By: Yosef Lemel  | 

YU Holds Virtual 96th Annual Hanukkah Dinner, Declines to Disclose Funds Raised

Yeshiva University held its 96th Annual Hanukkah Dinner on Sunday, Dec. 6 at 5:00 p.m. using a virtual platform. The university declined to disclose the amount of funds raised at the dinner to The Commentator. 

The Hanukkah Dinner, usually an in-person event, is generally held in a midtown hotel; last year’s dinner was at the New York Hilton Midtown Hotel. This year, the dinner was live streamed on a virtual platform due to health measures necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The dinner has historically functioned as a major annual fundraising event for the university. 

The 2020 Hanukkah Dinner was the second organized by the Office of Institutional Advancement (OIA) under the leadership of Vice President for Institutional Advancement Adam Gerdts. The OIA “manages all fundraising for the University, including donations, planned giving, grants and events.” Gerdts assumed his vice presidential position in April 2019 after a period of administrative restructuring of the OIA following Seth Moscowitz’s resignation from the position the morning after 2016’s Hanukkah Dinner. 

“The dinner has evolved from a one night event to a season of giving that builds as part of the entire fiscal year’s worth of development activity,” Gerdts told The Commentator. “The entire year’s worth of fundraising will be announced after the fiscal year closes June 30.” Gerdts indicated that the “majority of unrestricted funds raised will underwrite student scholarships.”

For past Hanukkah dinners, the university has generally released a figure on funds raised. Last year, the university raised $5.6 million, a 12% increase from the $5 million raised from 2018’s dinner. The last time funds raised during the annual dinner remained unreported was 2011.

There were over 4,600 registered participants for the event, according to a university press release. As The Commentator previously reported, the university instituted a scaled entrance-fee system based on “participation level.” “Young Alumni,” graduates of the classes of 2015 through 2020, were required to pay $180, the fee for “Friends” was $500 and “Donors” paid $1,000 to gain admittance. Some student leaders, including members of student council, resident advisers and executive leadership of the student newspapers were invited to attend the event, free of charge.

The university also introduced the President’s Society to recognize “annual donors starting at $1,800,” with seven levels of contribution. The society “offers additional benefits providing exclusive opportunities for greater involvement with the University.” The Etz Chaim Society, for example, which is the highest tier for donors who give in excess of $1,000,000 annually, provides for “family functions with top leadership,” along with the benefits of the other tiers. Members of the President’s Society are featured on a virtual “Scroll of Honor.”

Guests to the dinner were first shown a video presentation, in which President Ari Berman addressed the participants about the challenges YU faced during the pandemic and his hopes for the future of the institution. 

“If someone last Hanukkah Dinner would have told me what laid in store in the coming months I would never have believed him,” declared President Berman. “And now, after all this time, still locked in the grip of an uncertain winter with potentially promising news of effective vaccines, there is little we can say with certainty about the future. But I can tell you this: That our community as a whole, and Yeshiva University specifically, will emerge from this time even stronger.”

President Berman also paid homage to the late Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, the third president of Yeshiva University and one of his mentors. “With a preponderance of brilliance, erudition in Torah and secular disciplines and an overabundance of compassion, Rabbi Lamm built this institution and personified the philosophy and worldview of our community,” he said. 

In his address, President Berman stressed the theme of “rededication” in the university’s path forward. “Rededication is focused on transforming for the future. And this is what we’ve been doing at Yeshiva University… We are all seeking a new beginning. And as the world shifts to a new normal, Yeshiva University will be right by your side and together we will continue our mission of educating our next great generation, the leaders of tomorrow,” concluded President Berman.

After President Berman’s address, guests were provided with links to six “conversations,” pre-recorded panel discussions streamed on Zoom. The conversations were live streamed twice at 5:14 p.m. and 5:34 p.m., allowing guests to view two full-length panels. According to Gerdts, the panels “are exclusively available to donors and their guests, faculty, staff and student leadership until December 31”; it is unclear whether the conversations will be publicly released. 

The topics were titled “Jewish Values in Professional Sports,” “Risks vs. Rewards of Bringing Cutting-Edge Science and Technology to Market,” “A New Era of Opportunity,” “Medical Ethics during a Global Pandemic,” “Halacha during a Global Pandemic” and “Supreme Friendship in a Polarized Age: Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia.” 

Panelists included Mark Wilf, president/CEO of the Minnesota Vikings and a member of YU’s board of trustees, Anne Neuberger, director of cybersecurity at the NSA, Ambassador Danny Danon, chairman of the World Likud and a visiting professor of political science at YU, Senator Joseph Lieberman, former Democratic vice presidential nominee and a professor of public policy at YU, Dr. Tia Powell, director of the Montefiore-Einstein Center for Bioethics, Rabbi Herschel Schachter, a rosh yeshiva of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary and Christopher Scalia, director of academic programs at the American Enterprise Institute and son of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, among others. 

Following the panel discussions, the university presented a five-minute video showcasing various alumni reminiscing about positive experiences they had during their time as YU students. Featured alumni included Dr. Ariella Agatstein (SCW ‘05), Dr. Erica Brown (SCW ‘88), Evan Axelrod (SSSB ‘19), Lee Lasher (SSSB ‘99) and members of the Wildes family. 

A pre-recorded speech by Yeshiva Student Union President Zachary Greenberg (SSSB ‘21) concluded the event. Greenberg encouraged guests to donate money for the purpose of financially assisting students. “Your generosity provides scholarships to students like us — leaders on campus today, leaders in the world tomorrow,” he said. 

“In a year that has presented unprecedented challenges and opportunities, we are thrilled that our esteemed faculty, rebbeim, thought leaders and lay partners were able to showcase the extraordinary discourse of YU during our virtual event,” President Berman reflected on the dinner. “Through this program, the broader YU community had the opportunity to learn together and celebrate our values in support of scholarship funds for our students, the leaders of tomorrow.”

Chayim Mahgerefteh (SSSB ‘20), an alum and former president of the Sy Syms School of Business Student Council, expressed his positive experience watching the dinner. “An aspect of the dinner that I liked was how there were diverse conversations taking place and being given the opportunity to attend two of them,” he said. “I think the organizers of the Chanukah Dinner did a great job making the best out of our circumstances. I look forward to attending the actual dinner next year and many more years to come.”


Photo Caption: President Berman spoke at Yeshiva University’s 96th Annual Hanukkah Dinner.
Photo Credit:Yeshiva University