Press Releases | Gratz College

Press Releases

September 2, 2020


MELROSE PARK, Pa.— With the start of the 2020-2021 academic year, Gratz College will relaunch its Jewish high school program, transitioning its decades-strong, in-person Jewish Community High School (JCHS) program into a fully online, educational experience for teens in real time. This transition signals a commitment to online learning for all Gratz students.

The academy, expected to draw eighth- through twelfth-grade students from throughout North America, offers live, online courses in Jewish Studies, Hebrew and Yiddish. Funded in part by a grant from the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, Gratz Academy offers students the opportunity to earn college credit and certificates while also engaging them with peers from across the country and allowing them to study with Gratz College faculty.

“Gratz already has a strong online presence,” said Dr. Dina Maiben, director of Gratz Academy. “By transitioning the high school program online, we can broaden our base and make this instruction available to everyone.”

Established in the 1960s, JCHS in the last decade began offering some of its courses online, said Maiben, who also directs Gratz’s Hebrew and Yiddish programs. The launch of the fully online Gratz Academy comes one year after its first piloted online Jewish Studies course and after more than a decade of offering successful online Hebrew language classes.

“In the fall of 2019, we offered a Zoom-based Jewish Studies class that met once per week for one hour,” Maiben said. “Students then had asynchronous follow-up assignments. Based on the success of that class, we decided to move everything online for fall 2020.”

The launch of Gratz Academy also comes as high school programs across the country continue to grapple with the restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. While other programs may be anxious to return to in-person instruction, Gratz Academy will remain online, said Debbie Leon, interim director of Gratz Advance, the college department that houses Gratz Academy.

“Our goal is to be in the online space and stay there, growing and strengthening our program,” Leon said. “We want to make it the very best possible space for teens to do the kind of Jewish learning that respects, engages and challenges them as they grow into Jewish young adults.” 

Gratz Academy courses are offered Sunday mornings and evenings, as well as several weekday evenings. Students typically spend about three hours a week per class. Gratz Academy courses begin Sept. 13. The following courses are available: Putting the Text in Context: The Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East Reason and Belief: The Case For G-d Models of Jewish Leadership Israel and the Middle East Resistance and Rescue in the Holocaust A Taste of Talmud Jewish Ethics and Worldview Hebrew Yiddish Biblical Hebrew

For more information or to register for classes, visit or contact Dina Maiben at [email protected], or 215-635-7300 x162. 

August 24, 2020


MELROSE PARK, Pa.— More than 100 students will officially graduate from Gratz College during a virtual commencement program August 30. The virtual commencement program, the first in Gratz’s 125-year history, will honor the college’s 120th graduating class. Graduates, families, friends, alumni, donors and partners all are invited to be part of this historic occasion.

“This commencement will be a milestone in the history of Gratz College as it marks the 120th graduating class in its 125th anniversary year,” said Dr. Honour Moore, dean of the college. “This is also the first time commencement will be virtual, which allows the entire Gratz community to participate. We are an online school, so having a virtual commencement actually allows us to be more inclusive."

Dr. Steve Piltch, school leadership program director at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, will deliver the commencement address and receive an honorary doctorate from Gratz. Piltch served for 27 years as head of the Shipley School in Bryn Mawr, Pa., and successfully expanded the school’s diversity and accessibility, increasing the population of students of color from 6 percent to 27 percent over a 16-year period. In his commencement address, Piltch calls on Gratz graduates to respond to current events, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the associated economic crisis and the global fight for social justice that gained momentum after the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. “When the pandemic hit, our worlds changed in ways we could never have anticipated,” he says. “It was almost as though it ripped off scabs and revealed scars to expose issues of inequality that had been there in almost every area of life, including but not limited to, healthcare, social justice, the economy, job security, and education.”

With a nod to Gratz’s mission of Tikkun Olam, or repairing the world through education, Piltch encourages all graduates to adopt this “ambitious goal.”

“Regardless of what you do for a living, who you are, or where you live, all of us must start with our families, move to friends, colleagues at work and then the world at large, acknowledging our own biases, pushing ourselves to learn and grow beyond them, and working to listen to all voices more and especially voices that American society has historically ignored,” he says. “We must hold ourselves and others accountable in a respectful and appropriate way for what we and they say and do. We must have those difficult discussions.”


Dr. Samantha Vinokor-Meinrath, who graduated with her EdD in Educational Leadership in August, will deliver the student address. Vinokor-Meinrath also will receive the L. Bernard Rabinowitz Memorial Award for demonstrating “unique leadership, commitment, and service to Jewish institutions, religious and secular.” Additional awards will be given to the following students: Judah Sussman, MA in Jewish Professional Studies, will receive the Rema Feinberg Award ;Philip Moore, EdD in Educational Leadership, will receive the Jonathan and Susan Rosenbaum Prize; Alexis Johnson-Sziy and Golda Retchkiman, both graduating from the MA in Holocaust and Genocide Studies program, will receive the Gratz College Award; Jennifer Wilson, MA in Holocaust and Genocide Studies, will receive the Samuel and Bessie Starr Memorial Prize. Finally, Maintenance Supervisor Ernest Collins will receive the Honorary Alumnus Award. Collins has worked at Gratz for 41 years.

The commencement program, recorded ahead of time, will stream online beginning at 6 p.m. EST on August 30. For more information, to register or to watch the commencement, visit


August 13, 2020

GRATZ PREPARES FOR EXPANSION Dr. Paul Finkelman named chancellor; college seeks new president
MELROSE PARK, Pa.— Recent program growth and increased enrollment have prompted the Board of Governors at Gratz College to announce an expansion and reorientation of the college’s senior staff. At the conclusion of the 2020-21 academic year, President Paul Finkelman will become Chancellor of the College and the Haym Solomon Distinguished Professor of History. This new position will facilitate continued growth of Gratz by allowing Dr. Finkelman to focus on strategic planning, development, new partnerships with other institutions, and expansion of Gratz’s academic footprint. Dr. Finkelman will continue serving as president until a successor is in place.
Appointed president in 2017, Dr. Finkelman has led a period of growth for Gratz. The college has emerged as a premier institution for online learning. While many colleges have experienced steep enrollment declines in recent years, Gratz has increased its student body by more than 35 percent  and is poised for continued growth in the 2020-21 academic year. Students from across the nation are enrolling in Gratz’s graduate programs in education, earning M.Ed. and Ed.D. degrees. Gratz’s graduate program in Holocaust and Genocide Studies , offering the world’s only doctorate in this field , has attracted international attention and enrolls students from across the US, Canada, and more than a dozen countries in Europe, the Middle East, East Asia, and Latin America. The college also offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in Jewish studies, non-profit management, and Hebrew and Yiddish language. 
Gratz has added new master’s degree programs in Interfaith Leadership, Camp Management, and Human Rights studies. The Ph.D. program in Holocaust and Genocide Studies has more than tripled in size since its launch in 2017. The college is expanding online access to the more than 900 recorded interviews and artifacts collected over 40 years as part of the Gratz Holocaust Oral History Archive. 
Gratz’s community programs also have experienced growth in recent years. The college took leadership of the One Book, One Jewish Community program in 2019, and this past March launched [email protected] to provide online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. Continuing education, public lectures, and the Jewish Community High School also were swiftly transitioned to an online format. 
Michelle Portnoff, Esq., recent past chair of the Gratz College Board of Governors, will lead the search for Dr. Finkelman’s successor. The search will commence in fall 2020. 

