Dr. Ronald B. Sobel, President of LBI
In 1905, a then young Rabbi Leo Baeck wrote, “What gives our life its worth is what we become, not which family we come from.” Though the dark shadows of those 12 years between 1933 and 1945 still linger, what Germany has become to herself, to Europe, to the world, and to the Jewish people, is a glory to behold and a benediction to revere.
That same 1905 sentence, like tens and thousands of other sentences authored by Rabbi Baeck over the ensuing decades, reveals his passion for the idealism of universalism and his life-long commitment to enhancing the dignity of every human being, regardless of faith and notwithstanding ethnicity or any other category that divides the human family.
In your life, Mr. President, you too have dramatically and courageously demonstrated an unflagging commitment to individual human worth. The ideas of freedom and democracy lie at the core of your humanness. As Rabbi Leo Baeck was not intimidated by the horrors of Nazi Facism, so you, as well, never cowered beneath the boots of brutal Soviet Communism. Like Rabbi Leo Baeck, Mr. President, you mirror those qualities that make for human greatness. Thus the Leo Baeck Institute honors itself in honoring you.
The Institute was born a decade after the concentration camps were liberated, at a time when the smells of the crematoria in Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Treblinka, and the other places of shame and horror were still polluting the air. A group of leading intellectuals, forced out of Germany and Austria in the 1930s, were determined to preserve the shattered remains of their devastated heritage—a heritage that was, and today remains, integral to the history of Germany itself.
It is simply impossible to fully understand or completely appreciate the history of Germany, especially its 19th – and 20th -century narratives, without simultaneously knowing the richness of German-speaking Jewry’s contributions to literature, music, medicine, the arts, and religion.
This is why the Institute was created and in the process has become the world’s largest archival and research center devoted exclusively to documenting this vast history of creative richness over multiple centuries. With offices and centers in New York, Berlin, London, and Jerusalem, we are, and will continue to be, a rebuke to Nazism and a repudiation of Hitler. We work to ensure that Germany and the world will long remember and revere the contributions German Jews gave to the country they loved. Mr. President, again, we thank you for allowing us to honor you.