President Barack Obama visited Binghamton University, part of the public university system of the State of New York, on Friday afternoon for a town hall meeting at the University Union, where he spoke about college tuition as part of a conversation on the affordability of higher education. The visit was part of a two-day bus tour of upstate New York and northeastern Pennsylvania.
The event came after similar events in Buffalo and Syracuse, and before the final talk in Scranton, Pa.
Some 300 people were selected by lottery out of thousands who had registered to attend.
Rabbi Aaron Slonim, executive director of the Rohr Chabad Center for Jewish Student Life at Binghamton University and religious adviser to Jewish students at Binghamton, delivered the invocation welcoming the president to the university. Slonim, who established Chabad there in 1985, was also a founding member of the executive board of the Chabad on Campus network.
'Morality and Sanctity in Everyday Life'
Slonim asked for blessing and grace upon the meeting, and spoke about the diversity on campus, and the need for conflict and confusion to give way to understanding and peace.
Rabbi Slonim noted the upcoming Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, and said: “We pray for a year of light and joy, enlightenment, sweetness, and above all, peace." (Photo: Jonathan Cohen / Binghamton University)
“As my own mentor, the Lubavitcher Rebbe [Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory], set forth in his teachings, it is through strong education and values imbued with a sense of morality and sanctity in everyday life that we can create the highest conduit for receipt of your blessings and the answers to our prayers for an inspired day and a beautiful future.
“On this day—as we embark on a new academic year—we recall the first biblical words addressing the theme of education. Concerning Abraham, G-d said: ‘I have given him special attention because he teaches his children and his household after him, and they will preserve the way of G-d, doing charity and justice. And through him shall be blessed all the nations of the world.”
"Almighty G-d", invoked Slonim, "grant our president, the leader of the free world, the wisdom and vigor to lead us towards a world perfected and redeemed. And grant us each the ability to do our part."
Moving towards the conclusion, Slonim noted the upcoming Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah. “We pray for a year of light and joy, enlightenment, sweetness, and above all, peace,” he said as he moved towards concluding the invocation.
After leaving the stage Rabbi Slonim was met with a hug from Binghamton University President Harvey Stenger. "What an experience and what an honor to see members of the campus community such as Rabbi Slonim take part in this groundbreaking event for Binghamton," said Stenger.
Rabbi Levi Shemtov, executive vice president of American Friends of Lubavitch in Washington, D.C., said: “I am delighted that Rabbi Slonim and those at Chabad of Binghamton, who have worked so diligently and have impacted so many thousands of students, got this recognition.”
Student Editor Says Remarks Made an Impact
Michael Snow, a senior at Binghamton, attended Friday's presentation in his role as editor of the opinion section for the university student newspaper, Pipe Dream.
"Part of what made the event so special was the great honor delivered to Rabbi Slonim, and the entire Chabad community, by inviting him to deliver the opening invocation," he said.
Few speeches were given at the event, Snow noted. Rabbi Slonim spoke, followed by remarks by University President Harvey Stenger and President Obama's opening comments, before it turned into a town hall-style meeting with a question-and-answer format.
"The fact that there were so few speakers made Rabbi Slonim's words all the more impactful,” said Snow. “Rabbi Slonim's message and its prominence made me, as student vice president of Chabad, proud of the position I hold and the community of which I am a part. It was encouraging to see university students, professors and staff, alongside White House officials, take in Rabbi Slonim's words and presence."
President Obama with Rabbi Aaron Slonim (foreground). (Photo: Chabad of Binghamton)