In 2004, construction workers started excavating some land in Norwich, England, where a shopping center was set to be built. They had to stop because they discovered what appeared to be human remains. Their discovery set in motion 18 years of testing and analysis to determine whose remains were found.
It turns out that there were 17 individuals buried in a very small dry well. The well and the skeletons dated back to the early Middle Ages. There were six adults and eleven children buried in the mass grave. And now, thanks to new DNA analysis, it has been determined that they were most likely Ashkenazi Jews. Further, new carbon dating has revealed that the bodies were deposited in the well between 1161 CE and 1216 CE. The fact that they were all buried together – and not in consecrated ground – seems to indicate that they were the victims of a mass killing.
It just so happens that Norwich is infamous for its medieval antisemitism. In 1144, it was the birthplace of the “blood libel,” when Jews were accused of murdering a child because they wanted his blood for the baking of Passover matzahs. On February 6, 1190, the Jews of Norwich were massacred by Crusaders. These 17 individuals were likely among the victims of that horrible attack. (You can read more about it here.)
It is one thing to read about violence against Jews in the Middle Ages. It is quite another to be confronted with the human remains of the victims some 800 years later.
In truth, we don’t need the DNA analysis of 800-year-old bones to have that kind of experience. It happens all the time. We all read stories about racism, sexism, antisemitism and other biases in our world today. But until we are the victims, or until we meet the victims of these cruel acts, they are just stories. It’s as if they happened 800 years ago. They don’t really impact our lives.
One of the ways to combat this phenomenon is to get to know people who are different than we are and who have had different experiences than we have. That is why the Summit Interfaith Council started the Dialogue Circles on Race a number of years ago. A Dialogue Circle (with 6 to 15 participants) meets for five weeks, for two hours at a time. Co-led by trained facilitators, the group members discuss challenging readings, learn to listen deeply to one another’s experiences, and move forward in their individual journeys toward understanding and dismantling structural racism.
Registration is going on right now. The Dialogue Circles will begin in early October. Click here to register.
The best antidotes for bigotry and hatred are dialogue and understanding. There are way too many people in the world engaged in the former two. Let’s all commit to the latter two. Please consider participating in the Dialogue Circles on Race.