Rabbi David Ellenson, President of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, presented the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters to Robert M. Heller, Past Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Union for Reform Judaism and distinguished attorney, at the College-Institute's Graduation Ceremonies of the 133rd academic year, held at Congregation Emanu-El of the City of New York on April 30, 2008.
In presenting the doctoral degree citation to Robert Heller, Rabbi Ellenson said, "Robert Heller's deep attachment to the Jewish people and their survival has been manifested in his personal and professional commitment throughout his life. His life bespeaks the ideals of our faith. His love of the Reform Movement began in his youth and matured into positions of leadership, culminating in his dedicated service as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Union for Reform Judaism. His tireless support of the College-Institute has been an exemplar for others."
Heller is the immediate Past Chairman of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), the congregational arm of Reform Judaism with over 900 congregations and 1.5 million members. He has been actively involved in the URJ since 1987, having served the Union on the regional level before joining the national board in 1994 and serving as Vice Chair for four years prior to becoming Chairman. Previously, Heller has led a number of essential Reform Movement commissions and committees, chairing the Reform Leadership Council Joint Task Force on the Professional Shortage, the Joint Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, the Joint Commission on Lifelong Jewish Learning, and the Ad Hoc Salary Review Committee. He has also served on the Budget Committee, the Dues Policy Review Committee, the Maintenance of Union Membership Committee, the Strategic Planning Committee, the New Leadership Committee, the Consultation on Ethics, the National Commission on Rabbinic Congregational Relations, and many other Reform Movement lay-led bodies. The Heller family has long been involved in Reform Movement life. His father, the late Philip B. Heller, was a member of the UAHC Board of Trustees in the 1950s and '60s, and also served on the Commission on Social Action. Bob Heller met his wife Amy at the UAHC's Eisner Camp Institute, and they are members of New York City's Central Synagogue.
In addition to his work for theURJ, Heller has served on the Board of Governors of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion since 1996, chairing the New York Board of Overseers from 1966 to 2000. He has also been part of the Central Conference of American Rabbis' Ad Hoc Ethics Guidelines Advisory Committee, is an emeritus member of the Board of Visitors of Columbia Law School, and is an active leader in other communal organizations, including serving as Secretary and Member of the Board of Trustees of the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding, and part of the New York African American - Jewish Leaders Dialogue Group.
Heller received his B.A., cum laude, from Columbia University (1963) and the LL.B., magna cum laude, at Columbia Law School (1966), where he was Notes and Comments Editor of Columbia Law Review, James Kent Scholar, and Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar. He served clerkships for Commissioner Philip Elman, Federal Trade Commission (1967-69) and the Honorable Paul R. Hays, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (1966-67), served as Assistant to Mayor of New York John V. Lindsay (1971-73), and was Adjunct Professor at the Columbia University School of Architecture (1974-76).
The former managing partner of the firm of Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP, Heller heads the firm's Antitrust practice. He brings to that role more than 40 years' experience in the field handling the full range of antitrust matters -- litigation, transactional and counseling -- and represents firm clients in private litigation, government proceedings and grand jury price-fixing investigations. His representations span a broad range of financial, technology, manufacturing, distribution, and service industries.
Nearly 1000 communal leaders, relatives and friends attended HUC-JIR's Graduation Ceremonies, where honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degrees were also awarded to civic activist Sigmund R. Balka; author Anita Diamant, who presented the Graduation Address; and Holocaust scholar Dr. Nechama Tec. HUC-JIR rabbinical, cantorial, education, and communal service alumni were awarded honorary doctorates in recognition of their 25 years of service to the Jewish people. Alumni of the School of Graduate Studies were presented with the Founders' Medallion for their contributions to scholarship.
The Doctor of Ministry degree was bestowed upon ordained clergy of the Jewish and Christian faiths. Students were awarded the Master of Arts in Religious Education, Master of Sacred Music, and Master of Arts in Hebrew Letters degrees.