No Future Without the Past: An Analysis of President Berman’s Investiture
“It is extremely humbling to stand here today in this hallowed hall,” said President Berman at the beginning of his investiture address in the Nathan Lamport Auditorium. “This hall through which the voices of our past continue to echo across the generations.”
On Sunday, September 10, Rabbi Ari Berman stood in front of close to 1,000 people and was invested as the fifth President of Yeshiva University. But even as President Berman readily accepted the task of propelling Yeshiva University into new educational and innovative frontiers, the legacy of Presidents and University leaders past clung to Berman’s words and vision for the future.
“Whatever success we hope to achieve in shaping our future will be due to the fact that we are standing on the shoulders of giants,” stated Berman, requesting of his audience to take a moment to recognize Presidents Emeriti Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm and Richard Joel, both seated on the stage.
Aside from Berman’s allusion to the leaders of Yeshiva University that came before him, history was the underlying theme of Berman’s investiture ceremony. Students were encouraged to attend the ceremony to “witness history” in the making and more than one speaker referred to Lamport auditorium in terms of its historical significance.
To be sure, President Berman did more than just focus on the history of Yeshiva University. He listed his own ideas for its expansion to make it relevant in our rapidly changing world. He proposed initiatives that focused on educational sectors of the future, such as science and technology.
But with all the talk about moving forward, President Berman was sure to remind his audience that sometimes, it is just as important to look back.
Dean Karen Bacon has watched Yeshiva University transition through leadership before. A Stern College alumna herself, Dean Bacon has been the Dean of Stern College for Women since 1977 and The Mordecai D. Katz and Dr. Monique C. Katz Dean of the Undergraduate Faculty of Arts and Sciences since 2015.
“As President Berman charts the future of this University, he has the wisdom of the past to guide the many possibilities of the future,” remarked Bacon. “I believe this is precisely what each of our previous presidents did.”
With just 5 presidents since 1915, Yeshiva stands out from the universities that border it. During that same amount of time, New York University has had 11 presidents and Columbia University has had 9.
What this says about the leadership of Yeshiva University is left up to interpretation. Nonetheless, there are fundamental ideals that have defined the institution, president to president.
“The core foundational principles of Yeshiva University are those that made this university necessary at its founding and relevant ever since,” remarked Dean Karen Bacon. “Allegiance to these principles makes it possible to encounter the new in meaningful and productive ways.”
Indeed, certain principles of Yeshiva University will always remain timeless. Torah U’madda, the intersection of Torah and Secular study, is the bottom line of our identity as a university, the foundation from which we can build towards new heights. As President Berman said, our celebration of the past and commitment to the future truly makes us a university “located at the nexus of heritage and pioneering.”
In his speech, President Berman pointed out that Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik spoke from that very podium in Lamport Auditorium 61 years earlier.
“Kol dodi dofek - the voice of God is metaphorically calling to us, knocking at our door,” paraphrased President Berman. “He has placed us in this incredible time, and he beckons us to respond.”