There is a scene early on in the film Sister Rose's Passion where Sister Rose Thering recounts a childhood conversation with her mother. A new pharmacist had just moved into town, but people, including her father, would speak of him in hushed whispers. The word 'Jew' was thrown around. A child at the time, Sister Rose asked her mother about it. "Jews are 'Christ killers,'" said her mother – a sentence that remained etched in her memory forever. This scene is an important one – it sets the tone for the rest of the documentary and highlights how early childhood teaching can shape someone's ideas about the world and the people who inhabit it.
Sister Rose's Passion is a testimony to Sister Rose's lifelong dedication towards promoting harmony and understanding between the Church and the Jewish community. A recent screening of the documentary was hosted by Seton Hall University's Sister Rose Thering Fund for Education in Jewish-Christian Studies, which is celebrating 25 years of advancing Sister Rose's legacy by fostering understanding and cooperation among Jews, Christians and people of other religious traditions through advocacy and education. Attended by students, educators and religious, the screening gave the campus community an opportunity to get to know who Sister Rose was and what she fought so passionately for. For the students, it also reinforced the significance of the Vatican II document Nostra Aetate, one of the documents studied through the University's Core Curriculum and which Sister Rose, alongside Monsignor John Oesterreicher, directly impacted through her efforts.
Among those who attended the screening was Sister Rose's friend, author and survivor of three concentration camps, Luna Kaufman. At 90, Luna is sprightly and an active member of the Sister Rose Thering Fund, which provides scholarships to teachers. Her secret, she confesses, is letting go of anger. "I read years and years ago that anger is like acid; it spoils the container it's in. And I don't want to be spoiled by my anger. You cannot carry anger with you because that would destroy you," she says.
Ridding oneself of rage despite the atrocities suffered is not an easy task. Luna lost her father and sister at the camps. She and her mother were the only survivors. Yet, she is devoid of bitterness. But her feelings, she says, should not be mistaken for forgiveness. "When you say you forgive somebody, you're telling them 'I like you, and I don't mind what you did.' But that's not the case with me. I cannot forgive the Nazis. But I don't have to be angry at them. I have learned something (from the Holocaust), and I talk about it so that it doesn't happen again," she explains.
It did not take her long to reach this stage of healing, she admits. "I was always like this. I was never an angry person." Her book, Luna's Life: A Journey of Forgiveness and Triumph, is more about healing and moving forward. "The Holocaust is only one third of the book. The rest is about what I did with my life, because I think it's very important. There are too many people today who are angry."
Luna's life is filled with triumphs. In fact, she looks for them in the unlikeliest of places and objects. A good example is the dress she wore at the concentration camps. When Luna was finally freed from the camps, she was allowed to take only seven pieces of clothing. Her first choice was the dress. And it wasn't because it symbolized suffering, pain and loss. "When I look at it (the dress), it makes me feel very victorious, knowing that that's where I was and this is where I am today."
Deeply inspired by Sister Rose Thering, Luna has dedicated her life to help promote better understanding among members of the Christian and Jewish communities. Around her neck she wears a pendant – a cross intertwined with the Jewish star – similar to the one Sister Rose wore. It is a testimony of their dedication towards the cause. As someone who's seen and experienced hate, Luna has a word of advice for everyone trying to make sense of today's politically charged environment. "We need to follow Sister Rose's model. The only way we can diffuse rising tensions is by working together; by stretching a hand to each other and communicating."
The Sister Rose's Passion screening was co-sponsored by the Sister Rose Thering Fund, the University's Core Curriculum faculty, the School of Diplomacy, the Jewish-Christian Studies program and the University's Chamber Choir.
Categories: Faith and Service