Sister Rose Thering with Monsignor Robert SheeranThe first thing that catches the eye when meeting Sister Rose Thering is the large pendant of a Star of David intertwined with a Cross dangling from her neck.
The pendant is a kind of shorthand for the Dominican nun’s lifework as self-appointed ambassador for the Jews within the Catholic Church, from parish-school classes to the highest Vatican councils.
It all started, the 76-year-old nun told The Jewish Journal, while taking a grade-school Bible class in a small Wisconsin town, where she read that the Jews were condemned to wander the earth.
“Why?” asked the curious youngster. The answer she received: “Because they killed Jesus Christ.”
“I couldn’t accept that, because I knew that God was good,” Sister Rose said. She has been questioning and changing Catholic attitudes toward Jews ever since.
One milestone was her doctoral dissertation at St. Louis University, which unsparingly documented anti-Semitic references in Catholic-school texts.
She presented her findings at a national meeting of Catholic-school superintendents in 1961, and “I was all but tarred and feathered,” she said.
Sister Rose was vindicated a few years later, when her research contributed to the Second Vatican Council’s Nostra Aetate declaration, which proved a watershed in redefining Jewish-Catholic relations.
Since then, she has been a tireless advocate for Israel (visiting the country 49 times), Soviet Jews, rescinding the United Nations’ “Zionism is Racism” resolution and, perhaps most importantly, educating teachers in interfaith relations.
It was the latter mission that recently brought her to Los Angeles to promote the Sister Rose Thering Endowment for Jewish-Christian Studies at Seton Hall University, a 140-year-old Catholic institution in South Orange, N.J.
Seton Hall, where Sister Rose taught for two decades as professor of secondary education, has long been an academic pioneer in interfaith communications.
The endowment enables teachers from public, private and parochial schools to participate in courses and workshops on Catholic-Jewish relations over the centuries, biblical interpretations, and the Holocaust, under the auspices of the Graduate Department of Jewish-Christian Studies.
To encourage support for the endowment fund in Southern California, Sister Rose spoke at a reception at the home of TV producer Alan Neuman and his wife, Robin.
A fellow guest was Monsignor Robert Sheeran, the university’s president.
He noted that about 15 percent of his faculty is Jewish, including an Orthodox rabbi, and the state of New Jersey now mandates Holocaust education in all schools, thanks, to a large extent, to Sister Rose’s lobbying.
At the initiative of Los Angeles City Councilman Joel Wachs, both Sister Rose and Sheeran were lauded — via resolution and in person — by the City Council.
Like most peoples, Jews come from a long line of fathers. And we take our dads seriously, writing chapter after chapter of Holy Writ about them. You can spend this Father’s Day, June 15, at the Skirball Cultural Center from 2 to 4 p.m., exploring what Jewish texts have to say about fathers — Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and you. Joel Lurie Grishaver — cartoonist, author, family educator, storyteller — will lead dads and grandpas (and moms and grandmas too) through biblical stories, art projects, theater and dramatic debates about the meaning of being, or having, a father. The workshop is designed for adults and children aged 7 and up. Register in advance by calling (310) 440-4647. Admission is free with paid museum admission. And Happy Father’s Day. —Robert Eshman, Associate Editor
Sephardic Film Festival
A scene from the Sephardic film “Braids” directed by Yitzhak Halutzi.
Sephardic life, love and suffering in the Old and New worlds will be dramatized at the first annual Los Angeles Sephardic Film Festival, from June 3 to 18, at the Laemmle Music Hall Theatre in Beverly Hills.
The festival, presented by the Sephardic Educational Center, opened on June 3 with Moshe Mizrahi’s “Women,” the beautifully told story of a pious love triangle, set in old Jerusalem a century ago.
Accompanying the feature was a striking documentary, “Island of Roses,” tracking the traditions of Jews from the island of Rhodes to present-day Los Angeles.
The June 9 bill will feature “O Judeu” (The Jew), a Portuguese-Brazilian co-production. The film unsparingly portrays the fate of a popular playwright of Jewish descent burned at the stake by the 18th-century Inquisition.
“Braids,” an Israeli film about a 14-year-old Jewish girl in Iraq, imprisoned for Zionist activities, will be the second presentation.
The final evening, June 18, will explore present-day Sephardic life in Cuba, Rhodes and Morocco through three documentaries.
Mati Franco and Arthur Benveniste chair the festival, which is co-sponsored by the local Israeli Consulate. For information, call (213) 653-7365.
Back to Warsaw
An image from the series “Beyond the Shtetl, 1919- 1939: Jewish Life in Urban Eastern
Europe” which will be held at UCLA
UCLA will continue its exploration of the vibrant Jewish life in pre-Holocaust Europe, on Sunday, June 8, with an afternoon program titled “Beyond the Shtetl, 1919-1939: Jewish Life in Urban Eastern Europe.”
In the program’s first part, starting at 2 p.m., historian Samuel Kassow of Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., will speak on “Jewish Warsaw.” Following an intermission, Kassow and Sabell Bender of Yiddishkayt L.A. will discuss “The Yiddish Cultural Renaissance in an Urban Setting.” In the century preceding World War II, “Eastern European Jewish communal life had been transformed,” said Professor David Myers, director of the host UCLA Center for Jewish Studies, in defining the scope of the program. “The once insular shtetl had given way to major new concentrations of Jews in cities which provided an arena for the struggle between tradition and modernity.”
The new urban centers cradled new political and cultural forms, from socialism, Bundism and Zionism to Yiddishism, literary modernism and more.
During the intermission between the two parts of the program, refreshments will be provided, accompanied by Yiddish music.
The event will be held in Korn Hall of the Anderson Graduate School of Management on the UCLA campus. General admission is $7, and $5 for seniors and students. For ticket and parking information, call Yiddishkayt L.A. at (213) 962-1976 or the UCLA center at (310) 794-8522.