YU Museum Ceremony Honors Legacy of Former “First Lady of Yeshiva University”
On Thursday, July 21, one more spectacular work of art was added to the 7th annual Stern College for Women Senior Art Show at the Yeshiva University Museum. In a touching and inspiring ceremony, Jacob Wisse, director of the YU Museum, and the student artists dedicated their exhibition, titled Gray Matter, to Abby Belkin z”l in recognition of her profound and lasting impact on Yeshiva University, and her abiding enthusiasm for educational, cultural and artistic advancement.
Belkin, who died in 2014, was the wife of Dr. Samuel Belkin, the second president of YU, who led the institution through a period of substantial expansion. She had a long and vital career as a journalist and a writer, and as “First Lady of the University” (a title used by several of the evening’s speakers), Belkin became deeply involved in the international Jewish community and engaged with prominent political leaders, scientists and artists of all stripes.
She was also a vocal promoter of increasing opportunities for women at a time when such sentiments were not always welcome. As Myrna Becker, her niece, pointed out, she certainly followed her own advice. “Abby was always interested in supporting more education for women,” she said, “and in her career as a journalist, she always resisted being pigeon-holed as the ‘woman writer writing about recipes,’” even at one point working as a speech writer for New York State Governor Hugh Carey. Over a period of two decades, she held salons in her apartment to which only women were invited for an evening of intellectual discussion and sharing. As Becker said, “She was going to teach women how to think.”
President Richard M. Joel spoke with great feeling about Belkin and noted that the date of the dedication was also the 30th anniversary of the passing of his mother, Annette. “We always feel sadness with the passing of a loved one,” he said, “but that also quickly changes into celebration as we think about the deep and profound affect the person had, and has, upon our lives. It is the same here: Tonight we celebrate Abby Belkin’s wit and grace and love of life. As First Lady of Yeshiva University, she helped unite the values of a timeless tradition with the beauty of the world.”
Dr. Karen Bacon, The Mordecai D. and Dr. Monique C. Katz Dean of the Undergraduate Faculty of Arts and Sciences, recalled how Belkin “would light up a room whenever she entered” and the way she would embrace everyone and look them in the eye as if they were the only people in which she was interested. “Abby had a distinctive voice,” said Bacon, “and the way she supported Stern College for Woman made sure that all the women there found their distinctive voices. Stern women follow in her footsteps, finding inspiration in her impact and her graciousness.”
Ginger Socol, wife of Sheldon Socol z”l (who, as a co-executor of the Belkin estate, was instrumental in connecting the Belkin family to the YU Museum), said, “It is so fitting to have this exhibition named for her.”
Gray Matter includes provocative, playful and thoughtful paintings, sculpture, video art, installations, photography, and graphic arts by artists Shiran Bassal, Rachel Gartenberg, Esther Gersten, Rachel Gottlieb, Yael Katz, Raquel Miller, Yaelle Nusbaum, Jessica Namdar, Sarala Pool and Ayelet Rosenbaum. The YU Museum is located at the Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York City.