Yeshiva University’s Class of 2017 celebrated YU’s 86th Commencement in The Theater at Madison Square Garden. Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, delivered the keynote address and received an honorary degree.
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.”
“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,” Dermer told the graduations. “That is why Yeshiva University is so important.
Ten undergraduate valedictorians were recognized for their academic achievements, among them four residents of the Five Towns: Yonatan Mehlman and Kayla Axelrod of Woodmere, the Yeshiva College and Rebecca Ivry Department of Jewish Studies valedictorians, respectively; Jacob Klar of Lawrence, a Sy Syms School of Business valedictorian; and Michael Levinson of Cedarhurst, valedictorian of the Irving I. Stone Beit Midrash Program.
For Axelrod’s family, the day was especially meaningful, as her parents and grandfather celebrated the 25th and 60th anniversaries of their own graduations, respectively. Her father, Rabbi Shalom Axelrod, delivered the invocation at the commencement ceremony.
These exceptional new alumni will now move on to careers and graduate studies that range from accounting and medicine to Jewish education and marketing. However, as they look back on their undergraduate years, they share a deep sense of appreciation for the personalized, high-quality education they received at YU.
“Part of what makes YU special is that I didn’t have to sacrifice on anything,” Mehlman said. “I was able to study Torah seriously, receive an excellent education, and participate in some really amazing clubs, all in an amazing environment with my peers who have become my best friends.
“Just this past Friday serves as a good example — I woke up early to teach science with my peers in a local public school, spent several hours performing cancer biology research in a lab on campus, led a group of my peers to a local nursing home as part of Music VS., and then rounded the day out by traveling to Queens with my shiur for a shiur shabbaton by our rebbe, Rav Rosensweig.”
Klar, who will be attending YU’s master’s in accounting program in the fall, enjoyed the close relationship he was able to develop with faculty at Sy Syms. “Professor Leibowitz has such a passion for the material, which helped to keep me engaged in accounting class, and he really cared for his students,” Klar said.
“Recently, while I was no longer in his class and studying for the CPA exam, I came across some challenging material and he made time to explain a concept to me. Most importantly, Rabbi Feldman had an tremendous impact on my YU experience. I was able to see his immense knowledge of all areas while he was my shiur rebbe for three semesters and my professor in Syms for two semesters.”
Levinson hopes to make aliyah and pursue semicha on YU’s Israel campus.
“Rabbi Eli Belizon, my morning seder rebbe, really took me under his wing and showed me the importance and love of Torah during my time at YU,” he said. “He guided me through everything. Amazing friends and teachers and the dual curriculum made YU a special experience for me.”
Other Class of 2017 valedictorians include Akiva Marder, Isaac Breuer College of Hebraic Studies; Avigail Goldstein and Erica Secemski, Sy Syms School of Business; Tova Goldstein, Stern College for Women; Shua Katz, Yeshiva Program/Mazer School of Talmudic Studies; and Maor Shoshana, James Striar School of General Jewish Studies.
Philanthropist and activist Tzili Charney was also awarded an honorary degree in recognition of her generosity to the University. A University Benefactor, she, along with her late husband Leon Charney ’60YC, has given generously to Yeshiva, 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. President Joel praised Charney for her “love, loyalty, vigor, sophistication and unyielding Jewish pride.”
Quoting her husband, Charney told graduates to “examine the options you have available to you. Maintain a promise of peace. Make proper choices and bring about changes in your life while, at the same time, continuing to make the world a better place.”
President Joel also bestowed the Presidential Medallion upon 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 talmidim [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 bracha [blessing] from the Chofetz Chaim. Rabbi Fulda, you have been nothing but a bracha to our Yeshiva, and therefore it is my greatest pleasure to award you the Presidential Medallion.”
The class of 1967 was also honored as they marked the 50th anniversary of their graduation.
For President Joel, the ceremony was bittersweet, as it marked his final commencement as YU president. “My wonderful students—finally, I get to graduate with you,” he said. “We are gathered 5,000 strong to celebrate you and the Jewish future. Be God’s partner and help perfect the world.”
His speech was followed by a touching video tribute to him and the presentation of a ceremonial mace in honor of his service.
In making the presentation, Dr. Josh Joseph, senior vice president, noted that President Joel had conferred degrees on 28,655 students and that “the most fitting tribute for you, the most fulfilling benchmark of your success, will be their success. You empowered your students with a mandate to matter, you created an educational experience that fills us with integrity, you ennobled us and enabled us. Thank you.”
In total, more than 1,700 students from Yeshiva College, Stern College for Women and Sy Syms School of Business, as well as graduate students in the fields of law, medicine, social work, education, Jewish studies and psychology, were awarded degrees from YU during its commencement season. Source: YU