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History chair visits Israel through Holocaust Education Foundation

The drive from Tel Aviv takes about an hour, and theres a moment near the end of the journey when an ancient, 3,000-plus-year-old city suddenly appears amid the khaki-colored terrain. Dr. Dewey Browder, chair of the APSU Department of History and Philosophy, watched its approach from the window of his taxi.

When you get into Jerusalem, more so than anywhere else, the energy of the ages is so profound, he said. It is so strong. You just absorb energy from this place, and you cant stop looking around.
The drive from Tel Aviv takes about an hour, and there's a moment near the end of the journey when an ancient, 3,000-plus-year-old city suddenly appears amid the khaki-colored terrain. Dr. Dewey Browder, chair of the APSU Department of History and Philosophy, watched its approach from the window of his taxi.

“When you get into Jerusalem, more so than anywhere else, the energy of the ages is so profound,” he said. “It is so strong. You just absorb energy from this place, and you can't stop looking around.”

On Dec. 16, 2009, Browder and his wife, Helga, left the cold, gray Tennessee winter behind for their first trip to Israel. For years, the Jewish State has been a coveted destination spot for the professor because it ties directly into one of his main fields of study.

“I started teaching the Holocaust up at West Point (Military Academy) in 1992,” Browder said. “I came here to Austin Peay, and I started teaching the Holocaust in 1994.”

A few years later, he organized a study-abroad program that took students to important sites in Europe, such as the former concentration camp at Dachau in Germany. He expanded his curriculum through his membership in the Holocaust Education Foundation, an organization based out of Northwestern University with the mission of getting the Holocaust taught at colleges and universities across the country.

For years, the Holocaust Education Foundation has funded trips to Europe and to Israel for college professors who teach the Holocaust. Browder went to Eastern Europe during the summer of 1997 to visit Warsaw, Auschwitz, Treblinka and other Holocaust sites, but the Israel trip, which would serve as a nice coda for his teachings on the important subject, always occurred at an inconvenient time of year. Late December.

“I could have gone on it before, but I didn't want to go at Christmas time and leave my wife,” he said.

This year, the organization said if members paid for their spouses, they could accompany them. Browder jumped at the chance for him and his wife to see Israel. From Dec. 16 through 27, they traveled through locations he only knew in his mind's eye from reading the Bible and other historical texts. Mysterious names such as Bethlehem, Jericho, Capernaum, Galilee, the Garden of Gethsemane and the Mount of Beatitudes suddenly became palpable. He visited the sites where Christ is believed to have been born and where he was said to have been crucified.

He stood high atop the famed Masada fortress, where Jewish rebels committed suicide rather than surrendering to the Roman Empire in the year 73, and he visited the site where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. To the north, near the Syrian border, he saw the ruins of tanks left as memorials for the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

But Jerusalem, that sacred city for three of the world's major religions, held a particular sway over Browder.

“When you're there, you're looking at a city that is 3,000 years old, at least,” he said. “You grow up reading about it, hearing about it, but just being there is a tremendous experience.”

He stood before the Wailing Wall, and he walked the Via Dolorosa, the route Jesus is believed to have taken to the place of crucifixion. And then there was his visit to a relatively new building, constructed in the 1950s, but endowed with its own quiet authority — the Yad Vashem Museum.

“That's the leading Holocaust museum and archive and research center in the world,” he said. “We spent maybe three hours there. It's a tremendous museum.”

Finally, after visiting the Church of the Nativity and attending Mass in Bethlehem on the day after Christmas, the Browders boarded a plane back to America. Shortly after returning home, he picked up his Bible, looking at it with fresh eyes.

“I came back and read through Genesis and the Gospels again,” he said. “Our tour guide was an experienced archeologist who had helped excavate both Masada and Qumran, the place where the Dead Sea Scrolls had weathered the millennia. Once you have walked such sites, things are so much better connected.”

And he started thinking about how to integrate what he saw into future classes.

For more information on Browder's trip and his teaching on the Holocaust, contact the APSU Department of History and Philosophy at 931-221-7919. -- Charles Booth