Office of the Chancellor
Welcome to the Gratz College academic year of 2021-22. Two years ago, we celebrated our 125th Anniversary as the oldest independent Jewish college in the United States. Today, the beginning of this new academic year, Gratz will begin with new leadership. After four years as President, I am transitioning to become the Chancellor of the College. I will be active in strategic planning, working with students and alumni, teaching, and pursuing many scholarly activities. Most of all, I will be working closely with our new President, Dr. Zev Eleff. Together, with help of our faculty, staff, students, alumni, Board of Governors, and our many friends, Gratz will continue to achieve our educational mission.
Gratz has a long history of teaching graduate students, college students, teens, and continuing education learners. Since our founding in 1895, Gratz has remained deeply committed to Tikkun Olam – the Jewish value of “repairing the world.” We do this through teaching, learning, and scholarship. Our programs emphasize the connection between knowledge, leadership, scholarly inquiry, and social justice across all faiths and communities. We are proud of our past and devoted to a future that values diversity, equity, and inclusion.
For the last two decades we have provided cutting edge online education, transforming Gratz into a global institution, as we bring students together from Greater Philadelphia and the world. Our reach is truly global. Gratz students and alumni live in the United States and Canada, Latin America, the Middle East, Europe, East Asia, and Australia. Our students live, study, and work in major urban centers, suburbs, small towns, rural communities, and on Indian reservations.
Gratz has always been unique. In our first class, women and men studied side-by-side at a time when many colleges were not coeducational. Before World War II we had women faculty members, something rare at the time. Today we are a Jewish college committed to the value of Tikkun Olam, with students and faculty of all faiths, nationalities, ethnic communities, and races.
In the late nineteenth century, we served a largely immigrant community in Greater Philadelphia. Many of our graduates became teachers of Hebrew language and Jewish studies. Today we serve K-12 teachers from public and private schools around the nation with our vibrant M.Ed. and Ed.D. programs. We have just started a new education program, offering a Master of Science in Teaching Practice. At our commencement this year we awarded our first degrees in our recently inaugurated Master of Science in Camp Administration.
Through our online platform we offer college and graduate degree programs that serve professionals who lead and serve in schools and colleges, nonprofit organizations, camps, museums, the military, interfaith chaplaincies, religious communities of all faiths, and NGOs.
In our newly established Center for Holocaust Studies and Human Rights, we offer a bachelor’s degree, three master’s degrees, and a Ph.D. in Holocaust and Genocide Studies, which is the world’s only doctorate in this field within a self-contained center. We will also be offering workshops for K-12 educators on how to teach about the Holocaust. When I came to Gratz in 2017, we had just started our Ph.D. in Holocaust and Genocide Studies. At commencement we award our first Ph.D. degrees in that program.
Beyond our many degree programs, we offer certificates for working professionals, non-credit continuing education courses in a wide variety of subjects, and CLE courses for lawyers.
After 125 years, Gratz still remains committed to teaching Hebrew language, with a full range of credit and non-credit courses for all our college and graduate students, continuing education learners, and pre-collegiate students who can fulfill language requirements for their high school diplomas and also earn college credits in our Gratz Academy program. We have recently introduced courses in Yiddish as well, so that Gratz can contribute to the preservation and reinvigoration of this language. This brings us full circle to our 19th century founding and early traditions, while moving us forward into the 21st century.
With the new leadership of President Eleff, Gratz is proudly positioned for our next century and a quarter. We invite you to join us in our commitment to teaching, learning, scholarship and Tikkun Olam.
- Class of 2020 Message
- Holiday Message from the President
- Covid - 19 Message
- In Memoriam - Martin Bachman, z"l
- Welcome New Students 2019-2020
Our Remarkable 2020 Graduates
On June 14, the Gratz Board of Governors officially conferred degrees on our spring 2020 graduates. Congratulations to all of you. Although the coronavirus forced us to suspend our planned graduation program, we will celebrate as a community in an online ceremony at 6 pm on Sunday, August 30, 2020. All members of the Gratz family – our new graduates (who are now our newest alumni), our alumni from past years, donors, continuing education students, friends, family, and others -- are invited to join us for this special program. Registration details are soon to follow.
This graduation year is also a special one for Gratz College, as it marks our 120th Commencement and the 125th anniversary of our founding.
