by Sr Isabelle Denis
In 1961-1962, I boarded for the last year at an NDS school in the city of Le Mans. The sisters of Sion spoke to us about the calls they were receiving from bishops to form themselves in their vocation of encounter with the Jewish people, because of the Second Vatican Council – hence my decision to become a sister of Sion.
We respected our differences and rejoiced in our complementary nature
I had always dreamt that one day, Jewish children would be proud and happy to tell me who they were, and that I would be able to express my joy about their lives. As an adult, after my own education in the Bible, Judaism and Liturgy, I finally had that opportunity.
As a teacher in a Catholic school, I was able to make contact with a Jewish school, the Ganenou School in Paris, where I have been going for about 40 years as a Christian friend. I was invited by a teacher of Judaism to his class, and met pupils aged from 9 to 11 years old; we respected our differences and rejoiced in our complementary nature. The interest these students showed was remarkable.
This dialogue with 9 to 11-year-old pupils showed how much they can be our teachers
For the first twenty years there were written exchanges and meetings with pupils of the same age from Catholic schools. Then, between 2003 and 2013, for ten years, I only met with the Jewish school children. The pupils were able ask me any question about Christians – in other words, questions they really wanted to ask. It was an exchange, since I also asked them to explain their tradition to me, because I was interested in their life, in them, Jewish children; like them, Jesus was born a son of Israel.
This dialogue with 9 to 11-year-old pupils, before adolescence set in, showed how much they can be our teachers in their questioning and give us the opportunity to grow with them respectfully and joyfully in dialogue.
The horrors of the Shoah during the Second World War cannot and must not be forgotten
Among the questions asked, I remember this one: “Do you Christians feel superior, inferior or equal to Jews?” The horrors of the Shoah during the Second World War cannot and must not be forgotten. We have a responsibility to pass on the history; it is our duty to remember, and a warning for the future. And as Christians, we have to reflect in all honesty, in order to learn to place ourselves in a connection of fellowship with the Jewish people, both different and similar at the same time.
Since the Jewish teacher I worked with retired to Israel, I continue to go to the Ganenou school with younger students, who are between 6 and 8 years old. Their Judaism teacher teaches them Hebrew songs in preparation for Shabbat on Fridays; we sing them together with my guitar, as well as songs in French about peace.