April 21, 2020


MELROSE PARK, Pa.—A 2013 graduate of Gratz College’s Masters of Arts in Jewish Studies pro- gram has donated $100,000 to support the college’s efforts to enhance student recruitment and alum- ni engagement.

A lifelong learner dedicated to religious studies, Gene R. Hoffman’s college career has spanned seven decades—and counting. He earned his MA at age 84, 10 years after starting at Gratz and nearly 20 years after earning a bachelor’s degree in religious studies from Seton Hall University. Hoffman also earned two associate’s degrees in the early 1950s.

Now 91, Hoffman is working on a doctorate in Jewish Studies. He hopes his donation to Gratz helps raise awareness of the college’s programs, recruit students and ignite in individuals the same passion for learning that he experienced.

“I feel like the education I got at Gratz induced me to go further with my studies,” he said. “I don’t think there are enough words to talk about how important learning is. The more I study, the more I realize I don’t know.”

Dr. Paul Finkelman, president of Gratz College, said the donation will benefit the college for many years to come.

“By enabling Gratz to reach out to more potential students, and to engage with our alumni, Mr. Hoffman’s gift strengthens the connection between our past and our future. His generous support for the college comes as we celebrate our 125th anniversary as the oldest independent Jewish college in the nation, and at a time when our programs are growing and expanding.”

Hoffman’s donation also comes as colleges across the country are closing their doors and moving to online-only courses amid the coronavirus pandemic. Although the gift was not prompted by the pandemic, the funds will help Gratz recruit students and engage with alumni in innovative ways.

“As a college that already offers most programs online, we were able to respond with relative ease to the COVID-19 virus,” Dr. Finkelman said. “Because of Mr. Hoffman’s gift, we will be able to continue reaching out to prospective students and building our alumni community.”
A third-generation automobile salesman, Hoffman is the son of an Oldsmobile dealer and the grandson of a man who sold Stanley Steamers in the early 1900s. He owned a BMW and Chevrolet dealership in Maplewood, N.J., until he retired in 2004, but his interest in higher education began 20 years earlier.

A long-distance runner, Hoffman was training for the New York City Marathon in 1982 when he started thinking about religion. Although he was involved in several Jewish organizations, Hoffman was not particularly observant—or knowledgeable—when it came to his Jewish roots.

“I had a lot of time to think on these long-distance runs,” he said. “I thought about religion and realized that it is such a central force in the world. I wondered why, if religion is so great, we have all these problems in the world.”

Hoffman decided to go back to school to study religion—and he kept going. He’s enrolled in an online PhD program and splits his time between Maplewood, N.J., and Palm Beach, Florida.

“Most of my time right now is spent studying, and I’d like to see other students learning about religion,” he said. “There is no subject that is more important to understand.”



December 3, 2019


MELROSE PARK, Pa.—Gratz College will host Debbie Cenziper, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of a new book about Nazi hunters working inside the U.S. Department of Justice, for its Dec. 12 Shusterman Distinguished Scholar Lecture. The series is endowed at Gratz College through the generosity of Judith and Murray Shusterman.

David Weinstein, an attorney and member of Gratz’s Board of Governors, will interview Cenziper during this event. Weinstein served as co-lead counsel for a class of Jewish survivors and the estates and heirs of Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

A contributing investigative reporter at The Washington Post, Cenziper in late 2016 learned of a team of prosecutors and historians at the Department of Justice who were racing against time to expose members of one of the most lethal killing operations of WWII. Some of these soldiers, recruited to help annihilate the Jewish population of Poland, had disappeared into American communities after the war. Seventy years later, DOJ officials were still tracking them down.
“I was fascinated when I heard there were Nazi collaborators living on U.S. land so many decades after the war,” Cenziper said. “Then I learned there was still an active hunt for them. I had no idea that so many people were able to slip into the U.S., or that they were still hiding in plain sight. That was such an incredible affront.”
Cenziper’s book, Citizen 865: The Hunt for Hitler’s Hidden Soldiers, follows two Jewish orphans from occupied Poland who outran their would-be killers and found safe haven in the United States—only to learn that some of their Nazi oppressors had followed them to the U.S. The story spans seven decades and includes accounts and research from insiders in four countries.
A Philadelphia native, Cenziper said one of the heroes of her book also called Philadelphia home. Ned Stutman, a senior trial attorney at the DOJ who successfully prosecuted a series of Nazi war criminals living in the U.S., grew up in Philadelphia and attended law school at Temple University.
In 2001, Stutman stood in front of a packed federal courtroom in Cleveland, where he presented opening arguments against Nazi death camp guard John Demjanjuk. Stutman spent hours in court that day, Cenziper said, never letting on that just hours before he stepped into the courtroom he had received news that he had an incurable form of cancer.
“He died rather young,” Cenziper said of Stutman. “But he left behind a lasting legacy.”
Cenziper’s book sheds light on an important chapter in WWII history—a chapter that has yet to close, said Gratz President Dr. Paul Finkelman. While much of the Holocaust narrative focuses on 1940s Eastern Europe, Dr. Finkelman noted that this book serves as a reminder that “thousands of war criminals have been hiding in the United States for decades, often lying about their past.”
“Nazis who killed civilians with guns or herded them into cattle cars and then gas chambers, abandoned their uniforms, constructed a false narrative of merely being soldiers or office workers, and slipped unnoticed into the U.S.,” Dr. Finkelman said. “This book tells the redemptive stories of prosecutors tracking these killers down, stripping them of their U.S. citizenship and deporting them. It’s history worth knowing.”
Copies of Citizen 865 will be available for purchase and signing during the Dec. 12 lecture. Although her lecture focuses on the crimes of the Holocaust, Cenziper said she wants attendees to experience a renewed sense of hope.
“I want people to gain a better understanding of the history, but I also want them to leave feeling hopeful and upbeat because there’s a group of men and women out there who spent their whole careers bringing these people to justice,” she said. “Even delayed justice matters.”
Cenziper spent 12 years reporting for The Miami Herald and the Charlotte Observer, receiving the Pulitzer Prize for local reporting for a year-long investigation of housing corruption in Miami. She joined the staff at The Washington Post in 2007. She is now writing part-time for the Post and running the investigative reporting program at Northwestern University.
The Shusterman Distinguished Scholar Lecture runs from 7 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 12, at Gratz College. Admission is free, but registration is recommended. For more information or to register, click here.

October 9, 2019


MELROSE PARK, Pa. - Gratz College has partnered with Gesher Galicia, a non-profit organization that conducts Jewish genealogical and historical research on Galicia, which was formerly a province of Austria-Hungary and now is divided between southeastern Poland and western Ukraine.

Under the partnership agreement, Gesher Galicia will provide access to its database of Jewish records, which includes indexes of vital records and census books, tax records, land and real-estate documents, Holocaust-period records, and records of Galician medical students and doctors. In return, Gratz College will make its collections available to Gesher Galicia.

