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Local Catholic educators ‘bear witness’ on Israel trip
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Local Catholic educators ‘bear witness’ on Israel trip

Lessons on Holocaust meant to strengthen interfaith relations

American Catholic educators meet with Papal Nuncio Antonio Franco, middle row, center, the Vatican’s diplomatic representative to Israel. Ed Alster is behind Franco, partially obscured. Photos courtesy Anti-Defamation League
American Catholic educators meet with Papal Nuncio Antonio Franco, middle row, center, the Vatican’s diplomatic representative to Israel. Ed Alster is behind Franco, partially obscured. Photos courtesy Anti-Defamation League

They are the latest cohort in a 15-year-old program called “Bearing Witness,” a collaboration between Jewish and Catholic groups.

During their eight-day visit, the educators were exposed to a wide variety of experiences, including meetings with Jewish, Palestinian, Christian, and Druze leaders and visits to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, an Israeli Arab village, and key sites in early Christian and Jewish history.

Before leaving for Tel Aviv on July 12, participants completed an advanced two-day course at CSE on genocide, tolerance, and the history of the Vatican’s relations with world Jewry.

Traveling with them was Maud Dahme of Annandale, a Jewish woman who survived the Shoa as a hidden child. For the second year in a row she took part in the training session on the campus before accompanying the group to Israel.

“They learned about my experience as a survivor and a hidden child,” she told NJJN. “Being with me for eight days gave them an opportunity to learn about me and the Holocaust in general and see that my life has gone on.”

The program is sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League in conjunction with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the National Catholic Educational Association, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the Museum of Jewish Heritage-A Living Memorial to the Holocaust.

Tour leader Ed Alster, a special assistant to ADL’s education director, described the trip as a “life-changing experience” for the parochial school teachers.

Learning in Israel “makes them better Christians,” he said. “They have better understanding of Judaism and they definitely have a better understanding of the Middle East situation.”

“The program looks at the effects of anti-Semitism, in which the Catholic Church played a big role,” Alster explained.

That role changed greatly, he went on, after the publication of “Nostra Aetate,” the 1965 papal declaration that Jews could no longer be held responsible for Jesus’ crucifixion.

“Pope Benedict XVI and his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, have tried to encourage more Catholic-Jewish dialogue,” Alster said. “This program is part of that.”

In Jerusalem, the group met with Hannah Elizabeth Pick-Goslar. As a child she lived next door to the house in which Anne Frank was hiding with her family. Pick-Goslar, who survived incarceration at Bergen-Belsen, now lives in Jerusalem.

The real purpose of the program, said Alster, is to help the educators “understand Jewish-Christian relations and understand the basis of their religion and where it was founded and make them stronger Catholics.”

After their experience, he said, “they feel better able to teach the next generations of Catholic students, having been to the places they teach about. They understand Jewish culture, and their major focus on the Holocaust helps them connect what hate and prejudice could lead to.”

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