May 23, 2008 — Calling “Never Again” the 11th commandment “etched in the aftermath of Auschwitz,” Abraham Foxman—national director of the Anti-Defamation League and keynote speaker at YU’s 77th Annual Commencement Exercises Garden on May 22—exhorted the graduates gathered at the WaMu Theater in Madison Square to turn that message into a universal mandate to speak out and act against bigotry in all its forms. Foxman, a world-renowned leader in the fight against anti-Semitism received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from YU President Richard M. Joel.
“The gas chambers did not begin with bricks—they began with words,” Foxman said, “ugly, hateful words that demonized, degraded, and debased Jews. And those words became ugly, hateful deeds.”
Drawing on his personal history of being saved from the Holocaust by his Polish Catholic nanny, Bronislawa Kurpi, and reclaiming his Judaism thereafter, Foxman emphasized the importance of knowing about atrocities and the power of good people to save lives.
“Respond with words backed by reasonable action, and both words and action impressed with the full weight of the ethical values imparted to you by Jewish tradition,” he told the graduates. “Do that and you will answer the question “What if?” by being one of many who will give hateful words and hateful deeds no quarter.”
As a passionate supporter of the State of Israel and a voice for peace in the Middle East, Foxman was a member of the President’s United States Holocaust Memorial Council, appointed by Presidents Reagan, Bush and Clinton. He is the author of The Deadliest Lies: The Israel Lobby and the Myth of Jewish Control and Never Again? The Threat of the New Anti-Semitism.
President Joel also conferred an honorary degree on Dr. Edie Goldenberg, professor of political science and public policy at the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. As the first female dean of the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts at the University of Michigan, Goldenberg completed what is believed to be the most successful fundraising campaign by a public arts and sciences college at that time, which raised $110 million. She instituted the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program, which increased the number of endowed chairs and enhanced the quality and number of undergraduate seminars. Goldenberg is an accomplished author and the recipient of several awards including the Goldsmith Research Award from Harvard University in 1993.
This year’s Presidential Medallion, the highest honor that YU bestows on a member of the faculty or administration for excellent service, was awarded to Rabbi Zevulun Charlop, the Max and Marion Grill Dean of YU’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS).
President Joel paid tribute to Rabbi Charlop’s “brilliant mind, gentle hand, and sensitive heart” in leading the seminary for more than 35 years.
Under Rabbi Charlop’s distinguished leadership, RIETS experienced enormous growth, graduating thousands of rabbis, educators, and Jewish scholars. He is relinquishing his position effective June 30, 2008. He will continue to serve as one of the Masmichim, those who administer ordination exams, and will maintain his special relationship with the Kollelei Elyon (advanced study groups). Rabbi Charlop will remain full time as dean emeritus of RIETS, and will serve as special advisor to the YU President on yeshiva affairs with cabinet rank.
President Joel also announced the creation of the Rabbi Zevulun Charlop Chair at RIETS, thanks to an endowment from the Legacy Heritage Fund Limited.
The university used the occasion to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Israel and to highlight its many ties with the Holy Land. “Today we mark the dream and celebrate its reality,” said President Joel. He recalled the memory of Moshe Perlstein ’46Y, a Palmach guard and scout who was the first American to lose his life in the massacre of the Lamed Hey, a group of 35 soldiers who were attempting to bring aid to the beleaguered Gush Etzion, which in January 1948 was under attack by the invading Jordanian Legion. “Today would have been his 62nd alumni anniversary,” the President said.
The final honor at this year’s ceremony went to Dr. Sheldon E. Socol, a loyal YU staff member who was among the Yeshiva College Class of 1958. Socol, special advisor to the dean and to the Chairman of the Board of Overseers Building Committee at YU’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine, received a proclamation recognizing 50 years of service and dedication to the university. A graduate of YU class of 1958, he began his career as assistant bursar that same year. His many posts included that of director of student finances, secretary of the university, and vice president for business affairs. Effective July 1, 2008, Dr. Socol will serve as advisor to the Office of the President of YU.
More than 2,000 graduate students in the fields of law, medicine, social work, education, Jewish studies, and psychology, as well as undergraduate students from Yeshiva College, Stern College for Women, and Sy Syms School of Business, are being awarded degrees this commencement season.