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Torah Studies
----A Blessing to One Another
November 17, 2005
© Rabbi Jack Moline

Allow me to encourage you to see a remarkable exhibit that has hugely important implications for the Jewish community and interfaith relations. It is called "A Blessing to One Another," and it is the story of Pope John Paul II's relationship to the Jewish community.

In general, we have mixed feelings about Popes. We expect them to be more Jewish than Catholic sometimes, and therefore wind up disappointed when they turn out to be more Catholic than...well, maybe not the right phrase here. However, not all Popes are the same. We tend to forget that before the he became Pope, John Paul II was a cardinal, a bishop, a priest and, before that, a boy living in the town of Wadowice (Va-do-VEE-che), about equidistant from Cracow and Oswiecem, a town we know better by its German name, Auschwitz.

Young Karol Wotija grew up in circumstances we generally do not attribute to small-town Poles. His father, widowed when Karol was 8, raised him with enormous respect for Jews. Karol Sr. once approached members of the Jewish community before Sukkot and offered the balcony on his flat -- with its unobstructed view of the sky -- to anyone who could not build a sukkah on his own balcony because of an overhang. On the day after local hooligans rioted and destroyed Jewish property, Karol Jr.'s father showed up after school to meet his son and, in front of parents and children alike, gave a hug to Jerzy Kluger (schoolmate and best friend) and said loudly, "Please give my best regards to your father." Mr. Kluger was, at the time, president of the Jewish community. These and other experiences shaped the young man's attitudes toward the Jews, and his entire career was informed by these and other lessons he learned.

The exhibit chronicles the stories I just shared and many others, especially the friendship with Jerzy, called "Yurek" by Karol, who was called "Lolek" by his friend. The friendship lasted a lifetime and quite literally changed the theology of the Roman Catholic Church. The exhibit was created by two priests and a rabbi in Cincinnati; it is on display at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center through January 25. The Center is on Harewood Road NE, across from the campus of Catholic University (signs directing you there begin on North Capitol Street below Michigan Avenue). The Center is free, but closed on Mondays.

Better yet -- go with a Catholic friend. The stories are remarkable for both of you.

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