Rabbi Abie Ingber, founding director of the Office of Interfaith Community Engagement, was invited by President Barack Obama to attend a celebration of Jewish American Heritage Month on Wednesday, May 30, at the White House. The event commemorates the month-long recognition established by President George W. Bush in 2006 to raise the national consciousness regarding contributions by Jewish Americans to the country's heritage through a variety of events and programs across all 50 states.
"As leaders in every facet of American life … Jewish Americans have shaped our nation and helped steer the course of our history," Obama said.
Ingber sat in the front row with his daughter, Avital, in the East Room of the White House with more than 200 invited guests. In his talk, Obama mentioned Abraham Lincoln and the Jews of his day and quipped, "Another reason we like Lincoln," Ingber said. He left the stage to shake hands, and Ingber introduced himself to the President.
"I told him I was from Cincinnati. 'We need your help in Ohio'," Obama said. Ingber also praised Michelle Obama and her work. "His face lit up with a huge smile," Ingber said. "'Thank you', he said, 'I'll pass on the kind words'."
In the 2011-2012 academic year, Ingber’s office served as the only Southern Ohio participant in the White House interfaith and community service campus challenge. The Office for Interfaith Community Engagement gathers students from all faith and ethnic backgrounds to encounter each other and work together on projects aimed at improving relations for all.
An ordained rabbi for 35 years, Ingber is also an adjunct professor of theology at Xavier and a founding board member of Xavier’s Brueggeman Center for Dialogue. He helped create and is co-executive director of the Brueggeman Center’s award-winning exhibit, “A Blessing to One Another: Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People,” which has toured in more than 18 cities since its opening in 2005. In 2009, Ingber and his co-directors delivered 31,009 prayers written by exhibit visitors to place in Jerusalem’s Western Wall.
For more than 30 years, he was executive director and senior rabbi at Cincinnati’s Hillel Jewish Student Center. The son of Holocaust immigrants, Ingber has advocated on behalf of immigrants and social justice. One of his earliest notable achievements came when he talked his way into John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Montreal bedroom during their famous 1969 “Bed In” to convince them to sign his petition for Russian Jewish emigration. More recently, he traveled with the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society to Darfur to assist refugees and to Ethiopia to help Ethiopian Jews resettle in Israel.
In 2008, he received the Eternal Light Award from the Center for Jewish-Catholic Studies in Tampa, Fla. The University of Cincinnati has bestowed on him the Dr. Martin Luther King Award and the Just Community Award. In 2012, Ingber was named a “Champion for Connecting Cultures and Communities” by the Cincinnati Human Relations Commission.