The Jewish Theological Seminary Confers 103 Degrees at 2015 Commencement

A total of 103 degrees were conferred at the 121st Commencement Exercises of The Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) on May 21 in New York City. The distinguished graduates are the newest JTS cohort of professional and lay leaders set to serve around the globe as rabbis, educators, cantors, scholars, and community leaders. Professor Arnold M. Eisen, chancellor of JTS, delivered the Commencement address. Honorary doctoral degrees were awarded to Father Patrick Desbois, Ms. Blu Greenberg, Ms. Roberta Kaplan, Professor Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, and Mr. Nigel Savage.

Of the 92 graduates awarded degrees during this year’s Commencement, 33 received bachelor’s degrees from JTS’s Albert A. List College of Jewish Studies; 22including four who earned doctoratescompleted their studies at the Gershon Kekst Graduate School; and 32including two who earned doctoratesreceived degrees from the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education. Further, two cantors were invested by the H. L. Miller Cantorial School and College of Jewish Music, and 14 men and women were ordained by The Rabbinical School. Eleven students received multiple degrees from various JTS schools.

Backed by his church superior and the World Jewish Congress, Father Desbois founded Yahad-In Unum, an organization that documents eyewitness accounts of executions of Jews and Roma in Eastern Europe, and now serves as president. This work is recounted in Father Desbois’s book, The Holocaust by Bullets. So far Yahad-In Unum has collected more than 4,000 testimonies and identified more than 1,500 execution sites. Father Desbois is also director of the National Service of French Bishops for Relations with Judaism, advisor to the Commission of the Holy See for Religious Relations with the Jews, and adjunct professor in the Program for Jewish Civilization at Georgetown University.

Ms. Greenberg chaired the First and Second International Conferences on Feminism and Orthodoxy, and founded the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance. She delivered the keynote address to the first National Jewish Women’s Conference in 1973, and has served on many boards, including those of EDAH, the Covenant Foundation, and Project Kesher. Ms. Greenberg has also served on the editorial board of Hadassah and the advisory board of Lilith. She is a co-chair of the Global Peace Initiative of Women and author of On Women and Judaism: A View from Tradition and How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household.

A litigation partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, Ms. Kaplan successfully argued before the US Supreme Court the landmark United States v. Windsor marriage equality case that struck down a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Dozens of courts have relied explicitly on the Windsorcase to accord gay couples equal rights under the law. The American Lawyer magazine named Ms. Kaplan one of The 100 Most Influential Lawyers in the United States and a 2013 Litigator of the Year, and she is listed on the Politico 50. She is co-chair of the board of directors of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, a board member of the New York County Lawyers’ Association, and an adjunct professor of law at Columbia Law School.

Professor Kirshenblatt-Gimblett is advisor to the director and chief curator of the Core Exhibition at the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews. She was recently named professor emerita at New York University, where she chaired the Performance Studies Department for more than a decade, taught graduate-level Hebrew and Judaic Studies, and co-convened NYU’s Working Group on Jews, Media, and Religion for more than five years. She has also held faculty appointments at the University of Texas at Austin, Columbia University, and the University of Pennsylvania. She has served numerous museums internationally as a consultant or member of the board or advisory board. She has also authored, coauthored, or edited many books and has served on the editorial boards of nearly 30 scholarly journals.

Mr. Savage is founder and president of Hazon, which encourages Jewish involvement with sustainability, the outdoors, and the environment. Hazon is one of very few groups included in the Slingshot guide every year since its inception. It has built new ways to connect Israelis and Diaspora Jews through bike rides and tours, and its community-supported agriculture program serves more than 2,300 households at 65 sites in numerous statesone of the largest faith-based CSA programs in the country. Its other offerings include food festivals, farming fellowships, Torah yoga, and a Topsy Turvy Bus Tour in a biofueled, environmental schoolhouse on wheels. Hazon is one of the largest American funders of the environmental movement in Israel. Mr. Savage has also been named twice as one of the Forward 50, and was a founder of Limmud NY.