The agreement also calls for the two organizations to partner in public education programs and other projects relating to Galician history. Additionally, Gratz will offer active members of Gesher Galicia a tuition discount upon admission to one of its online degree programs.

The partnership comes as the first students in Gratz’s Ph.D. Holocaust and Genocide Studies begin their dissertation research. Program Director Dr. Monika Rice expressed enthusiasm for the new agreement.

“This will enable students to use primary documents from the Old Country for their research on rich and multiethnic Central-European heritage,” she said. “Short of visiting Eastern European countries, this archive is the next best thing for researchers.”

Gratz President Dr. Paul Finkelman called the agreement the beginning of a “perfect partnership.” Gratz is poised to become a leader in Holocaust and genocide studies, and partnerships such as this one are essential to making research available, said Finkelman, who is the grandson of two immigrants from Galicia.

“For more than a century, Gratz has been committed to Jewish history,” he said. “In the last half-century, we have also been committed to Holocaust studies. This partnership helps Gratz fulfill both missions.”

The agreement is mutually beneficial, said Dr. Andrew Zalewski, vice president of Gesher Galicia.

“Closer ties with Gratz College reflect our commitment to public education and partnerships with educational and cultural institutions worldwide,” he said. “The exchange of expertise and archival information will undoubtedly enhance what we can offer to students and genealogists interested in Jewish Galicia.”



September 10, 2019


Alice Hoffman will read from her latest book, The World That We Knew, on Nov. 17 at Gratz College.

MELROSE PARK, Pa.— New York Times bestselling author Alice Hoffman will headline the One Book, One Jewish Community kickoff event Nov. 17 at Gratz College.

Gratz selected Hoffman’s latest book, The World That We Knew, as its “one book” for 2019-2020. The author of more than 30 novels, Hoffman will read from the book, which will be published Sept. 24.

The community event is open to the public and includes a question-and-answer session with the author, followed by a book-signing. Books are available for preorder now, and will also be sold at the November event.

“One Book, One Jewish Community is a year of reading, discussions and events that bring together Philadelphia’s Jewish community,” said Dr. Paul Finkelman, president of Gratz College. “While most of our graduate courses are online, Gratz has many public and academic programs such as this lecture. We invite anyone interested in this important book to participate in this event.”

Set in 1941 Berlin, The World That We Knew tells the story of Hanni Kohn and her 12-year-old daughter, Lea, as they make desperate plans for Lea to escape Nazi Germany. Hanni finds her way to a renowned rabbi, but it’s his daughter, Ettie, who offers salvation when she creates a mystical Jewish creature, a rare and unusual golem, who is sworn to protect Lea. Once the golem, Ava, is brought to life, she and Lea and Ettie become eternally entwined, their paths fated to cross, their fortunes linked.

Billed as both historical fiction and magical realism, The World That We Knew tackles the real horrors of the Holocaust and offers a timeless exploration of the battle between good and evil. Its characters encounter loss and resistance, love and sacrifice, mortal truths and fantastical possibilities.

One Book, One Jewish Community was founded in 2006 to engage readers from across Greater Philadelphia in books that speak to diverse aspects of Jewish identity and community. This unique program was created at Jewish Outreach Partnership (now Jewish Learning Venture) by Debbie Leon, who currently leads programs for youth and supplemental education teachers at Gratz College. Gratz has led OBOJC since February 2019.

“This book touches the heart of what we do at Gratz,” said Lori Cohen, director of Adult Jewish Learning at Gratz. “The kickoff and subsequent programming bring our local communities together to discuss a difficult topic, through the common bond of reading and discussion. We hope and anticipate that it will spur conversation, education and dialogue.”

The kickoff event begins at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 17, at Gratz College, 7605 Old York Road, Melrose Park, Pa. Doors open at 1:15 p.m.

Pre-order your copy from the “One Book” Official Bookseller:
Open Book Bookstore
7900 High School Road
Elkins Park, PA 19027

After the book is released on 9/24/19, purchase your book at Open Book Bookstore ( or at Gratz College. Mention promo code: ONEBOOK to receive the discounted rate of $25.00 (including tax). Ask about a bulk discount for book club and member synagogue sales.

Books will also be available for purchase at the Kick-off event at Gratz College on November 17.

For more information or to register for the event, visit


October 8, 2019


MELROSE PARK, Pa.Gratz College has partnered with Gesher Galicia, a non-profit organization that conducts Jewish genealogical and historical research on Galicia, which was formerly a province of Austria-Hungary and now is divided between southeastern Poland and western Ukraine.

Under the partnership agreement, Gesher Galicia will provide access to its database of Jewish records, which includes indexes of vital records and census books, tax records, land and real-estate documents, Holocaust-period records, and records of Galician medical students and doctors. In return, Gratz College will make its collections available to Gesher Galicia.

The agreement also calls for the two organizations to partner in public education programs and other projects relating to Galician history. Additionally, Gratz will offer active members of Gesher Galicia a tuition discount upon admission to one of its online degree programs.

The partnership comes as the first students in Gratz’s Ph.D. Holocaust and Genocide Studies begin their dissertation research. Program Director Dr. Monika Rice expressed enthusiasm for the new agreement.

“This will enable students to use primary documents from the Old Country for their research on rich and multiethnic Central-European heritage,” she said. “Short of visiting Eastern European countries, this archive is the next best thing for researchers.”

Gratz President Dr. Paul Finkelman called the agreement the beginning of a “perfect partnership.” Gratz is poised to become a leader in Holocaust and genocide studies, and partnerships such as this one are essential to making research available, said Finkelman, who is the grandson of two immigrants from Galicia.

“For more than a century, Gratz has been committed to Jewish history,” he said. “In the last half-century, we have also been committed to Holocaust studies. This partnership helps Gratz fulfill both missions.”

The agreement is mutually beneficial, said Dr. Andrew Zalewski, vice president of Gesher Galicia.

“Closer ties with Gratz College reflect our commitment to public education and partnerships with educational and cultural institutions worldwide,” he said. “The exchange of expertise and archival information will undoubtedly enhance what we can offer to students and genealogists interested in Jewish Galicia.”


