CJC-er of the Month: Gabriela A. Barrera

When she first arrived at Georgetown, it was her passion for literature and the humanities that drove Gabriela Barrera to take the “Fictions of Politics and International Relations” proseminar with CJC Director, Jacques Berlinerblau. At the time, her intention was actually to minor in English or Creative Writing—in part to balance her more technical International Politics major in the SFS. What she found in the proseminar, her first CJC course, however, was that the Center offered her a good middle ground between her interests in the humanities and political science.

Gabriela in the CJC lounge, in front of the wall she wallpapered.
Gabriela in the CJC lounge, in front of the wall she wallpapered.

While in the CJC, Gabriela has enjoyed humanities courses like David Ebenbach’s “Fiction Writing Workshop,” Sarah Workman’s “Jewish Pop Culture,” and Meital Orr’s “Introduction to Jewish Civilization.” She has also taken CJC courses on the Holocaust and is currently taking “Holocaust and Geopolitics.”

In these Holocaust courses, Gabriela has appreciated the individualistic approach the CJC takes to the subject—“a perspective that has become so much more important as time continues to separate us from the event.” In this unique approach, these courses avoid the “impersonality” of some of her politics courses at Georgetown.

To further examine the interpersonal aspects of the Holocaust, Gabriela has participated in the CJC Holocaust Forensics Trip with Yahad-in-Unum twice. On her first trip during her Sophomore spring to Belarus and Poland, Gabriela found that “the importance that Father Desbois and his team put on preserving individual stories supplied a dignity to survivors and witnesses that was oftentimes absent in other forms of historical analysis.” Upon her return, the trip inspired her to refocus her studies towards post-conflict development and civil-military relations.

Gabriela and her peers pose for a photo after listening to a Lviv-based survivor (left of Father Desbois) recount his story.

Her second trip to Ukraine impacted her in a different way: “The necessity to educate, to inform, and to preserve memory about the Holocaust has become more demanding, more urgent.” Gabriela reflects that navigating the memory of the Holocaust has become more complicated due to its politicization. This politicization has led to “competing narratives between Ukrainian, Polish, and Jewish identities that fluctuate in and out of conflict with domestic political interests.”

The difference between her experience Sophomore year and Senior year was in part due to the varying itineraries. Sophomore year, a visit to Auschwitz and Auschwitz-Birkenau forced Gabriela to reconcile the Holocaust with “what was left behind.” This spring in Ukraine, however, Gabriela was challenged by the question of how to memorialize the lesser known and more “invisible” sites of the Holocaust: “To the untrained eye, there is no surface-level difference between a mass grave and the local park. To be told, standing beneath the swaying birch trees, that thousands of Jews had been murdered in the field where we stood, was for me, incomprehensible.”

Father Desbois provides a side-by-side comparison between archival footage and modern landmarks in Lviv, Ukraine.

Although these experiences have been challenging, Gabriela has found them enriching. Her time at the CJC has been central to her Georgetown experience. The prospect of graduating two months from now is a challenge “when that also means leaving the Center for Jewish Civilization.” Looking beyond graduation, however, it is clear that the lessons from the CJC will stay with her as a reminder that “As a civil servant, I must hold myself and my peers accountable in the development and practice of the law. There are no excuses that justify ignorance in the face of calamity, or inaction when there is injustice.”

The Forensics Trip students stop to reflect upon the morning and enjoy a lunch in Ternopil, Ukraine.