Our 30 graduates come from locations across the U.S., Canada, and the Middle East. They have earned certificates or advanced degrees in seven fields, including Education, Jewish Professional Studies, Nonprofit Management, and Holocaust and Genocide Studies. As online students—especially during these last few months of uncertainty— our graduates have demonstrated resilience and commitment to their studies. They truly represent Gratz’s mission to provide professional growth and personal enrichment to students around the globe.
Please join me in congratulating our students and wishing them well. You can honor our graduates by making a contribution to the President's Scholarship Fund by clicking here or on the link below.
Dear Gratz College Community,
In the coming weeks members of the Gratz College community will celebrate Passover, Easter, and Ramadan. Others are celebrating, in one way or another, springtime, a season of rebirth and renewal. This is also a time for family and friends to share special meals together. When I was growing up my family sometimes made the arduous 300 mile trip to New York City, for a huge Seder – the Passover meal – at my grandparents’ apartment in the Bronx. There I spent time with cousins I rarely saw and with relatives I did not really know. But it was always a wonderful moment. Meanwhile, my Christian neighbors had family gatherings for church services and Easter dinners. Similarly, Muslims gather for evening meals during Ramadan.
Sadly, this year most of us will not be celebrating with large groups – at least in person. Our relatives and friends will be with us on Skype, Facetime, or Zoom. We will gather virtually, but nevertheless we will gather in spirit and in kinship. We will pray for those who are ill: our family, friends, neighbors, and those we do not even know. We will pray for our own health and the health of our loved ones, friends, and neighbors. And sadly, in this time of joy, we will mourn those we have lost to a pandemic we only barely understand.
Passover, the Jewish holiday that celebrates the Exodus from Egypt, is also a time to celebrate freedom. It is an antislavery holiday. On this holiday we read that “We were once slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and now we are free.” It is the world’s oldest celebration of human freedom. In a world where people are trafficked and illegally forced to work against their will, part of our Passover, Easter, and Ramadan celebrations must be a rededication to securing freedom for all people everywhere. As Americans we should contemplate our own nation’s sad history of slavery and discrimination. We recall Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, where he reminded us that we live in a “nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Once again, we should dedicate ourselves to make sure, as Lincoln wrote, that the United States “shall have a new birth of freedom.” We must strive to make that a goal for the entire world.
During Passover, Easter, and Ramadan many of us are also deeply involved in our communities. In a normal year, at the beginning of the Passover Seder we open the front door of our home, to invite in those who have no place to celebrate the holiday. The Haggadah, which we read during the Passover Seder, has us declare: “Let all who are hungry come and eat.” Synagogues, Jewish community centers, Hillel buildings on campuses, and other Jewish institutions have community Seders for those who are not at home or not able to have their own. Similarly, churches, missions, campus ministries, and other Christian institutions, have Easter dinners for their communities. Muslims often gather communally in the evening for the Iftar, where they break their daily fast. This year, sadly, we must forgo these public gatherings in order to slow the spread of the corona virus.
The readings in the Passover Seder remind us of the obligation to reach out to others of different faiths and nationalities to offer friendship and refuge. The Haggadah and the Bible admonish us: “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Ex: 22:20). We are later reminded: “You too must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy: 10:19).
This year many of us are reaching out virtually to our neighbors. But others in the Gratz community are daily engaged as health care workers, hospital and retirement home chaplains, members of the clergy from many faiths, and community volunteers. These acts of selflessness and duty demonstrate tikkun olam, or “repair of the world,” a Jewish concept which compels all of us to do our part to make the world a more perfect place. In the face of the current crisis, we will have much to repair.
I hope everyone in the Gratz community enjoys, in the safest way possible, a warm and meaningful celebration. Be safe; be careful; stay at home. Together, we will get through this. We will discover new and creative ways to be together, learn together, and support one another as a community.
Dear Gratz College Community:
I hope all of you and your loved ones are healthy and being careful as we navigate the impact of COVID-19 on ourselves, our families, our communities, the nation, and the world. Please take precautions. As my mother of blessed memory always told me, "Wash your hands!" Now, more than ever, that motherly advice is important.
The good news for Gratz -the silver lining in this dark cloud- is that all of our online courses have continued smoothly. Gratz students in Philadelphia, across the continent, and in many other countries, are studying and learning; faculty are teaching (and of course we also learn every time we teach). We have just started classes for our Spring B term and are about to open enrollment for the summer.
