FIRST HONORARY DOCTORATE GRANTED
Archbishop John Cardinal O'Connor was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters by the President of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman, during the 123rd Graduation Exercises of the seminary for the Reform Movement in Judaism at the College-Institute in New York on May 14.
In presenting the degree, President Zimmerman welcomed Cardinal O'Connor "as the first Prince of the Church to receive the College-Institute's Doctor of Humane Letters and address the College-Institute." President Zimmerman praised Cardinal O'Connor's "contributions to building bridges of understanding among the diverse religious communities and efforts leading to the establishment of formal diplomatic relations between the State of Israel and the Holy See."
Cardinal O'Connor presented the Graduation Address in which he recounted the Holocaust story of a young Jew who escaped from the mass grave in which hundreds of the Jews of his Lithuanian town were shot. Denied help by the Christians in the town, he finally was sheltered by an elderly widow to whom he said; "I am your Lord Jesus Christ, look at me come down from the cross. Look at my blood, look at my wounds." She fell to his feet, sheltered him for three days, he swore her to secrecy and "blessed" her and fled into the forest.
"Why do I read this tale to you?" asked Cardinal O'Connor. "Is it to stir up hatred, to encourage you in hostility? To implore you never to forget? I read it in part to emphasize my responsibility as a teacher of the Catholic faith to Jews and to Catholics alike. My responsibility is to teach and teach and teach: No one who is truly Catholic can be anti-Semitic. It's a contradiction in terms. To be anti-Semitic is to be anti-Catholic. Catholicism is rooted in Judaism. To us, the Torah is sacred because it is sacred to Jews. We too are the sons and daughters of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob."
"I am here to remind you of your responsibility to be good Jews, observant Jews, proud of your Jewishness. You contribute most to society by being true Jews. I who am a Catholic priest and a Cardinal in the Catholic Church plead with you: Be cooperative and collaborative - but do not sacrifice your sacred beliefs. We contribute nothing to each other if we compromise ourselves."
"To be a good Jew is to know the sacredness of every human person. The most important theological lesson I ever learned, I learned not in a classroom but in the little town of Dachau... There you see the red-brick ovens of the crematoria and you put your hand inside and feel the intermingled ashes of Jews and Christians, rabbis and priests, men, women and children. And you think: Good God, how could human beings do this to human beings? You can never ask yourself a more important question... Go to Dachau because it looks so ordinary. It is in the context of ordinary that the worst crimes are committed. You Jews and we Christians should see that this never happens again."
President Zimmerman also bestowed the honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree on Dr. Glenda Abramson, Cowley Lecturer in Post-Biblical Hebrew at the University of Oxford and Vice President of the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies; Jacob Behrman, Chairman of Behrman House Publishers and a founder of Jewish educational publishing; Vladka Meed, a member of the Jewish underground who smuggled weapons into the Warsaw Ghetto in preparation for the uprising against the Nazis, author of On Both Sides of the Wall, and founding director of the American Teachers seminars on the Holocaust and Jewish resistance; Ben Steinberg, a noted composer, conductor and author on Jewish liturgical music; and Professor Laurence Tribe, Ralph S. Tyler, Jr. Professor of Constitutional Law, Harvard University Law School, and advocate whose victories before the U.S. Supreme Court have strengthened civil liberties in the United States.
Earned degrees were presented to 32 graduate students who fulfilled the Doctor of Ministry, Doctor of Hebrew Letters, Master of Arts in Hebrew Literature, Master of Sacred Music and Master of Arts in Judaic Studies degrees.