As Rabbi Abie Ingber sits in his Schott Hall office, there’s a knock on his half-closed door. A student sticks his head in.
“Can I help you?” Ingber asks.
The student stops and stammers before a sheepish grin settles on his face. “Uh,” he says, “I just wanted to see if there really was a Rabbi here.”
Ingber laughs. Not at the student. He’s just happy people are noticing his presence on campus.
In December, Ingber, the director of the Hillel Jewish Student Center of Cincinnati, was given an office at Xavier. The move officially established Hillel on campus and offered more evidence of the growing movement to provide Xavier’s non-Catholic students with outlets for their preferred religions. The growing number of Muslim students formed their own on-campus organization. Buddhist students have organized gatherings. While providing resources for other religions might seem unusual for a Catholic, Jesuit university, it really fits into Xavier’s mission to build bridges with other religious traditions and educate all students to be compassionate and understanding, says University President Michael J. Graham, S.J.
“Our mission is to form students intellectually, morally and spiritually, with rigor and compassion, toward lives of solidarity and service,” Graham says. “To do this successfully, diversity in all its forms must be a part of the experience we provide.”
And that point was both recognized and articulated by Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J., superior general of the Society of Jesus, in his October 2006 address at Xavier.
“Grounded in our own faith tradition, rooted in our personal faith commitment, we are called to encounter other religious traditions,” he said. “In this we imitate the example of the Lord that is presented in the Gospels: He shared his faith with the Samaritan woman while respecting her convictions; he praised the way the Samaritan cared for the dying man on the road; he responded to the Romans looking for answers to their needs.” And while the opening of Hillel is the latest chapter in this effort, it certainly isn’t the first. At Xavier, this call for greater interreligious understanding took shape in the 1960s in the person of Edward B. Brueggeman, S.J. His popular television show, “Dialogue,” helped pave the way for stronger relationships between Christians and Jews.
And genealogically, Brueggeman’s efforts opened the door for today’s interreligious activity on campus. In 2005, interaction between the Edward B. Brueggeman Center for Dialogue, the Xavier University department of theology and the Hillel Jewish Student Center of Cincinnati was key in producing “A Blessing to One Another: Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People,” a landmark exhibition that debuted at Xavier and is currently touring the country.
And there have been more efforts over the years, such as the Besl Family Chair in ethics/ religion and society, which brings to campus instructors from non-Catholic traditions. The current Besl chair, David Loy, is a Buddhist who spent 28 years studying and teaching in Japan. Former Brueggeman chairs include Muslim scholar Farid Esack and pentecostal/ fundamentalist Christian scholar Amos Yong.
Back in his office, Ingber says he hopes to make Hillel an important part of that experience, as well. In December he hosted a “Rock the Dreidel” event in the Gallagher Student Center to celebrate Chanukah. Students spun dreidels—carved tops painted with Hebrew characters—and learned about Jewish tradition. In all, 363 students participated in the event. And Ingber has been active in the classroom as well, co-teaching a class in the spring and summer semesters. Ultimately, he would like to attract more Jewish students to the University and add to the overall richness and diversity of the Xavier educational experience. It is, he says, a goal very much in harmony with Xavier’s Jesuit mission. The wheels are in motion.
“I am delighted—and even inspired by the welcome I’ve been given at Xavier,” he says. “I appreciate the constant push for us to be even more integrated and creative in how we bring the Jewish community and Jewish learning to the Xavier community.”