August 20, 2019


MELROSE PARK, Pa.—Gratz College has welcomed two Philadelphia-area professionals to its Board of Governors.
During a meeting in June, Shelly LaPrince and Sharon F. Liebhaber were elected to serve three-year terms on the board, which has primary responsibility for oversight of the college. The appointments further expand the board’s academic and professional diversity.
LaPrince holds a Ph.D. in Organization and Management and a Masters in Business Administration, and she is currently working on a Masters in Health Administration from Capella University. A healthcare economics consultant for Optum, LaPrince also is an adjunct health care professor at Drexel University. She brings to Gratz’s Board of Governors her experiences as both a professor and student in online programs.
“I teach online and I’m a student online, so I have experience from both perspectives,” she said. “With Gratz’s growing presence in the online platform, I can provide insights from being both an online student and a faculty member. Additionally, with my background in business, I can assist with developing strategies that will maximize shareholder value.”
A resident of Douglassville, Pa., LaPrince is a member of Congregation Temple Beth’El. Her husband of 22 years is a graduate of Gratz’s Master of Arts in Jewish Professional Studies. The couple has two children.
Liebhaber, a public interest lawyer in Pennsylvania, has focused much of her work on issues involving poverty law, domestic violence, the elderly and child advocacy. She worked as an attorney or law school professor in New Hampshire, Michigan, New Jersey and New York before settling in the Philadelphia area where her husband has worked as a rabbi and college professor.
"We chose to move to Pennsylvania because of its Jewish day schools, adult Jewish education and the Jewish community here in the Philadelphia area," Liebhaber said. "We also knew about Gratz and looked forward to being able to take advantage of everything it had to offer."
Liebhaber has taken Hebrew and Yiddish classes at Gratz, as well as courses that offer Continuing Legal Education (CLE) credits. She and her husband of 37 years have two children and five grandchildren.
Also during its June meeting, the Board of Governors named Lance Sussman as board chair. Sussman, who holds a Ph.D. in American Jewish history and currently serves as senior rabbi at Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel, will serve in the position for one year.
Sussman said his goals as chair include finding ways to engage the increasingly diverse Jewish community and to expand the college’s reach. In 2020, Gratz will celebrate its 125th birthday, and Sussman wants to both honor the college’s roots and widen its spectrum in the future.
“Gratz is a child of the 19th Century, with deep roots in Philadelphia’s Jewish community,” he said. “But the Jewish community looks a lot different than it did 125 years ago, and Gratz has become a very diverse place that attracts students and professionals from populations that reflect the world’s changing demographics. The board should also reflect those changes, especially as we continue to strive for diversity, inclusion and harmony while continuing to nourish our Jewish roots.”


May 15, 2019


Drexel University President John Fry

MELROSE PARK, Pa.—The president of a neighboring university will receive an honorary doctorate on Sunday, May 19, during Gratz College’s 119th commencement.

John Fry, president of Drexel University and a pioneer in online and hybrid education, will be hooded during commencement exercises, held in Gratz’s Weisbein Auditorium. Fry, who also will deliver the commencement address, said the two institutions share a kinship beyond their proximity. Drexel is located about 12 miles from Gratz’s campus in Melrose Park and the institutions were established just four years apart—Drexel in 1891 and Gratz in 1895.

“The connections between our two institutions are instructive for what they say about higher education, community and progress in Philadelphia,” Fry said. “Both have grand ambitions that stem from an ethos that reaches all the way back to the founders of Gratz and Drexel.”
Founded by the community leader Hyman Gratz, who was influenced by his sister Rebecca Gratz, a pioneer Jewish educator, Gratz College sought to serve Philadelphia’s Jewish community and educate Hebrew teachers. It was one of two colleges in the region to accept women on par with men. The other was Drexel, established by Wall Street pioneer Anthony J. Drexel and dedicated to raising the educational opportunities for all people, regardless of gender, race, or creed.

Gratz and Drexel are now “evolved institutions,” Fry said. The majority of Gratz students are not Jewish, and the majority of Drexel students are not studying engineering, which, for decades, was Drexel’s core discipline.

The two institutions are growing opportunities and training the next generation of conscientious citizens, Fry said. But Gratz and Drexel have moral obligations as well.
“In the Judaic tradition, this is known as tikkun olam—the belief that we have a duty to repair the world,” he said. “I hope that for our graduates—either those setting out in their careers, or those taking new steps along a well-established route—I hope that the idea that we need to create a better world is appealing. To the extent that this idea guides what you do, I know that you cannot go wrong.”
Gratz will welcome 70 graduates during Sunday’s commencement, including the first graduate from the Jewish Professional Studies program and one graduate of the Education Leadership Ed.D. program. It will also confer degrees on 40 graduates of the M.A. in Education program, 10 graduates of the M.A. in Holocaust and Genocide Studies program, one graduate of the M.A. in Jewish Education program, five graduates of the M.A. in Jewish Studies program, and eight graduates of the M.S. in Nonprofit Management program. Additionally, two students will earn Master’s Plus Certificates in Distinguished Teaching and Learning, and one will receive a Graduate Certificate in Holocaust and Genocide Studies.
“Congratulations to all the graduates,” said Dr. Honour Moore, interim dean of Academic Affairs. “These are significant achievements, and this commencement pays tribute to many long years of hard work and dedication.”
Commencement for the class of 2019 begins at 3 p.m. on Sunday, May 19, at Gratz College, 7605 Old York Road, Melrose Park, PA.




April 25, 2019


Vice Admiral (Ret.) Herman Shelanski will present a lecture titled “Entries from a Jewish Admiral's Log Book: Aircraft Carriers, Torah, and the Inspiration to become an American Jewish Admiral” on April 30.
MELROSE PARK, Pa.—On April 30, Gratz College will host Vice Admiral (Ret.) Herman Shelanski for a lecture titled “Entries from a Jewish Admiral's Log Book: Aircraft Carriers, Torah, and the Inspiration to become an American Jewish Admiral.”
Shelanski retired in 2018 after a 38-year career in the U.S. Navy, during which he rose from a young aviator piloting E-2 Hawkeyes to the highest-ranking Jewish officer in the Navy. His final role was Naval Inspector General, a post he assumed in May 2015.
In his lecture, Shelanski will discuss his personal experiences in the Navy, such as putting a Torah onboard an aircraft carrier. The lecture is the inaugural event in Gratz College’s Rabbi Admiral Aaron Landes Lecture Series.
“The story of my career, my life in the Navy, is really the story of being Jewish in the U.S. military,” Shelanski said. “In many cases, it’s a very positive story of acceptance and change. Philosophically, life in the armed forces has become so much better, so much more diverse, due to Jewish heroes that went before me and paved the way.”
Shelanski will talk about his hero, Commodore Uriah P. Levy, the man who inspired him to serve in the Navy. Levy, also of Philadelphia, was a veteran of the War of 1812 who went on to become the first Jewish commodore of the U.S. Navy and helped end the Navy’s practice of flogging.
“Levy was both an American sailor and a Jew, and that really resonates with me,” Shelanski said. “His family came to America seeking religious freedom after the Inquisition and he was motivated by everything America had to offer—so much that when the War of 1812 broke out, he joined the Navy. Then he suffered through years of intense prejudice, but he overcame it. He stuck it out to make the Navy a more accepting place, laying the foundation for a better Navy today.”
Shelanski holds a Bachelor of Science in Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology from the University of Colorado and a Master of Science in Electrical and Space Systems Engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School. He is a graduate of the Armed Forces Staff College, the Navy Nuclear Power School and Prototype, the Naval Reactors Commanding Officer Nuclear Engineer Course and the Naval War College.

“My personal story is about how being a Jew in the Navy affected me at the beginning of my career and made me a better leader,” Shelanski said. “And it’s about how being a leader in the Navy made me a better Jew.”
His lecture will be introduced by Dr. Michael H. Mittelman, Rear Admiral, USN (Ret.) and president of Salus University.

Shelanski’s experience is part of a larger story about Philadelphia Jews and the military, said Gratz President Dr. Paul Finkelman. The Old York Road corridor in Melrose Park, Pa., where Gratz is located, is home to two historic rabbis who also served as admirals in the Navy: Rabbi Aaron Landes and Rabbi Bertram Korn.

