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May 19, 2005 - Image 103

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2005-05-19

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Papal Legacy

Interfaith exhibit in Cincinnati traces John Paul Ifs
relationship with the Jewish people.

Pope John Paul II talks about the
exhibit explaining his lifelong rela-
tionship with the Jewish people
during an October 2003 audience
at the Vatican. From left are Dr.
Yaffa Eliach of the Shtetl
Foundation in New York, Rabbi
Abie Ingber of the Hillel Jewish
Student Center in Cincinnati, Dr.
James Buchanan of Xavier
University's Brueggeman Center
and Dr. William Madges of
Xavier's Department of Theology.

Pope John Paul II greets
Rabbi Elio Toaff chief
rabbi of Rome, during
his visit to the Synagogue
of Rome on April 13,
1986 The rabbi was
one of two living people
the pope singled out in
his will.


The American Israelite


The Catholic Telegraph

ne of the fascinating legacies of
Pope John Paul II's papacy was
his lifelong affirming relation-
ship with the Jewish people. That lega-
cy is being acknowledged in an impor-
tant exhibit, "A Blessing to One
Another: Pope John Paul II and the
Jewish People," which opened yester-
day, May 18, at Xavier University in
Cincinnati on what would have been
the pope's 85th birthday.
Transcripts, photos, prayer books,
vestments and other important items
have been gathered from around the
world for the first-ever exhibition on
the subject, a partnership of the Shtetl
Foundation, Xavier University and
Hillel of Cincinnati.


The 1,500-square-foot exhibit runs
through July 15. It will then move to
the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center
in Washington, D.C. From there, it
will tour Jewish and Catholic colleges
and universities and other venues
throughout the United States before
traveling to Europe and becoming a
permanent display in Israel.
As visitors walk through the exhibit,
symbolically retracing the pope's steps,
they will see his childhood church in
Wadowice, Poland, as the pope saw it
from his own bedroom window; they
will learn about Jewish life in World
War II after walking through a re-cre-
ation of the gate of the Krakow ghet-
to. At the exhibit's end, they will be
able to write prayers and place them in
a replica of the Western Wall in
Jerusalem, just as the pope did during
his visit to Israel in 2000. These
prayers will be transferred to Jerusalem
after the exhibit closes.

Pope's Blessing

Last October, the pope gave his bless-
ing to the project after hearing a brief
presentation about the exhibit by
Rabbi Abie Ingber, executive director
of the local Hillel Jewish Student
Center of Cincinnati; Dr. Yaffa Eliach,
former Brueggeman Chair at Xavier
University and president and founder
of the Shtetl Foundation in New York;
Dr. William Madges, chairman of the
Theology Department at Xavier; and
Dr. James Buchanan, director of the
Edward B. Brueggeman Center for
At that meeting, they presented the
pope with a leather-bound overview of
the project, a copy of which will be
displayed at the exhibit.
"The genesis of this project goes to
the fall of 2003, when Eliach was at
Xavier as the Brueggeman professor,"
said Madges. "While she was here, she
had several conversations with James
[Buchanan] and me about her research
about the pope as a priest and bish-
Eliach provided fascinating details
about his lifelong relationship with the
Jews, beginning with Karol Jozef
Wojtyla's childhood in Wadowice. In
this small town of 8,000 souls —
2,000 of whom were Jewish —
Wojtyla spent the first 18 years of his
life in an apartment rented in the
home of a Jewish merchant, Yechiel
Balamuth. There, he forged friend-
ships with Jewish comrades such as
Jerzy Kluger, Zygmut Selinger,
Leopold Zweig and Poldek
The exhibition features a videotaped
interview with Kluger, who was the
pope's closest friend growing up in
Wadowice. Kluger is now a resident of
Rome and remained a friend until the
pope's death.

Genesis Of The Exhibit

"Yaffa laid out the story to us, saying
that this was a very important part of
John Paul's life that needed to be
told," Madges said. "Yaffa said she
would work on the project, and we all
gave our skeptical coys' and moved for-
Eliach, a child survivor of the
Holocaust, established the first center
for Holocaust studies, documentation
and research in the United States. She
helped introduce Holocaust studies
into colleges and universities in North
and South America.
Eliach had prior experience in con-

structing teaching exhibits. Her cre-
ation of a permanent exhibit at the
United States Holocaust Memorial
Museum in Washington, D.C., called
"The Tower of Life," is both well
known and heavily visited. From that
focus on life, Eliach later founded the
Shtetl Foundation.
Her enthusiasm for the project con-
tinued to grow and her leadership was
an important impetus for getting the
exhibit off the ground.
Xavier President Jesuit Father
Michael Graham gave his commit-
ment as well and ultimately worked
together with Cincinnati's Jewish
Foundation to bring the project to
fruition. The lead financial sponsor-
ship of the exhibit is the Jewish
Foundation of Cincinnati and Xavier
Madges noted that the project is sig-
nificant for numerous reasons. Pope
John Paul II was the first pope since
the first century to visit a synagogue,
as well as being the pope who estab-
lished diplomatic relations between
the Vatican and Israel. "This exhibit is
the kind of thing a Catholic university
and a department of theology should
be doing, namely bringing the
Catholic tradition into fruitful dia-
logue with others," Madges said.
Rabbi Ingber concurred.
"It was the first time since St. Paul
that a pope had been into a syna-
gogue," said Rabbi Ingber, whose
grandfather was killed by the Nazis.
"The pope carried 2,000 years of his-
tory by going across the Tiber River in
Rome [and entering a Roman syna-
gogue]," said Rabbi Ingber. "Maybe
God's plan for healing the world after
the Holocaust was John Paul II." ❑

"A Blessing to One Another:
Pope John Paul II and the Jewish
People" runs through July 15 at
the Xavier Art Gallery in the
A.B. Cohen Center at Xavier
University, 3800 Victory
Parkway, in Cincinnati. Hours
are 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Mondays-
Fridays and 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
Saturdays-Sundays (verify times
for specific dates on the Web site
as there are some days with early
closing times). Admission is free.
Additional tour times are avail-
able for groups. For more infor-
mation, call (513) 745-3007 or
go to www.blessingexhibit.org .





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