The 83rd YIVO Annual Benefit Dinner, held on May 13, 2008, opened with a cocktail reception and tours of the new YIVO exhibition, "From Dream to Reality: Zionism and the Birth of Israel", which marks the 6oth anniversary of the creation of the State of Israel. The award ceremony began after the reception, and Lawrence H. Summers, past president of Harvard University and former Secretary of the U.S. Treasury, was honored with the YIVO Lifetime Achievement Award. The YIVO annual benefit is the chief fundraising event of the year, and the 2008 dinner has raised $1.2 million.
Martin Peretz, longtime YIVO National Board member and Chair of the YIVO Board of Overseers, and his dinner co-chair, William A. Ackman, emceed the award ceremony. The 2008 Dinner Committee included four Nobel laureates in Economics among the Honorary Co-Chairs: Kenneth J. Arrow, Gary S. Becker, Paul A. Samuelson and Robert M. Solow, as well as Yo-Yo Ma and Lily Safra.
After Bruce Slovin, Chair of YIVO, greeting the more than 250 YIVO friends and supporters, Elisa New, professor of English at Harvard University and wife of Dr. Summers, began the introductions by describing her own family’s connections to Jewish Eastern Europe, specifically to Russia and Lithuania. In her personal search for family history – which involved assistance from YIVO – she found that one side of her family came from Shavl, Lithuania, making her part of the greater Litvak family.
Henry Rosovsky, professor of economics emeritus at Harvard University, spoke about Lawrence Summers’ and his profound impact on the university. He noted that Summers was fearless in his leadership, a pioneer who also was a special friend and advocate for the students at Harvard.
YIVO was proud to honor Lawrence H. Summers, the Charles W. Eliot University Professor at Harvard, who served as the 27th president of Harvard University from 2001 to 2006. From 1999 to 2001, Dr. Summers served as Secretary of the Treasury of the United States. He was Chief Economist of the World Bank from 1991 to1993, and in 2006 he was a member of the Panel of Eminent Persons, which reviewed the work of The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. Prior to this service, Dr. Summers was a professor of economics at Harvard and MIT. His research contributions were recognized when he received the John Bates Clark Medal in 1993, given every two years to the outstanding American economist under the age of 40. Dr. Summers was the first social scientist to win the Alan T. Waterman Award from the National Science Foundation for outstanding scientific achievement in 1987.
Lawrence Summers, in accepting the YIVO Lifetime Achievement Award, reflected on the importance of history, and the institutions that help researchers in the study of history and culture, and YIVO in particular. In his remarks he urged those present to live lives worthy of study by upcoming and future generations. The history we make as individuals, families, communities, institutions and governments should be worthy, should be the best we can do, should be fodder for study by future academics and scholars. YIVO, as a renowned archive and library, has a very crucial role to play in ensuring that Jewish history is not forgotten or downplayed.
Later as dinner began, Motl Zelmanowicz, who has served as a YIVO Trustee for many years, addressed everyone in Yiddish, closing with the injunctions, “Long live the Jewish People! Long live YIVO!”
A special thanks goes out to Martin Peretz and William Ackman for their leadership and vision in making the 2008 YIVO Annual Benefit Dinner such a great success.