By: Tatum Hunter ~Staff Writer~
Over Winter Break, University President Fr. Michael Graham, S.J. and Executive Director of the Center for Interfaith Community Engagement Rabbi Abie Ingber spent four days in Israel on a trip put together by the Jewish National Fund, an international organization dedicated to supporting and improving the nation of Israel through projects like planting trees and preserving historical sites.
“At all our dinners, we were joined by people based in Israel who work for or with Jewish National Fund, and it was great to hear from them about their projects. More than anything, you came away impressed with the worldwide network of concern that has been so instrumental at helping nudge Israel along,” Graham said.
Graham has been involved with the organization for many years and helped raise funds used to build a hydrotherapy pool in a community for children with disabilities.
While in Israel, Graham was able to visit the community and meet its founder Gen. Doron Almod and some of the young residents.
Throughout the trip, Graham and Ingber visited other Jewish National Fund projects as well as various sites significant to the Jewish and Christian traditions, such as the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Church of the Annunciation, Nazareth, Caesarea, Capernaum, the Sea of Galilee and the Western Wall.
“I was moved to gaze out over the Sea of Galilee and think that my eyes were seeing what their eyes saw: this sky, this water, this light, these clouds and hills. My tradition gained a kind of immediacy for me it has never had before,” Graham said.
Although Rabbi Ingber had been to these sites many times before, he also spoke of their profound effect.
“When you go to Israel with someone who has never been there, you really see it anew. To look at Israel through Fr. Graham’s eyes was really unique and beautiful. It’s a place where you shift effortlessly between 3,000 years ago and the 21st century,” Ingber said.
The two also went to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem.
“I visited the National Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC a few years ago and so was as prepared as one can be for Yad Vashem. But between our guide and seeing all the students groups there, it had a very special impact,” Graham said.
The trip gave Graham the opportunity to meet with a Jesuit at the Pontifical Biblical Institute who will be working in conjunction with Xavier’s Dr. Stephen Frankel and other theology and philosophy professors to offer a program in Jerusalem this June.
The new program aims to facilitate a deeper understanding of the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament and the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola by examining the history and politics of Israel.
The visit was intended to strengthen Xavier’s relationship with the only Jesuit institution in the Holy Land.
Although their trip was not political in nature, Ingber said that he and Graham had many conversations about the current unrest in the region and the cultural and political situation in Israel.
“This was never supposed to be a political trip, but when you’re driving by an Arab village or an occupied area, you have to comment on what’s going on. If what happens in Israel has historically impacted the entire world then we need to understand modern Israel and how it again is impacting the course of human civilization. In America, we’re able to walk away from tough discussions. In Israel, they can’t do that,” Ingber said.