As President Richard Joel bestowed honorary degrees at Yeshiva University’s 88th convocation last week at the Waldorf-Astoria, not a word was uttered about allegations of sexual abuse by two rabbis in the 1970s and ‘80s at its boys high school. That was the era of Rabbi Norman Lamm, the university’s third president.
In 2003 Joel succeeded Lamm who then became chancellor. Lamm, 84, was conspicuously absent from this convocation even though he participated every year.
It took Jack Lew, an Orthodox Jew who is President Barak Obama’s chief of staff, to break the silence. As he stepped up to be robed and receive his honorary doctor of laws diploma, Lew startled many of the 660 guests when he referred to the alleged abusive behavior as “despicable.”
“Across the country in recent years,” Lew said, “we’ve seen too much evidence of inappropriate behavior at too many institutions responsible for nurturing our children. We can and must take a stand against it, promote awareness, set up preventive measures and openly address concerns as they arise.”
Stanley Raskas, Moise Y. Safra and Dianne Wassner received honorary degrees of doctor of humane letters.
Stanley Raskas, chairman of Yeshiva College board of overseers, was a member of the fourth generation of a family that operated Raskas Holdings, the nation’s largest manufacturer of private-label cream cheese. Founded in 1888 in St. Louis, the family enterprise was sold in 2002 to Schreiber Foods for close to $100 million.
Stanley, 68, can claim his grandfather was born in America, his father born in Europe, and Stanley born in America.
It turns out that Stanley’s grandfather, Louis Raskas, left St. Louis after his bar mitzvah to continue his studies at the Slobodka Yeshiva in Kovno, Lithuania. That’s where Stanley’s father was born. His father returned to St. Louis, where Stanley was born.
Moise Safra was born 77 years ago in Beirut into a Jewish banking family from Aleppo, Syria. Arab riots following the creation of Israel drove the family to Brazil where they established their banking empire. Today Moise oversees M. Safra & Co. in Sao Paulo and New York.
Diane Wassner was born in Lvov, Poland. When her family was arrested in the Shoah, she sneaked morsels of food to her father and uncle. She was the only one of her family to survive the Holocaust. Joel commended Wassner, the national vice president of Yeshiva University Women’s Organization, for her extravagant support of scholarships.
The YU Hanukkah dinner, following the convocation, raised $3.8 million.