Grapevine: Dr. Dermer, I presume

"You are unapologetic in your defense of Israel’s right to exist as a nation and a people, and mince no words when it comes to advocating for Israel’s interests."

FROM LEFT: Rabbi Hillel Zaltzman, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein and Sen. James Lankford. (photo credit: DOV AND SHMUEL LENCHEVSKY)
FROM LEFT: Rabbi Hillel Zaltzman, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein and Sen. James Lankford.
When he completes his tour of duty as ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer will return to Jerusalem with a title that he did not have prior to his appointment. Dermer, who was the keynote speaker at Yeshiva University’s 86th Commencement at Madison Square Garden in New York City, was conferred with an honorary doctorate, which caused him to say that now his Jewish mother could be proud of him. The inference was the Jewish mother syndrome of “My son the doctor.”
Outgoing YU President Richard M. Joel praised Dermer’s vigorous defense of Israel as he conferred the honorary degree upon him. “Your tenure as ambassador has taken its character from everything that came before it in your life. You are unapologetic in your defense of Israel’s right to exist as a nation and a people, and mince no words when it comes to advocating for Israel’s interests. We honor you for your role as a determined and dedicated advocate of yiddishkeit and the Jewish state and for believing that a great moral purpose anchors the national destiny of the State of Israel.”
In his address to graduates, Dermer wished them good luck on their personal journeys, saying that he did not know at his own graduation ceremony what he was going to do next. But he urged the YU graduates to take on a mission of ensuring Jewish continuity not only demographically but in terms of active identification. “To keep Judaism alive for many Jews, we must restore pride in Jewish values and Jewish ideas for a generation of Jews that knows little about either.
That is why Yeshiva University is so important. And that is why each and every one of you is so important, because this university has equipped you, like few others in our generation, to succeed in that mission.”
Philanthropist and activist Israeli- American Tzili Charney was also awarded an honorary degree, in recognition of her generosity to the University.
A YU benefactor, she, along with her late husband, Leon Charney, a YU alumnus, gave generously to YU, including a recent commitment of $1 million to establish the Leon Charney Legacy Project, focused on expanding Israel studies and the arts, and donating the Leon H. Charney Collection to the YU Library Archives. Joel praised Charney for her “love, loyalty, vigor, sophistication and unyielding Jewish pride.”
Joel also presented the Presidential Medallion to Rabbi Manfred Fulda, associate professor of Talmud and an educator at YU since 1959, for his service. “You are the ultimate rebbe, modeling the values of our yeshiva and serving as a guide for our students, and so we celebrate all that you have accomplished thus far. As you once remarked, you are one of the only people left alive who received a blessing from the Hafetz Haim [Rabbi Israel Meir Hacohen Kagan, who died in September 1933]. Rabbi Fulda, you have been nothing but a blessing to our yeshiva, and therefore it is my greatest pleasure to award you the Presidential Medallion.”
■ THE ITALIAN Embassy together with the Italian Cultural Center want to share Italy’s national day with the people of Israel, and together with the Tel Aviv Municipality have organized Musica on the Beach, an evening of opera, pop and jazz, beginning at 6:45 on Monday, June 5, at Lala Land at Gordon Beach, 131 Herbert Samuel Street.
Entrance is free of charge.
Arias from popular operas by Rossini, Donizetti, Verdi and Puccini will be sung by sopranos Hila Baggio, Mirella Gradinaru, Anastasia Klevan and Shiri Hershkovitz, accompanied on the piano by Ethan Schmeiser. The pop section of the concert will be provided by singer Raiz, accompanied by guitarist Giuseppe De Trizio and guitar and oud exponent Adolfo La Volpe. This will be followed by Roy Rieck paying homage to Fabrizio De André, after which saxophonist Shlomi Goldenberg and pianist Tal Babitzky will present Vivaldi’s “Spring” in jazz, and after all that there will be a DJ session with Dana Keila. The message all the way through is Viva Italia!
