Low Plaza

Kraft Center's Third Annual Seixas Dinner Raises $500,000 for Columbia/Barnard Hillel

By Jason Hollander

Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Edgar M. Bronfman, Robert Kraft, Norma Lerner, Lee C. Bollinger, Earle W. Kazis, and Richard K. Kobrin

During the Revolutionary War, Gershom Mendes Seixas, the first American-born rabbi, was ordered by British troops who had recently captured New York City to make his congregation pray to King George III. Seixas, an ardent patriot, defied the British, closed his synagogue, and took the community's Torah scrolls to Philadelphia, where religious freedom still existed.

Seixas eventually returned to New York after the war to resume leadership of the city's first synagogue -- Congregation Shearith Israel -- and to serve as a Columbia College trustee for over 30 years.

More than two centuries later, Columbia's Kraft Center for Jewish Student Life annually honors those "who have made outstanding contributions to Jewish life at Columbia" with the Gershom Mendes Seixas Award.

This year, the Seixas Award was bestowed upon Hillel Board Chairman Earle W. Kazis, Business '58, and International Hillel Chairman and business leader, Edgar M. Bronfman. Trustee Robert Kraft, CC '63, also made a special presentation to Norma Lerner in tribute to her late husband, Alfred Lerner, CC '55, after whom Lerner Hall is named.

The spring event in Lerner Hall -- which was attended by more than 300 alumni, parents, faculty and students -- helped raise more than $500,000 to support the activities of Columbia/Barnard Hillel.

In his keynote address, New York Times Columnist William Safire provided insights into the situation in the Middle East. Richard Joel, incoming president of Yeshiva University, presented the award to Bronfman, and Trustee Emeritus Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, CC '51, made the presentation to Kazis. Throughout the evening, the crowd was serenaded by the Columbia Klezmer Band.

Columbia/Barnard Hillel engages students in more than 70 groups and all facets of Jewish cultural, social, religious, artistic, and educational life. A thriving program also serves the graduate and professional schools with regular dinners and events. The organization received the University's Alma Mater Award this year for its contribution to positive community-building on campus.

Hillel's Tzedek Hillel program weaves social action into the fabric of Jewish student life through community service and partnerships with other campus and neighborhood agencies. Its "Alternative Spring Break" sends a group of students to El Salvador to work on sustainable development projects, and to explore how social justice commitments are integral to their Jewish identity.

Hillel also puts on an assortment of social events that bring Jewish students together throughout the year. The Hanukkah Ball features a live band and dancing, while the annual Heyman Collegiate Festival of Jewish Performing Arts -- now in its 13th year -- includes a cappella groups, Israeli dance troupes and klezmer bands from campuses on the East Coast. Classes are offered by selected community members and Hillel Rabbis Charles Sheer and Jennie Rosenn. This year, the Center initiated a new Reconstructionist group and "Alternative Mondays," featuring Jewish meditation.

Prior Seixas Award winners include business leader Robert Kraft, publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, novelist Herman Wouk, and former Columbia President George Rupp.

Published: Jul 21, 2003
Last modified: Jul 18, 2003


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