Speech for Columbia Hillel, May 10, 2006
My four grandparents immigrated to the United States of America from Smorgon Lithuania, now Belarus, and Lipkan in Romania, now Moldova between the years 1884 and 1906. My parents, both born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, became pioneers and established their roots at age 25 and 29 in Little Rock, Arkansas. I was born there in 1940. My father was President of the Orthodox Jewish Congregation, my mother was active in various women’s groups, including being President of Hadassah. There were three Bar Mitzvahs a year in the Orthodox Jewish Congregation and six people in the Reform Confirmation Class at our Temple. No Jewish Community Center, but two houses of worship. My parents had me going to both for a maximum Jewish experience in Little Rock. About the age of 13 1/2 I became active in , a Jewish organization, then a cousin of Hillel, through B’nai B’rith. in , I found the found the benefits of other Jewish young people my age throughout the South and from 1954 to 1967 I thirsted for and became actively engaged in being with other Jewish youth locally, nationally, and internationally. My thirst extended to weekends. Living 120 miles from Memphis, I often borrowed my parents car on a weekend evening to drive to Memphis, in those days traveling a two-lane road for three hours one way, 2 1/2 hours of being at the Jewish Community Center in Memphis, and another three hours return ride were those that you dreamed of during the week.
I was born in the United States of America in November of 1940 — two years after Kristalknacht and a year before Pearl Harbor. I can remember growing up knowing about Germans, the Japanese, the Concentration Camps, Anne Frank, and the horrors of that period.
I wanted to be with other Jewish young people.
The situation has not changed — the year may be 2006 and the players may be different countries but the refuge for Jewish youth at Columbia University or for any other University or College in our country is the Hillel House. it is a great refuge for Jewish people. it is almost as if you would be off on a trip to a foreign country and you need to be able to have a place that you know you can be comfortable in and see others that have a common heritage. The Kraft Center represents in my mind the Embassy of the United States of America in Moscow. it brings together Jewish people of all backgrounds: Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructive, from Progressive, from Conservative or whatever.
it is this critical place of togetherness that represents a sense of unity for young Jewish people learning their identities as they begin their adventure in life. That is why I am honored to be your recipient this evening and I am committed to the success of the Kraft Center. There are many university campuses in our country. Columbia University Hillel has to have one of the greater of the challenges now and in its future. That is why I am committed to the Kraft Center. I must tell you that I admire greatly Robert Kraft — a wonderful Jewish man married to a wonderful Jewish woman with a terrific family. Columbia Hillel is honored to have a man of his heart, intellect, and commitment to have brought forward this institution. I thank you for honoring me and I look forward to the years ahead to being one of those that will build on this dinner for great success.