At Hebrew Union College commencement, cardinal cites common heritage of Catholics and Jews; at Yeshiva U., Eizenstat hails Modern Orthodox role in reviving post-Holocaust Jewish life.
Affirming his own Catholic faith’s Jewish origins, John Cardinal O’Connor praised Torah and tradition in a warm address to 32 graduates and postgraduates of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Manhattan. “To us, the Torah is sacred because it is sacred to Jews,” said the Cardinal during the 123rd commencement of the seminary for the Reform movement on May 14. “I am here to remind you of your responsibility to be good Jews, observant Jews, proud of your Jewishness.
“You contribute most to society by being true Jews.”
Cardinal O’Connor was awarded a Doctorate of Humane Letters by HUC’s president, Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman, who said the Catholic cleric was “the first Prince of the Church” to be so honored. The award recognized the cardinal’s “contributions to building bridges of understanding among diverse religious communities.”
Other honorees included Glenda Abramson of Oxford University; Jacob Behrman of Behrman House Publishers; Warsaw Ghetto resistance fighter Vladka Meed; composer Ben Steinberg; and Professor Laurence Tribe of Harvard University Law School.
Stuart Eizenstat, undersecretary of state for Economic, Business and Agricultural Affairs, outlined “four great events” that revived post-Holocaust Jewish life in his May 21 address at the 67th annual commencement of Yeshiva University.
The Modern Orthodox community played a central role in the rebirth of the Jewish state, the fall of Communism, the passage of Jews from the margins to the center of American life and the international effort for justice, he said.
Eizenstat, who oversees the United States government’s review of the role of various countries during World War II, urged the university’s 1,500 graduates to confront the challenges of internal divisions, religious and political, as well as assimilation.
“You graduate at a remarkable moment in history,” he said. “A moment of reawakening of Jewish life combined with a moral awakening of spirit and movement toward justice.”
Honorary degrees were also conferred by YU President Rabbi Norman Lamm on Ambassador Dore Gold, Israel’s envoy to the United Nations; Leon Feldheim of Rugers University; Beatrice Lashin Friedland, a board member of the university’s Stern College for Women; Philanthropist Erica Jesselson; William Schwartz of Boston University Law School and journalist Robert St. John.
Jewish Theological Seminary
Israel State Comptroller Miriam Ben Porat gave an impassioned pitch for pluralism in her address to 92 graduates of the seminary, the academic and spiritual center of the Conservative movement, on May 21. It is the JTS’ 112th academic year.
Ben-Porat, who recently authored a report critical of her government’s ostensibly preferential treatment of the ultra-Orthodox, said Israel’s “modus vivendi” called for breaking down barriers between the religious and secular. “I, for one, do not believe that separate quarters … built exclusively for the religious population help to build a bridge of understanding and tolerance,” she said.
Ben-Porat was invited on Israel’s 50th anniversary because she symbolizes the energy, potential and fulfillment of the nation her family immigrated to from Russia more than 50 years ago, said the Seminary.
Ben-Porat received an honorary doctor of laws. Other honorees included philanthropists Ronald Lauder and Mayer Mitchell, Weizmann Institute president Haim Harari and American Jewish Committee President Robert Rifkind. A posthumous honor was paid to Mordechai Strigler, an editor of the Yiddish Forverts.
German Chancellor Helmut Kohl expressed amazement at the fact that he was addressing more than 2,000 graduates and guests at the 47th commencement of the Waltham, Mass., university.
“If in 1948 [when Brandeis was founded] someone would have said that in 50 years the German chancellor would give the commencement address, you would have said he must be mad,” Kohl told reporters. “And to speak in German, no less.”
Brandeis, the only nonsectarian college or university sponsored by the American Jewish community, was established to promote “respect for the dignity of others,” he said.
Kohl, 68, whose remarks were translated as he spoke, said in his address Sunday that the size of the German Jewish community has more than doubled since 1990 and that it was his “sincere hope that synagogues in Germany are not only memorials to the past but will increasingly become centers of the Jewish present and the Jewish faith.”
He said the “suffering inflicted upon the Jews during the Nazi era is an indelible part of the history of Jewry; it is also an indelible part of German history. We Germans cannot and must not allow ourselves to forget the barbarity of National Socialism and the untold suffering of the victims, nor do we wish to.”
A total of 716 undergraduate and 330 graduate degrees were awarded during the commencement. Receiving an honorary degree in addition to Kohl were playwright Arthur Miller, former Secretary of State George Schulz, Israeli author Amos Oz, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), and Jewish communal leader Sylvia Hassenfeld.