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STEVE HUNEGS: UND builds strong cross-cultural relationships

MINNEAPOLIS—The Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas warmly welcomes Mark Kennedy to the presidency of UND.

Kennedy is a public official who is skilled in consensus building. We are proud and privileged to have worked with him when he was a member of Congress as well as to have supported his leadership in the business, trade and educational spheres.

We are confident he will build on the remarkable strengths of UND and North Dakota to creatively address the current challenges. He not only will maintain the strong relations between UND and the Jewish community, but also he will help bring together communities within UND.

All of this is very much needed in times of divisiveness, both abroad and at home.

Over the years, the council has been proud to partner with great North Dakota (and northwest Minnesota) friends, programs and institutions, including UND. We are thankful for these opportunities and look forward to our work together in the years ahead.

At this time of new beginnings, it is helpful to remember the past.

Indeed, right now is a special time of commemoration and celebration between Christians and Jews in which North Dakota has been critically engaged.

The year 2015 marked the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate—a 1965 Vatican pronouncement that emerged from the spirit of Vatican II and, among other things, reset the theological relationship between Christians and Jews.

The epochal change was precipitated with the Church declaring: The Jewish people were not collectively responsible for the death of Jesus; anti-Semitism is a sin against God; and the Jewish covenantal relationship with God remains ongoing.

The powerful friendship between Catholics and Jews is strongly rooted in Nostra Aetate.

Last October, we celebrated this spirit together at a Sabbath service of commemoration for the 50th anniversary at Temple Beth El in Fargo. Rabbi Janeen Kobrinsky officiated, and Bishop John Folda participated in prayer, psalm and speech of reflection, contemplation and hope.

The Rev. Luke Meyer—now the director of the Newman Center at UND—was a key organizer, and we hope to continue the education on campus.

The Jewish Community Relations Council also has been proud to partner with UND on many programs about the Holocaust over the years, both to teach the lessons of the Shoah (Hebrew for Holocaust) and to help prevent contemporary genocide by knowing the warning signs.

Former UND President Robert Kelley supported the joint programming of the JCRC with UND's Center for Human Rights and Genocide Studies, whose director at the time was Gregory Gordon, an associate professor in the UND School of Law.

Together, we brought to campus and community distinguished individuals and programs such as the late Dr. Fred Lyon—a witness to the Kristallnacht in Berlin; filmmaker Sandra Schulberg, who found and refurbished her father's suppressed documentary of the first Nuremberg War Crimes trial; and the "Transfer of Memory" exhibit, which used vignettes and photographic portraits to tell the stories of Holocaust survivors who came to the upper Midwest.

This friendship and partnership continues with the innovative leadership of UND professors Rebecca Weaver-Hightower and Brian Urlacher at Center for Human Rights and Genocide Studies. In May, we worked together to bring Holocaust scholar Doyle Stevick of the University of South Carolina to UND as a scholar in residence.

We have been honored, too, to partner with our military in North Dakota to remember the Holocaust. During Stevick's visit, we all participated in a program at the Grand Forks Air Force Base.

On May 5, we were privileged to join the North Dakota National Guard and its Adjutant Maj. Gen. Alan Dohrmann as well as Bismarck State College President Larry Skogen at a Holocaust remembrance for over 400 people at Bismarck State College.

Charles Fodor, a Holocaust survivor from Budapest, was the keynote speaker. Bob Bain, a liberator of the Ohrdruf concentration camp, lit a candle.

The Jewish Community Relations Council looks forward to continuing its relationship with UND, Kennedy and our partners throughout the state of North Dakota.

Hunegs is the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas.