Learning from Luna

The memoir of a remarkable woman whose experience in the Holocaust sparked a need to teach tolerance.

lunas life book 248 88 (photo credit: )
lunas life book 248 88
(photo credit: )
Luna's Life A Journey of Forgiveness and Triumph By Luna Kaufman Comteq Publishing 326 pp., $19.95 Luna's Life is a poignant memoir of a strong and determined Holocaust survivor who makes remarkably significant contributions to the Jewish and Christian communities - and to Jewish-Christian dialogue and mutual understanding - in the postwar period and until this very day. Subtitled "a journey of forgiveness and triumph," this is the story of Luna Kaufman, who returns to Poland, lives briefly in Israel and then moves to the United States, a story of her zest for life which is undoubtedly what enabled her to survive the concentration camps. This beautiful book was published in May marking Kaufman's receipt of an honorary degree at Seton Hall University in New Jersey for her work benefiting the Sister Rose Thering Endowment for Jewish-Christian Studies at this university. In the preface to the book, Msgr. Robert Sheeran, the president of the university, pays tribute to Kaufman: "The strength of character that enabled her to survive imprisonment during the darkest time of the 20th century shines through even today." About one-third of the book is based on Kaufman's memories of growing up in Krakow and surviving the war "after being enslaved for four years in the depths of hell called concentration camps." Her story of how she survived, with her mother, is rivetingly told from her own point of view, mixed with much passion and even some humor. It is a gripping, moving, personal story - complete with detailed descriptions of unbelievable cruelty, accompanied by threads of hope amid terrifying despair. Most of the book, however, is her post-Holocaust journey, which takes her back to Krakow for five difficult years, then to Israel in the early 1950s, followed by her marriage and emigration to the US in 1952. The thrust of this book is how this Holocaust survivor remains an eternal optimist and devotes her life to making the world a better place for all human beings, not just members of her tribe. Rather than remain bitter, Kaufman felt that her wartime experiences sparked a need to teach tolerance and mutual respect. She places herself among a group of Holocaust survivors who feel that they must use their lives constructively "as a debt to the non-Jews whose help on our behalf threatened their own existence and to the liberators who sacrificed their lives to free us." Indeed one of the most remarkable aspects of this book - and of Luna's life - is the friendship that she established with Sister Rose Thering, a Dominican nun, who paved the way in the 1950s and 1960s toward the Roman Catholic Church's formal repudiation of anti-Semitism and who was instrumental in establishing the teaching of the Holocaust as a permanent feature of Catholic education in the United States. In addition, Sister Rose was a great lover of Israel. Not only did she create and lead the National Christian Leadership Conference for Israel for many years, but she brought over 50 groups of Christian leaders from the US to Israel, to put them in touch directly with the challenges and dilemmas of the Jewish state. I had the privilege of knowing Sister Rose Thering through my work in Jewish-Christian relations, and I have the pleasure of knowing Luna Kaufman through my work as a Jewish educator at her synagogue in Plainfield New Jersey in 1972-73, when I was a rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York. I was also fortunate to reconnect with her and Sister Rose when they came together on a solidarity mission from New Jersey at the beginning of the second intifada in October 2000 and again in January 2002, this time with the National Christian Leadership Conference for Israel, when almost no one was coming. They were full of energy, commitment and hope, which was infectious to everyone who traveled with them. Kaufman continues to possess great energy for life, even at 82. She always looks forward, while maintaining and cherishing her memories of a very difficult past (she lost her sister and father and many other relatives during the Holocaust). Indeed, in the final chapter of the book, she tells a wonderful story of how she celebrated her bat mitzva at 80, using a tallit given to her that had belonged to Sister Rose (she had been given this tallit by a synagogue where she once spoke). Reflecting on the fact that Sister Rose devoted her life to fighting anti-Semitism and this did not make her any less of a Christian, Kaufman writes: "That is why I decided to reaffirm my Judaism by having my bat mitzva, to prove that working with the Christian world did not make me any less a Jew. It is my hope to become the Jewish counterpart of Sister Rose, and that all my grandchildren will become a bar or bat mitzva in this tallit and pledge to perpetuate the values fostered by Sister Rose." What a remarkable statement by a loving mother and grandmother, who not only survived the Holocaust, but raised a wonderful family in America and continues to devote her life to the causes in which she believes deeply. The writer, a rabbi and educator, serves as director of the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel. www.icci.org.il