; one that will look at the persecution of homosexuals by the Nazi regime and its meaning for gay survivors; and HEW’s first-ever discussion of anti-Semitism in the Muslim world, featuring a Muslim speaker.

There are also more new venues than in years past, including Catholic and secular public schools.

In keeping with that spirit of outreach is this year’s HEW co-chair, Lily Kim.

“I’m not the typical face of Holocaust education or the Jewish community,” readily accedes Kim, a Christian of Korean parentage.

Her presence on the scene “makes people stop and listen,” she said.

A 42-year-old educator and mother of two boys, Kim first got involved in HEW in 2008 as a Christian liaison. She had seen a decrease in the involvement of Christian churches and schools in the program and set out to correct that.

HEW now has an interfaith outreach committee, which has worked to stage what Kim calls “non-traditional” programs at more venues. This year’s theme explores “Liberation: Aftermath & Rebirth” and will look at the raw years after the Holocaust.

Born outside Vancouver to Buddhist parents who left South Korea in the early 1970s and converted to Christianity, Kim studied history at the University of British Columbia. For a brief time, she taught English to doctors and nurses at a hospital outside Seoul and considered doing an international business degree.

Instead, she enrolled in McMaster University’s divinity school and earned a master’s degree in theological studies.

“I was always very interested in the Hebrew Bible,” Kim told The CJN in an interview. “I found many similarities between Christianity and Judaism. Most appealing to me was the concept of mercy and love, not only for those inside the religions but for those outside — the other.”

Still, she found Christian texts “too limiting” and “was more interested in Jewish culture.”

Around a decade ago, she made her first trip to Israel there would be four more through the years – and fell in love.

“I love everything about Israel,” Kim said, “the culture, the country, the people. It’s messy, but so is Korea.”

Each time, Kim visited Yad Vashem, Israel’s central Holocaust authority and museum.

Also around a decade ago, after hearing a talk by Holocaust scholar Doris Bergen, who now teaches history at the University of Toronto, Kim decided to do another master’s degree. Seeking to study the Holocaust specifically, she focused on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Lutheran pastor and theologian who was executed for his staunch resistance to the Third Reich.

“I was interested in resistance to Hitler,” Kim explained. “Most who did resist were professing Christians.”

Asked how she feels about the touchy view that the Holocaust was carried out in the main by practising Christians, she said. “I agree.” But she qualified that by adding: “It was by people who called themselves Christians.”

Recent anti-Israel boycotts and sanctions by Protestant churches make her “sad,” she said.

Though raised in a Baptist tradition, Kim said she tries to keep kosher, lights Sabbath candles on Friday nights, and observes Jewish holidays. She even attempts to read the Bible in Hebrew. Her family has been supportive.

Between the two religions, “I take away the best of both.”