Landmark HSC study day brings Catholic-Jewish dialogue alive

In a landmark step forward for Catholic-Jewish relations, a group of Jewish educators in Sydney have led over 150 HSC students from 19 Sydney Catholic Schools undertaking their Studies of Religion course on a dedicated Study Day at Sydney’s Jewish Museum to help them prepare for their upcoming exams.

Alongside 29 teachers from Sydney Catholic Schools, the students gave up a full day of their winter holidays on 12th July and benefited from the lived experience of three Jewish teachers who provided the students with deep insights into topics covered in the HSC exam.

From Jewish marriage customs and customs around death and mourning, through to sexual ethics and the works of leading Jewish philosophers, the HSC students and teachers benefited from the personal insights of the Jewish teachers into their faith with time set aside for questions throughout the day.

The coordinator of the HSC Study Day, Network K-12 Religious Education Officer (Secondary Focus) in the Mission and Identity Directorate at Sydney Catholic Schools, Mrs Cathy Brown, said the students and teachers benefited greatly from the authentic input of the Jewish teachers.

“This was very special because it involved three adherents of the Jewish faith, three very educated people and three teachers who know the Syllabus well too and so it was also a professional learning day for the Catholic school teachers”, Mrs Brown explained.

“We had both teachers and students who had never met an adherent of the Jewish faith and who had never visited the Jewish Museum and so this wasn’t just a day of lecturing by any means: it was a day of real, fraternal friendship”.

Coordinator of Pastoral Care at Moriah College, Ms Mandy Meltz leading a session for HSC Studies of Religion students at the Jewish Museum. Photo: Sydney Catholic Schools

Coordinator of Pastoral Care at Moriah College, Mandy Meltz, leading a session with HSC students from Catholic schools at the Jewish Museum.

The morning and afternoon sessions around key topics in the Studies of Religion syllabus were led by the Coordinator of Pastoral Care at Moriah College, Ms Mandy Meltz, Senior Educator and Manager of Research at the Sydney Jewish Museum, Mr Jonathan Kaplan and the Acting Head of Education at the Sydney Jewish Museum, Ms Sandy Hollis.

In the afternoon, two Shoah survivors, Mrs Yvonne Engelman and Mr Mark Spigelman shared moving personal testimonies about their remarkable escape from the Nazis during World War Two.

Mrs Engelman shared how she survived the barbaric Auschwitz concentration camp and successfully applied as an orphan refugee from the former Czechoslovakia, arriving in Sydney in 1948, in turn forging a new life and raising a family in Australia with her husband, who was also an orphan refugee from the horrors of Nazism.

Mr Spigelman shared his remarkable story of surviving the brutality of a ghetto in southern Poland as a young child and later seeking refuge in Australia, going on to forge a distinguished career as a surgeon and medical archaeologist.

The students and teachers were also accompanied by Jewish guides on a museum tour, helping them gain deeper insights into Judaism and Jewish history in Australia and around the world.

The HSC Study Day is an integral part of the broader work of the Nostre Aetate Working Party led by the Archdiocese of Sydney’s Commission for Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations.

The Working Party was established after the signing of a landmark agreement in 2015 between Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP, the President of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, Mr Jeremy Spinak, the Chairman of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Commission for Ecumenism and Inter-Religious Relations, Archbishop Christopher Prowse and the President of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, Mr Robert Goot,  on the 50th anniversary of Nostre Aetate in 2015: the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions

Made up of Jewish and Catholic community representatives including leaders from Sydney Catholic Schools and the Australian Catholic University, the Working Party is focused on promoting a culture of inter-religious dialogue, respect, friendship and collaboration between the Catholic and Jewish communities in Sydney.

Acting Head of Education at Sydney's Jewish Museum, Ms Sandy Hollis, leading a session for HSC Studies of Religion students. Photo: Sydney Catholic Schools.

Acting head of education at the Sydney Jewish Museum, Sandy Hollis, leading a session for HSC Studies of Religion students. Photo: Sydney Catholic Schools.

Religious Education Coordinator at Domremy College, Five Dock, Ms Jane Sullivan, said the HSC Study Day on Judaism offered her Year 12 students an experience they could never have gained purely from classroom learning.

“It was enriching insofar as the presenters were authentic Jews”, she explained.

“My students had never even spoken to a Jewish adherent and the insights from the range of Jewish adherents were all very well communicated”.

Yasmeen, a Year 12 student from Brigidine College in Randwick, said she benefited greatly from the Study Day.

“The day will not only help my HSC preparation, but more so in my understanding and empathy for those who endured the Holocaust”, she said.

Cathy Brown from Sydney Catholic Schools said it’s hoped that the HSC Study Day will help inspire many other opportunities to harness the school curriculum as a means of nurturing inter-faith dialogue and understanding.

“In Year 10, we have a wonderful unit on Ecumenism and Inter-faith Dialogue which would similarly allow for an opportunity to visit the Sydney Jewish Museum and we really want to expand this work from Year 7 onwards”, she explains.

“We also would like to bring out the Jewish students from schools such as Emanuel School and Moriah College, to visit our Catholic schools and experience what it’s like to be in a Catholic school for a day”.

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