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Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies

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Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies

Upcoming Events

Eli's Story and Catholic Reaction to the Holocaust

Thursday, April 27th, 7:00 -  8:30 pm
Florida Holocaust Museum, St. Petersburg FL

The CCJS and the Florida Holocaust Museum invite you to engage a panel of scholars who will discuss the story of Eli Rochelson and the question of Catholic reaction to the Holocaust and displaced persons after the Second World War.

Eli’s Story is a moving account of the life of a Holocaust survivor, Eli Rochelson, born in Kovno, Lithuania, in 1907. Eli Rochelson received his medical degree in 1939. When the Nazis invaded Lithuania, they killed his mother and one of his brothers and sent him, his wife, and son to Dachau and Auschwitz. Eli’s wife, son, and other brother died in the concentration camps. Eli was placed on a train at Dachau on April 26, 1945, as the Allies closed in. When American troops bombed the train, he escaped to Bavaria, Germany, until liberation on April 29. Eli joined the masses of concentration camp survivors who were free but had nowhere to go, and found themselves in one of many displaced persons (DP) camps. He befriended some Lithuanian physicians, and by May 9, 1945, they established two DP camp hospitals — at Landsberg am Lech and at a Benedictine monastery, St. Ottilien — to treat thousands of survivors. The DP camp at the St. Ottilien Monastery served as a central maternity station for Jewish mothers, where about 420 children were born.

This CCJS and FHM program features a panel of distinguished scholars, including two of Eli Rochelson's children, Dr. Meri-Jane Rochelson, and Dr. Burt Rochelson. They, along with the esteemed Holocaust scholar Fr. Kevin Spicer, will discuss how Eli's story sheds important light on the Jewish experience of the Holocaust and Jewish displaced persons. The panel will also discuss Catholic reactions to displaced persons and the Holocaust during and after the war. Dr. Meri-Jane Rochelson is the author of Eli's Story, and the daughter of the late Eli Rochelson. At the core of the book is her father's story in his own words, taken from an interview he did with his son, Dr. Burt Rochelson, in the mid-1970s. 

Register Now

This event is in-person at the:

Florida Holocaust Museum
55 5th St. St Petersburg, FL, 33701.

The event is free and open to the public, but space is limited.



The mission of the Saint Leo University Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies (CCJS) is to build mutual respect, understanding, and appreciation among Jews, Catholics, and all people of good will by providing opportunities for interfaith education and dialogue.

Inspired by Nostra Aetate, a declaration by the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) that provided a new and positive framework for the Catholic Church's relationship with the Jewish people, CCJS facilitates theological study and dialogue among Christians and Jews at the scholarly level, in the classroom, and in the local community.

The center was established in 1998 through the joint efforts of Saint Leo, the American Jewish Committee, and several principal founders, including Rabbi A. James Rudin, senior interreligious advisor to the American Jewish Committee; Dr. Arthur F. Kirk Jr., president emeritus of Saint Leo University, Bishop Emeritus John J. Nevins, the Diocese of Venice; and Bishop Emeritus Robert Lynch, the Diocese of St. Petersburg. Given Florida's growing and diverse population, these leaders recognized the need in the state for an academic center devoted to the biblical and theological study of Catholic-Jewish relations and interreligious dialogue, as emphasized by the Second Vatican Council.

CCJS remains the only academic center of its kind in the Southeast.

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About the Director

Matt Tapie

Dr. Tapie is Associate Professor of Theology, and Director of the Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies at Saint Leo University, Saint Leo, Florida. His teaching and research interests are in the thought of Thomas Aquinas, Judaism and Christian theology, Catholic-Jewish relations, and moral and political theology. From 2012-2014, Dr. Tapie was a Visiting Assistant Professor of Theology at The Catholic University of America, and was appointed a research fellow at CUA's Institute for Interreligious Study and Dialogue. He has also taught Christian Ethics at Georgetown University, and Loyola University Maryland.

As Associate Professor of Theology at Saint Leo University, Dr. Tapie teaches courses in the graduate theology program in the Department of Philosophy, Theology, and Religion, and in the undergraduate core curriculum. As director of the Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies, he oversees the center’s research fellow program, guest lecturer programs, and interreligious dialogue initiatives.

Dr. Tapie is the author of Aquinas on Israel and the Church (Pickwick/Wipf & Stock, 2014), which was the focus of a special session at the 51st International Congress on Medieval Studies, May 12, 2016. He is co-editor of Reading Scripture as a Political Act: Essays on the Theopolitical Interpretation of the Bible (Fortress Press, 2015); and The Business of War: Theological and Ethical Reflections on the Military-Industrial Complex (Cascade, 2020). Dr. Tapie has also published peer-reviewed articles in the European Journal for the Study of Thomas Aquinas, The Bulletin of Medieval Canon Law, Studies in Christian-Jewish Relations, and the Journal of Moral Theology.

