Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion Confers Degrees on Dedicated Jewish Scholars Across Disciplines

Cincinnati Campus Graduates Rise to Meet Urgent Challenges Facing the Jewish Community and Israel

June 5, 2024

Faculty and staff at Cincinnati graduation

Cincinnati, OH—In a time of unprecedented challenge and upheaval for the Jewish community, the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) conferred degrees upon 13 exceptional scholars prepared to answer the call to leadership. Following graduations in New York and Los Angeles, the 149th commencement ceremony, held on May 31st, celebrated not only the academic achievements of these graduates but also their unwavering commitment to liberal Jewish education and the pursuit of justice, peace, and understanding in a fractured world.

Faculty and staff at Cincinnati Graduation

The challenging moment the Jewish community finds itself in evinces a need for scholars and critical thinkers. Rabbi Jonathan L. Hecht ’87, Ph.D., Dean, Cincinnati Campus, in welcoming the graduates and attendees, provided historical context. “On the official seal of the College – Institute are the words: HaBoker Or, “in the morning, light.” Our hope is that the graduates of this institution of higher learning — rabbinic, Masters of Arts, and Doctors of Philosophy – will go on to serve in universities, congregations, and communities throughout the world, applying that light to help solve the problems of our day.” View full remarks.

President Andrew Rehfeld, Ph.D. offering a rousing, heartfelt endorsement of liberal Jewish education, stating, “It is precisely at a moment when complexity is lost that we need to celebrate the values of pluralism and openness, the very ideals at the foundation of Hebrew Union College—Jewish Institute of Religion. We thus celebrate our students’ commitments and honor your achievements. We honor the sacrifice and commitment of our alumni, who often put the needs of others ahead of your own and your families. As translators of Jewish tradition through the power of Jewish education you will have inspired responsible choices by applying Jewish wisdom to the most pressing challenges of our world.” View full remarks.

Faculty and staff at Cincinnati graduation

The moment called for a direct, clear-eyed invocation. “At this time of transition for our graduates, at this harrowing, heartbreaking juncture in the history of our people Israel and the wider world, may blessings strengthen each of us for what lies ahead,” said Rabbi Andrea L. Weiss ’93, Ph.D., Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Provost. “With high expectations, we applaud those who will go forth to a life of scholarship and sacred service, a life of teaching and learning, a life committed to community and the pursuit of justice and peace.” View full remarks.

President Rehfeld presented the graduation speaker Frederick M. Lawrence, Secretary and CEO, The Phi Beta Kappa Society; Distinguished Lecturer in Law, Georgetown Law Center, with the Doctor Of Humane Letters, honoris causa. In his remarks, Professor Lawrence observed, “You whom we salute today have been the beneficiaries of this ambitious and rare institution in American higher education. The project that brought this institution into being, the encounter between modernity and traditional Jewish learning, remains vital–and the need for dialogue across differences has, to say the very least, never been greater. I wish you boldness in your thinking in the days and years to come, in what I hope and trust will be fulfilling and meaningful careers and lives. Grounded in the ancient, you will forge the future, enriching our lives, our communities, and our world.” View full remarks.

Man speaking at podium

Rabbi Jonathan L. Hecht ’87, Ph.D., Dean, Cincinnati Campus; and Rabbi Richard S. Sarason ’74, Ph.D., Director, Pines School of Graduate Studies, conferred graduate degrees:

  • Master of Arts in Hebrew Letters to Gretchen Suzanne Johnson, Mark Clayton Oppenheimer, Marisa Hillary Papell, and Jamie Starr.
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Judaic, Hebraic, and Cognate Studies to Steven L. Donnally
  • Doctor of Hebrew Letters to Rabbi Israel David Oler
  • Master of Philosophy in Judaic, Hebraic, and Cognate Studies to David P. Johnson, Robert Thomas Murphy, and Christopher DuTeil Slane
  • Master of Arts in Jewish Studies to Jonathan Edward Beck Thomas Clayton Carroll Darhla Shadell Miles

Michael Graves, co–chair of the Pines Graduate School Alumni Association, shared appreciation for the graduates’ commitment to Jewish study. “We look forward with gratitude to your future as Jewish professionals serving the Reform movement, the Jewish people, and humankind. In these challenging times, with such complex issues facing our world, we want you to know that we support you and your work as Jewish professionals 100%. Thank you for your dedication.”

In extending his congratulations to the class, Edward J. Septimus, M.D., of the HUC-JIR Board of Governors and Chair of the Central Region of Advisors, noted, “Our future depends on well-educated professionals and visionary leaders able to effectively address the challenges of each era. You now join your predecessors in this sacred mission. Inspired by your own spirit of creativity and innovation, your dedication will carry forward the enduring values of our tradition while shaping a vibrant future.”

Ordination of Cincinnati rabbis follows on June 1st.

View the full Cincinnati graduation livestream.

Graduates will receive a link to select their own photos.