Rabbi Aaron D. Panken, Ph.D., President of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), awarded the 2014 Dr. Bernard Heller Prize to Rabbi David M. Posner, Ph.D., Senior Rabbi Emeritus, Congregation Emanu-El of the City of New York. The award was presented at the HUC-JIR/New York Graduation Ceremony on Thursday, May 8 at 4 pm at Congregation Emanu-El of the City of New York, 10 East 66th Street, New York City.
For forty years, Rabbi David M. Posner, Ph.D., served as the beloved spiritual leader of Congregation Emanu-El of the City of New York. His rabbinate has been inspired by the biblical instruction that all humankind is created in God’s image. This ethical imperative has shaped his devoted commitment and dedicated vision, which have guided the growth of the city’s preeminent synagogue into a vibrant center for worship, lifelong learning, and social responsibility to the larger community. He has nurtured relationships across all faiths, including close friendships with New York City’s Archbishops and Cardinals. He has ensured that individuals of diverse ethnic, religious, and economic backgrounds have received vital assistance at times of need or crisis. His exemplary acts of conscience, informed by a profound understanding of Judaism’s teachings, have modeled the essential role of rabbi as teacher and leader for the Reform Movement and the larger world.
Rabbi Posner first focused on the rabbinate during his early years growing up in Brooklyn. He was inspired by his childhood rabbi, Rabbi Max Schenk ‘28, z”l, who introduced him to Rabbi Julius Mark ‘22, z”l, of Congragation Emanu-El. Mentored by these illustrious Reform rabbis, he was encouraged to attend Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in Cincinnati for rabbinical studies. During 1965-1973, supported by the Congregation Emanu-El Scholarship, Rabbi Posner completed the combined program of rabbinical studies at HUC-JIR and undergraduate studies at the University of Cincinnati (UC). In 1969 he received his B.A. in Political Science from UC, Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude. At HUC-JIR he specialized in the study of Semitic languages, including Aramaic, Arabic, Syriac, Ugaritic, and Hebrew and received the Ralph Lazarus Prize for ranking first in his class. Upon ordination in 1973, he was asked to join Emanu-El by Rabbi Nathan Perilman ’32, z”l. On the 25th anniversary of his ordination, he received an honorary Doctor of Divinity from HUC-JIR.
An accomplished pianist, Rabbi Posner earned his Ph.D. in Piano Pedagogy from Columbia University in 1988. His doctoral research centered on the modern Jewish art music composed in St. Petersburg, the cultural heart of Tsarist Russia, during the first decade of the 20th century. He explored the piano music of a group of young composers who forged a Jewish national style, drawn from ethnographic studies of Jewish communities throughout the Russian Pale of Settlement. Their music melded Hasidic melodies, Yiddish folksongs, and Jewish synagogue chants with the avant-garde styles of Russian composers of that era, including Rimsky-Korsakov, Glazunov, and Scriabin. Rabbi Posner’s thesis was titled “Reviving a Lost Art – Piano Music of Russian-Jewish Origin.” A member of “The Bohemians,” the oldest international music society, Rabbi Posner has played for audiences widely and is a board member of the Stecher and Horowitz Foundation.
Early in his rabbinical career, Rabbi Posner served as a founding member of the Board of the Neighborhood Coalition for Shelter, for which he was honored in recent years. He continues
to teach at Emanu-El’s highly acclaimed Skirball Center for Adult Jewish Learning. He has offered courses in Arabic, Hebrew Grammar and Syntax, Comparative Semitics, Hebrew Bible, Mishnaic Hebrew, and Biblical Aramaic.
A passionate advocate for the State of Israel and world Jewry, Rabbi Posner is devoted to the future of Reform rabbinical leadership worldwide. As an esteemed member of HUCJIR’s Board of Governors, he takes special joy in supporting the studies of the emerging generations of the Reform Movement’s rabbis, cantors, educators, scholars, and nonprofit professionals. He enjoyed meeting each first-year class during their Year-In-Israel orientation at HUC-JIR in Jerusalem, where Emanu-El hosted the first Shabbat dinner for all students, guests, and visiting alumni. He continued to enrich their studies when they returned stateside to New York, through an orientation program at Emanu-El and ongoing mentorship of interns. The World Union for Progressive Judaism presented Rabbi Posner with the 2008 International Humanitarian Award in recognition of his role as an inspiring example of international Jewish leadership, service, and dedication to Israel and the Jewish People.
Rabbi Posner’s religious, intellectual, humanitarian, and pastoral gifts continue to have an indelible impact on the lives of the beloved families of Temple Emanu-El and on colleagues across the globe.
Ruth O. Freedlander, Co-Trustee of the Dr. Bernard Heller Foundation, will present the prize. The Dr. Bernard Heller Prize in Arts, Letters, the Humanities, and Religion is an international award presented to an organization or individual whose work, writing, or research reflects significant contributions in these areas. Previous recipients include Dennis B. Ross, Special Middle East Coordinator in the U.S. Department of State; Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke, chief negotiator of the Dayton Peace Accords; Ambassador Stuart E. Eizenstat, Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Treasury and advocate for Holocaust restitution; Count Folke Bernadotte, posthumously, for rescuing thousands in the concentration camps during the Holocaust; and Shimon Peres, President of the State of Israel, for his exemplary leadership, wise statecraft, and moral leadership for over sixty years.
The Dr. Bernard Heller Prize was established by the Co-Trustees of the Dr. Bernard Heller Foundation to honor Dr. Bernard Heller's memory, life, and belief in the Jewish tradition. Dr. Bernard Heller was ordained at Hebrew Union College in 1949, served on the faculty as Visiting Professor of Jewish Ethics and the Philosophy of Religion at HUC-JIR/New York, was the Director of Restitution of Jewish Cultural Reconstruction, Inc., the agency charged with the restitution of cultural property seized by the Nazis from European Jewry and Jewish institutions, and served the only liberal Jewish congregation in India, the Progressive Union of Bombay. Dr. Heller pursued his interests in business as one of the founders of the predecessor to the United Brands Corporation and the West Indies Investment Company in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
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