CHS art teachers to receive Thering Award

Photo Courtesy of Dorit Tabak
CHS Teachers Janet Bustrin and Suzanne Ryan in front of the Holocaust Museum.

SOUTH ORANGE / MAPLEWOOD, NJ — The 42nd annual South Orange/Maplewood Interfaith Holocaust Remembrance Service will be Sunday, May 5, at Our Lady Of Sorrows Church, 217 Prospect Ave. in South Orange. The Sister Rose Thering Award will be presented to CHS language arts teachers Janet Bustrin and Suzanne Ryan for developing the school’s Holocaust education unit.

The event at the church begins at 3 p.m. It is preceded by a March of Remembrance at 2 p.m., which will assemble at Spiotta park on the corner of South Orange Avenue and Village Plaza in South Orange.

This year’s service features a keynote address by Stefanie Seltzer, founder of The World Federation of Jewish Child Survivors. Seltzer was just 1 in 1939 when Poland was invaded, and she and her extended family were forced into a ghetto. When Seltzer was 3, her mother arranged for her to go into hiding. She lived in seven different hiding places — often taking on a false identity. By the time they were liberated, only her mother and two other family members from the ghetto survived. Seltzer lived in a displaced persons camp before coming to the United States in 1952.

The Sister Rose Thering Holocaust Education Award was established in memory of the late Seton Hall University professor who dedicated her life to fighting prejudice through awareness, education and cooperation. She wrote her doctoral dissertation on anti-Semitic text in Catholic school textbooks; this work was taken to Vatican II and profoundly influenced the drafting of Nostra Aetate.

Bustrin was born and raised in Arizona, where there was a dearth of racial, religious, and cultural diversity. But at 17, while touring with a youth singing group, performing sacred and secular music in Western and Eastern Europe, she visited the Majdanek and Auschwitz/Birkenau concentration camps. The impact was swift and devastating. Her dissertation topic was, “Does diversity matter in the secondary school classroom?” Her answer? Yes, it does. She has also earned her National Board Certified Teacher designation.

Ryan has been teaching in the South Orange-Maplewood School District for the last 26 years and at CHS for the past 10 years. She is dually certified as an English and special education teacher. She has a master’s degree in English from Seton Hall University, where she knew Thering; she is currently a doctoral student at SHU. When teaching third and fifth grade at Jefferson and Marshall schools, Ryan realized the students needed to be exposed to the Holocaust. Ryan introduced the unit by teaching about the life of Anne Frank. Next she had her students read “Number the Stars,” by Lois Lowry, and “Four Perfect Pebbles,” a memoir by Marion Blumenthal Lazan. She invited Lazan to come and speak to her fifth-grade students at Jefferson. When she moved to CHS, Ryan wanted to continue teaching about the Holocaust, so she designed a Holocaust Studies unit.

Collaborating with Bustrin, both decided to commit to teaching about the Holocaust. They prepare students for the Remembrance Journeys Trip with Michael Rubell, which is sponsored by the SOMA Holocaust Remembrance Committee.

“It is a rich unit with much reflection,” Ryan said. “I know that this unit has had a huge impact on my students; they have shared that with me. They are deeply moved by the first-hand accounts we watch, and the power of the words they read. The D.C. trip changes lives. Meeting and spending the day with Holocaust survivors is powerful beyond words. The students know that they are perhaps the last generation to have the great privilege of meeting and interacting with actual survivors. That is overwhelmingly life changing for them.”

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