For President Schapiro, Jewish faith comes before his role as president


Evan Robinson-Johnson / The Daily Northwestern

University President Morton Schapiro discusses his faith with Taylor Brown at Canterbury House. Schapiro said he would not be able to be University president if not for his practice of attending Shabbat services every week.

Gabby Birenbaum, Social Media Editor

University President Morton Schapiro emphasized the importance of his Jewish faith, which he said comes before his roles as an academic and as the University’s president, during a Tuesday event.

The event was held at Canterbury House, Northwestern’s Episcopal campus ministry, as Schapiro talked to an audience of about 15 people about how faith impacts all facets of his life.

“I would never do anything that was contrary to my faith,” Schapiro said. “If it came down to my principles of what I think makes a good person versus my job as president of Northwestern, I would never do anything that I thought was going against the right thing.”

Taylor Brown, Canterbury House’s program coordinator, told The Daily she could identify with Schapiro’s ideology of having one’s faith come first.

“We have something about our life that governs the other parts of our life,” the McCormick junior said. “We’re always thinking about that bigger part.”

Schapiro said he would not be able to do his job if not for his practice of attending Shabbat services every Friday night and Saturday morning. Calling it his time to “recharge,” he said the hours he spends at temple are the only times in his week when he is able to be alone. The solitude he partakes in there allows him to be energized and present in his work, he said.

Schapiro also addressed the skepticism he feels that religious people often face at secular institutions. He said it may be easier for him to be the president of a Jewish college or organization, but he enjoys the effort of working in the secular world.

“There’s something about the challenge of being yourself in the secular world that’s kind of a useful challenge from time to time,” Schapiro said. “But, never check your faith at the door.”

Despite the added work, Schapiro said he finds Northwestern to be a stronger and more welcoming community toward people of faith than other places he has worked. He attributed that strength to the overlapping values that both faith and the Midwest provide — empathy, civility and humility.

As University president, Schapiro said his faith’s emphasis in humility keeps him away from the temptation of an inflated ego, which he said is common among people in a powerful position.

“There’s a Hebrew saying — know before whom you stand,” Schapiro said. “I see those words… and I always think, I’m in front of God now… it just reminds you — you’re not that special. You’re not that great.”

Schapiro said he engages in many interfaith dialogues, but his goal is to learn about other religions rather than reach a common agreement on values. He said he finds the discussions most stimulating when people are honest about their feelings toward other religions.

Kai Kuo, the president of Canterbury House, told The Daily that the ministry is committed to engaging with differences, and that though they are Episcopalian and Schapiro is Jewish, the two are united in being people of faith.

“Interfaith dialogues are important because a lot of what faith gives people are the same across religions,” the SESP junior said. “Morty was talking about empathy and humility, and those are things I get in my faith as well.”

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