Unlike many colleges, we did not have to pivot and rush into online courses with little or no preparation. We have been teaching online for two decades, and our college, high school, and continuing education faculty have years of online expertise. Thus, we made a smooth transition, as Gratz faculty and staff continue to teach and work from home. Our Jewish Community High School (JCHS) now operates online. Several of our continuing education classes are now online, with more to come soon.
Unfortunately, we had to close the Gratz building for the near term. We have postponed all Gratz events until at least June. The Shusterman lecture with Professor Pamela Nadell and the Rabbi Admiral Aaron Landes Lecture with Admiral Yossi Ashkenazi of the Israeli Defense Forces will be rescheduled. CLEs, lunch and learns, and other planned events will also be rescheduled. We will be sharing videos of past lectures and programs at Gratz, so that our community can continue to learn while at home.
The Gratz 125th Anniversary Gala, scheduled for May 31, has been postponed. We will let all of you know when we have a new date.
My colleagues on the Gratz faculty and staff are working diligently to support our students as our online College courses continue uninterrupted. Deadlines for course requirements this spring and summer will be flexible, because we know that many of you have unexpected complications in your lives. We want you to know that Gratz has your back in this moment of crisis. We will all be working with you to insure you can continue your education.
Please feel free to call or email faculty and staff if you need assistance. We are all online, working from home. We are here for you and want to know how we can help you. Please visit the Gratz COVID-19 web page for updates. We will keep you informed as new information becomes available. You share any concerns and questions at email@example.com. Keep an eye out for updates on our website, social media, and in our weekly e-newsletter, Coming Up at Gratz. You can contact me directly at President@Gratz.edu.
Your passion and dedication to one another during this time of uncertainty is deeply appreciated and reflects the very best of Gratz College. Thank you.
Once again, please be careful and cautious. We will all get through this and come out stronger.
Dear Gratz Community:
It is with great sadness that I share the news of the passing of Martin Bachman (z”l). He was a great man, a great friend of Gratz, and a veteran who volunteered to serve in combat in World War II. In his humility, his dedication to public service and his philanthropy, Marty personified what we have come to call America’s Greatest Generation.
He served for nearly thirty years as a member of the Gratz College Board of Governors. He and his wife Lois attended our adult Jewish education classes together after the War. Marty’s daughter, Marjorie Boxbaum, is an alumnae of Gratz College. In 2003, Marty and Lois made a major gift to establish the Bachman Rare Book Room in the College’s Tuttleman Library. The room houses our many rare books, Gratz’s archival materials, and some of the papers of the family of Hyman Gratz. It protects and preserves a part of the College’s – and America’s -- legacy, and provides unique sources for research.
In 2010, Gratz awarded Marty an honorary doctorate for his decades of service to the college and his lifelong commitment to education.
I am honored to have known Marty, if even for a short time. When I came to Gratz as President in late 2017, he and Lois graciously welcomed me and shared stories about their lives and their deep connection to Gratz over many decades. Marty was deeply committed to his family, his community, and to learning, and he put his ideals into action. His life was truly an inspiration. Shortly after we met last year, he agreed to an interview for our College newsletter, Gratz Today. I hope you will take a moment to read it and feel as inspired as I am by his story.
I am very pleased to welcome you to Gratz College for the 2019 -20120 academic year. Gratz is internationally recognized as a leader in developing effective educators, professionals, leaders and scholars-both within and beyond the Jewish community; inspiring life-long learners; and helping to build informed and strong communities.
Gratz College provides a pluralistic education that engages students in active study for professional growth and personal enrichment. With a focus on innovation and flexibility, Gratz offers degrees and certificate programs online.
We have expanded our offerings considerably this year. They now include a Doctorate in Holocaust and Genocide Studies and a Doctorate in Education Leadership, seven masters’ programs, two undergraduate completion programs, and various graduate and undergraduate certificates.
Our dynamic courses are populated by students from 36 states and six countries. Every Gratz student contributes to the vibrant learning environment and unique character of our institution. Your interactions with your peers and your professors, and your dedication to coursework will stimulate your thinking, build upon your values and advance your career.
We wish you the best of luck in your academic future.
