Emanu-El is 1st synagogue to get USF Medallion award

Many Jewish organizations strive to be a "light unto the nations" as per the biblical injunction.

Congregation Emanu-El of San Francisco has taken the directive to heart.

The University of San Francisco recently awarded the Reform synagogue the USF Medallion, marking the first time a synagogue — local or otherwise — has received it.

"The award is USF's highest honor," said Andrew Heinze, director of Swig Judaic Studies program at USF for the past three years.

He said the award is given to individuals, organizations and institutions that exemplify a commitment to the educational and community ideals espoused by the mission of the Jesuit university.

The institution recently gave the award to Emanu-El at a commencement ceremony for two of its graduate programs. Twelve other recipients received the medallion at other graduation ceremonies.

Rabbi Stephen Pearce accepted the award on behalf of Congregation Emanu-El, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year.

At the ceremony, Heinzel said, the congregation "has upheld and promoted the values of social justice, civic responsibility and religious pluralism."

Heinze added, "It is in acknowledgement of the working relationship that Temple Emanu-El has set up over the years towards global interfaith friendship and understanding.

"Rabbi Pearce has been an exemplar of this commitment to knowledge and justice and moral perspective."

Pearce has taught in USF's Judaic studies department. He also did pulpit exchanges with the Rev. John P. Schlegel, now departing president of USF and the presenter of the award.

Schlegel and Pearce are two of the four co-authors of the book, "Building Wisdom's House: A Book of Values For Our Times."

Pearce described USF as a "fascinating" place because it is a Catholic university attended by "Latinos, Asians, Catholics and Jews. There are a significant amount of Jewish Russian émigrés who take courses there."

Whenever there was a particular area of concern regarding both religious communities, Pearce said that he and Schlegel worked together. They also wrote op-ed pieces for several newspapers on topics affecting both Jews and Christians.

James Wiser, USF's provost and acting president, acknowledged that the award was partly based on the great "warmth" of the relationship between Pearce and Schlegel.

But, he added, it was definitely meant for the entire congregation, as well.