Gov. Pataki Becomes Yeshiva U. Graduate
By Tim Boxer

ONFERRING an honorary Doctor of Laws degree on New York Gov. George Pataki, Yeshiva University president Dr. Norman Lamm praised him for his public service, compassion and political achievements. “You stand tall,” Lamm said to the governor who towered over everyone on the dais.

That brought chuckles from the audience of 1,000 at YU’s 75th annual dinner and convocation at Manhattan’s Waldorf-Astoria. It was the most successful dinner ever; bringing $1.4 million, according to board chairman David Gottesman.

Dr. Herbert Dobrinsky, vice president for academic affairs, stood on tiptoes to place the hood on the governor’s shoulders. “I better duck,” said Pataki.

After Lamm read the honorary citation, praising the governor as a lawyer, farmer and politician, Pataki raised his diploma and exclaimed, “Now I am a Yeshiva graduate!”

Philanthropists Marilyn Resnick Katz, Rae Kushner, Dr. Edward Steinberg and Jay and Jeanie Schottenstein also received diplomas.

“You made me feel at home,” Pataki said. “Growing up in Peekskill, I’ve always had a close relationship with educational institutions and Jewish centers.”

His political philosophy, he said, concerns good government, and that is not about left or right, but what works.

“Casting aside all notions of left and right,” he said, “we were able to approve a $1,75 billion environmental bond act to make New York a better place for our children. That’s not moving New York left or right, but moving up.”

A highlight of the dinner was the presentation of the first annual Academic Program of the Year Award. It went to the Innocence Project at the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law. The program, founded in 1992 by attorney Barry Scheck and adjunct professor Peter Neufeld, assists 300 individuals each year, in prison and on death row, who believe their innocence can be proved through DNA testing.

Dennis Fritz, of Kansas City, Missouri, who served 12 years in prison on a murder charge that was finally overturned after a DNA test, came to the dinner to thank Scheck and Neufeld.

“I find it beyond words to express how I feel to be a free man again,” he said.

 “We don’t have a perfect judicial system. Even though I got shafted, I still believe we have the best system in the world.”

Lamm said Scheck used DNA “to disprove the maxim that where there’s smoke there’s fire. Too often the smoke is just fog.

“The Innocence Project has its roots in Jewish tradition. The Rambam maintained that it is better to free 1,000 sinners than imprison one innocent man."


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