Rabbi Korn served in the Chaplain’s Corps of the U.S. Navy during WWII and was later promoted to rear admiral, becoming the first Jewish chaplain to receive flag rank in any of the armed forces. He also served as senior rabbi at Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel (KI), located just down the road from Gratz. The current senior rabbi at KI, Dr. Lance Sussman, is the vice chair of the Board of Governors of Gratz College.

Rabbi Aaron Landes served in the U.S. Navy Reserve, reaching the rank of rear admiral and retiring in 1989 as head of the Chaplain Corps. For 36 years, he served as rabbi of Beth Sholom Congregation, also located just down the road from Gratz. Landes is the namesake for Gratz’s Rabbi Admiral Aaron Landes Lecture Series.

“The Old York corridor where Gratz is located is absolutely unique in American Jewish history because it is the place where two rabbis who served as heads of the Chaplain Corps also served in synagogues across the street from each other,” Finkelman said. “I see this lecture as closing the circle of Philadelphia’s unique relationship between Jewish leadership and American military history.”

Shelanski’s lecture begins at 7:30 p.m., on Tuesday, April 30. The event is free and open to the public, but registration is requested. Click here to register or for more information.

The Rabbi Admiral Aaron Landes Lecture Series is made possible through the generosity of Bryna and Joshua Landes and Family.


February 12, 2019


MELROSE PARK, Pa.—Gratz College will host Rabbi Abraham Skorka on Wednesday, March 27, for a Shusterman Distinguished Scholar Lecture about interfaith understanding

Pope Francis embraces Rabbi Abraham Skorka and Omar Abboud, an Argentinean Muslim leader, during the Pope's trip to the Holy Land in May 2014. Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Rabbi Skorka, who has had a deep friendship with Pope Francis for many years, will discuss the importance of interfaith dialogue for Jews and other religious communities. His lecture, titled “Interfaith Dialogue: The Way Forward,” is free and open to the public.
Born in Buenos Aires in 1950, Skorka was ordained as a rabbi in 1973 and earned a doctorate degree in chemistry in 1979. Now rabbi of the Jewish Community Benei Tikva, he has published in the fields of biophysics and Biblical and Talmudic research. He is currently serving as a visiting professor at the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.
Nearly 20 years ago, Rabbi Skorka met Jorge Mario Bergoglio (now Pope Francis) when the latter was the archbishop of Buenos Aires. The two recognized a shared commitment to interfaith dialogue and embarked on a series of discussions held alternately at the seat of the bishop and Benei Tikva. These discussions were published in the 2010 book Sobre el Cielo y la Tierra, or On Heaven and Earth.
“This friendship began because he opened the door for interfaith dialogue,” Rabbi Skorka said of the Pope. “He was archbishop of one of the most important Catholic cities in the world and I was a rabbi. He approached me first by making jokes about football, and what came out of that was a real and sincere friendship built on this commitment to interfaith dialogue.”
After his papacy began in 2013, Pope Francis sought Rabbi Skorka’s companionship during public dialogues about interfaith relationships. In September 2015, Pope Francis and Rabbi Skorka visited Saint Joseph’s University for the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, the Second Vatican Council’s document calling for a transformed relationship between the Catholic and Jewish faiths. There, the Pope blessed “Synagoga and Ecclesia in Our Time,” a bronze sculpture that uses female figures to represent the Synagogue and the Church. He and Rabbi Skorka both spoke to an audience that topped 400 people.
In February 2019, Pope Francis and Rabbi Skorka again made headlines when they visited the United Arab Emirates. There, Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al Azhar signed a Document on Human Fraternity, calling on people around the globe to unite to bring about interfaith harmony and spread a vital message of peace.
“In interfaith relationships, the emphasis is on relationships,” Rabbi Skorka said. “A relationship is much more than mere words. It’s an attitude of understanding the other, of forming situations in which you are putting yourself in the place of the other and coming to a deep understanding of the sentiments of the other.”
Rabbi Skorka also accompanied Pope Francis to the Holy Land in May 2014 and to Auschwitz-Birkenau in July 2016. In Auschwitz, Rabbi Skorka fielded questions from Polish journalists who asked him about his friendship with the Pope.
“They asked what I ate and drank with the Pope,” he said, “but they also asked serious questions about why it’s important to have interfaith dialogue. I told them that people lived in the barracks, in miserable conditions, before facing death. I told them that the barracks would not exist if, 80 years ago, a reality of dialogue existed.”
“Dialogue means putting yourself in the place of the other,” Rabbi Skorka said. “It means being empathic with the other, to understand the other, to see in the other your brother. The Holocaust occurred because faith became a barrier that divided one person from the other, but even after so many bad things have happened, it’s possible to sit around the table and discover the brotherhood that connects one to the other.”
Rabbi Skorka’s lecture promises to entertain and inform, said Dr. Ruth Sandberg, the Leonard and Ethel Landau Professor of Rabbinics at Gratz and director of the Interfaith Leadership program. Skorka will define interfaith dialogue and discuss ways to put it into action.
“Rabbi Skorka has really become a Jewish partner who accompanies the Pope on these important trips,” Sandberg said. “This relationship really epitomizes interfaith dialogue and serves as an example for why all faiths need to be involved in these conversations. Everyone needs a voice, but they also need to hear the other voices.”
The Shusterman Distinguished Scholar Lecture begins at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 27, at Gratz College, 7605 Old York Road, Melrose Park, Pa. Admission is free, but pre-registration is recommended. Click here to register or for more information.

Supported by a major endowment, the Shusterman series is dedicated to bringing outstanding programs to Gratz College. Gratz College is grateful for the generosity and foresight of Judith (z”l) and Murray (z”l) Shusterman.


February 12, 2019

MELROSE PARK, Pa.—Dr. Amos N. Guiora, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and a law professor at the University of Utah, will headline the annual Stern Family Institute lecture on February 19 at Gratz College.

