By: Benjamin Koslowe | News  | 

Annual YU Hanukkah Dinner Raises Over $5 Million, Over $20 Million Pledged in New Commitments

The 94th Annual Yeshiva University Hanukkah Dinner and Convocation on Dec. 9 raised over $5 million from the dinner journal, marking a 16 percent increase over last year’s dinner and constituting the largest sum in at least six years. The dinner, which is the University’s primary yearly fundraising event, was held at the New York Hilton and hosted over 650 attendees.

In addition to the money raised from the dinner journal, Yeshiva University also raised over $20 million in new commitments during the past several weeks leading up to the Hanukkah Dinner season.

The annual dinner, which dates back until at least 1928 (see below for a fuller discussion about the history of the Hanukkah Dinner), always takes place at a midtown hotel such as Hotel Astor (which closed in 1967), the New York Hilton or the Waldorf Astoria. Dinner funds over the years have been directed to student scholarships, raising faculty salaries and projects such as building the Wilf Campus Max Stern Athletic Center and creating the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Funds from this year's dinner are being directed towards student scholarships.

“The Jewish people and broader society need our students,” remarked President Ari Berman in his address at last week’s dinner. He noted that the Hanukkah Dinner “helps us ensure we get those students.” President Berman also emphasized that “an investment in Yeshiva University ensures a strong and vibrant future for the Jewish people.”

The dinner took place on the heels of shakeups in Institutional Advancement that resulted in Julie Schreier’s appointment as Interim Vice President of Institutional Advancement. The dinner also marks the second dinner after President Berman took office.

In addition to the annual Hanukkah Dinner, the Office of Institutional Advancement is responsible for other large-scale fundraising efforts, including the annual Day of Giving. The Day of Giving, which began in 2017, raised $6 million in 2017 and $4.5 million in 2018.

Paul Singer, founder and president of Elliott Management Corporation and president of The Paul E. Singer Foundation, served as the keynote speaker at the recent Hanukkah Dinner. Yeshiva University must “be the bridge between America and Israel; between the world of Jewish tradition and the larger Jewish community; and between the Jewish people and the non-Jewish world,” Singer said in his address.

Honorary degrees were conferred upon Hadassah Lieberman and J. Philip Rosen. Lieberman is a public advocate for Israel and has assisted several nonprofit organizations. In 2000, Lieberman was actively involved in the vice presidential campaign for her husband, former Sen. Joseph Lieberman. Rosen, who received his B.A. from Yeshiva College in 1978, is a senior partner at the international law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, a member of Yeshiva University’s Board of Trustees and vice-chair of the Birthright Israel Foundation.

“Your leadership has helped guide Yeshiva University in so many ways, and specifically with our relationship with the State of Israel,” said President Berman to a visibly touched J. Philip Rosen. President Berman also thanked Rosen for his pledge of $1 million to the fund.

This dinner also marked the inauguration of The YU Shield Award, an award created to reward service to the University. Bennett Schachter, a managing director in the investment banking division of Goldman Sachs, was the inaugural recipient. “Bennett Schachter has offered unparalleled advice to our students, in finance and beyond,” said Lance Hirt, a major YU donor who has served as a YU trustee. “Bennett is the perfect inaugural recipient of the inaugural YU service award, The YU Shield.”

Past honorees of the dinner include American politicians such as Adlai Stevenson, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Jack Kemp, Colin Powell, Joseph Lieberman, George W. Bush, Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Mike Bloomberg, Al Gore, Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker, Jack Lew and Andrew Cuomo; Israeli politicians such as Rabbi Isaac Halevi Herzog, Chaim Herzog and Nir Barkat; and philanthropists such as Ghity Lindenbaum Stern (the widow of Max Stern), Sy Syms, Philip Belz, Ira Mitzner, Stanley Raskas and Laurie Tisch, as well as columnists such as David Brooks and Bret Stephens.

The chart below indicates the amount of money raised at the past nine Hanukkah Dinners (based on approximations reported by YU News).

