The fifth president of Yeshiva University, Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman, said on Sunday that of the “five values that personify Yeshiva University,” the first is “Torat Emet — we believe in Truth.”
Delivering his investiture speech to an assembly of 2,000 at YU’s Wilf Campus in Washington Heights, with many more listening in by livestream, Rabbi Berman spoke of the “Five Torot, or the five central teachings, of our institution.”
“We do not just believe in Torat Emet but also Torat Chayyim — that our truths and values must live in the world,” he said.
YU’s other central teachings, he said, are “Torat Adam,” “Torat Chesed,” and “Torat Tziyyon, the Torah of Redemption.”
Following the formal ceremonies, the YU community partied at an “InvestFest” street fair along Amsterdam Avenue.
“Most new presidents of universities need to learn the story of their institutions to understand their narrative and its purpose, but I do not need to read a history book to understand Yeshiva University—it is in my heart and it is in my soul,” said Rabbi Berman, a graduate of YU and its rabbinical seminary.
“In an era in which there is a breakdown of civic and civil conversation, Yeshiva University is uniquely positioned to address the most pressing moral issues of the day,” he said in outlining his vision for the future.
Rabbi Berman served for 14 years as a rabbi at The Jewish Center, a modern Orthodox congregation on the Upper West Side, until immigrating to Israel in 2008. He taught Talmud at YU beginning in 1998.
Rabbi Berman spoke about his wife’s grandmother, Bubbe (pictured), “an extraordinary woman who survived the Holocaust by evading the Nazis hiding in caves, forests and cemeteries … with Shlomo [her husband] and a few of their nephews and nieces, but no one else in their large family was as fortunate. …
“Fast forward the story by a couple of decades, and one day Bubbe received a call from a friend of hers who just returned from a trip to the former Soviet Union. “Cyla” she said, “You need to sit down, I have something astounding to tell you. Your brother, Pinchas — he is alive. While you ran west, he escaped east. You each thought the other was dead, but Pinchas is alive and living in Russia.” Bubbe immediately contacted him, but they were never able to meet, as soon afterwards Pinchas died.
“Pinchas, though, had a daughter named Gala, who married Vladimer. When they had a son, they named him Pinchas, after her father. Some years later, the Iron Curtain fell, and Gala and her family moved to Israel. Shortly thereafter, [my wife] Anita and I were studying in Yeshiva University’s center in Israel. At the end of the year, Anita gave birth to our first son, whom we named Shlomo after her grandfather who had recently passed away.
“I still remember the scene when Bubbe came to Israel for the bris. She was sitting with her new great grandson, Shlomo, on her lap, when in came a woman who carried a clear family resemblance. It was her niece Gala whom she had never previously met. And with Gala came a little boy named Pinchas. And when Pinchas ran over to see the baby, once again Bubbe was surrounded by Pinchas and Shlomo.
“You see, they thought they could kill us, they thought they could remove us from the earth, but Pinchas and Shlomo were alive again, and this time they connected with each other in Jerusalem, the capital of the modern Jewish State of Israel. Bubbe’s life represents the dramatic story of the Jewish people in the modern era, a story of an indomitable spirit able to transcend destruction and to rebuild a lost world.
‘To me, this story highlights the reality of the Jewish world today, as it provides a stark contrast with the Jewish world of yesterday. The prophet Ezekiel foretells a wondrous future in which the dry bones of Israel are brought back to life, but for us living today we know that this is no dream; it describes our reality.
“Pinchas and Shlomo once left for dead have now returned in a new generation. And look at the world that they face today. It is an era that is simply unprecedented in Jewish history. …
“It is my great joy at this point to pause for a moment and acknowledge the presence of a woman who is over 100 years old, beli ayin ha-ra, who is here with us today celebrating the investiture of her grandson. Ladies and gentlemen, my Bubbe.”