Guiora, who holds a B.A. from Kenyon College, a J.D. from Case Western Reserve University of Law and a Ph.D. from Leiden University, served for 20 years as a senior officer in the IDF’s Judge Advocate General Corps. Drawing on his military and academic backgrounds, Guiora will address the challenges of developing and implementing counterterrorism policies while balancing individual rights with national security rights.
“Counterterrorism is only going to be effective if it’s subject to the rule of law,” Guiora said. “If it’s not, then you lose your moral standing and any measures you take—even under the auspices of the state—will be in violation of the rules of war, inherently illegal and ultimately ineffective.”
Guiora has published extensively on the issues of national security, the limits of interrogation, religion and terrorism, the limits of power, multiculturalism, and human rights. His most recent work includes The Crime of Complicity: The Bystander in the Holocaust (2017) and Earl Warren, Ernesto Miranda and Terrorism (2018).
The topics of counterterrorism and the limits of power are important today, Guiora said. United States history is rife with examples of illegal military actions—such as Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1942 order to relocate 120,000 Japanese Americans to internment camps or George W. Bush’s approval of enhanced interrogation techniques in the aftermath of 9/11.
“Those are classic examples of overreaction,” Guiora said. “It’s really important for the wider audience to understand the limits of power and the dangers of not respecting that power, and that’s relevant whether one is speaking about Israel or the United States. Self-imposed restraints are necessary in order to ensure that the rule of law is respected regardless of the threat posed.”
Dr. Paul Finkelman, president of Gratz College, said the topic of Guiora’s lecture is especially relevant for Gratz, which in 2017 launched the country’s only online Ph.D. program in Holocaust and Genocide Studies. Guiora’s 2017 book, The Bystander in the Holocaust, explores the crime of complicity during the darkest era of Jewish history.
“Guiora is the son of two Holocaust survivors,” Finkelman said. “He was born in Israel and educated in the United States. He has become an internationally renowned expert on the laws of war and interrogation. Because of his expertise on issues of war and peace in the Middle East, he is the ideal person to give the Stern Family Institute lecture.”
Endowed by the family of Harry Stern, the Stern Family Institute for Israel Studies seeks to educate American Jewry about complex issues related to Israel and Zionism. Harry Stern’s son, Jerry, said the annual lecture exposes the Gratz community to critical discussions about timely topics.
“It was my father’s intent to bring to Gratz those academics and scholars associated with thinktanks and institutions of higher learning who ordinarily wouldn’t come here,” Jerry Stern said. “This lecture series allows Gratz to benefit from the latest expertise and knowledge of topics pertinent to the Jewish community.”
Guiora’s lecture, titled “Human Rights, Terrorism, and the Dilemma of Israeli Democracy,” begins at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 19, in the Gratz College Reading Room. This event is open to the public, but registration is recommended. CLE credit is available. Click here for more information or to register.

Alysa Landry | Communications Liaison | [email protected]
Dodi Klimoff | Executive Assistant to the President | [email protected]
Naomi Housman | Director of Institutional Advancement | [email protected]


January 22, 2019

MELROSE PARK, Pa.— In honor of the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust, Gratz College on Sunday, Jan. 27, will host a screening of “Who Will Write Our History,” a film that documents the account of historian Emanuel Ringelblum and a group of journalists, scholars and community leaders in the Warsaw Ghetto who risked everything to ensure their archives of stories survived.

The screening is one of more than 200 held in venues across the United States and in more than 40 countries. It is a collaborative event sponsored by Gratz College, the Anti-Defamation League of Philadelphia, the Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center, the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Holocaust Remembrance Foundation.

“As a leader in the field of Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Gratz College is committed to facilitating thoughtful discourse,” said Lori Cohen, director of Adult Jewish Learning at Gratz. “Hosting this film with our local partners in Holocaust education aligns with our core mission.”

“With this event, we want to educate the community about the residents of the Warsaw Ghetto who risked their lives to tell their own stories,” Cohen said. “But we also want to build on the point of the movie, which is the value of histories written by the victims themselves. They sacrificed everything so the Holocaust will never be forgotten.”

The film, written and directed by Roberta Grossman with executive producer Nancy Spielberg, combines the writings of Ringelblum and his group with new interviews, rarely seen footage and dramatizations that detail life in the ghetto from the Jewish perspective. Although most of the 450,000 Jews who were sealed in the Warsaw Ghetto did not survive, their diaries, essays, poems and songs comprising 60,000 pages of documentation did survive and became the most important cache of eyewitness accounts from the war.

“This movie reflects the importance of the issues of memory and identity,” said Rabbi Batya Glazer, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. “The centrality of the Holocaust on the Jewish community’s undertaking of ourselves, of our responsibility to the survivors and to the memory of the victims, and to our future as a people cannot be overestimated. This is an opportunity to reflect not only on the strength and resilience of the individuals trapped in the Warsaw Ghetto, but on the lives of real people who lived and celebrated their lives as part of a flawed society that succumbed to the worst of human nature.”

Director Roberta Grossman said the film is especially important in today’s world where people are questioning the truth. Told from the Jewish perspective, the film offers unique insights into a history that was largely told by German victors.

“Which side of the story becomes the official narrative?” Grossman said. “Whose accounts do we elevate to the level of ‘truth,’ and whose do we ignore or even bury? What is real and what is fake? These are top-of-mind questions in 2019, but they also preoccupied a courageous group of resistance fighters imprisoned in the Warsaw Ghetto in World War II. This, in my opinion, is the most important unknown story of the Holocaust.”

All are invited to attend the screening at Gratz, which begins at 12:30 p.m. with introductory remarks by Josey Fisher, director of Gratz’s Holocaust Oral History Archive. The film begins at 1 p.m. and will be followed by a Facebook LIVE discussion with author Samuel Kassow, Executive Producer Nancy Spielberg and Director Robert Grossman.

The discussion will be broadcast from UNESCO Headquarters in Paris and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. It will reach hundreds of thousands of viewers simultaneously, watching from movie theaters, churches, mosques, synagogues, museums and community centers worldwide.

Doors open at 11:45 a.m. Admission is $10 in advance or $15 at the door.

For more information or to register, visit

Alysa Landry | Communications Liaison | [email protected]
Lori Cohen | Director of Adult Jewish Learning | [email protected]
Naomi Housman | Director of Institutional Advancement | [email protected]



January 23, 2019

MELROSE PARK, Pa.— Gratz College has launched a new Master of Science in Camp Administration and Leadership, a program designed to empower camp professionals with the knowledge and skills necessary for successful camp leadership.

The 36-credit, online program begins in February 2019 and is the only master’s degree program of its kind in the country. Courses include foundations in camp administration; leadership for the camp professional; camp law and ethics; communication and collaboration; management and marketing; curriculum and program development; personnel and human resources; supervision; and inclusion and special needs.

The program culminates with a practicum in the camp setting.

“This is really for anyone looking for professional development or credentials in camp administration,” program director Dave Malter said. “In an increasingly competitive world where camp administrators need to be the best, this is a program for beginning and experienced camp leaders. It’s geared toward giving professionals at any level a stronger background in running camp.”

Malter, who also serves as director of Gratz’s Master of Education program, holds a bachelor’s degree in communications and a master’s degree in English. He’s working on a doctorate in education from the Jewish Theological Seminary, where he’s studying leadership trends at Jewish camps.

Malter teaches business communication at Temple University and works as a consultant for camps across the country and even internationally. He’s been involved with camps since he attended his first camp at age 6 and he believes a master’s degree program will help the field grow, develop and professionalize.

“I’m a huge believer in both education and camp, and bringing the two together is important,” he said. “This program will be like going to camp or business conference every day until you finish the degree. It’s taught by experienced people from the camp field, from the business sector and from a legal background. Really, it’s just a great professional development piece.”

Alysa Landry | Communications Liaison | [email protected]
Dodi Klimoff | Executive Assistant to the President | [email protected].edu
Naomi Housman | Director of Institutional Advancement | [email protected]



December 4, 2018
Jewish Learning Venture and Gratz College Announce Transition for One Book, One Jewish Community Program

Jewish Learning Venture (JLV) and Gratz College are pleased and excited to announce that as of February 2019 One Book, One Jewish Community (OBOJC) will be housed at Gratz College. JLV empowers families to make Judaism more relevant and meaningful for themselves. Gratz is the nation’s oldest independent Jewish college.

