James Snyder, Director of the Israel Museum, was awarded the Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) at its Jerusalem Ordination and Academic Convocation on November 19, 2015.
Rabbi Aaron Panken, Ph.D., HUC-JIR President, and Rabbi Michael Marmur, Ph.D., Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Provost at HUC-JIR, presented the honorary doctorate citation, which states, “James Snyder, builder and lover of Jerusalem, visionary museum director, cultural entrepreneur, proud American Jew who since 1996 has overseen the transformation of this cultural institution and has brought the impact and reputation for Israel Museum to new heights as a world-class institution. Whose charisma and drive has inspired support for the museum spanning continents and generations. Whose unerring eye, commitment to excellence, and attention to detail is matched by his overflowing heart and his love for art, artists, the joy of color, and the creative process. Who lives a love story for Jerusalem and has welcomed unprecedented numbers of visitors from all sectors and backgrounds. Whose vision for the museum's major renovation has created a place of beauty and sanctity, where fascination of antiquity meets the thrill of the contemporary. Whose prestigious record of museum leadership has now been crowned by overseeing the 50th anniversary of the Israel Museum.”
James Snyder replied, “There is something about this HUC-JIR campus that drew us to it - something about its site, its setting, its architecture, its landscape. These are attributes that mean a great deal to me. This place is a little bit of a home for us. Our son Daniel had his bar mitzvah here in 1999, with Rabbi Naamah Kelman officiating. And Michael Marmur over the years has become my personal rabbi in Jerusalem. Every year for the high holidays, we're here in this room with this incredible backdrop of the Old City of Jerusalem with the rabbis who are leading us today, when I am given the honor of carrying the Torah. To get an honor like this today in a place like this is part of our special life at the Israel museum for my wife Tina and me, for our life in Israel for the two of us.”
Snyder replied, “For Israeli author David Grossman and me to be honored as Doctors of Humane Letters at this particular time in the world has a special meaning. I want to recognize the privilege of what he does as a creator in his discipline as a writer, making material culture in our own time. For me, in the museum field, the privilege is to become and be a custodian of material culture in our time and of course across time. What we do in making and preserving material culture couldn't have a greater meaning than it does just at this moment. The world's become a fragile place. We know that here in Israel, in this region, and more and more in the rest of the world. In a way, some of us, David and I, are stubbornly determined to continue to shape material culture in our own time and to preserve it. Nothing could be more important just now, especially thinking of others who almost unimaginably want to work to destroy not only that creativity in our own time but the long history of that creativity in the life of humankind. Oddly enough and perhaps even at this moment, we stand here in Jerusalem on ground that's a bit firmer. Perhaps, because this city is built of its own bedrock, it stands firmly on that bedrock. But perhaps it's because of what we are determined to do and because of this modest hope that we can create, and preserve, and extend for others who will follow us, this long and remarkable history of world culture.”
Addressing the newly ordained Reform rabbis for the State of Israel and graduate students receiving their degrees, he added, “None of what we are doing here and none of what I speak of is about us. It's about the challenge and the privilege that stands ahead for you. We look forward to what you will accomplish and to how you will continue with this kind of shaky world that is around us to keep focus, and to look straight ahead, and continue to make and create, and to continue preserve notions of belief, and continue to extend into the future what we have all had the privilege to benefit from the past.”
Established in 1963 as a post-doctoral center of archaeological and biblical studies, the Jerusalem campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion has grown since 1971 to serve as the center of HUC-JIR’s Israel experience for stateside students, including theYear-In-Israel Program, and prepares Israeli students for leadership in the Israel Rabbinical Program, M.A. Program in Pluralistic Jewish Education with the Melton Centre of Hebrew University, and the Blaustein Center for Pastoral Counseling’s Mezorim Program. Scholars and students from around the world are enriched by the excavations and publications of the Nelson Glueck School of Biblical Archaeology, and the resources of the Abramov Library and Skirball Museum. The Murstein Synagogue welcomes the community for services and holidays.