- Tragedy in New Zealand
- In Memoriam - Dr. Rela Mintz Geffen, z"l
- Martin Luther King Jr. Day, 2019
- The American and Jewish Origins of Thanksgiving
- A Time to Mourn, Pray and Hope
Sunday, March 17, 2019
Dear Gratz Community:
The recent events in New Zealand defy our imaginations and shock our souls. They remind us, once again, of the need for tolerance, education, interfaith and cross-cultural communication and understanding. The mass murder in New Zealand mirrors the attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Once again, hate has led to senseless killings. Our school is committed to teaching and learning about the root causes of genocide, so we can combat it, and defeat it with ideas and knowledge. We are also committed to interfaith dialogue and leadership. We teach about both of these subjects to make the world a better, safer place.
We join our Muslim sisters and brothers in New Zealand, Philadelphia, and the world, in mourning those who perished because of unconscionable hatred.
From Marsha Bryan Edelman, Ed.D.
Adjunct Professor of Music and Education at Gratz College
The Gratz College community mourns the loss of Dr. Rela Mintz Geffen who passed away Sunday, February 3, 2019. Rela joined the faculty at Gratz College in 1975. Widely read, with interest and ability in many areas, she was among the pioneers in the study of the American Jewish Community. Rela was instrumental in establishing the Gratz College Master's degree program in Jewish Communal Studies and Gratz's joint degree program in this field with the School of Social Work at the University of Pennsylvania. As the first woman to serve as Dean of Gratz College, a position she held for many years, her leadership raised academic standards and stimulated the creation of several new faculty positions. Through her active membership in the Association for Jewish Studies, her scholarly activities, and her popularity as a much-sought-after speaker, Rela always advocated for Gratz, supported Gratz students through a prize fund she established in her parents' name, and brought the College to a renown that extended well beyond the Delaware Valley.
From Jonathan D. Sarna, Ph.D.
H-Judaic is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Dr. Rela Mintz Geffen (1943-2019), professor emerita of Sociology at Gratz College, where she taught for many years and coordinated the program in Jewish Communal Service; she was also former president of Baltimore Hebrew University (2000-2007). Granddaughter of the famed Rabbi Tobias Geffen of Atlanta, and daughter of Rabbi Joel S. Geffen of the Jewish Theological Seminary, Rela Geffen was educated at Columbia University, the Jewish Theological Seminary, and the University of Florida, where she received her Ph.D. She served at different times as president of the Association for the Social Scientific Study of Jewry and vice-president of the Association for Jewish Studies, and should be remembered as one of the pioneering women in the field of Jewish Studies. Prof. Geffen published more than 40 articles and book chapters and authored or edited four books including Celebration and Renewal: Rites of Passage in Judaism (JPS) and the Centennial Volume of Gratz College (co-edited with Dr. Marsha Bryan Edelman) entitled Freedom and Responsibility - Exploring the Challenges of Jewish Continuity Another book, Conservative Judaism: Dilemmas and Challenges, was coauthored with the late Daniel Elazar. Professor Geffen's major fields of interest were sociology of religion, the family, and gender roles. At the time of her death, she was engaged in a qualitative study of Jewish grandparenting. For years, even amidst ill health, Prof. Geffen was a familiar figure at Jewish academic gatherings; she was also active in the Jewish Book Council. Widely known, she will be greatly missed. May her memory be for a blessing.
The family asks that contributions in her memory be made to:
Camp Ramah in the Poconos, www.ramahpoconos.org.
Contributions may also be made to the Gratz College Rabbi Joel S. and Sylvia Mintz Geffen Prize in Contemporary Jewish Studies, which is awarded annually to an outstanding student.
Jewish Exponent Obituary
Today Gratz College joins America in celebrating Martin Luther King Day. Growing up I heard his speeches on television, watched him being attacked by police and arrested on the nightly news, and remember the horrible shock of his murder in 1968. A half century after his assassination the need to fulfill his message and his vision remains central to our nation.
Rev. King was the voice of righteousness and dignity in the face of prejudice and evil. Like the anti-Nazi leader Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed in 1945, like Elie Wiesel, who survived Auschwitz and Buchenwald, and then dedicated his life to reminding the world of the Holocaust, like Nelson Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison for his opposition to apartheid – Dr. King was always spoke truth to power. He was fearless and eloquent in answering hate with love and responding to violence with non-violence.
His August 1963 speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial still resonates with his passion for justice. His voice is as important today as it was a half century ago. It is worth recalling and remembering his call for justice, dignity, and freedom for all. We honor his memory, but we also honor his demand that America stand up its values. He reminded us all that America needed to “rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."
