Professor Arnold M. Eisen, chancellor of JTS, delivered the Commencement Address and unveiled JTS’s new mission and strategic goals. Chancellor Eisen spoke about JTS’s commitment to six guiding principles: scholarship in service to Judaism and the Jewish community, excellence in teaching and learning, synergy within the JTS academic structure, partnerships with nearby institutions, reaching new types of students, and engaging and strengthening Conservative Judaism and the vital religious center of North American Jewry.
Honorary doctoral degrees were awarded to Professor Robert Alter, Professor Menahem Ben-Sasson, Professor Sara Japhet, Mr. Gershon Kekst, and Dr. Menahem Schmelzer. Mr. Martin D. Payson was inducted into the JTS Society of Fellows.
Of the one-hundred-fifteen graduates who participated in this year’s Commencement Exercises, forty-eight received bachelor’s degrees from the Albert A. List College of Jewish Studies; twenty-six, including four students who earned doctorates, received degrees from The Graduate School; twenty-two received degrees from the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education, including two EdDs; eight cantors were invested by the H. L. Miller Cantorial School and College of Jewish Music; and nineteen men and women were ordained by The Rabbinical School. Eight students each received two degrees from different JTS schools.
Chancellor Eisen, one of the world’s foremost experts on American Judaism, is the seventh chancellor of JTS. Since his inauguration in 2007, Chancellor Eisen has met with world leaders, engaged in prominent interdenominational and interfaith dialogues, and championed a transformation in the education of the next generation of Conservative leadership. Among his early achievements, Chancellor Eisen has appointed a new vice chancellor, provost, and deans; led the development and implementation of new curricula that will better prepare rabbis, cantors, and Jewish educators for the rapidly changing community of contemporary American Jews; and committed JTS to a higher standard of ecological responsibility. Before coming to JTS, Chancellor Eisen was the Koshland Professor of Jewish Culture and Religion at Stanford University. Chancellor Eisen received a PhD in the History of Jewish Thought from Hebrew University.
Professor Robert Alter is the Class of 1937 Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature at the University of California at Berkeley, where he has taught since 1967. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the Council of Scholars of the Library of Congress, and is past president of the Association of Literary Scholars and Critics. Professor Alter has twice been a Guggenheim Fellow, has been a Senior Fellow of the National Endowment for the Humanities, a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Jerusalem, and an Old Dominion Fellow at Princeton University. He has written widely on the European novel from the eighteenth century to the present, contemporary American fiction, and modern Hebrew literature. In 2009, Professor Alter received the Robert Kirsch Award from the Los Angeles Times for lifetime contribution to American letters.
Professor Menahem Ben-Sasson is president of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He previously served as deputy dean, Faculty of the Humanities, and rector at Hebrew University, and as chair of the Ben-Zvi Institute. Professor Ben-Sasson has also taught at Bar-Illan University and lectured at JTS. He is the author of numerous books and specializes in the study of medieval Jewry in Muslim lands, and was the recipient of a Rothschild Fellowship and the Ben-Zvi Prize for the Study of Jewish Heritage. In 2005, Professor Ben-Sasson was elected president of the World Union for Jewish Studies and to the Knesset, where he was appointed chairman of the Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee.
Professor Sara Japhet is the Yehezkel Kaufmann Professor Emeritus of Bible at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Professor Japhet is widely considered Israel’s leading female biblical scholar and its highest ranking female academic. She specializes in the history of the biblical period, the literature and religion of the Bible, and the history of Jewish exegesis. Professor Japhet has served as the head of the Bible Department and head of the Institute of Jewish Studies at Hebrew University, and as director of the Jewish National and University Library. She served as a visiting professor at JTS from 1977 to 1978. In 2004, Professor Japhet was the recipient of the Israel Prize for Biblical Studies, and since 2006, has been the president of the World Union of Jewish Studies. She is currently an advisory board member of MyHeritage Company and is on the editorial board of Alice and Moshe Shalvi’s CD-ROM “Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.”
Mr. Gershon Kekst has been a member of the JTS Board of Trustees since 1989, serving as board chairman from 1991 to 2009, and is currently chair emeritus. He is founder and president of Kekst and Company Inc., a corporate and financial communications firm serving publicly traded and private enterprises around the world. Mr. Kekst is past chair and current member of the Board of Governors of the Weizmann Institute of Science, from which he received an honorary doctorate in 1995. He also serves on the boards of Brandeis University and the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. Mr. Kekst has established the Chana Kekst Professorship of Hebrew Literature at JTS and the Zalman Abraham Kekst Chair in Neuroscience at Brandeis University; he also takes pride in the Weizmann Institute's Kekst Family Center for Medical Genetics and the Gershon Kekst Professorship. An honorary vice president of the American Jewish Committee, Mr. Kekst is a past board member of the National Foundation for Jewish Culture and a trustee of Montefiore Medical Center. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Dr. Menahem Schmelzer is the Albert B. And Bernice Cohen Professor Emeritus of Medieval Hebrew Literature and Jewish Bibliography at JTS. He has been a full-time member of the JTS faculty since 1961 and served as librarian from 1964 to 1987. In addition to writing numerous articles and reviews for scholarly journals, Dr. Schmelzer was associate division editor of the “Modern Jewish Scholarship” section of Encyclopaedia Judaica. He has lectured at the Leo Baeck Institute, Yeshiva University, and the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. In 1992, he received a Guggenheim Fellowship. In 1999, Dr. Schmelzer was the recipient of an honorary degree from the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies in Chicago. He was appointed distinguished visiting senior scholar at the Kluge Center in the Library of Congress for a four-month period in 2004. Dr. Schmelzer was recently awarded the Alexander Scheiber Prize from the Ministry of Culture and Education of Hungary.
Mr. Martin D. Payson is a former member of the JTS Board of Trustees and served as former Board Development chair. He retired as director, Office of the President, and general counsel of Warner Communications, Inc., and vice chairman of Time Warner Inc. Since his retirement, Mr. Payson has been active with UJA-Federation. Mr. Payson has served as chairman of the board of Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn and chairman of the Nassau Health Care Corporation in Nassau County, New York. In addition to serving as trustee of The Jewish Museum, he has also served on the boards of Howard, Tulane, and New York universities.
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