Celebrating 15 years of local Catholic-Jewish collaboration in the advancement of education, nearly 40 Jewish and Catholic educators gathered at St. Paul of the Cross Monastery last month for their annual summer retreat.
The event welcomed participants of C-JEEP (the Catholic-Jewish Education Enrichment Program), a program administered by the Pittsburgh Area Jewish Committee that for 15 years has functioned as an interfaith educational enterprise. As part of the program, participating rabbis travel to Catholic high schools to share information on Judaism with listening students.
“The program gives Catholic kids a chance to meet a rabbi or Jew when they never might have met one,” said Karen Hochberg, executive director of PAJC. “It’s really cool that we’re the only city still doing it. It has built deep relationships with Jews and the dioceses.”
At the recent retreat, participants celebrated C-JEEP’s anniversary, reflected upon last year’s work and began planning for the upcoming school year.
Last year’s C-JEEP focus examined the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, a declaration approved by the Second Vatican Council on the relationship of the Church to non-Christian religions. Of note, Nostra Aetate condemned anti-Semitism by stating, “Furthermore, in her rejection of every persecution against any man, the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel’s spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.”
This year, C-JEEP will focus on passion plays — dramatic representations depicting the trial, suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Historically, many passion plays accused Jews for Jesus’ death.
At this summer’s retreat, time was made for Jewish and Catholic educators to determine how best to address passion plays within the classroom. Additionally, workshops questioned how improvements could be made to the program overall, said Bari Morchower, assistant director of PAJC.
While there were many benefits to gathering local Jewish and Catholic educators, for both Hochberg and Morchower the highlight of the training was listening to Dr. Tim Crain, director of the National Catholic Center for Holocaust Education at Seton Hill University. Crain is an expert in Holocaust Education and spoke to the group of educators on the impact of passion plays on Catholic-Jewish relations.
For Liron Lipinsky, director at JJEP (Joint Jewish Education Program), Crain’s remarks, as well as the workshop overall, offered a unique experience.
“This was my second year at the C-JEEP workshop. I truly applaud the PAJC’s effort of bringing together these two communities and creating the space for meaningful and engaging dialogue,” said Lipinsky.
Hochberg said that C-JEEP and the work of PAJC enables Catholics and Jews to honestly explore topics such as passion plays.
“PAJC’s investment is paying real dividends in building trust between Catholics and Jews,” said Hochberg. “We can now tackle hot topics like the Holocaust and passion plays. We have a firm understanding of how Nostra Aetate has changed the understanding of those plays.”
With the summer retreat behind her and the school year ahead, Hochberg hopes to welcome new participants to the 15-year-old C-JEEP.
“We want to bring in as many people and get as many people involved as possible because this is a really important program.”
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.