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Xavier Magazine | May 27, 2017

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Did You Hear the One About the Rabbi and the Priest?

By France Griggs Sloat

A priest and a rabbi walk onto a college campus and discover the same thing. They’re in love—with the students, with mankind, with God.

Al Bischoff, SJ, known affectionately at Xavier as “Father B,” and Rabbi Abie Ingber began an uncanny friendship after Ingber was invited to be the founder of the Center for Interfaith Community Engagement at Xavier in 2008. They call each other “Al and Abie.”

Now, when “Al and Abie” walk across campus together, they’re like magnets, drawing in students whom they’ve touched—and there are many—for greetings and hugs.
Ingber: “If I walk this campus every day, I still am unable to touch everyone. But to be in the presence of Father Al, to know if I can’t be in every corner of campus, Al is there. Between the two of us, we’ve got this campus covered.”

When Bischoff, Xavier’s longtime campus minister and residence hall adviser, met Ingber, they discovered they shared a lot of things, the most important of which was love. They began to have regular conversations where they talk about love, God and Xavier students.

Bischoff: “I came to Abie and said, ‘I want to meet with you and talk about God.’ It’s like when I walk across campus, I’m not out to convert anybody. That’s God’s work. I’m out to love and be with people and learn from them and be a help or a support to them.”

Now these two unlikely best friends get together often, usually in Ingber’s office in the Gallagher Student Center. Bischoff sits in the chair, Ingber on the sofa, and they talk.

Ingber: “We’re in a continuous conversation.”

It may seem incongruous that a Jesuit priest and a Jewish rabbi would become such fast friends and have so much to share. But it’s that incongruity that makes their love for each other and their work so powerful.

Bischoff: “I never had a real relationship with a rabbi.”

But when he was a boy, he did have a friend who was Jewish.

Bischoff: “Because he was Jewish and I didn’t know any better and I lived in a Catholic ghetto, I used to pray he wouldn’t go to hell.”

Formerly director of the Cincinnati Hillel Jewish Student Center, Ingber believed he’d be more effective at Xavier as a conduit to bring people of different faiths together in celebration rather than mere tolerance. Even people like Al Bischoff.

Ingber: “Him praying for his friend not to go to hell is so radical from Catholic teaching, which said that no less than being Catholic would prevent the friend from going to hell. Back then, Catholic teaching was to convert the Jews. Yet he was praying for him not to go to hell. That was his loving way, his loving heart.”PriestRabbi

That’s the way it goes with these two. They share their love from the viewpoints of a Catholic and a Jew, and they find that love is their common ground. They also know their love is no joke, but it is a lot of fun, and they wish more people would talk about love more often, because the world could certainly use more love these days. And humor.

Ingber often invokes John Lennon, whom he reveres and even met once.

“John Lennon said, ‘If you dream by yourself, it’s just a dream, but if two share it, it’s a reality.’ We make Al’s dream of giving sainthood to everyone, and mine of giving love to everyone, a reality. We see it on campus.”

Bischoff greets everyone, especially students, with “Hello, saint.” He explains that he just can’t remember everyone’s name, and that if he treats people as if they’re saints, they may actually come to believe it. He believes his friend Abie is a saint.

Bischoff: “Being Catholic in the best sense means worldwide and universal. This is a faith-filled Jewish Rabbi from whom I can learn. It’s life-giving. Jesus was Jewish and said, ‘I’ve come that you may have life and live more abundantly,’ and I believe our encounters are life-giving.”

Ingber: “We see people competing to do evil, but I see Father Al leaving a trail of love and he lets me stand in his shadow. We do walk across the campus together and people come up to us. There’s beauty in being a junior member of a great tag team on campus. I am honored to toil in Al’s vineyard.”

To capture the magic of their relationship, Bischoff and Ingber agreed to a video of a conversation last fall. This one took place in the Conaton Board Room. As expected, the subject was love. Welcome to the conversation.

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