The end of this speech remains as vital today as it was then.
“And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.
Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado. Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California. But not only that; let freedom ring from the Stone Mountain of Georgia. Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’"
Dear Gratz Community:
Today, Americans of all ethnic, religious, and cultural backgrounds celebrate Thanksgiving. The holiday’s American origins are in the Plymouth colony, which had a harvest festival in the fall of 1621 after having survived a rough first year. The Plymouth Separatists had left England to escape religious persecution. They were the first of many millions of refugees fleeing their homelands because they were on the losing side of wars, political change, religious turmoil, or economic dislocation. The millions of Jews who came here from the 1840s to 1921 were part of that tradition.
The Plymouth feast was shared with Native Americans living nearby, and that moment should be a model and a goal for all Americans – to recognize our diversity, our immigrant and native origins, and the need for an inclusive and far reaching sisterhood and brotherhood within our nation.
In 1789, President Washington held a National Day of Thanksgiving to celebrate the ratification of the Constitution. In 1863, President Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving holiday to be celebrated the end of November, reflecting the emerging victory for the United States in the Civil War and the end of slavery, which Lincoln helped achieve through the Emancipation Proclamation. Thus, Thanksgiving became the central holiday of America’s “civil religion.” It is a sacred symbol of our nationhood. It is rooted in faith and what Lincoln called “our beneficent Father,” but not in any particular religion. The holiday is patriotic and spiritual – even holy – but not denominational or theistic.
While we think of Thanksgiving as a patriotic holiday rooted in a distant past, it is also a holiday that celebrates the diversity of our culture and the importance of America as a haven for refugees. The Pilgrims arrived as “tired … huddled masses … yearning to breathe free,” to quote Emma Lazarus’s poem on the base of the Statue of Liberty. Nearly three centuries after that first Thanksgiving, my grandparents came here, along with millions of others from all over the world. They quickly learned to celebrate Thanksgiving, as a secular holiday in the new homeland that gave them sanctuary and religious liberty.
There is also a Jewish context to Thanksgiving. Many of the Plymouth Separatists read Hebrew and saw themselves as inheritors of the traditions of the Torah (what they called the Old Testament). Thus, their notion of “Thanksgiving” was both Biblical and Jewish, even though they were Christians. Their inspiration came in part from the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, which can be seen as the first recorded Thanksgiving celebration. As the Book of Deuteronomy says: “the LORD your God will bless all your crops and all your undertakings, and you have shall have nothing but joy.” Similarly, Psalm 107 urged Jews to “offer thanksgiving sacrifices” to the LORD.
So as we eat our turkeys and cranberry sauce, we can reflect on the ancient tradition of Thanksgiving, the struggles of immigrants from the seventeenth century to now, and the American notion that our national Constitution, which led President Washington to proclaim a day of Thanksgiving, is designed to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”
As the president of Gratz, I wish all of you a healthy and happy Thanksgiving, and I hope, in the words of Deuteronomy, “you shall have nothing but joy.”
October 27, 2018
Dear Gratz Community:
Today was one of the most horrific days in the history of American Jews. We live in a time of unprecedented violence, perpetrated by hateful individuals and groups.
At Gratz we always support education, learning, and rational dialogue. Today the conversation intersects with one of Judaism's central missions – Tikkun Olam -- to repair the world. The vicious murders in Pittsburgh underscore how much repair the world needs.
Out of respect to those we mourn, Gratz cancelled its Shusterman Distinguished Scholar Lecture scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 28.
Our thoughts and prayers are with our friends, relatives, sisters and brothers in Pittsburgh. Immediately before coming to Gratz, I was teaching at the University of Pittsburgh next door to Squirrel Hill, and I have friends and relatives in that community. My personal pain would be great if I had never been to Pittsburgh, but having lived there, my sorrow and pain is more vivid. I know many in the Gratz community have friends and family in Pittsburgh. We join each other in sorrow over these senseless and horrible murders.
This is a hard time for Jews in America and especially here in Pennsylvania. For those of you who live near Gratz, there will be a Service of Solidarity and Healing at Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel from 7:00-8:00 p.m. on Sunday night. Also on Sunday, there will be an interfaith vigil at Congregation Rodeph Shalom (hosted by the Jewish Community Relations Council) from 5:00-6:00 p.m.
