For more than decade, Rabbi Brooks Susman and Christopher Bellitto, Ph.D., have been promoting interfaith relations through education around New Jersey.
The pair—commonly known as the “God Squad”—recently brought their wide-ranging approach to the subject to Georgian Court’s Casino Auditorium. There, in a powerful, one-hour presentation entitled “Catholics and Jews: Changing the Conversation,” the duo reviewed the often painful history of Jewish-Catholic relations and shared insights on more recent developments that signal a better future.
The session opened the door to “really starting a dialogue about how we think” about the part religion plays in our lives and in society today, said Evelyn Saul Quinn, GCU vice president for Mission Integration.
Eye-Opening and Inspiring
Dr. Bellitto, a professor at Kean University, is a prolific author who has appeared on many national media outlets including CNN and the History Channel as an expert on Church history and the papacy. Rabbi Susman is the founding rabbi of Congregation Kol Am in Freehold and an adjunct professor at Brookdale Community College.
Their engaging, fast paced back-and-forth dialogue captivated students, staff and community members alike, many of whom described the presentation, sponsored by GCU’s Office of Mission Integration, as eye-opening and inspirational.
Sophomore Bianca Jenkins, a GCU biology major, gleaned a lot of information from the session and was very happy to have attended. “I learned a lot that I didn’t know,” she said. Another participant, Patricia Burke, who comes from a multi-faith background, said she was uplifted by the experience. Ms. Burke, an Associate with the Sisters of Mercy—GCU’s sponsoring order—said the God Squad’s talk makes her want to learn more about her own background.
Viewing the gap between Judaism and Christianity through the long lens of history, the pair was able to correct misinterpretations that have traveled down the centuries. For instance, there were no “money lenders” at the Temple in Jerusalem for Jesus to confront, only money “changers” who assisted Jews changing currency from around the diaspora into shekels – Rabbi Susman explained.
Dr. Bellitto shed light on the ways in which popes Saint John XXIII, Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict have moved to embrace Jewish people, whom, he said, they have all acknowledged as “older brothers in faith.”
Story by Lois Rogers; photos courtesy of Brookdale Community College and GCU student Tyler Chamra ’18