Article Photo L-R: Sheldon Silver, Speaker of the New York State Assembly; Michael Jesselson, member of the YU, RIETS, and YUHS Boards, Einstein Overseer and vice chair of the YUMuseum Board; Governor David Paterson of New York State; Felix Glaubach, YU Trustee and member of the Yeshiva College, YUHS and RIETS Boards; and President Richard Joel.
Dec 15, 2008 — New York State Governor David A. Paterson paid tribute to the values of charity and public service that guide Yeshiva University’s mission as the keynote speaker at its 84th Annual Hanukkah Dinner and Convocation at The Waldorf=Astoria on Dec. 14. President Richard M. Joel awarded honorary degrees to five leaders whose lives have embodied these values: philanthropists David Feuerstein and Roslyn Goldstein; Elliot Gibber, president and CEO of Deb-El Food Products; Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, rabbi of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun and head of the Ramaz School; and Governor Paterson.
View photo gallery from the Hanukkah Convocation and Dinner.
“We joyously celebrate five outstanding men and women who exemplify the breadth and depth of this university, which we seek to inspire in our students and kindle a light throughout the entire community,” President Joel said.
The convocation and dinner, the University’s main annual fundraising event, raised $3.2 million this year, just over $1 million more than last year.
“After 122 years and only four presidents, this university is thriving,” Governor Paterson said. “President Joel is pursuing the opportunity to fulfill the true meaning of education: a higher knowledge and a greater spirit.” He was introduced by Sheldon Silver, Speaker of the New York State Assembly and a 1965 alumnus of Yeshiva College.
The governor, New York’s 55th and its first African-American to hold the office, has held several offices over the course of his political career. At the age of 31 in 1985, he was elected to represent Harlem in the New York State Senate, becoming the youngest senator in Albany. In 2003, he became the minority leader of the New York State Senate, the first non-white legislative leader in New York’s history. He made history again in 2004 as the first visually impaired person to address the Democratic National Convention. His inclusive approach to governing has won him the respect of colleagues and a reputation for uniting disparate forces toward consensus that benefits all New Yorkers.
Governor Paterson spoke about the nature of public service, saying it was not for the sake of “the congratulation but the people whose lives we change.” He drew a direct parallel to the charitable work done by Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg, who were killed in the recent Mumbai terrorist attacks.
Speaking at the convocation, President Joel invoked the story of Hanukkah, which tells of the Maccabees’ triumph over the Greeks and the miracle of the Temple candles that burned for eight days. “We as a community, even during seemingly dark times, focus on investing in the world through the majestic and timeless Jewish mission to illumine, to ennoble, to enable,” he said.
In a ceremony punctuated by moments of warmth and humor, President Joel spoke eloquently about each of the honorary degree recipients’ achievements. To read more in-depth biographies of the honorees, click here.
Elliot Gibber was honored for his crucial role in helping the University to grow and his commitment to Jewish education and community involvement. He sits on YU’s Real Estate Committee with a special focus on development and acquisition for the Wilf Campus and serves as liaison to the University’s Board of Trustees for space planning and capital expenditures. “You bring a special sense of loyalty to our sacred goals and a willingness—indeed, a gentle determination—to assist us in fulfilling our mission in any way asked and to offer ideas in ways not asked but profoundly needed,” President Joel said in his citation.
Joining in the hooding of Gibber were all six of his children—a first at a YU convocation—five of whom are alumni with the sixth a student at Yeshiva University High School for Boys.
David Feuerstein, a Holocaust survivor who fought in the Polish resistance before moving to Chile, has dedicated his life to preserving the memory of the 6 million Jews who perished. He serves as president of the Chilean Society for Yad Vashem and established the Yom Hashoah Prize in 1988 to recognize Chilean citizens for their outstanding work in keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive. In 2004, Feuerstein built a memorial monument to the martyrs of the Holocaust, which stands in the Estadio Israelita of Santiago, Chile. “You grappled with some of the greatest challenges facing a Jew in the past century, triumphing over adversity and helping to write an extraordinary chapter of the Jewish story,” remarked President Joel.
Through their foundation, Roslyn Goldstein and her husband, Leslie, are key supporters of stem cell and cancer research, many Jewish agencies and synagogues, health care and other philanthropic organizations. Mrs. Goldstein, who sits on the board of Albert Einstein College of Medicine, supports the research of Dr. Mark Mehler, founding director of Einstein’s Institute for Brain Disorders and Neural Regeneration. “You are a woman whose desire to heal has shaped an extraordinary life,” said President Joel.
The President lauded Rabbi Haskel Lookstein as “one of the bright lights of the rabbinic firmament, glowing brighter and brighter for 50 years.” His influence in the pulpit and his commitment to advocacy and chesed [acts of kindness] have earned him a national reputation, with “Newsweek” naming him the second most influential pulpit rabbi in America. He serves as the Joseph H. Lookstein Professor of Homiletics (named for his father) at RIETS, where he has taught since 1979 and form which he received his ordination in 1958.
The dinner portion of the evening showcased the Points of Light, a group of students, faculty, alumni and donors who represent the excellence that YU is known for. They were:
- Stern College student and physics major Malka Bromberg, who is conducting in-depth research under the guidance of Dr. Anatoly Frenkel as a Kressel Scholar
- Yofi Jacob, a junior at Yeshiva University High School for Boys, whose family in Mumbai plays a crucial role in supporting the Jewish community there
- Professor Leon Wildes, director of the Immigration Law Externship, and Professor Peter Markowitz, director of the Immigration Justice Clinic at YU’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law
- Yeshiva College student Avi Amsalem, co-president of the student-run Medical Ethics Society, whose experience as a bone marrow donor prompted him to spearhead an on-campus bone marrow recruitment drive that resulted in eight potential matches
- Rabbi Ari Zahtz, a fellow of the Dr. Lamm Kollel L’horaah at RIETS and assistant rabbi at B’nai Yeshurun in Teaneck, NJ, who compiled two volumes of serious Torah scholarship to mark the occasion of Rabbi Zevulun Charlop’s transition from his 37-year deanship of RIETS to become the President’s special advisor on yeshiva affairs
- Dan Kelly, a 2008 Einstein graduate, who founded a national nonprofit, the Global Action Foundation, and built a free clinic with his Sierra Leonean colleague Dr. Mohammed Barrie for amputees and other victims of that country’s devastating violence
- Sofia Gordon, a student at Stern College and a Wilf Scholar, who discovered her true Jewish identity as a young Russian immigrant in Germany
“The brilliance of our faculty, students, researchers, alumni and philanthropists inspires us and brings the promise of light and hope to the world around us,” said President Joel.