We can all come together to mourn, pray, and hope for a brighter, safer, and more caring future.
As we head off for the Fourth of July holiday it is worth remembering what we are celebrating – the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It was written and signed in Philadelphia, so that in itself makes it partially a local story. In the context of the Revolution it was also a Gratz story. In the years leading up to the Revolution a number of Jews in Philadelphia joined the patriot movement. In October 1765 eight Philadelphia Jewish merchants joined their Christian neighbors in signing resolutions agreeing not to import goods from Great Britain. Among them were Bernard Gratz and Michael Gratz. The Non-Importation Resolutions were an important step toward the Revolution and the Declaration of Independence, and the Gratz brothers were active participants in this patriotic movement. The son of Michael Gratz (and the nephew of Bernard) was Hyman Gratz, who was the founder of Gratz College. Michael’s daughter, Rebecca, was the founder of modern Jewish education in America and the “muse” behind Gratz College.
In 1775 the war began and Philadelphia Jews joined the struggle. Two Philadelphia Jews, Solomon Bush and David Salisbury Franks, ultimately became Lieutenant Colonels in George Washington’s Army. While Patriot leaders – civilian and military – struggled against the British, the Continental Congress meeting here in Philadelphia wrote the Declaration, with the formal date of the adoption as July 4, 1776.
The main body of the Declaration – the part most people never read – is a long list of complaints about the British government and the king. It explains why America is seeking Independence. It reads like a lawyer’s bill of particulars at the beginning of a law suit. Lawyers Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Robert R. Livingston shaped the Declaration, along with Benjamin Franklin and Roger Sherman.
The first two paragraphs – the preamble – is the part many Americans know. It sets out a theory of democratic self-government and also set out what America stands for. The entire document also creates the basis for religious freedom in America.
The theory of government is simple: Governments are “instituted” by the people “deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” In 1776 this was a novel idea. Everywhere in Europe there were kings or other royalty who ruled over their people. In America governments, and laws, were made by the people and their representatives.
More complicated was the fundamental creed of the nation – that all people “are created equal,” and endowed with fundamental rights including “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This was the intellectual and moral basis for ultimately ending slavery and providing political equality for all Americans. It sets out the core values of our nation.
A century after the Declaration was signed, Emma Lazarus, the Jewish poet, wrote the words that are on the base of the Statue of Liberty. Lazarus called the statue, which sits in New York Harbor, the “Mother of Exiles.” My grandparents recalled the thrill of seeing “Lady Liberty” in the Harbor as they sailed into the United States, as exiles from Eastern Europe.
Lazarus’s words – “Give me your tired, your poor; Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” – dovetail with the credo of the Declaration. Her poem embodied that the greatness of America has been based on our willingness to extend liberty, happiness, economic opportunity, sanctuary, and political self-determination to those ready to come here. The words and ideas are central to what America is all about. They helped attract millions of Jewish immigrants fleeing European oppression in the early twentieth century (including all four of my grandparents)
It is with profound sadness that we note the passing of Dr. D. Walter Cohen, a Gratz alum who served on the Board of Governors from 2002 to 2009. During a long career in dentistry and academia, Walter also served as Dean of the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine, Chancellor of the Drexel University College of Medicine, and President and Chancellor of the Medical College of Pennsylvania. Walter received the Legion of Merit from the Government of France, and eight honorary degrees including an honorary Doctorate in Hebrew Letters from Gratz College in 2009. He also received honorary degrees from universities in the United States, Israel, Greece, France, and Romania.
Walter studied Hebrew at Gratz as a teenager. I met him shortly after I became President of Gratz and he reminisced about being in Hebrew classes with his cousin, Dan Cohen who is now on the Gratz Board of Governors. After school he and Dan would be driven home by the College Dean, Professor William Chomsky. The Reading Room in the Gratz College library is dedicated to William and Elsie Chomsky.
Walter was a beloved member of the Philadelphia community. In addition to his service to Gratz, he was president of the National Museum of American Jewish History and served on the boards of the Jewish Publication Society, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the National Disease Research Interchange. He was the author of more than 20 books and more than 100 scholarly articles. He is survived by many family members, a legion of former students, and thousands of people who learned from him and benefitted from his philanthropy and wisdom.
Gratz will miss this long-time alum and friend of the College. May his memory continue to be a blessing for all who knew him.