Jan 19, 2009 — As President Barack Obama enters the first days of his administration’s leadership, Yeshiva University looks back at its ties to the White House over the decades.
From correspondence between President Calvin Coolidge and Dr. Bernard Revel in 1927, to President Richard M. Joel’s visit to the White House in 2006, the University has paid homage to and enlisted the support of the US Presidency throughout times of war and peace. The nation’s leaders have, in turn, highlighted the contribution YU has made to the country.
Sending his wishes on the laying of the cornerstone of the new Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary building, which would become Zysman Hall, President Coolidge wrote: “Long eminent in philanthropic, social and communal work, the Jews of America, through the increased advantages at the disposal of the Yeshiva, will be able to broaden their field for the training of scholars and religious leaders for their people. This is of importance not only to them but to our national life as a whole.”
President Ronald Reagan underscored that relationship again when he received an honorary degree from Dr. Norman Lamm, then YU President, and Dr. Israel Miller, senior vice president at a special White House ceremony honoring YU’s centennial in 1986.
“Its history, representing as it does both freedom of secular inquiry and freedom of religion, is the story of America,” President Reagan said.
The private reception in the Cabinet Room marked the first time that a YU delegation had been invited to the White House and the first time that the University has presented such an honor to an incumbent president.
YU awarded honorary degrees to a number of US Vice-Presidents who went on to become President, including Richard Nixon, Lyndon B. Johnson and George Bush.
John F. Kennedy, then Senator of Massachusetts, was honored twice: first with an honorary degree, and later when he accepted an invitation to serve as a sponsor of the Diamond Jubilee Committee of YU in 1960.
“With the past 75 years as a foundation, the next 75 can only be an era of outstanding achievement for the University and for the nation,” Sen. Kennedy wrote when accepting the invitation.
Former President Bill Clinton was honored by Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law when he received the International Advocate for Peace Award from the Cardozo Online Journal of Conflict resolution and the International Law Students Association. He was selected for the honor by the students in these organizations for his efforts to promote peace in Ireland, Bosnia, Korea and the Middle East.
Over the years, YU leaders and rabbis have been invited to the White House for Hanukkah celebrations. President Joel and Karen Bacon, the Monique C. Katz Dean of Stern College for Women, were among 14 leaders in Jewish higher education and college students who met with President George W. Bush for his annual Hanukkah meeting in 2006. The President’s remarks focused on the war on terrorism and referred to what he said was the battle against moral relativism on campus, participants said. “He spoke of the growth of a moral relativism in the world,” said President Joel after the event. “He reiterated that the battle we’re involved in is not religious, because terrorists can’t be God-believing people.”