The student-led movement to end mass atrocities.

Jewish Enough

I was fifteen when I was told I was not “Jewish enough” for the first time. I went on a two week Jewish youth trip to Poland and Israel. The week in Poland was spent visiting eight concentration and death camps in a matter of seven days. My peers were mostly devout, orthodox and conservative Jews, whereas I had been raised in a muddled Catholic and Jewish home without any clear religious direction. Nonetheless, I was thrilled to finally be surrounded by my Jewish peers and hopefully find a connection to what felt like a long lost religion.

Each night in Poland, we had group sessions with our chaperones. We discussed our experiences and our emotions and tried to process what we had seen. One night, after visiting a particularly challenging camp, we were gathered in the circle. As the youngest and least devout person on the trip, I worried that they would discover I was in fact an imposter. One of the girls raised her hand and, as she described her experience from that day, she remarked, “I’m glad we’re all Jewish. I don’t think you can understand the Holocaust the same way unless you are.”

A swift wave of anger, unique to teenagers, came over me. I raised my hand and waited for my turn to speak my mind. Perhaps I was looking for a reason to be indignant, to prove to myself that I was an outsider, to have somewhere to channel my anger after days of looking at mass graves. Whatever it was, as soon as the chaperone called on me, I lost my grace.

“Not Jewish enough?” I cried. “Not Jewish enough? Do you know my father is Catholic? Do you know I was never Bat Mitzvah’d? Do you know I don’t go to temple? Do you really want to tell me I understand this less than you? Really?”

By the end, my voice was loud and cracked, straining for composure. I felt dozens of eyes staring back at me and I felt terribly unwelcome.

Remembrance Pavilion at Srebrenica (Source: Wikimedia)

It’s hard to mourn when you feel like an outsider. The trajectory of that evening was in part the fault of the young woman’s perception of emotional inclusion and in part due to my rash reaction — either way, for the rest of the trip, I never felt Jewish enough. I was trying to simultaneously process the images from Majdanek, Chelmno, Sobibor, Plaszow, Auschwitz, Birkenau, Treblinka, and Belzec and also understand why I felt inherently unaccepted by my people.

It took me weeks and then years to begin to process my place in my religion. My first point of clarity came while walking through Auschwitz with Barbara, a gentile woman in her 70s from Connecticut, who had accompanied her friend Judy, a Holocaust survivor on the trip. She was Judy’s moral support as she revisited the places where her mother, father, sister, and nieces had been killed. But when Barbara was away from Judy, her pain was undeniable. We were walking through one of the barracks in Auschwitz and she grasped my hand and pleaded, “Corie, why would humans do this to each other?”

In the subsequent years, my moments of clarity have been built around remembering atrocities. In Bosnia at Srebrenica, a Muslim-Bosniak widow grabbed my hand and thanked me for coming to visit their dead. In Rwanda, my cab driver (turned friend) and I walked arm in arm as we entered a church where 11,000 families had been killed. In Prague, at the oldest standing Synagogue in Eastern Europe, I stood with my Christian friend and we imagined if we ever would have met as Jews and Christians in a WWII Europe. In Cambodia, at the main torture facility, I held hands with one of the 15 men to survive the facility, and in broken languages, we thanked one another for showing up.

Remembrance Pavilion Tuol Sleng (Source: Corie Walsh)

Genocide remembrance has never been and will never be about being part of a culture. It signifies our shared humanity, our ability to transcend our groups and communities and instead choose a common empathy. Remembrance and commemoration in its purest forms is about seeing someone else’s pain, seeing what they have lost, and saying, “Give me a piece of your burden. I will carry it with you.” Our communities and traditions are sacred to the foundations of our values and practices, but once they become exclusionary, they become dangerous.

Remembrance and commemoration in its purest forms is about seeing someone else’s pain, seeing what they have lost, and saying, “Give me a piece of your burden. I will carry it with you.”

This is the unique eloquence and beauty of Together We Remember. There is strength in sharing remembrance and memorialization. Collective memory creates resilience. It is not meant as a competition of who suffered more, but instead a mutual commemoration of our persistence. Genocide is one of the most brutal crimes. It is the intentional destruction of a group based on inalienable aspects of their identity. If successful, it eliminates the presence and history of a people. But together we can defy that and together we can remember the mutual suffering of victims of genocide.

