In October 2004, representatives from Xavier University, Hillel of Cincinnati and The Shtetl Foundation met with Pope John Paul II to ask his blessing for an exhibition documenting his life-long affirming relationship with the Jewish people, the first exhibition on the subject ever assembled.
That blessing was given and the exhibit, “A Blessing to One Another: Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People” opened at Xavier University on May 18, 2005, which would have been Pope John Paul II’s 85th birthday. From there it has traveled to 17 venues around the United States, where it has been seen by more than 800,000 and had positive impact on Christian-Jewish relations in each of those communities.
The exhibit will make one last visit to Cincinnati before beginning a European tour in 2013. It will be the opening exhibit at the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, which is now completing construction. From there, the plans are for it to travel through Poland, Germany, Austria, Italy and France. Discussions are underway for the exhibit to also go to Israel in 2013.
In Cincinnati, the exhibit will open September 10 at the Skirball Museum on the Cincinnati campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion on Clifton Avenue.
“How fitting it is that two leading organizations in interfaith relations collaborate on the return of this important exhibit to Cincinnati,” says Rabbi Jonathan Cohen, dean of Hebrew Union’s Cincinnati campus. “We have seen a significant growth in Catholic and Jewish relations, in no small part because of the commitment of Pope John Paul II. His support has been crucial to the advancement of understanding between Catholics and Jews. As Hebrew Union College serves as a cultural resource for greater dialogue and understanding among all members of our community, this exhibition fits perfectly with our mission.”
The 2,200 square-foot exhibit takes its name from the pope’s 1993 letter commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising: “As Christians and Jews, following the example of the faith of Abraham, we are called to be a blessing to the world. This is the common task awaiting us. It is therefore necessary for us, Christians and Jews, to be first a blessing to one another.”
Dr. James Buchanan, Rabbi Abie Ingber and Dr. William Madges were the three principals in the creation of the exhibit.
“There is particular importance to the message of the exhibit for both the Jewish and Catholic communities now,” says Buchanan, “The current pope, Benedict XVI, will be the last pope with direct memory and experience of the Holocaust. There is no way to predict where the next Pope might stand on this vital relationship; therefore, it is critical that the Jewish-Christian relationship gets on a firm foundation now.”
Visitors will experience a multi-media walk through the 20th century through the eyes and experiences of Pope John Paul II from his childhood in Wadowice, Poland, his experience of World War II and the Holocaust, his years as a young priest in Krakow and his Papacy. At the end of the exhibit is a replica of a part of the Western Wall, where visitors are invited to insert their own prayer on the back of a copy of the prayer that Pope John Paul II inserted in the Wall during his historic trip to Israel in 2000. These prayers are taken, unread, to Jerusalem and placed in the real Western Wall. To date, more than 80,000 prayers have been hand delivered to the Western Wall.
Born Karol Wotyla, Pope John Paul II lived in Wadowice, Poland, n where one quarter of his classmates were Jewish. He was especially close to Jerzy Kluger, the son of the president of Wadowice’s Jewish community. Scholars believe these early experiences instilled in him openness to Jews and a profound respect for their faith. As pope, he broke the chains of 2,000 years of painful history between Catholics and Jews. He became the first pope to enter a synagogue; the first to officially visit and recognize the State of Israel; and the first to formally engage in an act of repentance for the Catholic Church’s past treatment of Jews. The 2005 exhibit opening also gave concrete witness to the 40th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, a declaration of the common spiritual heritage shared by Christians and Jews and denunciation of all displays of anti-Semitism.
The exhibit’s video interviews with Kluger were conducted by Ingber. They are the most extensive ever given by Pope John Paul II’s closest Jewish friend.
“As both Karol Wotyla and Jerzy Kluger have died since the exhibit’s opening, it is up to us to see that their message lives after them. A Blessing to One Another inspires visitors to commit – or recommit – themselves to ideals of mutual understanding and fellowship,” said Ingber.
The return of “A Blessing to One Another” to Cincinnati is a collaborative effort of Xavier University, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, The Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati, The Jewish Federation of Cincinnati, the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), The Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education, The Archdiocese of Cincinnati and the Skirball Museum.
“A Blessing to One Other: Pope John Paul II & The Jewish People” will be at the Skirball Museum on the campus of Hebrew Union Campus-Jewish Institute of Religion, 3101 Clifton Avenue, Cincinnati, OH 45220 from September 10 through December 31, 2012. Admission is free, but donations are encouraged. The museum is open to the public Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Sundays, 1 to 4 p.m. (The museum will be closed on Saturdays.) School tours will be available Monday through Friday, 9 to noon. For more details, please call 513.487.3200 or visit hucinci.org.
About Hebrew Union College
Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is the nation’s oldest institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual and professional development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates men and women for service to American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators and communal service professionals, and offers graduate and post-graduate degree programs for scholars of all faiths. With campuses in Cincinnati, Los Angeles, New York and Jerusalem, HUC-JIR’s scholarly resources comprise renowned library, archive and museum collections; biblical archaeology excavations; and academic publications.
About Xavier University
Founded in 1831, Xavier University is a Jesuit Catholic university in Cincinnati, Ohio. Its three colleges offer 85 undergraduate majors, 54 minors and 11 graduate programs to 7,019 total students, including 4,368 undergraduates. Xavier is the sixth-oldest Catholic university in the nation and one of 28 Jesuit colleges and universities nationwide.