You've Been Chosen, Now Act Chosen

Newark Mayor Cory Booker Implores Audience to be True to Itself in Hanukkah Dinner Keynote Address

Cory A. Booker, mayor of Newark, NJ, and the keynote speaker at Yeshiva University’s (YU) 86th Annual Hanukkah Dinner and Convocation at The Waldorf=Astoria in New York City, implored members of the audience, and the Jewish community at large, to be true to themselves, to their faith and to their heritage.

“This world doesn’t need ‘Jews.’ This world needs Jews who are manifesting the truth of who they are, who recognize that yes, there is a ‘chosen-ness’ in Judaism but it necessitates in the individual making a choice.”

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In an address replete with references to Jewish history and the Torah that brimmed with humor, warmth and wisdom, Mayor Booker sought to outline exactly what that choice means.

“We are in a world that cries out for redemption; there is pain and suffering all around us. Why am I so drawn to Judaism? Because this world needs people who will choose to live those values, instill them in their hearts and manifest them in their actions.”

Recently re-elected as Newark’s mayor with a clear mandate for change, Mayor Booker knows the importance of working with and depending on others.  He noted that his bold vision for Newark could not have been set into motion without vital outside help and cooperation. And he sees in YU opportunities for cooperation and unity and restorative hope that must continue to be carried out.

“We are sitting here in homage not to individuals but to a tradition at a university that at its very core is that mission. Why I am so honored to be here, why I feel the gravity of the gift of kindness that you all have shown me, is because this university is answering that call.”

President Richard M. Joel conferred the honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree on Mayor Booker, and honorary degrees were also awarded to Emanuel Gruss, a prominent investment executive and philanthropist, and Benefactor and honorary trustee of Yeshiva University; business executive Arthur N. Hershaft, a Benefactor and member of the Board of Overseers of YU’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine; attorney and community leader Murray Laulicht, a YU alumnus and Benefactor and member of the Board of Overseers of the University’s Stern College for Women; and philanthropist and civic leader Laurie M. Tisch, a Benefactor and significant supporter of YU’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.

The convocation and dinner, the University’s main annual fundraising event, raised a record $4.1 million this year.

The dinner portion of the evening opened with a viewing of the hit song and music video “Candlelight,” performed by Yeshiva University’s a cappella group, the Maccabeats. The song has recently been featured on CNN, CBS and many other major media outlets, as well as receiving more than three million views on YouTube.

President Joel then honored the Points of Light, eight people who exemplify YU’s mission, one for each candle of the menorah. They included:

Chanan Reitblat, founder of the Yeshiva College chapter of the American Chemical Society, who is helping to develop a drug to prevent kidney stones and working with special needs individuals for Keshet.

Leah Larson, a Stern college student and founder, editor, and publisher of YALDAH magazine, which she started at age 13.

Michael Goon, a current student at YU affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) serving as a Sanford Lurie Scholar at the Jewish Center and rabbinic intern at the Roslyn Synagogue, who founded “Shabbat Heights Link,” which organizes Shabbat dinners for singles and couples in Washington Heights; he also designed and produced “Peacekeeping: The Game,” a board game that teaches the challenges of intrastate conflict.

Joey Small, who holds a master’s from YU’s Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration and launched a fellowship program at YU with two tracks – “Give Back” and the “Legacy Heritage Teacher Training Fellowships,” both of which focus on encouraging recent graduates to pursue careers in education.

Tova Fish-Rosenberg, the chairperson of the Hebrew language department at Yeshiva University High School for Boys and creator of the acclaimed “Names, Not Numbers©” Intergenerational Holocaust Oral History Project.

Martin Leibovich, a student at YU’s Sy Syms School of Business, who grew up in Argentina and was heavily recruited by American college basketball programs before eventually transferring to the University, where he has shown a tremendous love of Torah learning and a continued talent for basketball.

Dr. Arturo Casadevall, the chair of microbiology and immunology at Einstein and a major force behind Einstein’s foray into biodefense following September 11, 2001;  he also helped develop a new therapy for metastatic melanoma.

Jaqueline Murekatete, a second-year Cardozo student who, at the age of nine, was the sole survivor of her Tutsi family during the Rwandan genocide of 1994. She founded Jacqueline’s Human Rights Corner and has raised $100,000 for a community center in Rwanda for other genocide survivors.

Echoing the words of Mayor Booker, President Joel summed up the evening with these words: “Nights like tonight are so important for those of us who dream about the Jewish future. We must continue working with other people of goodwill to advance civilization; that’s our sacred mission, and that’s what we are celebrating tonight and what we will continue to celebrate in the days and months and years to come.”

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