I learned a long time ago that for many I am not Jewish enough. But in visiting over twenty-five different genocide and memorial sites, I learned that I am human enough and I carry the capacity for empathy — regardless of whether or not I am a member of the group — and that’s enough for me.

Corie Walsh works at the humanitarian organization Mercy Corps and spends her free time writing, cooking, and trying to do a little good in the world.

This post originally appeared on Medium for Together We Remember.

A Generation at Risk: The Urgent Need for Action in Nigeria

Although I have never had a child of my own, I have watched someone I love lose their child. The cavern of pain created by that death often seems insurmountable. Compound that with the stress of of living in an unstable environment threatened by malnutrition, rape, and violence and you start to have a picture of what life is like for mothers in Northeast Nigeria today.

The Northeast region of Nigeria is devastated by famine and food insecurity. The famine in Nigeria is the first man-made famine in the world in over a decade. UNICEF has stated that 75,000 children will die the next year in Borno State, a state roughly the size of West Virginia, if the humanitarian crisis is not urgently addressed. Recent reports show that roughly 4 million people are experiencing food crisis and 2.5 million children have severe cases of malnutrition and are struggling to survive.

While the Northeast has suffered from chronic underdevelopment, these alarming levels of suffering are in large part due to violence caused by Boko Haram, the same group which kidnapped the 276 Nigerian Chibok school girls two summers ago and committed the largest number of atrocities against civilians of any “terrorist” group in the world in 2015. The Nigerian government and humanitarian community have not been able to access civilians living in the areas that Boko Haram controlled for much of the last two years. As the international community regains access to the region, they are finding a humanitarian catastrophe of epic proportions.

As it stands, families do not have the resources to respond to this crisis. As a humanitarian projects manager Michael Mu’azu for Mercy Corps told The Huffington Post, “The carnage becomes more glaring as we gain access to newer areas, and it has become a struggle for those of us in the forefront to comprehend how to help the thousands we come across who need our support.” Families have spent years living in a threatening environment and now must find the strength to face a new kind of threat which attacks the most basic connection between a mother and a child. Field workers are reporting that mothers are now too malnourished to produce breast milk for their own children.

Visibility on this crisis, now, is vital. Lest we repeat: this is a famine, the first man-made, preventable famine in the world in over a decade. Unfortunately, media and politicians alike are preoccupied with a wide range of complex issues, but that is no excuse to let the famine in Nigeria go unchecked.


Photo by Corinna Robbins/Mercy Corps

We must use our combined voice to advocate on behalf of the needs of Nigerian families. We must make it perfectly clear that we as Americans, as parents, as siblings, and most importantly as humans will not tolerate this sort of tragedy. We will not patiently wait as hundreds of thousands of families bury their children. We will not wait for a generation of Nigerians to die.  Our collective morality will not allow for it. Instead we will raise our voice to our communities and our elected officials and we will demand greater funding and political attention for Nigeria. We will demand a concise, efficient, and effective humanitarian response before this crisis escalates even further.

The death of a child is inherently wrong. It is an experience that cannot truly be imagined until someone has lived through it. Many parents, regardless of where they live in this world, feel as though they are put on this earth to protect their child and to ensure their child has everything they need. Parents often equate the loss of a child with a direct failure on their part to act as a guardian. We cannot allow the mothers and fathers of Nigeria to carry this emotional weight alone. Instead, we will listen to their stories and as an international community of caretakers we will walk with them, we will support them, and we will address this crisis.

Take action now: sign this petition to Congress to ensure there’s enough humanitarian assistance to Nigeria to stop this tragedy and continue to raise your voice to #FightTheFamine.

Want to take further action? Call your Senators and Representatives, and mobilize your family and friends to do the same. Now is the moment to make a difference, let’s not pass it by.


Note: Featured Image by Tom Saater/Mercy Corps

R8as6gaTon-W0KIlw6fsFpIBowy7cQdiFW9tzGHnw-MCorie Walsh recently graduated from University of North Carolina, with a degree in Peace, War, and Defense. She does research on issues mass atrocities, civilian protection, and identity-driven conflict. Notably, Corie co-founded a micro-finance program for Ugandan women; started the first collegiate chapter of the UN Shot@Life Campaign; and has engaged in initiatives such as AIESEC, RESULTS, Roosevelt Institute, Conference on World Affairs, and Beyond Conflict. She can be reached at