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Jewish Chaplain Leaves His Mark at a Catholic University

Rabbi Harold S. White to be honored for bridging religious traditions at Georgetown

Rabbi White

Rabbi Harold White in Riggs Library at the Georgetown University campus. — Melissa Golden

For 10 years at Georgetown, with an imam and a priest, White co-taught a popular undergraduate theology course called Theological Encounter. Singer Pearl Bailey, who enrolled at the university later in her life, was one of his theology students, and he officiated at her funeral.

And in his years at Georgetown, the school has graduated 38 students who went on to become rabbis, he reports, calling it a remarkable feat for a Catholic university.

White has continually defied tradition and orthodoxy when he felt it was justified, including his officiating at interfaith marriages, a controversial act, since most rabbis will not do so.

"I began to realize back in the 1970s how interfaith marriage was increasing," he says. "The only way we can ensure these couples would raise their children to be somewhat Jewish was to reach out to them and not close the door in their faces."

In addition to his work at Georgetown, White has served as assistant rabbi at Temple Sinai in Washington, and as the rabbi of Temple B'nai Israel in Easton, Md.

Although he has never married, White says all of the congregants where he has worked are members of his family, and that he has filled his life and his heart with a simple but important principle — to not let a day go by without extending a hand to others.

" 'The world is not comprehensible, but it is embraceable,' " he says, quoting the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber. "I live by Martin Buber's thoughts that 'otherness is holiness.' "

Judi Hasson is a writer in McLean, Va.

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