Roger E. Joseph Prize - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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Roger E. Joseph Prize

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Wednesday, May 1, 2002

Awarded posthumously to Father Mychal Judge and 
The City of New York Fire Department
May 12, 2002
Investiture and Ordination Ceremonies
Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, New York

Accepted by Father Christopher Keenan
Chaplain of the City of New York Fire Department

Most people do not know that Father Mychal Judge was preparing to go to Jerusalem at the end of September with Steven O'Donald, the police officer who had been totally paralyzed in a shootout with a young teenager. The two of them were supposed to go to Jerusalem on a journey of reconciliation, as they had done in Northern Ireland and in other parts of the world.

I met Mychal when I was 21 -- 39 years ago. He is responsible for extending to me the invitation to consider this life of service that we celebrate this morning. When I was ordained 31 years ago, my first assignment also happened to be with him, so my first years of service in the ministry were with him. And then 25 years later, as I came to New York to be with my parents, until they went to God, and to pursue helping homeless children and their moms in the shelters of the city, it was a particular joy to be living again with Mychal in the Franciscan community.

In the Fire Department, when we are commissioned, we all make a vow to protect life and property in the City of New York. With Chief Nigro, and on behalf of the entire Fire Department family as well as the 342 other firefighters that died with Mychal, we accept this wonderful Roger E. Joseph Prize. We remember that in accepting this beautiful award, that Mychal is a person who said "yes" to life more often than "no," because he believed that a living God wrote the agenda of his day. In placing himself second, he honored everyone he met by making them first in the investment of his time and his energy in service.

It's because of this that he is so fondly remembered and loved. Mychal lived among many constituencies, not only the Franciscans and the Fire Department. He lived among many constituencies -- often with controversy, but his passion for justice and his empathy for the underdog is something he would never compromise. That was Mychal's life and he especially found himself at home with the wonderful family in the Fire Department, who with their own passion for justice, protect life and property in this city.

We're reminded as we journey in this wonderful celebration of service that Mychal was also a very human, fluid, complex person -- just like the rest of us. His legacy to us is to remind us that this is the stuff of greatness. So as we of the Fire Department receive this wonderful prize, the Roger E. Joseph Prize, we remember that Mychal is honored not because he died a hero, but because he lived one.

He is the symbol of the almost 3,000 people who gave their lives that day so that we might live in freedom. We honor here the gift -- the last gift of a gracious heart. It is really to that greatness of heart to which we are all called that we receive this prize.

Read Daniel A. Nigro's Acceptance Speech.

Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates leaders to serve North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, museums, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding.