Columnist Bret Stephens Keynotes Annual Gala; David Samson and Rabbi Meir Goldwicht Honored
Yeshiva University celebrated its 93rd Annual Hanukkah Dinner on Sunday, December 3 at the New York Hilton Midtown in New York City. Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman, presiding over his first Hanukkah Dinner, conferred honorary degrees upon Bret Stephens, Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist and the evening’s keynote speaker, as well as David P. Samson ’93C, chair of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law Board of Overseers. YU Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Meir Goldwicht was awarded the Presidential Medallion.
In his opening remarks, Dr. Berman noted that the dinner was one of the most successful in the event’s history, raising $4.3 million, and that since the start of his administration, “there has been a wave of support and interest from people around the globe who believe in Yeshiva University and who are rooting for our success.”
He added, “If there is a time that is made for Yeshiva University, it is this time. If there is a moment when our children need to be both deeply rooted and forward focused, it is this moment. For all of humanity, Yeshiva University represents a uniquely important voice modeling how to bring tradition to bear on the world of tomorrow. For the Jewish community, Yeshiva University is the best investment to ensure the success of our children and their children afterward.”
Dinner organizers recrafted this year’s dinner to reflect the University’s position at the nexus between tradition and the pioneering spirit of tomorrow, blending the academic convocation into the dinner program. The convocation was followed by a presentation, titled “YU Changemakers,” highlighting the innovative and impactful work being done by students and faculty.
During the convocation portion, Dr. Berman presented Rabbi Goldwicht, The Joel and Maria Finkle Visiting Israeli Rosh Yeshiva at YU’s Mazer School of Talmudic Studies and Head Rosh Yeshiva in the University’s Irving I. Stone Beit Midrash Program, with the Presidential Medallion. Expressing the admiration of the YU community for Rabbi Goldwicht’s work, Dr. Berman described him as representing “all of the core values of Yeshiva University” and praised him for his “life of service to the Jewish people that has brightened our lives with inspiring words of Torah.”
In conferring an honorary degree upon Samson, Dr. Berman lauded him for his “tenacity, humanity and generosity” and for being “an important and valued leader for Yeshiva University.” In accepting the degree, Samson said that what drives him to support the University is its mission of “preparing students to be the leaders long after we’re gone, planting seeds for trees whose shade we will never know, and to put people in positions to lead in a way that we can all be proud of.”
Introducing Stephens, Dr. Berman noted that the columnist’s work, like the season of Hanukkah itself, reflects light into the darkness. “His sacred work to inform opinion, change minds and inspire action cuts through the skeptical cacophony and models genuine curiosity, resolute but respectful disagreement, and a willingness to stand on principle even when it’s politically or intellectually inconvenient.”
In his keynote address, Stephens cited four attitudes that he believed have contributed to the success of the United States but are now under siege “from a grievance culture on both the left and right”: treating immigrants as “human capital” rather than enemies; the importance of the “foolish thought and indelicate statement” to generating new ideas; an attitude toward failure that inspires self-reflection rather than blaming others; and an ethic of global leadership that leads by example from a “policy of magnanimity towards the opinions of mankind.”
“Our greatness as a nation ultimately depends upon defining our interests according to our values rather than, in the style of every fallen empire, defining our values according to our interests,” Stephens observed. “I believe that universities like Yeshiva, with its proud embrace of religious wisdom and secular knowledge, can meet that responsibility. We believe that our morality is a long-term investment whose benefits only our children may reap but is the wellspring of our self-respect and survival. We do, indeed, have something to teach. Let’s not miss our chance.”
The second portion of the program paid tribute to YU Changemakers, members of the Yeshiva University community who have made meaningful contributions to the world around them.
Shoshana Schachter, director of the Basic Jewish Studies and Mechina Programs, introduced Sy Syms School of Business senior Shani Hava. After serving in the Israeli Defense Forces, Hava came to YU, where she was the top-ranked tennis player and recently helped lead the women’s program to its first NCAA championship in school history. She thanked YU for the opportunities it has afforded her and pledged “to give back and share the pride in our accomplishments.”
Michelle Greenberg-Kobrin, director of the Indie Film Clinic at Cardozo, introduced student Alejandro Palma, who won a Clio Award for “Put It Down,” a song he composed as part of a public service campaign to reduce automobile accidents caused by driving and texting. Palma spoke about his desire to use both his art and his legal training “to push the social needle” to improve the life of society around him.
The final presentation focused on the major contributions YU faculty and students have made to the body of world knowledge and featured a video about YU’s multifaceted Arch of Titus Project. The donor-funded project examines the triumphal arch built in Rome, which shows conquering Roman soldiers bearing artifacts from the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. The video covered the project from its inception in 2012, when Dr. Steven Fine, director of YU’s Center for Israel Studies, led an international team of scholars to Rome as part of a digital restoration effort; to an undergraduate seminar in Rome as part of the Jay Jeanie Schottenstein Honors Program; to the installation of a facsimile of the frieze currently on display at the YU Museum as part of the exhibition, The Arch of Titus: From Jerusalem to Rome, and Back.