Happenstance? Human energy? Divine intervention?

Let me tell you the stories of two occasions of unexpected consequences, both of which had a profound personal influence. Today I will share the first story; the second story will follow in a future post.

In 2006 Lynda and I were in New York for a function at the New York Stock Exchange and staying at a hotel near Wall Street. As Lynda looked out the window she asked me, “Do you know about Museum of Jewish Heritage?” I replied that I had not and that I had just never been in the neighborhood. We decided that we would take a look as soon as we had a moment. At the museum we saw an exhibit about, now, Saint John Paul II that had been prepared by Xavier University. The exhibit was called A Blessing to One Another and included Saint John Paul II’s writings concerning the relationship between the Jewish people and those of Roman Catholic faith where he said that, “We are a blessing to one another.”

I was so taken by the message, the presentation, and the changes that he had brought about concerning my faith. Saint John Paul II’s experiences during the Nazi occupation of Poland were mirrored by my three sons’ mother’s experiences as she and her family managed to escape during the Nazi occupation. It was very obvious to me that this story needed to be told wherever it could be and what a wonderful thing it would be to have that exhibit in Rapid City. No one seemed to know—including the staff at the Museum of Jewish Heritage—where one could go to try to get the exhibit displayed in one’s own community. Finally, I learned that one needed to talk to James Buchanan of Xavier University. I called James—the great-great-nephew of President Buchanan—and had a very fine visit and learned that there was an opening between the end of the display in Florida and the opening of the display in Los Angeles that we could arrange to have it come here to Rapid City.

The experiences in Rapid City were beyond any person’s expectations. Over 5,000 people visited the exhibit, and the discussion of the exhibit’s meaning reached far beyond what could imagine because of word of mouth. A survivor of the holocaust, a tourist from Australia, was astounded to see the exhibit in South Dakota.

The night after the exhibit was moved out of Rapid City a dinner was held with the many volunteers who had worked with the exhibit. The dinner include the sharing of tales and tears—about people’s experiences with the exhibit.

After all of this discussion, Rabbi Ingber, who was the Center of Interfaith Community Engagement Director at Xavier University, stood up and said, “I’ve enjoyed the discussion, but I must tell you a story.”

He went on to say that, “James Buchanan came into my office one day and told me that he had an unusual telephone conversation with a man who, ‘claimed to be Jew from South Dakota.’ He said that they had a wonderful visit and he was so well spoken, and had the most incredible answers to any of his questions.”

He continued, “For example, I asked him if he had a museum to display the exhibit in, and he told me that he had property in downtown Rapid City, so he was going to put it into this business front. When I asked him, ‘What would he do if his space didn’t meet our requirements?’ His reply was, ‘Well, we’ll take it up to Mount Rushmore where we have some rooms. Though it would not be as effective.’ James said, ‘Can you imagine? He just said that we will take it up to Mount Rushmore! When I told him that the exhibit needed to have a museum professional who would be available all during the exhibit he immediately responded that he lived with one. When I said to him that it had to be a real professional, he responded that she had come from Northern Illinois University where she directed the main museum on campus and the gallery in Chicago, she had come to South Dakota to be the director of the South Dakota Art Museum, and was a member of the Board of Directors of Upper Midwest Conservation Association, and was (and is) listed in Who’s Who in American Art.’”

Now, when I heard that I understood James Buchanan’s reaction to my response concerning a deposit to hold the exhibit for that period. He had quoted a rather high number, but I replied, “Would you take $25,000?” He said, “Oh, sure.”

Back at the dinner, Rabbi Ingber continued his story, “A few days later, James came into my office and he said in amazement. He said, ‘I just received a FedEx package with a $25,000 cashier’s check.’”

As a legislator and appropriator we had been considering the fact that we were in the seventh year of a severe drought, and all predictions based on meteorological data indicated that we were about to have another year of drought. We had to consider the economic consequences of this scientifically almost proven fact.

Now, the question asked in the title. On the day the exhibit was scheduled to open, South Dakota had such a severe blizzard that even Governor Rounds could not get to Rapid City, so the opening was postponed. From the day that Saint John Paul II exhibit came to South Dakota the drought was broken.

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