Rabbi David Ellenson, HUC-JIR President, and Ruth O. Freedlander, Co-Trustee of the Dr. Bernard Heller Foundation, presented the 2010 Dr. Bernard Heller Prize to Ambassador Gabriela Shalev, Israel's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, at Graduation Ceremonies at Congregation Emanu-El of the City of New York, on Apriil 29, 2010. 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. 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.
Ambassador Shalev presented these remarks at HUC-JIR's Graduation:
"I am deeply grateful to Hebrew Union College and the Bernard Heller Foundation for this prestigious and honorable prize. Considering the list of former recipients, I am humbled to find myself among such prominent and distinguished personalities. And given that the prize is presented by Hebrew Union College in honor of the late Bernard Heller, a scholar and a humanist, I am, once again, humbled and honored.
Hebrew Union College is, beyond any doubt, one of the most important Jewish educational institutions. It weaves together our ancient religion and tradition with the modern world. My brother-in-law, Rabbi Dr. Alan Sokobin, ordained by the Hebrew Union College, and who honors us with his presence today, acquainted me, years ago, with the important role that the HUC plays in the life of American Jewry.
I am a professor by passion –– and an Ambassador by circumstance. And so, I am delighted, as always, to be in the company of students, faculty, and so many others who are engaged in the search of knowledge and the pursuit of truth. For the past four decades, my academic career has been dedicated to researching, writing and teaching contract law and comparative law. Engaging in these subjects is not merely my passion, but I regard it as a duty to my country, and to Israel’s young legal system. I am grateful for being able to contribute my modest share to the formation of an independent, modern legal system in Israel. My academic work, however, is not yet completed. I still have two books in my mind waiting to be written.
My life is entwined with the recent history of the Jewish people and the State of Israel. I lost my grandparents in Auschwitz. And I lost the father of my children, in the Yom Kippur War. Being an Israeli patriot and a Zionist, and given my personal history, I proudly accepted the challenging role of Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations.
The prize granted to me today symbolizes the bond between the American Jewish community and Israel. This prize also demonstrates the strong ties between the United States and the State of Israel. And no one could have affirmed these bonds better or more forcefully than President Obama who most recently wrote the following words, and I quote: “As for our relations with Israel, let me be very clear: we have a special relationship with Israel and that will not change. Our countries are bound together by shared values, deep and interwoven connections, and mutual interests.”