White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew delivered the keynote address at Yeshiva University’s 88th Annual Hanukkah Convocation and Dinner on Sunday, December 16, at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City. President Richard M. Joel bestowed an honorary doctorate upon Lew, calling him “perhaps one of the highest-ranking Orthodox Jewish advisers to a head of state since the Abarbanel” and an embodiment of the value-infused and driven lifestyle members of the YU community seek to lead.
“We are the world’s Torah-informed University, charged with the sacred undertaking of engaging the world around us with our wisdom and our values and yes, our actions,” said President Joel. “We are a dynamic, caring, and reflective community, learning from our past, improving our present, and enshrining our future. We are in the business of nurturing and educating young men and women in a safe place as they refine themselves and seek wholeness in their own personal spheres, and yet seek to bring that wholeness to the fractured world around them.”
Lew began his career in Washington as an aide to Congressman Joe Moakley and served as special assistant to President Bill Clinton in addition to multiple roles in the Office of Management and Budget before assuming his position in President Barack Obama’s administration. At the Convocation, President Joel praised Lew’s steadfast commitment to Torah as he pursued challenging public duties.
“You have earned the respect of your colleagues because they know that whatever the issue, you act from principle, not from partisanship or ideology,” said President Joel. “What better example can we offer the students of Yeshiva University than that of a national leader of unwavering values and impeccable judgment, whose actions are consistently guided by the highest ethical and moral values we teach?”
Lew opened his keynote remarks with words of remembrance for the 26 victims of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on Friday, saying, “We all mourn the children whose lives ended too soon, and the teachers and staff who were killed as they tried to protect them. Our thoughts and prayers are with their loved ones and the entire community.”
Lew also discussed the sacred responsibility of all educational institutions to protect children from danger. He then reflected on the two ethical systems which had influenced his life—citing his parents’ and grandparents’ fervent belief that it was equally important to exercise their right to vote and observe the Jewish holidays, living fully in both worlds.
“As an observant Jew I honor the practices of my faith and the rights, credos, and responsibilities it stands for; as a proud citizen I believe in working to make sure that this is a world full of opportunity where you can achieve anything if you’re willing to work for it; and as a public servant, I believe that these values, both religious and secular, inform, inspire, and elevate the impact that each of us has on our homes, community, and the world,” Lew said. “Taken together they bring wholeness and fulfillment—shleimut—to our lives.”
President Joel also conferred honorary degrees upon management consulting and investment banking executive Stanley Raskas, a 1965 Yeshiva College graduate and 1969 graduate of YU-affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary; Moises Y. Safra, a philanthropist and accomplished financier; and Holocaust survivor Diane Wasser, who is a national vice president and member of the Executive Council of the Yeshiva University Women’s Organization and founding member of its President’s Society for Torah Chessed.
During the dinner portion, President Joel recognized eight Points of Light—students, faculty, and alumni who exemplify the mission of the University—calling each one up to light a symbolic candle on the menorah
“Tonight, we focus on eight individuals who serve as exemplars of the past, present, and future of Yeshiva University,” said President Joel. “These are the stories which illuminate not just our community but the world beyond our boundaries. These are stories that nurture our faith, strengthen our beliefs, and feed us with the urgency of purpose.”
The convocation and dinner, which serves as the University’s main annual fundraising event, raised more than $3.8 million. In addition, the public phase of YU’s capital campaign, “Mandate to Matter,” was announced. Inspired by a historic gift of $100 million from Ronald P. Stanton in November 2006, the campaign has already raised nearly $800 million of its $1 billion goal during its quiet phase, enabling YU to increase financial assistance to deserving students, strengthen its faculty, research and academic programs, enhance the quality of student life, campus infrastructure, and community outreach.
At the dinner, YU Trustee Ira Mitzner ’81YC said that the campaign would expand to include an additional $400 million for undergraduate scholarships.