Dr. Tapie is Series Editor of the Judaism and Catholic Theology series with The Catholic University of America Press. He is a member of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' dialogue with Modern Orthodox Judaism. He serves on the Advisory Board of the journal, Studies in Christian-Jewish Relations. Dr. Tapie served on the leadership team of the Catholic Theological Society of America's Consultation on Judaism and Christianity from 2018-2021. In 2016, Dr. Tapie was appointed to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Committee on Ethics, Religion, and the Holocaust.

Faculty of the Center

Rabbi David Maayan, Cohn Visiting Chair in Jewish Thought and Assistant Director of the CCJS

Rabbi David Maayan

Rabbi David Maayan comes to Saint Leo University from Boston College where he was an instructor of Judaism and Christianity in Dialogue for the past academic year (2021-2022). He has an extensive teaching background in academia, secondary education, and community settings. He served as an instructor at Maimonides School in Brookline, MA, Hebrew College Rabbinical School, in Newton, MA, and at Yeshivat Simchat Shlomo in Jerusalem, Israel, in addition to his work at Boston College. He has taught extensively on the Hebrew Bible, Talmud and rabbinic literature, Jewish mysticism, Kabbalah, and Hasidism, incorporating historical, philosophical, and comparative religious perspectives. He also has an interest and background in multiple religions including Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam, though his work is especially focused on the complex interrelationship between Christianity and Judaism.

Maayan has taught on New Testament texts and Christian theology in relation to Jewish theology and practice, with a particular interest in the Trinity, theological anthropology, and theological reflections on love, embodiment, and suffering. This background informed his course on In-Depth Reading of the Talmudic Passage on ‘Sufferings of Love’ (Yissurim shel ahavah), and the yearlong graduate seminar Altruism (Jewish, Christian, and Islamic Perspectives), and Our Responsibility for the Other: An Interreligious and Interdisciplinary Investigation, which he co-taught with a Christian and a Muslim instructor.

Maayan graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in religion with a focus in Jewish mysticism from Oberlin College in Ohio, earned his master’s in Jewish studies from Hebrew College, and is a doctoral degree candidate in comparative theology at Boston College. In addition to training with a number of influential rabbis in America, he studied in rabbinical seminaries in Israel for six years, including Bat Ayin Yeshiva, Mir Yeshiva, and the Joseph S. Gruss Kollel of Yeshiva University in Jerusalem. His rabbinical ordination took place in Jerusalem in 2004.

Rabbi Maayan also has pursued interfaith dialogue and friendship throughout his life. He has participated in interreligious dialogue groups in Boulder and Snowmass, CO, Sharon, MA, as well as Paderborn, Germany, and Jerusalem, Israel.

Sasha Bergstrasser, Administrator of Programs and Events

Sasha B Headshot

Sasha Bergstrasser is the Administrator of Programs and Events for the Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies and an Adjunct Professor of Religion at Saint Leo University. Her teaching background is in primary, secondary, and adult education and as a Behavioral Health Mentor working in therapeutic day programs and youth residential centers from 2000-2012.

The shift toward higher education began in 2013 as she joined the University of South Florida’s INTO USF department working with international students studying abroad. Sasha started with Saint Leo University in 2015 serving our Active-Duty Military and Veteran population processing education benefits and student advising.  She served as a board member on the Florida Association of Veterans Education Specialists (F.A.V.E.S.) from 2019-2022.

Sasha is a firm advocate of continual learning and personal growth and attributes the ability to effectively teach and serve others in her work as a result of her educational pursuits. She earned an Associates of Occupational Studies in Business Management with a minor in Human Resources at Bryant & Stratton College in Greece, NY graduating with honors in 2000.  

As one who has a desire to see humanity live their best lives, Sasha completed a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology at Saint Leo University, graduating Summa Cum Laude in 2018. She has a deep interest in Neuroscience focusing on the gut-brain connection and cognitive development while exploring farming practices and the impact nutrition has on mental and physical health.

In previous years she offered life coaching sessions and community groups at religious institutions. Sasha pursued the Berean Studies of the Bible at Global University’s Ministerial Program from 2013-2015 and earned a Master of Arts in Theology at Saint Leo University in 2022.

One of her greatest joys in life is teaching on biblical studies, encouraging others, and helping people to discover their gifts and talents. Sasha’s heart is to see interreligious dialogue occurring between faith communities and working together on joint initiatives to meet local community needs. She has a continued focus toward interdisciplinary research of theological and psychological approaches and how both disciplines correlate and can benefit all humanity.

