Yeshiva University Hanukkah Convocation and Remembering Adrienne Cooper

Remembering Together: Eleanor Reissa (left) poses with Adrienne Cooper’s daughter, Sarah Mina Gordon.
Karen Leon
Remembering Together: Eleanor Reissa (left) poses with Adrienne Cooper’s daughter, Sarah Mina Gordon.

By Masha Leon

Published January 08, 2013, issue of January 18, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Lew, President Obama’s Chief of Staff, Honored by Yeshiva University

Nearly 1,000 guests crowded into the Waldorf-Astoria’s Rainbow Room for Yeshiva University’s 88th Annual Hanukkah Convocation on December 16, 2012, at which President Obama’s chief of staff, Jack Lew, recipient of an honorary Doctor of Law degree, was the keynote speaker. In his introductory comments, Y.U.’s president, Richard Joel, commented on “the unspeakable tragedy of countless deaths of children through wanton killing,” the “merciless super storm Sandy, which proved catastrophic for so many in our community,” and “our brothers and sisters in Israel, [who] endured a frightful battle of aggression.” Looking out at the black-tie assemblage, he pointed out “honorary trustee Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel” and “Yeshiva College alumnus Cardozo board member Leon Charney, who used his wisdom and influence to help choreograph a peace agreement between Egypt and Israel, which remains to this day.” Joel proclaimed: “We are the world’s Torah-informed university charged with the sacred understanding of engaging the world around us with our wisdom, with our values and, yes, with our actions.”

Joel commended Lew as “perhaps one of the highest-ranking Orthodox Jewish advisers to a head of state since Abrabanel,” a reference to philosopher, statesman Isaac Abrabanel (1437–1508), who lived in Spain and died in Padua. Listing Lew’s accomplishments on his trajectory, from “Forest Hills, Queens, to the president’s chief of staff,” Joel noted that Lew was “among the founders of the Jewish Primary Day School in the nation’s capital.” Turning to yarmulke-wearing Lew, Joel declared: “You act from principle, not partisanship or ideology…. Recently the president said about you: ‘I trust your values. I trust your judgment.’”

At the dais, Lew discussed the mass shooting that took place December 14, 2012, at Newtown, Conn.’s, Sandy Hook Elementary School: “As we gather tonight in Manhattan, President Obama is in Newtown, spending time with the families and offering condolences… on behalf of a grieving nation.” He recalled “the faith of the Maccabees, whose “perseverance has inspired generations to believe that the darkness will fade and a brighter tomorrow is always within our reach.” He spoke of his father’s and mother’s respective families, who “left Eastern Europe… to escape the persecution of Jews…. They were lucky to leave before it was too late. And they were especially lucky to come here, to America… whose promise of freedom and justice was a powerful attraction…. My parents made sure that I grew up with a deep appreciation of how fortunate I am to be an American… and I did learn how important it was to preserve our Jewish traditions but also promote America’s values. And [that] it was just as important to vote on Election Day as to observe the Jewish holidays.”

Praising Y.U. for “bringing together religious and secular teachings… where generations have relied on teachers to bring both elements into the classroom and to practice both in their own lives,” Lew then somberly addressed the sex abuse allegations at Y.U.. “Regrettably, we are learning of allegations that this was not always the case for some individuals. In recent days, we’ve heard of former students [who] have come forward with charges of sexual abuse from former teachers. The alleged behavior is despicable. It cannot be tolerated in any place at any time… and the response must transcend the confines of religious teaching. Leaders of this and every educational institution have a sacred responsibility under civil law to protect children from any action that might endanger or exploit them…. We can and must take a stand against it… set up preventive measures and openly address concerns as they arrive. This requires educators and leaders to be constantly vigilant.”

At the dinner in the Grand Ballroom, which followed the invocation ceremony, I stopped by to chat with Joel. He shared a table with Ingeborg and Ira Rennert (whom Joel, at the invocation, touted for their “leadership as lines of support for Israel and Torah education”), Elie and Marion Wiesel, and Leon and Tzili Charney.

Honorary degrees of Doctor of Humane Letters were also conferred upon Stanley Raskas, a director of Oxbridge Financial Group LLC and chairman of the Yeshiva College board of overseers; Moise Safra, philanthropist and founder of Safra & Co in Sao Paulo, Brazil (Safra fled Beirut, where he was born, following anti-Jewish riots there, brought on by the creation of the State of Israel), and Diane Wassner, a Holocaust survivor who was born in Lvov, Poland, and is national vice president and member of the Executive Council of Yeshiva University’s Women’s Organization .

A Cool, Hip and Haimish Celebration of Yiddish Culture Innovator Adrienne Cooper

If it’s possible to describe a memorial as a simcha, a celebration, the December 22, 2012, musical extravaganza at The Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College in memory of Adrienne Cooper, who died in 2011, fit the bill. ‘Twas a packed house, with people outside the theater pleading for tickets. “This once-in-a-lifetime cultural celebration is truly a testament to the enormous impact Adrienne made on so many of us in her joyful pursuit of Yiddishkeit and Jewish culture,” said Ann Toback, executive director of Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring, which sponsored the event. “She served as a cultural leader for almost 10 years… and helped shape our work for the 21st century, building a cultural and progressive Jewish learning movement…. Her legacy continues to inspire us, and — in Adrienne’s name and her spirit — we will continue to celebrate, to learn and to build a shenere un besere velt far ale — a better world for us all.”

The roster of singers and musicians at the evening of music, music, music included Eleanor Reissa in a delicious rendition of Isidore Lillian’s comedic song “Gefilte Fish,” accompanied by a 20-plus strong orchestra, Cooper’s partner, pianist Marilyn Lerner, Cooper’s daughter, Sarah Gordon; Michael Alpert; Jeffrey Shandler; Zalmen Mlotek; Frank London; Michael Winograd; Joanne Borts, and the Klezmatics. Showstoppers included Canadian rapper Josh Dolgin, aka Socalled, in a rendition of traditional song “Baleboste Zisinke” (“Sweet Lady of the House”), and Daniel Kahn and orchestra in a riotous rendition of “How the Jews Got to Europe,” arranged by Cooper, Michael Wex and Frank London.

By concert’s end, the audience — which throughout the concert sang along — did not want to leave, and would have stayed for endless encores. Had there been room, there would have been dancing in the aisles. ********************************************************************************************************

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • Will you accept the challenge?
  • In the six years since Dothan launched its relocation program, 8 families have made the jump — but will they stay? We went there to find out:
  • "Jewish Israelis and West Bank Palestinians are witnessing — and living — two very different wars." Naomi Zeveloff's first on-the-ground dispatch from Israel:
  • This deserves a whistle: Lauren Bacall's stylish wardrobe is getting its own museum exhibit at Fashion Institute of Technology.
  • How do you make people laugh when they're fighting on the front lines or ducking bombs?
  • "Hamas and others have dredged up passages form the Quran that demonize Jews horribly. Some imams rail about international Jewish conspiracies. But they’d have a much smaller audience for their ravings if Israel could find a way to lower the flames in the conflict." Do you agree with J.J. Goldberg?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.