Records from Commentator archives indicate the amount of money raised at several other Hanukkah Dinners over the years. While the chart below presents the amount that was reported by the newspaper, it should be noted that some of the larger amounts raised were most likely due to the fact that those numbers included not only funds raised by the dinner journals, but also by funds pledged over the course of larger fundraising projects:



Some Notes on the History of the Annual Hanukkah Dinner

The precise origins of the Annual Hanukkah Dinner are lost in the mist of time. The current count of “94” suggests, assuming that there was one Hanukkah Dinner per year, that the first dinner took place in 1925.

While there appears to be no record of an inaugural Hanukkah Dinner in 1925, there is documentation of a dinner that took place in Dec. 1915. At this dinner, according to Yeshiva University Libraries, Yeshiva Etz Chaim (founded 1886) and the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (founded 1897) formally joined forces, and Rabbi Dr. Bernard Revel was inaugurated as Rosh Yeshiva and President of the institution. The 1915 dinner, which is Yeshiva’s earliest on record, took place “in a small refurbished building on Montgomery Street” on New York’s Lower East Side.

Other early dinners on record include a 1924 dinner where plans for the institution’s Washington Heights campus were revealed, and a 1928 dinner which celebrated the dedication of the building currently known as Zysman Hall.

Yeshiva College opened its doors in Fall 1928, and The Commentator’s first issue hit shelves in March 1935. Commentator archives from as early as 1938 document instances of an “Annual Scholarship Fund Dinner of Yeshiva College,” with numbering that would place the inaugural dinner in Dec. 1929 (again, assuming that there was one such dinner per year). For example, an article from 1938 reports about the “10th” annual dinner, and an article from 1944 reports about the “16th” annual dinner.

Records show that following Yeshiva’s accredited university status that was achieved in Nov. 1945, the dinner was called the “Annual Yeshiva University Dinner,” and kept to the same count dating back to 1929. This title was short-lived, as by the early-1950s the dinner was called by the name of the “Annual Scholarship Fund Dinner.” Only by the late-1960s do records indicate that the dinner was called the “Annual Chanukah Dinner” (note the spelling).

Commentator and YU Libraries archives indicate that in the years 1946 through 1957, two YU dinners took place each December — the Annual Scholarship Fund Dinner and the Charter Day Dinner, with the latter commemorating the achievement of Yeshiva’s university status. Notable honorees at the Charter Day Dinner included “John F. Kennedy, who received the University Award at the 1957 Charter Day Dinner.” According to YU Libraries, “the Charter Day dinner and the Hanukkah dinner seem to have joined forces and united to become one event after 1958, presumably since both events occurred at the same time of year.”

The count that dates the Annual Chanukah Dinner back to 1929 persisted through at least 1974, which witnessed the so-called 46th Annual Chanukah Dinner.

In Oct. 1975, President Samuel Belkin, who had served as YU’s President since Fall 1943, announced that he would resign from his position due to ill health. That December, a special dinner was held where Belkin was formally invested as “Chancellor of Yeshiva,” a role in which Belkin described himself as a “watchdog, in order to make sure that the ideals of Yeshiva shall not be watered down” and that “the foundation and central part of the University be preserved, namely the Jewish Studies Program of Yeshiva.”

Belkin died only four months later in April 1976, and Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm was invested as the University’s third President in Nov. 1976.

Library records show that in Dec. 1976, Yeshiva University hosted its “52nd” Annual Chanukah Dinner. This count, which ostensibly calls back to some inaugural 1925 dinner, persists to this day.

One of YU’s current archivists suggested several explanations for the numbering. One possibility is that the current count may have been calculated in the late-1970s by taking the old number and tallying up to account for several other dinners, whether those that took place before the founding of Yeshiva College, or perhaps some of the Charter Day Dinners that took place in the 1940s and 1950s. It also may be that the updated count, which began in 1976 — at the start of President Lamm’s administration — was intended to link back to the significant 1924 dinner, counting a dinner every year from 1924 through 1976 besides for one (perhaps skipping the year 1975, which technically did not have a Chanukah Dinner).

Another possibility that the archivist did not suggest, but which seems probable, is that one year, someone simply miscalculated the count, perhaps due to changeovers following President Belkin’s death, and the mistake went unnoticed.

The only other relevant change noticeable between 1976 and the present is that at some point in the late-1990s or early-2000s, the name became the “Annual Hanukkah Dinner and Convocation.”

Photo caption: President Berman conferring an honorary degree upon J. Philip Rosen.
Photo credit: YU News