Dr. Eugene Fisher, Distinguished Professor of Theology

Dr. Fisher earned his doctorate in 1976 at New York University in Hebrew Culture and Education, his dissertation entitled, "'The Treatment of Jews and Judaism in Current Roman Catholic Teaching." Dr. Fisher was appointed as the specialist in Catholic-Jewish Relations for the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) in May of 1977, a post in which served until 2007. In 1981 he was named Consultor to the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, serving in that capacity for 25 years. He has lectured widely throughout the United States, Canada and Europe. In 1995, a book he co-edited with Rabbi Leon Klenicki, John Paul II, Spiritual Pilgrimage: Texts on Jews and Judaism (Crossroad) won the National Jewish Book Award in the Jewish-Christian Relations category.

He has published or edited some 20 books and over 250 articles in the field of Jewish-Christian relations, including: The Jewish Roots of Christian Liturgy, ed. (Paulist, 1990); Interwoven Destinies: Jews and Christians through the Ages, ed. (Paulist/Stimulus, 1992); Faith Without Prejudice: Rebuilding Christian Attitudes Toward Judaism (Crossroad, 1993); Visions of the Other: Jewish and Christian Theologians Assess the Dialogue, ed. (Paulist/Stimulus, 1994); A Prophet of Our Time: An Anthology of the Writings of Rabbi Marc H. Tannenbaum, ed. with Judith H. Banki (Fordham University Press, 2002). He also co-edited with Leon Klenicki the newly published The Saint for Shalom: How Pope John Paul II Transformed Catholic-Jewish Relations (Crossroad, 2011) and edited the forthcoming Memoria Futuri: Catholic-Jewish Dialogue Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow; Texts and Addresses of Cardinal William H. Keeler (Paulist/Stimulus, 2012).

Rabbi James Rudin, Distinguished Visiting Professor of Religion and Judaica

Rabbi Rudin holds honorary doctorates from Saint Leo University, Saint Martin's University, and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute for Religion. In 1968 he began his career as a member of the American Jewish Committee senior professional staff where he served as Director of the Interreligious Affairs Department. He is currently the AJC's Senior Interreligious Adviser and a member of the organization's Board of Governors.

A former chairman of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations, Rabbi Rudin participated in eleven meetings with Saint Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. He was a guest of honor at the 1994 Vatican Concert that commemorated the Shoah. In April 2008 he was chosen by the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops to respond to Pope Benedict XVI's address to Jewish leaders in Washington, DC. Rabbi Rudin is the author or editor of seventeen books and since 1991 has written commentaries for Religion News Service. His latest book, is Pillar of Fire: A Biography of Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, published in 2015 by Texas Tech University Press.

Eternal Light Award

Since 1999, the Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies' Eternal Light Award is presented to an individual who has made outstanding contributions to the cause of Catholic-Jewish relations.

View Recipients of the Eternal Light Award


Advisory Board

Randi Rashkover
Director of Judaic Studies, Sophia and Nathan S. Gumenick Professor of Judaic Studies

Rabbi Dr. Shai Held
Hadar Institute, New York

Rabbi A. James Rudin
Distinguished Visiting Professor of Religion and Judaica, Saint Leo University

Dr. Eugene Fisher
Distinguished Professor of Theology, Saint Leo University

Dr. Peter Ochs
Edgar M. Bronfman Professor of Modern Judaic Studies, the University of Virginia

Dr. John Borelli
Special Assistant to the President for Catholic Identity and Dialogue, Georgetown University

Dr. Philip Cunningham
Professor of Theology and Director of the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations, Saint Joseph's University

Rabbi Dr. Alan Brill
Cooperman/Ross Endowed Chair for Jewish-Christian Studies at Seton Hall University

Dr. Kevin Hughes
Associate Professor of Theology and Chair of the Humanities Department, Villanova University

Dr. Devorah Schoenfeld
Associate Professor of Theology, Loyola University Chicago

Dr. Karma Ben-Johanan
Chair in Jewish-Christian Relations, Humboldt University of Berlin

Dr. Matthew Levering
James N. and Mary D. Perry Jr. Chair of Theology, Mundelein Seminary

Dr. Amy-Jill Levine
Rabbi Stanley M. Kessler Distinguished Professor of New Testament and Jewish Studies at Hartford Seminary, and Professor of New Testament Studies Emerita at Vanderbilt University

Contact the Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies

Sasha Bergstrasser
Administrator of Programs and Events
Phone: (352)-588-7711

Saint Leo University
St. Francis Hall 211
P.O.Box 6665-MC 2460
Saint Leo, FL 33574