One of the leading Holocaust education and remembrance experts told those graduating from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion that they have been blessed and they should share in that blessing.
“(The graduates) are told to be a blessing … and through you all the people of the world will be blessed,” Deborah H. Lipstadt, the Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Emory University, told the 16 graduates and others on May 31. “You have been given the blessing, the challenge will be to be a blessing and the results will be … (that) all will feel the bounty of the blessing.”
Lipstadt was the graduation speaker and was also awarded with the Sherut La’Am award by HUC-JIR president Andrew Rehfeld for service to the nation. He said it was given in “recognition of Jewish people and achievements on being one of the foremost experts in Holocaust denial and modern anti-Semitism.”
During her speech, Lipstadt said that even though graduation is a time of celebration she cannot do that.
“I can’t speak in an uplifting fashion … not because you haven’t accomplished great things but because the situation we currently face demands something other than that,” she said. “I stand before you someone who is concerned, worried, and … (although) someone who eschews hyperbole, is frightened about the future.
“Our world is riven by deep divisions, divisions that many people, politicians, pundits, social media forces and others seek to deepen and make more severe. These are divisions rooted in hatred and contempt.”
Lipstadt has studied anti-Semitism and its impact and recognizes it as a prejudice like “other isms … racism, homophobia, sexism, and hatred of other ethnicities and religions.
“If prejudice was not so lethal we could dismiss it simply put as idiotic or just plain stupid.”
But she said anti-Semitism has distinct elements. Racists punch down seeing “blacks, or a brown person or Muslins as lesser than and dangerous to the white Christian.” Racists protect their culture from below.
Another element is that the racist or anti-Semite sees Jews as demonic, and a group behind the white genocide who are directing and manipulating society.
“That is what the protestors, not fine people, who were marching across the Charlottesville, Virginia, campus meant when they chanted ‘Jews will not replace us,’” she said.
The other distinctive element to anti-Semitism is the conspiracy theory. “The Jews are all controlling working behind the scenes. (The Jews) are appearing to be doing good but they are evil.”
She said anti-Semitism is found on both the political right and political left. She called on the graduates to call out anti-Semitism and racism, to be the “unwelcome guess a the dinner party.
“You cannot sit idly by,” Lipstadt said. “You will telegraph a message to all the people there, especially the young people, that such talk is not tolerated, that such ideas are beyond the pale. Because anti-Semitism comes from both ends of the political spectrum … we must fight both sides of the spectrum.
“In the fight against evil there are no bystanders. Onlookers are complicit. There is no neutrality. If you keep silent in the face of prejudice then you have supported that prejudice. Jews know that something that starts with the Jews never ends there.
“We must be in this together relentlessly with all our might, with all our soul and with all our hearts.”
She ended with saying the graduates are blessed to be leaving HUC-JIR with the support of the institution and support of people across the world.
“Go forth and use the gift that has been given you to repair the world, to heal the divisions, to fight all kinds of hate and prejudice,” Lipstadt said. “Let healing, let truth, let the fight against hate go viral and let you lead that effort.”
During the ceremony, degrees were confirmed to:
Master of Arts in Hebrew Letters:
Benjamin Avi Altshuler, Benjamin Geoffrey Azriel, Yael K. Dadoun, Robert Aaron Gleisser, Rachel Ann Gross-Prinz, Alicia Harris, Natalie Louise Shribman, Caroline, Rachel Sim, Michael Ephraim Weiss, and Austin Maxwell Zoot.
Masters of Philosophy in Hebraic and Cognate Studies:
Eric Anthony Barrios, Steven L. Donnally, Keith R. Vande Vrede, and Cameron P. Sapaugh.
Master of Arts in Jewish Studies:
Sara Nicole Yeager.
Doctor of Philosophy:
Gregory Allen Snyder.
Also awarded was a Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa degree to Andrew R. Berger, the immediate past chair of the HUC-JIR board of governors.
In recognition of 25 years of distinguished service, Dr. Ruth Langer, professor of Jewish Studies in the Theology Department at Boston College and associate director of its Center for Christian-Jewish Learning, and Dr. Paul H. Wright, president and professor of Biblical History and Geography at Jerusalem University College/Institute for Holy Land Studies in Jerusalem, were awarded the Pines School of Graduate Studies Graduate Medallions.
The Ferdinand M. Isserman Prize – Isaama Stoll
The Simon Lazarus Memorial Prize – David Bloom
The Robert L. Adler Prize – Zachary Goodman and Alicia Harris
The Rabbi Frederick C. Schwartz Prize – Austin Zoot
The Stephen N. Levinson Memorial Prize – David Reinhart
The Dr. and Mrs. Slonimsky Prize in Midrash – Bailey Romano
The Cora Kahn Prize – Rachel Gross-Prinz
The Rabbi Morris H. Youngerman Memorial Prize – Michael Weiss
The Women of Reform Judaism - Rabbi Sally Priesand Prize – Samantha Schapera
The Dr. Herbert Paper Memorial Prize in Hebrew Language – Ruby Jeffery
The Pines School of Graduate Studies Alumni Association Prize – Ryan Replogle
The Rev. Lowell McCoy Prize in Interfaith Relations – Sara Yeager
The Barbara Friedman Prize for Leadership – Allyson Resnik-Jacobson
The Irwin Engelman Prize for Leadership – Joseph Rosen.