■ AMONG THE many visitors to Israel last month were Chicago supporters of Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, who dedicated a $3m. sports and recreation facility at the Israel Navy’s main base in Haifa. The stateof- the-art Robert Neal Sklare Sports Center features a gymnasium and basketball court and will benefit all navy personnel who serve or train at the Haifa Naval Base.
The facility was dedicated on May 17 by Robert and Yadelle Sklare Foundation board of directors members Dr. Jack and Tamara Faintuch of Evanston, Illinois, Dr. Howard and Lynne Schechter of Highland Park, Illinois, and Arie and Bozena Zweig of Winnetka, Illinois.
“These soldiers sacrifice so much to keep Israel safe, and we wanted to do as much as we could to enhance the quality of their lives,” said Dr.
Faintuch. “The sports center will provide a place for physical relaxation, psychological respite – and even spiritual retreat.”
Other FIDF supporters from the Chicago area also contributed to the $3m. facility. “Projects like this one show Israel’s brave soldiers how grateful Jews around the world are for their service,” said FIDF Midwest executive director Tamir Oppenheim. “Every soldier who uses this sports center will know it was built thanks to supporters from the Chicago community.”
■ EARLY LAST month, President Donald Trump declared May as Jewish American Heritage Month, following the practice of recent US administrations. The monthlong series of events has been held annually since 2006, with special exhibits and talks at museums and other cultural institutions highlighting the contributions of Jews to American culture, including the arts, science, medicine, sports, business, government and military service. The annual celebration first began in 1980 as a week dedicated to American Jewry, and in 2006 president Bush, on the request of Congress, dedicated April to American Jewry.
Leading members of the House and Senate celebrated Jewish American Heritage Month last week with an event titled “Honoring Leaders of the Jewish Community.” Among the honorees was American born Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, who now lives in Jerusalem and who was recognized for his interfaith bridge-building through the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which is headquartered in Chicago.
Members of Congress who marked Jewish American Heritage Month at the Senate Russell Office Building were Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey); Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio); Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut); Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Maryland); Sen. Steve Daines (R-Montana); Sen. James Lankford (R-Oklahoma); Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon); Sen. Gary Peters (D-Michigan); Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii); Rep.
John Faso (R-New York); Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III (D-Massachusetts); Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Illinois); and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Florida).
Eckstein was nominated for recognition by Chamah, an international humanitarian organization that is dedicated to providing food for the elderly and the hungry, medical assistance for the ill and education for the young in Russia and Israel.
Chamah president Rabbi Hillel Zaltzman said that Chamah nominated the fellowship for the congressional honor because “Rabbi Eckstein opened a vital chapter in American-Jewish life by building bridges of understanding and tolerance between Christians and Jews, thereby initiating a dialogue that resulted in projects promoting the security and well-being of Jews in Israel and around the world. Rabbi Eckstein, a giant of a man, is truly making a lasting impact on Jewish history.”
Lankford presented Eckstein with a certificate recognizing the work of the IFCJ, which Eckstein founded 34 years ago for the purpose of promoting better understanding and cooperation between Christians and Jews and to help build broad support for the State of Israel.
■ SOMETHING THAT may evolve into a hands-on experience for all visiting student groups coming to Israel from abroad took place last month when eighth grade students from the Ramaz Lower School in New York joined regular Leket Israel volunteers in the field to harvest kohlrabi for needy Israeli families. Collectively, the class picked some 2,000 kilos of kohlrabi for distribution to a thousand families.
Leket Israel, which calls itself the National Food Bank, is often aided by local and visiting dignitaries in picking fruit and vegetables, who thereby contribute to providing for the nutrition of the poor and needy. When school students join in this effort, it not only eases the hunger of the poor but also gives the students a sense of community responsibility. While still in office, former US ambassador Dan Shapiro brought his family to pick produce in the field.
“It’s wonderful when schools come and get their hands dirty volunteering with Leket Israel,” says Joseph Gitler, Leket Israel’s founder and chairman. “Picking produce in the fields with Leket Israel’s flagship program, Project Leket, is a unique way for today’s youth to connect with the cause, the land and Israel. We would be thrilled to welcome more visitors from New York and the Upper East Side on future visits to Israel.”
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