Dec 13, 2007 — At Yeshiva University’s 83rd Annual Hanukkah Dinner and Convocation at the Waldorf-Astoria on December 9, President Richard M. Joel honored a fellow leader in the academic community who led his institution through one of the worst natural disasters in US history. Dr. Scott S. Cowen, president of Tulane University in New Orleans, received an honorary degree in recognition of his leadership in rebuilding both the university and city after Hurricane Katrina.
President Joel also marked the occasion by presenting honorary degrees to communal leaders Dr. Henry Kressel, managing director at the private equity firm of Warburg Pincus, LLC; philanthropist Mary Smart; real estate developer Samuel G. Weinberg; and philanthropist Elizabeth Wilf.
In his keynote speech at the Convocation, Dr. Cowen spoke about the impact of the hurricane and the gargantuan task of recovery at the university. Seventy percent of Tulane’s main campus was soaked in water and losses rose over $650 million.
“Literally overnight, Tulane went from being one of America’s most selective major research universities with an exciting future to an institution on life support,” said Dr. Cowen, who holds joint appointments as the Seymour S. Goodman Memorial Professor of Business at Tulane’s A.B. Freeman School of Business, and professor of economics in the faculty of arts and sciences.
Dr. Cowen’s journey to Judaism was one of the factors that helped prepare him for the immense challenge of repairing Tulane. “I have learned the true meaning of community, what it means to make a difference in the world, and how to give without expecting anything in return,” he said. “The values and belief system that are the foundation of our faith have given me the strength to do what needs to be done for the sake of others.”
In response to Katrina, Dr. Cowen was appointed to the city’s Bring Back New Orleans Commission by Mayor Ray Nagin. In this capacity he leads a committee charged with reforming and rebuilding New Orleans public schools. Part of this effort includes a K-12 charter school run by Tulane. Dr. Cowen also serves as a commissioner of the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, a key post-Katrina effort aimed at rebuilding Orleans Parish.
“I have not accomplished anything more unusual or special than what should have been expected of me given my faith and my position. The fact that you honor me for doing what was expected is truly humbling,” Dr. Cowen said. “I am proud beyond words to become a member of a historic, proud, and distinguished Yeshiva community.”
A highlight of this year’s Hanukkah Dinner was President Joel’s announcement of the creation of the Lamm Heritage, a $5-million series of initiatives that will keep the legacy of Chancellor Norman Lamm alive by honoring exceptional scholarly, spiritual, and leadership contributions to the university and the world Jewish community. To read more about this major endowment, please click here.
Honorary Degree Recipients
Yeshiva College alumnus Dr. Henry Kressel, a managing director at the international private equity firm Warburg Pincus, LLC, sits on the boards of Yeshiva University and its Sy Syms School of Business, and chairs the YU Academic Affairs Committee. Dr. Kressel’s current area of focus is on telecommunications and information technology investments. Prior to his investment career, Dr. Kressel headed electronics research for the RCA Corporation at the David Sarnoff Research Center. He holds 31 US patents and is widely published. Dr. Kressel was elected to the National Academy of Engineering. Dr. Kressel and his wife, Bertha, a graduate of YU’s former Brooklyn Girls High School and Teachers Institute for Women, established the Bertha and Henry Kressel Foundation in 2003, which supports higher education and Jewish organizations.
Mary Smart has been a member of the Yeshiva University Museum board for 11 years. Through the Smart Family Foundation, Mrs. Smart is a strong supporter of the museum and its goals. Her other organizational affiliations reflect her deep concern for education, the environment, medical research, and Jewish culture. Born in Chicago but a long-time New Yorker, Mrs. Smart is part of a family that has contributed greatly to American culture. Her father and uncles founded Esquire magazine, Coronet Films—the leading producer of educational and training films during the Cold War—and the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago, which promotes understanding of the visual arts and their importance in human history.
Samuel G. Weinberg, founder and president of Weinberg Properties, a real estate development firm in New York City, serves in several capacities at YU’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine. As a member of the board and the executive committee, Mr. Weinberg invests countless hours working with the medical college in leadership roles. As chair of the building committee, he is an expert advisor on construction and budget management for many of the college’s ongoing building and development projects, including overseeing the recent completion of the Michael F. Price Center for Genetic and Translational Medicine / Harold and Muriel Block Research Pavilion, a $200-million, 200,000-square foot medical research facility on the Jack and Pearl Resnick Campus. A recipient of the Einstein Humanitarian Award in 2005, Mr. Weinberg—along with his wife, Kathy, an active member of the Einstein Women’s Division National Board—look upon their involvement with Einstein as a labor of love. In 2000, Mrs. Weinberg was honored by Einstein for her service to the institution and to the community.
Elizabeth (Suzie) Wilf, along with her husband, Joseph, is an ardent supporter of YU. In 2002, in recognition of a magnanimous gift, YU’s Washington Heights campus was renamed the Wilf Campus in their honor. Mrs. Wilf is a member of YU’s Stern College for Women board. Born in Lvov (Poland), Mrs. Wilf survived the city’s German occupation and the Holocaust. She and Mr. Wilf were married in 1949 and came to the United States the following year. In addition to YU, Mrs. Wilf’s philanthropic activities include the Yad Vashem Museum in Jerusalem and the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York.
Points of Light
During the dinner program, President Joel recognized eight “Points of Light”–programs that have had an impact on the university, and the donors who made them possible. They were:
– the Abraham Arbesfeld Kollel Yom Rishon and the Millie Arbesfeld Midreshet Yom Rishon, supported by Hy and Ann Arbesfeld
– the Rabbi Seymour Brickman Rabbinic Educators Training Program at Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration, endowed by the estate of Arthur P. Morgan
– the Student Medical Ethics Society, whose recent “Partners in Creation” conference was sponsored by Rabbi Dovid and Anita Fuld
– students of Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law who volunteered with legal organizations in the Gulf Coast area after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, made possible by the strength and support of Kathryn Greenberg, Cardozo board chair, and her husband, Alan
– the Abraham and Ruth Naymark Scholarships at Sy Syms School of Business, supported by the Naymarks
– the Ingeborg and Ira Rennert Chair in Aging Research and the Ingeborg and Ira Leon Rennert Chair in Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, both established at Einstein by the Rennerts
– the Aaron and Blanche Schreiber Torah Tours, founded by Aaron and Blanche Schreiber and now perpetuated by their children, Joel and Judith, David and Hadassah, and Simeon and Rose
– Dr. Lamm, who celebrated the occasion of his 80th birthday and was honored with the announcement of the Lamm Heritage
YU Speakers at Manhattan Synagogues
This year’s Hanukkah celebration was the culmination of a weekend devoted to YU activities at six major Manhattan synagogues. Congregation Ohab Zedek, Congregation Shearith Israel, the Jewish Center, Lincoln Square Synagogue, West Side Institutional Synagogue, and Young Israel of the West Side hosted speakers from YU in celebration of Hanukkah. President Joel, along with Rabbi Jacob J. Schacter, university professor of Jewish history and Jewish thought and senior scholar at the Center for the Jewish Future (CJF) at YU; David Pelcovitz, PhD, Gwendolyn and Joseph Straus Professor of Jewish Education at YU’s Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration; and Rabbi Ari Berman, spiritual leader of the Jewish Center, spoke on Hanukkah-related topics.