18 May 2007

5th Annual Lieberman Award Ceremony

Today (on Friday 18 May 2007), Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School held its 5th Annual Herbert Lieberman Scholarship Award Ceremony. According to the program booklet,
The Herbert Lieberman Award for Community Service is a $2,000 prize that is given once a year to a Yeshivat Chovevei Torah rabbinical student for excellence in community service. This award was created through the generosity of the Lieberman family in memory of their beloved father and husband, Herbert Lieberman.
The program started out with Rabbi Dov Linzer, the Rosh Yeshivah (Academic Head) of YCT, opened with a דבר תורה (short words of Torah), wherein he spoke about the book of Ruth and the importance of the food made available for the poor.
Following him was Rabbi Avi Weiss, the dean of YCT, who introduced Danny Siegel, the keynote speaker. Rabbi Weiss spoke of him in very glowing terms, at one point calling him "the quintessential person of hesed." He also said that while hesed is a part of people, for Danny Siegel, he is hesed.
Danny Siegel, who is best known for his work in his organization, Ziv, spoke on the various important and simple ways that one can do various activities of hesed and how positively impactful it is on people.
Before Steven Lieberman, the son of Herbert Lieberman, after whom the award is named, presented the award to Shmuly Yanklowitz (YCT, class of 2010), he spoke briefly of his father in the context of his activism:
My father was an amazing activist - an amazing Jewish activist. Whenever he saw a problem, it wasn't something that he let somebody else deal with, it was something that he dealt with himself. He dealt with it immediately and he dealt with it strongly and he continued until the problem was fixed. He was the chairman of the community board when Riverdale was first faced with the issue of group homes for people with special needs and there was a huge amount of opposition about 25 years ago.
Then Shmuly stepped up and accepted the award. Included in his acceptance was the following exceptional remark:
This Herbert Lieberman Award represents a tremendous victory for Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and for the Jewish community. The emphasis placed here is a statement that our community values not only the highest level of Talmudic scholarship, not only a defense and building of Medinat Yisrael, not only the flashy universalistic causes - all extremely important in themselves - but also social justice here in our midst at home: in our restaurants, in our schools, on our subways. We find ourselves, in this city, encountered daily with infinite responsibility and it is only through partnership that we can begin to address the weight of this task.
Later on in his acceptance speech, Shmuly specified the recipient of the award money - that it would be a new and innovative initiative that he and Mike Schultz (last year's recipient)
are creating. We believe that there needs to be a central body for social justice within the Orthodox movement. Our intended name for such a central body is Uri L’Tzedek: Awaken to righteousness – With this, we hope to creatively and ambitiously lead the American Orthodox communities in understanding and making manifest in the world our charge of Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof (to chase after justice) which, seen simply as a virtue ethic valuing tzedek in itself, falls short, rather tzedek tzedek tirdof should be understood as a command to create a society Rabbis and Holy l that by its nature perpetuates higher levels of righteousness. Hence, the repetition of the word tzedek tells us not only as individual Jews must we pursue righteousness but also a Jewish society, at the core of our religious culture. At first glance, the work seems unbearably challenging to begin such a radical revolution for justice, but we have the partnerships, we have the motivation, we have the Torah. As Rabbinical students, nay people, this is our task to create this communal discourse and then, in turn, to hold accountable every business owner in our cities to properly support the rights of laborers, living wages, ensure proper healthcare rights and immigrant rights, senior care, and proper housing –just a start to ensuring human dignity in our midst. We, of Uri L’Tzedek, have requested a grant from a serious incubator to begin with our potential first 5 long term priorities:
1. To create a Beit Midrash Chevrati – an adult learning institute based on pressing social issues
2. Create curricula for day school systems to teach about social justice and leadership to young learners
3. To organize the communities to act and bring about community change for those in need. In addition to direct service (social action) there can be systemic social justice through the mobilization of factions, power, and global resources
4. To create a summer program for Orthodox teens to learn and work on social justice causes &
5. To serve as the central Orthodox organization of thought and organizing on issues of Jewish concern.
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Previous winners of the Lieberman award:
2006: Michael Schultz (class of 2008)
2005: Rabbi Joshua Feigelson (class of 2005)
2004: Rabbi Seth Braunstein (class of 2006)
2003: Rabbi Adam Scheier (class of 2004)
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From the program booklet:
(1928-2001), was born and raised in the Bronx and attended Bronx High School of Science and New York University. He served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War and was President of C&M Leather Goods and Accessories by Rachel. He was married for 46 years and is survived by two children and four grandchildren.
Herb Lieberman was a dedicated community leader and a tireless activist in his NYC neighborhood of Riverdale. He led the community board for more than 30 years. Herb spearheaded dozens of community improvement projects including organizing local support for Riverdale's first group homes, battling those who said "not in my backyard," while at the same time educating his neighbors about the value of homes for the disabled. Herb served as a member of the executive boards of P.S. 24 and the David A. Stein Riverdale School M.S. 141. He was also chair of the district-wide organization of parents and teachers known as PTA 10, as well as a long-time board member of the Riverdale Community Center, legislative chairman of the Association of Riverdale Cooperatives, president of his co-op board, and Founder and Chairman of the Coalition for Responsible Planning, a grassroots group which prevailed over the NYC political administration to build more schools in the area. Frequently honored for his contributions to the community, Herb was named "Riverdalian of the Year" by the Riverdale Community council, 1988, and Deborah Hospital's 1989 "Man of the Year," among other recognitions. In the spring of 2004, at the request of Herb's neighbors, the New York City Council renamed a major street in Riverdale "Herb Lieberman Way."

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