Since Jewish Learning Venture launched OBOJC twelve years ago Gratz has been a key partner. A committee of dedicated community volunteers will continue to support OBOJC at Gratz with the annual book selection, resource guide and other related activities.

JLV and Gratz will jointly sponsor the kickoff event for the 2018-19 selection, The Last Watchman of Old Cairo, by Michael David Lukas, at 3 pm on Sunday, January 13, at Gratz College (7605 Old York Road, Melrose Park, PA). This community event is open to the public and includes a presentation and book signing with the author. Books will be available for purchase at the event.

Lukas also is the author of the internationally best-selling novel, The Oracle of Stamboul, which was a finalist for the California Book Award and the Harold U. Ribalow Prize. It has been published in 15 languages. He is a graduate of Brown University and was a Fulbright Scholar in Turkey and a student at the American University of Cairo. His writing has appeared in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times and he works at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at UC Berkeley.

The Last Watchman of Old Cairo is a fascinating, multi-generational novel about Joseph, a man who seeks to unravel a centuries-old family secret that ties him to both the Muslim men of his family and his American Jewish mother. Connecting with his family in Egypt, Joseph learns about the family “business” of serving as watchmen of the ancient Ibn Ezra Synagogue. The story includes the fascinating discovery of the Cairo Genizah, a treasure trove of medieval Jewish documents, including the “Ezra Scroll.” British sisters and scholars, Agnes and Margaret Smith, and rabbi and educator Solomon Schechter are the main characters in this chapter in history. Among many other things, this is a story of family, cultural identity and the role of women in academia.

Jewish Learning Venture’s CEO, Rabbi Philip Warmflash said, “One Book has been a signature program of Jewish Learning Venture for 12 years – and now we are so pleased that Gratz College will continue to share important Jewish books with our community. We look forward to the additional opportunities that Gratz can also make available as features of OBOJC in the future.”

Dr. Paul Finkelman, President of Gratz College, noted that this transition fits with Gratz’s historic commitment to adult education and Jewish education. “I am delighted that Gratz can help continue this program throughout Jewish Philadelphia,” he said. “As an online college, we also have the capacity engage our students and alumni from across the region, the nation -- and the world -- in One Book, One Jewish Community.”

Alyse Unterberger, Director, Special Initiatives, Jewish Learning Venture
[email protected]
Alysa Landry; Communications Liaison, Gratz College
[email protected]
Naomi Housman; Director of Institutional Advancement, Gratz College
[email protected]



November 6, 2018
Gratz College Hosts Arnold and Esthere Tuzman Memorial Holocaust Teach-In

MELROSE PARK, Pa.On Sunday, November 11, Gratz College will host its biennial Arnold and Esther Tuzman Memorial Holocaust Teach-In, a program aimed at providing an intensive learning experience for the community at large as well as tools for educators to teach the next generation about the Holocaust.
Sunday’s program, held on the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, features a keynote address by Dr. Steven Luckert, senior program curator at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. In his lecture, “Artifacts and Memories,” Dr. Luckert will explore the stories behind the artifacts displayed in the museum—like a wedding dress made from a German parachute and worn by several survivors at their weddings in a displaced persons camp in 1946.
“For most of history, museums have been about art or science or things that make people feel good,” said Dr. Paul Finkelman, president of Gratz College. “The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum is all about educating people about things that are truly hard to think about.”
The program runs from 1:30 to 5:45 p.m., with a morning workshop exclusively for teachers presented by Randi Boyette, education director for the Anti-Defamation League. The afternoon features seminars on Polish concentration camps, hidden children and their protectors, rescue of the Danish Jews, Nazi propaganda, the Nuremberg Trials, and other topics.
“This is a chance for anyone to learn about the Holocaust from personal items,” Dr. Finkelman said. “It’s important to read about the Holocaust or see movies about it, but when you talk to someone who survived or touch an artifact, history becomes more real. There will not always be Holocaust survivors, but there will always be artifacts.”
The Teach-In is the first since Gratz launched its new Ph.D. program in Holocaust and Genocide Studies last year. The program director, Dr. Monika Rice, said the event presents attendees with the most current scholarship in the field.
“This allows teachers, lawyers, other professionals and the general public to become acquainted with some of the most important events, debates and issues within the field of Holocaust and genocide studies,” she said.
This program is made possible by the financial support of the Arnold and Esther Tuzman Holocaust Education Fund. Arnold and Esther Tuzman each fled their homes as teens to escape the Nazis. Esther was hidden by a Polish Catholic farmer. After imprisonment in a Siberian labor camp, Arnold served in the Polish-Russian army. Still in uniform after V-day, Arnold gave a ride to a beautiful young woman named Esther. They married in 1946 and immigrated to the US in 1947. The Tuzman family is proud to support The Arnold and Esther Tuzman Holocaust Memorial Holocaust Teach-In.



October 23, 2018
Gratz College Hosts Hasia Diner For Lecture on Julius Rosenwald

Julius Rosenwald

MELROSE PARK - Gratz College will host Dr. Hasia R. Diner on Sunday, October 28, for a Shusterman Distinguished Scholar Lecture about Julius Rosenwald, an American Jew, social activist and philanthropist who took up the cause of African Americans during the Jim Crow era.

Dr. Hasia R. Diner

Dr. Diner, the Paul S. and Sylvia Steinberg Professor of American Jewish History and director of the Goren-Goldstein Center for American Jewish History at New York University, has been writing about Rosenwald for four decades. Her latest book, Julius Rosenwald: Repairing the World (available for purchase at the lecture), takes an unflinching look at a complicated man who was sympathetic toward the plight of African Americans.
Born in Springfield, Ill., in 1862 to Jewish immigrants from Germany, Rosenwald made his fortune as president of Sears, Roebuck and Company. Early on, he began giving his money away to African American causes, most famously establishing the Rosenwald Fund. The fund donated millions in matching dollars for the education of African American children in the South and paid for white principals and superintendents in the South to attend training.
Rosenwald did not, however, use his money to push for integration, Dr. Diner said.
“Rosenwald believed the real issue was economic equality,” she said. “That would not be attained unless the African American population was literate, educated and economically independent. That is how he defined what was needed and where he put his money.”
As a Jew living in Chicago, Rosenwald was not personally affected by racism or anti-Semitism, Dr. Diner said. But he was concerned about discrimination and worked to end economic inequality.
“It’s important to note that, as a Jew in America, Rosenwald was a beneficiary of white privilege,” Dr. Diner said. “In many ways, he was never personally touched by discrimination, but he dedicated much of his resources to fighting for groups that have been oppressed.”
Rosenwald was deeply committed to communal engagement. A study of his life and philanthropy offers a nuanced understanding not only of African American history during Jim Crow, but also American Jewish life in the early twentieth history.
“What I’m interested in is Rosenwald as a Jew,” Dr. Diner said. “What role did his Jewishness play in his engagement with African Americans? And how did Jews, who found themselves on the outskirts of society, make sense of racism in America?”
Rosenwald died in 1932, but his eldest son, Lessing J. Rosenwald, took over Sears, Roebuck and Company, running the business from Philadelphia. He had an estate in Jenkintown, which he donated to Abington Township and is now the Abington Art Center. He was a member of Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel of Elkins Park.
The Shusterman Distinguished Scholar Lecture is free and open to the public, though registration is requested. The lecture begins at 7 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 28, at Gratz College, 7605 Old York Road, Melrose Park, Pa.

