Professor Arnold M. Eisen, chancellor of JTS, delivered the Commencement Address. He reflected upon the purposes of Jewish higher learning in a world of unprecedented challenge and change, and the role played by the advanced and forward-looking Jewish education that takes place at JTS in the development of exceptional leaders. "Today’s leaders," said the chancellor, "must be men and women capable of guiding communities through extraordinary transformations in a way that ensures that those new directions continue rather than rupture the path of Torah." Citing a recent Torah portion that clarifies what JTS means by learning and leadership, and the relationship between the two, the chancellor addressed the graduates directly, challenging them to utter the word in today’s Jewish conversation that only each one of them can speak, and to add the measure of goodness to the world that only each one of them can provide.
Honorary doctoral degrees were awarded to Mr. Mitch Albom, Dr. Mary C. Boys, Dr. Deborah E. Lipstadt, and Dr. John S. Ruskay.
Of the 124 graduates who participated in this year’s Commencement Exercises, 39 received bachelor’s degrees from the Albert A. List College of Jewish Studies; 38, including nine who earned doctorates, received degrees from The Graduate School; 29 received degrees from the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education, including three EdDs; eight cantors were invested by the H. L. Miller Cantorial School and College of Jewish Music; and 26 men and women were ordained by The Rabbinical School. A total of 17 students each received two degrees from different JTS schools.
Arnold M. Eisen, one of the world’s foremost experts on American Judaism, is the seventh chancellor of The Jewish Theological Seminary. Since his appointment in 2007, he has increased JTS’s impact on the communities it serves by transforming the education of religious leadership for Conservative Judaism; articulating a new vision for JTS; guiding the formulation of a strategic plan to implement that vision; and developing innovative programs in synagogue arts and practices, adult education, pastoral care, Jewish thought, interreligious dialogue, and the arts. His initiatives include new curricula for, and synergy among, all of JTS’s five schools; the Institute for Jewish Learning at JTS (and its flagship program Context); the interfaith Center for Pastoral Education at JTS; and the Tikvah Institute for Jewish Thought. His Mitzvah Initiative now involves some 75 congregations in a process of reflection upon “commandment, commandedness, and the Commander.” Before coming to JTS, Chancellor Eisen served in the Department of Religious Studies at Stanford University, the Department of Jewish Philosophy at Tel Aviv University, and the Department of Religion at Columbia University. An award-winning writer and advocate for the Jewish community, the chancellor’s many publications include Rethinking Modern Judaism: Ritual, Commandment, Community and Taking Hold of Torah: Jewish Commitment and Community in America, a personal essay.
Mr. Mitch Albom is host of the Mitch Albom Show on Michigan’s WJR Radio, as well as an award-winning syndicated columnist for the Detroit Free Press, commentator on ESPN: The Sports Reporters and Sportscenter, musician and songwriter, and playwright. His renowned books have sold more than 28 million copies and been published in 42 languages. Tuesdays with Morrie spent four years on the New York Times best-seller list and remains the publishing industry’s best-selling memoir to date. The Five People You Meet in Heaven became the most successful hardcover first novel in the United States written for adults. Three of his books were produced for television—two by Oprah Winfrey—with Morrie winning four Emmys. Have A Little Faith, his work in part about the JTS-ordained rabbi of his childhood, was selected by Oprah.com as 2009’s best nonfiction book. Mr. Albom has launched charitable organizations such as the Dream Fund and A Time to Help, and he performs with the band Rock Bottom Remainders, which includes writers Stephen King and Amy Tan, to raise funds for literacy projects.
Dr. Mary C. Boys has been the Skinner and McAlpin Professor of Practical Theology at Union Theological Seminary since 1994 and serves as an adjunct faculty member at JTS and Teachers College, Columbia University. A former professor at Boston College, she is an international visiting lecturer and a synagogue scholar-in-residence in the United States. She was a Lilly Research Fellow and a Henry Luce III Fellow in Theology, and is a member of the editorial boards of many religious education journals. Codirector of the Lilly Endowment–sponsored Religious Particularism and Pluralism project, she is also a member of the boards of the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding and the National Catholic Center for Holocaust Education, among others, and serves on the advisory committee for the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. In 2005, she received the International Council of Christians and Jews’ Sternberg Award. She is the author of five books and numerous journal articles, and since 1965, has been a member of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, a congregation of Roman Catholic women.
Dr. Deborah E. Lipstadt is the Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory University in Atlanta, where she created the Institute for Jewish Studies. She has won numerous teaching awards and scholarly honors for her important research illuminating how America reacted to the persecution of European Jewry during the Holocaust, and how there are those today who, by distorting history, seek to harm the Jewish people. Her book, Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory, the first full-length study of its subject, is universally acclaimed and has been published worldwide. Her writings have won such distinctions as the National Jewish Book Award, and she contributes frequently to and is widely quoted in major newspapers. The Jewish Week recently called her newest book, The Eichmann Trial (Jewish Encounters), “nothing less than a page-turner.” President Clinton appointed her to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, and she helped design the Holocaust Memorial Museum’s section dedicated to the American response to the Shoah. Members of Congress have called upon Dr. Lipstadt to consult on political responses to Holocaust denial, and she has served on the United States State Department Advisory Committee on Religious Freedom Abroad. President George W. Bush invited her to join a small delegation representing the White House at the 60th anniversary commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz. Dr. Lipstadt is a fellow of the American Academy of Jewish Research.
Dr. John S. Ruskay is executive vice president and CEO of UJA-Federation of New York. He first came to UJA-Federation in 1993 and served in several positions before being appointed to his current positions in October 1999. He served as educational director of the 92nd Street Y from 1980 to 1985, and as vice chancellor of JTS from 1985 to 1993. Dr. Ruskay has written extensively and speaks nationally on how the American Jewish community can most effectively respond to the challenges and opportunities of living in an open society, the critical role of Jewish philanthropy, and the central role of community. He has served as a senior consultant to the Wexner Foundation and the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Foundation, and has chaired the Publication Committee of the Journal of Jewish Communal Service and the Professional Advisory Committee of the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program. Dr. Ruskay is a recipient of the Bernard Reisman Award for Professional Excellence from Brandeis University’s Hornstein Program and the Mandelkorn Distinguished Service Award from the Jewish Communal Service Association of North America.
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