Organizers of the Evening of Roses have planned a particularly fitting program for the annual event named for Sister Rose Thering, who devoted her life to Holocaust education and improving Jewish-Catholic relations. The event this year — the 100th anniversary of the birth of Raoul Wallenberg — will showcase excerpts from an opera composed by an escapee from Nazi Germany in tribute to the Swedish diplomat who saved tens of thousands of Jews in Nazi-occupied Hungary.
This year’s 19th annual Evening of Roses at Seton Hall University will be held on Sunday afternoon, April 29. The event benefits the South Orange university’s Sister Rose Thering Fund for Education in Jewish-Christian Studies, named in honor of the Seton Hall professor who was a lifelong activist against anti-Semitism. As a member of the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education, Thering helped write the 1994 law mandating the teaching of the Holocaust and genocide in the state’s schools; she died in 2006.
The fund provides scholarships for teachers taking courses in Jewish-Christian studies in preparation to fulfill the state mandate.
Gershon Kingsley, who himself fled Germany for prestate Israel in 1938, wrote the music for the opera, Raoul, in 2004 with lyricist Michael Kunze. Excerpts from the work and other music selections will be performed by the Seton Hall University Chamber Choir under the direction of Maestro Jason Tramm. This year marks the centennial of the birth of Wallenberg, whose reported death in the Soviet Ljubljanka prison in 1947 remains a matter of dispute.
The evening will also honor the memory of Charles Steiner, who passed away last year, and Gloria Steiner, who died in 2008. Both were founders of the Sister Rose Thering Fund, and Charles was its first board chair. They will posthumously be named Humanitarians of the Year.
“We’re really pleased to honor Charlie and Gloria this year, as we honor Raoul Wallenberg at his 100th birthday,” said the fund’s executive director, David Bossman. “There’s a new book of letters coming out on Wallenberg, so that, in combination with the opera, is really a fitting tribute.” Dramatic readings developed from some of those letters will also be presented at the Evening of Roses.
Fund chair Paul Gibbons will present the second Humanitarian of the Year Award in honor of Wallenberg to David E.R. Dangoor, honorary consul general of Sweden in New York.
Luna Kaufman, a Holocaust survivor, author, and trustee and chair emerita of the fund’s board, put together the evening’s events. She credited Daniel Neiden, her son-in-law, who wrote and produced the musical program, with suggesting a focus on Wallenberg. Neiden assembled the letters and other materials, while Kaufman contacted Kingsley to get permission to perform excerpts from the opera.
Born in 1922 in Westphalia, Germany, Kingsley grew up in Berlin. He was a member of a Zionist youth group before fleeing to Palestine in 1938.
Kingsley, who later made his way to America, has said that “it’s impossible to understand what happened to the German collective soul for so many years.”
The composer, who plans to attend the Evening of Roses, is considered a pioneer of electronic music. He has written scores for TV movies and commercials, created song-cycles and opera compositions, and is best known for his works for the Moog synthesizer, including the top-40 hit “Popcorn.”
Kunze is a Grammy Award-winning German musical theater lyricist and librettist who has written texts for such “musical-dramas” as Elisabeth, Rebecca, and Mozart! as well as the lyrics for a number of hit pop songs. Raoul is his first opera libretto.
Raoul was first performed in a concert version at the Goethe Institute in New York in 2004 and premiered in 2008 in Germany.
Kaufman said the organizers are “thrilled” to be paying tribute to Wallenberg at the Evening of Roses. “It’s very important to recognize the people who did not stand idly by and at the risk of their own lives came forward to help other people,” she said.