For more information, contact Mindy Cohen at 215-635-7300 x155 or [email protected].



September 13, 2018
Gratz President Cited in Landmark Religious Freedom Case

MELROSE PARK, Pa.—A U.S. District Court judge cited Dr. Paul Finkelman, president of Gratz College, a number of times in a ruling that upholds religious liberty in Pennsylvania.

Christopher C. Conner, chief judge of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, on Aug. 29 ruled against the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in a case that questioned the constitutionality of a policy limiting who can pray at the beginning of legislative sessions. Chief Judge Conner relied heavily on an expert report from Dr. Finkelman, president of Gratz College, citing him four times by name and his report a few more times in the 36-page opinion.

The House opens most of its daily legislative sessions with a prayer or invocation delivered either by a House member or an invited guest chaplain. It maintains a policy that requires guest chaplains to be members of “a regularly established church or religious organization” and to subscribe to a belief in God or a divine power.

In his ruling, Chief Judge Conner found that the guest chaplain policy violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment by purposefully discriminating against individuals on the basis of religion. The policy denies individuals with nontheistic beliefs the opportunity to deliver an invocation before the House, he wrote in his opinion.

This policy “categorically excludes those who would present an uplifting message of hope, mutual respect, and peace yet—based upon their nontheistic beliefs—would fail to incorporate theistic entreaties to a divine or higher power,” Chief Judge Conner wrote. He also found that, before it changed its policy in early 2017, the House unconstitutionally coerced visitors to standing during the opening prayer and thereby participate in a religious exercise.

Dr. Finkelman, a legal historian who has written extensively on issues of civil and religious rights, generated a comprehensive report detailing the use of chaplains by the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives—and finding no historical evidence of nontheists requesting or being denied the opportunity to pray in either chamber of Congress.

Dr. Finkelman’s report notes that when Congress first created chaplaincies in 1789, it passed a resolution that sought to reflect religious diversity. Neither federal nor state legislative history supports the intentional exclusion of nontheistic guest chaplains but, in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, nontheists likely did not let their beliefs become public because of the threat of imprisonment or “severe physical punishment.”

Dr. Finkelman noted that this case “expands religious liberty in Pennsylvania, and hopefully the whole nation, by protecting the spiritual and intellectual beliefs of all Americans.” He also noted the irony of the legislature’s policy.

“Pennsylvania was founded by William Penn, who was jailed in England for his refusal to support the established church and for his public preaching,” Dr. Finkelman said. “He established the Pennsylvania colony as a haven for all people, of all beliefs. He would have been appalled by legislature discriminating against residents of the state because of their beliefs.” 

Even more ironic, Dr. Finkelman said, is Pennsylvania’s Revolution-era history.

“Benjamin Franklin, the most famous citizen of the state, was not a member of any organized church, and was uncertain about the existence of God,” he said. “Before this case, the state legislature would not have allowed Franklin to give an invocation.”

The case was brought by seven nontheist Pennsylvania residents who desire to deliver an opening invocation before the House. The Plaintiffs—joined by groups including Pennsylvania Nonbelievers, Inc., and the Philadelphia Ethical Society—claim that such invocations would not proselytize or disparage any faith. Instead, the prayers would be “positive, uplifting, unifying, and respectful toward all.”

Four of the plaintiffs are ordained clergy, clergy leaders or ministers.

The court granted partial summary judgment, declaratory judgment and permanent injunctive relief to the plaintiffs. Defendants are expected to appeal.

Click here for a copy of the ruling.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018
Gratz Welcomes Two New Members of Our Board of Governors

MELROSE PARK, Pa.—Gratz College has welcomed two prestigious educators as members of its Board of Governors.

In separate meetings earlier this year, Zipora Schorr, Ed.D., and R. Owen Williams, Ph.D., were appointed to the board, which has primary responsibility for oversight of the college. The appointments bring board membership to 25 and expand the board’s professional and geographic diversity.

“It’s exciting to have such accomplished educators join the Gratz Board,” said Dr. Paul Finkelman, president of Gratz College. “Both of our new board members bring years of educational experience and scholarly accomplishment to the board.”


Zipora Schorr, Ed.D.

Schorr, director of education for Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School in Baltimore, Md., earned her Ed.D. in educational leadership from Gratz College. In 2003, Schorr received the prestigious Covenant Foundation Award for Exceptional Jewish Educators, and in 2013 she received the Award for Educational Excellence in the Diaspora from the World Council for Torah Education.

“I first came to Gratz as a student looking for a school that combined my passions: educational leadership and Jewish studies,” Schorr said. “When I was asked to be on the board, I was impressed by the depth of the people I would be working with. I felt like I could help Gratz grow its footprint.”

Williams, who holds a Ph.D. in history from Yale University, is president of the Associated Colleges of the South and makes his home in Atlanta, Ga. He brings substantial experience in both finance and college administration.

Williams has the distinction of being the first non-Jewish member of the Gratz Board of Governors.

“I am not Jewish, but I’m deeply interested in Jewish history and current affairs,” he said. “To be invited to be a member of the Board of Governors is an enormous honor.

The Board of Governors supports as many as 30 members. Individuals are nominated by the college president or existing board members. After a vetting process, members are asked to join the board for three-year terms.

The board, which meets six times per year, selects the president of the college and establishes policies related to governance, course of studies and management of the college's resources and assets. 

The appointments of the new members come as Gratz expands its Jewish learning opportunities and grows its academic repertoire. In 2017, it launched the country’s first online Ph.D. program in Holocaust and Genocide Studies, which attracts students and faculty from around the globe. In early 2018, Gratz launched on online M.A. in Interfaith Leadership.


R. Owen Williams, Ph.D.

Williams said Gratz’s focus on both Jewish history and interfaith dialogue sets it up as an academic leader in areas that are important on a global scale.

“The Jewish story is a central element of the human story, and as a historian, that interests me a great deal. As a human, it interests me even more,” he said. “From my perspective, the idea of a Jewish college for Jewish students is less important than a Jewish college for the purpose of understanding Jewish history. I’m extremely enthusiastic about an integrated understanding of the human story and condition. I think it’s imperative that the Jewish story in all its glory and trial be properly recounted and understood.”

Gratz also continues to operate a Jewish community high school and offer adult Jewish learning courses. Schorr, who has decades of experience in the Jewish day school and leadership communities, called Gratz a “beautiful little secret” with a mission to expand its reach.

“Gratz has some work to do in making itself a more visible presence in the Jewish education world,” she said. “It is a gem that can absolutely grow its footprint. It is a truly unique and valuable place of higher learning that should appeal to a much broader range of interested students, and at the same time attract

“Gratz has some work to do in making itself a more visible presence in the Jewish education world,” she said. “It is a gem that can absolutely grow its footprint. It is a truly unique and valuable place of higher learning that should appeal to a much broader range of interested students.”