A total of 158 degrees are scheduled to be conferred at the 115th Commencement Exercises of The Jewish Theological Seminary, which will be held on May 21 in New York City. The distinguished graduates are the newest group of lay and professional leaders trained to serve nationwide as rabbis, academics, cantors, scholars, Jewish educators, and community leaders.
Ms. Ruth W. Messinger, president and CEO of American Jewish World Service (AJWS), will deliver the commencement address, "Leading for Change: Jewish Global Responsibility in the Twenty-First Century," and be awarded an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters. In addition to Ms. Messinger, honorary doctoral degrees will be awarded to Justice Rosalie Silberman Abella, justice of the Supreme Court of Canada; Dr. Eugene B. Borowitz, Sigmund L. Falk Distinguished Professor of Education and Jewish Religious Thought at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR); and Dean David M. Schizer of Columbia Law School.
Of the 146 graduates who are participating in this year's commencement, forty-eight will receive bachelor's degrees from the Albert A. List College of Jewish Studies; thirty-three, including six students earning doctorates, will receive degrees from The Graduate School; thirty-six will receive degrees from the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education, including one EdD; ten cantors will be invested by the H. L. Miller Cantorial School and College of Jewish Music; and thirty-one men and women will be ordained by The Rabbinical School. Twelve students will receive two degrees from different JTS schools.
Ms. Messinger is president and CEO of AJWS, an international development organization providing support to more than 400 grassroots social change projects throughout the world. She is also the American Jewish community's leading advocate on Darfur. Under Ms. Messinger's leadership, the AJWS budget has tripled, and the nonprofit has been awarded a four-star rating seven years in a row from Charity Navigator, an independent charity evaluator. A former political leader in New York City, she was Manhattan borough president from 1990–1998; represented the Upper West Side on the New York City Council from 1978–1989; and was the 1997 Democratic Party mayoral nominee. Ms. Messinger has received numerous awards and honors, including the Albert D. Chernin Award from the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, an honorary DHL from HUC-JIR, and the Union for Reform Judaism's Maurice N. Eisendrath Bearer of Light Award. She was cited seven consecutive years by the Forward as "one of the fifty most influential members of the American Jewish community."
Ms. Messinger is the daughter of another female trailblazer, her mother, Marjorie Wyler. Ms. Wyler (z"l) served JTS for more than fifty years, beginning in 1938 as part of then Chancellor Louis Finkelstein's administrative team and later as director of the Office of Public Information and head of the radio and television department. In an era when women rarely held positions of authority, she was instrumental in the formulation and dissemination of JTS's internal and external communications, and was a strong advocate of the creation of The Eternal Light, JTS's award-winning radio and television series.
Justice Abella is the first Jewish woman to be appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada. She is a member of the Ontario Human Rights Commission and was sole commissioner and author of the 1984 Federal Royal Commission on Equality in Employment in which she coined the term and concept of "employment equity." Her report has been implemented by the governments of Canada, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, and South Africa. She has taught at McGill University and the University of Toronto, and has authored four books and more than eighty articles. Justice Abella has been awarded twenty-four honorary degrees and numerous prizes, including the Tarnopolsky Award for human rights. Justice Abella was born in a displaced persons camp in Germany in 1946 and came to Canada in 1950 as a refugee.
Dr. Borowitz is the founder and former editor of Sh'ma, the magazine of Jewish social concern. The author of hundreds of articles on Jewish religious thought, he is the only Jew to serve as president of the American Theological Society. Dr. Borowitz has received many awards, including the medal for lifetime Jewish cultural achievement by the National Foundation for Jewish Culture, the National Jewish Book Award for his work The Mask Jews Wear, and the Eisendrath Prize from the Union for Reform Judaism. He was recently appointed "Distinguished University Professor" at HUC-JIR, where he has taught since 1962.
In 2004, at the age of thirty-five, David M. Schizer was named dean of Columbia Law School, the youngest dean in the school's history; he is also Columbia Law School's Lucy G. Moses Professor of Law. Dean Schizer earned his undergraduate and law degrees from Yale College and Yale Law School. Following graduation, he was a law clerk to Judge Alex Kozinski of the US Court of Appeals and later to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the United States Supreme Court. Dean Schizer is a member of the Tax Club, the Tax Forum, and the New York State Bar Association Tax Section Executive Committee. He also serves on the board of trustees of Natan, a nonprofit foundation that supports Jewish philanthropy, and the board of directors of Columbia-Barnard Hillel. Dean Schizer has written more than twenty-five books and articles, and was awarded the Willis Reese Prize for excellence in teaching.