The Pope’s Jewish Knight
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The Pope’s Jewish Knight

Last week, a rare manuscript of one of Maimonides’ major works returned from an exhibition in Germany to its home in the Vatican Library. According to the library’s procedures, two years must pass before one of its loaned artifacts is allowed outside again.

In September, the Maimonides manuscript, written by a scribe in the 15th century, will go on display in Jerusalem.

“I paved the way for that to happen,” said Gary Krupp, a Jewish resident of Long Island who met Pope John Paul II four times and has a network of acquaintances in the Vatican bureaucracy but is little known in the wider Jewish community.

The Vatican Library’s loan to the Israel Museum will go forward, despite the pope’s passing. “Nothing is changed with his death,” Krupp said.

Krupp, 57, from Long Beach, is the founder and president of the Pave the Way Foundation (www.pavethewayfoundation.org), an independent, interfaith organization under whose auspices he negotiated the loan of Maimonides’ Mishna Torah and of three other centuries-old Jewish manuscripts.

In the three years since Krupp founded Pave the Way, the foundation has become a major conduit between the Catholic Church and the Jewish community, and Krupp, who describes himself as a Conservative Jew but not particularly observant, is arguably one of the most effective Jewish voice in high Catholic circles.

That’s Commander Krupp, his title since being knighted by Pope John Paul II in 2000. Of some 2,000 people in the world invested as a Knights Commander of the Pontifical Order of St. Gregory the Great, the Catholic Church’s highest honor for a layperson, he is among only seven Jews so feted. The only other ones alive now are American conductor Gilbert Levine and British philanthropist Sigmund Sternberg.

Krupp was knighted in recognition for his decade of volunteer work on behalf of Casa Sollievo Della Sofferenza, a Catholic-sponsored hospital four hours from Rome. Krupp, who made a living in medical business development with an expertise in high-tech diagnostic equipment, was introduced to the hospital administrators by Long Island bishops of long acquaintance. He advised the hospital in obtaining state-of-the-art equipment.

“It was a natural fit,” he said. “I grew up with Catholics,” in Flushing, Queens.

After being knighted, he left the business world to establish Pave the Way and work full time in interfaith relations. “My access was unique,” he said.Krupp gathered a board of directors and advisers that includes Christian and Muslim clergy, as well as rabbis from the major denominations of Judaism. They concentrate on political, cultural and educational activities. “Nothing having to do with theology.”

Krupp calls John Paul II “the most marvelous man I have ever met.” After a few trips to Israel and several to Italy, he numbers among his friends Israeli leaders and Vatican officials. “When I write a letter [to someone in the Vatican], they respond.” They have to, he said. “I’m a member of the household.”

“He’s a wonderful man, an unofficial diplomat,” said Rabbi David Rosen, the American Jewish Committee’s international director of interreligious affairs, who has worked with Krupp for several years. “He has a deep commitment to promoting Jewish-Catholic relations. He’s made a very important contribution.”

Lacking a personal fortune or title in a major organization, Krupp has spent a decade operating off the Jewish radar screen, using his personal connections in the Catholic hierarchy to do such things as help revive the nearly dormant diplomatic negotiations between the Holy See and Israel, organize the international delegation of 160 Jewish leaders who gathered in the Vatican in January to thank Pope John Paul II for his advocacy of Jewish interests, promote Catholic pilgrimage to Israel — and to arrange the Vatican Library’s loan of the Jewish manuscripts.

Pave the Way didn’t send out press releases announcing these accomplishments.

“I’m not looking for notoriety,” said Krupp, who works with his wife Meredith, the foundation’s director, on Pave the Way projects. “I concentrate on getting a job done.”

He calls the manuscript loan “an ancillary benefit,” a small act that shows good will.

Krupp did not attend the funeral of John Paul II. “I was contacted by Rome –– there are no special provisions for papal knights.”

But he will be in the Vatican soon, he said. “I’ll probably be going back there after the election of the new pope.”

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