Ruth O. Freedlander, Co-Trustee, Dr. Bernard Heller Foundation, presented the 2015 Dr. Bernard Heller Prize to Menachem Rosensaft at HUC-JIR Graduation on Thursday, April 30 at Congregation Emanu-El of the City of New York.
Her remarks are below.
I am honored to present the Dr. Bernard Heller Prize, which memorializes Dr. Bernard Heller -- a great rabbi, a 1920 graduate of the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, and a member of the College-Institute’s faculty in New York.
Dr. Heller was a pulpit rabbi in the U.S. and India who was widely known for his religious, civic, and communal work. He was an award-winning author and a successful businessman who was one of the founders of the predecessors of the United Brands Corporation and of the West Indies Investment Company in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
After the Holocaust, he was named Director of Jewish Cultural Reconstruction, Inc. This agency was charged with restoration of cultural property stolen by the Nazis from Jewish people and Jewish organizations, which the Nazis intended to use in their anti-Semitic institutes after their victory.
Dr. Heller was deeply concerned with the survival of the Jewish people and with the transmission of Jewish religious and cultural heritage. His encyclopedic knowledge of Judaism and his life reflected his abiding interest in philosophy, Jewish thought, and scholarship. He frequently referred to himself as a trustee of his wealth for Israel.
To honor Dr. Heller’s memory, the Co-Trustees of the Dr. Bernard Heller Foundation established the Dr. Bernard Heller Prize in Arts, Letters, the Humanities, and Religion twenty-five years ago. The Heller Prize, which is presented annually at Graduation in New York, is an international award presented to an organization or individual whose work, writing, or research reflects significant contributions in these areas. Today marks the last time that the Heller Prize will be presented.
For the past thirty-one years, it has been a great personal privilege for me to fulfill the Heller Foundation’s mission of fostering Jewish education, supporting Holocaust remembrance, and sustaining the State of Israel.
I was born in Hamburg, Germany, the daughter of Elsa and Siegfried Oppenheimer. While we were fortunate to escape from certain death at the hands of the Nazis, my maternal grandparents Zilli and Max Weil were killed at Auschwitz. I have treasured my association with the College-Institute and its sacred mission of preparing Jewish leaders. And I have wonderful memories of my many trips to Israel, often with HUC-JIR, to develop the Foundation’s many projects, from the College’s Jerusalem campus to Masada.
It is especially fitting that Menachem Rosensaft is the final recipient of the Heller Prize, because his life and work are imbued with Dr. Bernard Heller’s vision for the enduring legacy of Holocaust memory and Jewish survival. Menachem’s mission is a bridge between the tragic past of the Shoah and our fervent hopes for a bright future the Jewish people and our beloved State of Israel.
Born in the Displaced Persons camp of Bergen-Belsen, the son of two survivors of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, Menachem has been referred to on the front page of the New York Times as one of the “most prominent” of the children of Holocaust survivors and has long been a leader in Holocaust remembrance activities. He has devoted his life to advancing Holocaust commemoration and education, bringing Nazi war criminals to justice, promoting the Israeli peace process, and fighting racism and bigotry.
He is the General Counsel of the World Jewish Congress, Founding Chairman of the International Network of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, and Senior Vice President of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants. He teaches courses on the law of genocide and World War II war crimes trials at the law schools of Columbia and Cornell Universities.
At a time when the frightening spectre of anti-Semitism is rising again around the world, he is the guardian of Holocaust memory, charged with the mission of “Never Again.”
As he has written in his recent book, God, Faith & Identity: Reflections of Children and Grandchildren of Holocaust Survivors, “The preservation and transfer of memory is the most critical mission that children and grandchildren of survivors must undertake so as to ensure meaningful and authentic Holocaust remembrance in future generations. As the ranks of survivors steadily dwindle, this task becomes ever more urgent.” Menachem, you represent the bridge between two worlds. I am honored to present you with the 2015 Dr. Bernard Heller Prize.
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