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For the first time in its 134-year history, The Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) held its commencement ceremony virtually on Thursday, May 21. JTS Chancellor Arnold M. Eisen delivered the 2020 Commencement address to the 77 graduates from the institution’s five schools: List College, the Kekst Graduate School, H. L. Miller Cantorial School, Rabbinical School, and the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education.
“It’s not easy to know how to do good in this world. After years of study at JTS, you know that Jewish texts and history testify to the complexity of the task we face in trying to leave the world better than we found it,” Chancellor Eisen said in his address to the graduates. “But those same texts, that same history, urge on us the conviction that the work has to be attempted, nonetheless. Despite our own glaring imperfection, for all that the problems we face are immense, and for all that on some bleak days we are tempted to give up hope, we have to try to love with all we have: heart and soul as well as mind and might.”
Alan Levine, JTS’s chair of the board, also addressed the virtual community: “To our graduating students: although you are scattered across North America physically, in this moment we are very much together; we are holding you in our hearts. For the entire JTS community, this day is all about you. We are so proud of your accomplishments. I can imagine the beaming faces of your parents, grandparents, other relatives, and friends who are watching this ceremony with us now, filled with pride, love, and admiration.”
During this unprecedented ceremony, undergraduates in the dual-degree programs were awarded bachelor’s degrees from List College; they also graduated from Columbia University or Barnard College at separate ceremonies. Master’s and doctoral candidates who completed their studies at Gershon Kekst Graduate School and the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education also received degrees. At the Tekes Hasmakhah, the ceremony of rabbinic ordination and cantorial investiture, cantors were invested by the H. L. Miller Cantorial School and College of Jewish Music, and rabbis were ordained by The Rabbinical School. A select number of students received multiple degrees from various JTS schools.
In addition to the conferral of degrees for all five schools, there was a virtual procession to festive klezmer music, remarks from student speakers, and an opening invocation by Rabbi Lisa Malik (RS ’04). Other highlights of the ceremony included the singing of the national anthem and Hatikvah by the graduating students of the H. L. Miller Cantorial School, a closing montage of student photos and acknowledgements from their relatives, and special tributes to Chancellor Arnold M. Eisen upon his retirement.
JTS is a preeminent institution of Jewish higher education, training thoughtful, innovative leaders—rabbis, cantors, educators, lay leaders, and scholars—who strengthen communities with a vision of Judaism that is deeply grounded in the Jewish past and thoroughly engaged with contemporary society. JTS also provides high-caliber lifelong learning and professional development to alumni, adult learners, and Jewish communities throughout North America. Through its Library, JTS preserves and makes accessible to students and scholars throughout the world the greatest collection of Judaica in the Western Hemisphere.