By Charles Gardner —
Photographer Jennie Milne was so profoundly shocked by an item on social media one day in 2016 that it triggered a new era in her busy life – comforting Jewish victims of terror attacks.
This led to an exhibition – called Do you know my name? – recently held at Wimbledon Synagogue and Roehampton University, and now also available to be shown elsewhere.
The 55-year-old lecturer from Aberdeen, a committed Christian and mother-of-nine married to Brian for 33 years, had already traced her Jewish ancestors to Israel while also learning that many of them had perished in the Holocaust.
That was after discovering that her own mother, Elizabeth, had only survived the Nazi genocide by being abandoned into the arms of a nurse at just 10 days old – believed to have been the only Jewish baby ‘hidden’ in the UK. Her grandfather was a member of the Polish Government-in-exile and was a marked man. Her grandmother never returned.
All of which helped to explain her mum’s inability to bond with those closest to her. It turned out that Jennie’s Polish grandmother, Helena (originally Malie) Rothenberg, was born into the Jewish community of Stryj (now in Ukraine) and fled Poland, concealing her racial identity.
It was in June 2016 that Jennie’s world was interrupted by a graphic image she unwittingly viewed on social media.
“It was the bedroom of 13-year-old Hallel Yaffa Ariel. As she lay sleeping, a 17-year-old Palestinian terrorist had climbed through her window and murdered her, stabbing her to death. The motive? The oldest hatred of all. She was Jewish.
“In the days that followed, I could not shake the horrific image from my thoughts. I had recently uncovered my family history, discovering that many of them had been murdered by the Nazis. And now this evil had been perpetrated in my generation.
“All the more apt was the fact that my own daughter, who was the same age, was being treated in hospital at the time with severe burns.
“I prayed about what to do and got in touch with Hallel’s parents. But after grieving with them, I felt compelled to do more.”
She then learnt that Hallel’s death was by no means an isolated incident – thousands of Israelis have perished at the hands of Palestinian terrorists, who are financially rewarded for their crimes by an authority backed by Western governments.
She thus determined to create a photographic record of Israel’s terror victims given so little unbiased coverage outside the country.
She duly met Hallel’s parents, Rina and Amichai, while travelling the length and breadth of the Holy Land with camera in hand.
“My son, who was 14, played with Hallel’s little sister! I was deeply moved by each meeting and humbled by the incredible response of these individuals to the devastation visited on them and their families.
“My intention in photographing the survivors was to provide a point of connection with people in the United Kingdom, to bring their stories into the light, to remember and honour the victims and stand with their families. I wish to challenge the narrative which seeks to justify such murders and remind us that ‘Never Again’ includes Jewish lives in Israel today.”
She added: “We in the church have a responsibility to the Jewish people, particularly in view of the Scriptures.”
Her exhibition, involving a series of portraits taken in Israel of Jewish survivors of terrorism, was awarded the BP Highly Commended Award at the 2019 Robert Gordon University Gray’s Degree Show.
A photography lecturer at the university, Jennie was born in Greenwich, London. Her dad Derek died suddenly when she was just ten and she became a Christian at 17, which profoundly changed her life, giving her a deep sense of peace and purpose.
As with many testimonies, there were a series of factors involved including evangelist Billy Graham and the Jesus of Nazareth film, but the chief instigator was a 20th century carpenter called Harry. “He shared the gospel with me, took me to church and discipled me,” Jennie told Premier Christian Radio.
For more information on Jennie’s research, see her website at https://www.fragmentsthatremain.co.uk