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Pluralistic Perspectives Betty Ann Greenbaum Miller: Cultivating A Heart of Wisdom

By Rabbi Or Rose

The following is excerpted from a eulogy delivered by Rabbi Or Rose, director of the Center for Global Judaism at Hebrew College, at the funeral of one of his former students, Betty Ann Greenbaum Miller, on Aug. 27, 2015.

Rabbi Or RoseOur sages teach us that every person is an “olam katan,” a “little world,” or rendered differently, “a world unto themselves.”

I reference this ancient teaching because I am acutely aware of the fact that I knew Betty Ann in a specific and limited context; that is, within the orbit of Hebrew College. Her “world,” of course, was much more expansive.

In thinking about my interactions with Betty Ann over the last decade, the following statement from the book of Psalms (90:12) came to mind:

“Teach us to number our days, that we may attain a heart of wisdom.”

Betty Ann was more conscious than most of us about the fragility of life. But rather than deny or rage against her health situation, she emerged as a wise and discerning person, who thought carefully about how she wanted to spend her time and energy.

It was in this spirit that Betty Ann undertook her graduate studies at Hebrew College. She was, by this point in her life, an active lay leader in the Jewish community, and had a hunger for more Jewish learning.

Dr. Barry Mesch recalled how Betty Ann “utterly immersed herself in her studies,” despite her health issues and the challenges of beginning a rigorous course of study in midlife. Commenting on her determination, her classmate Rabbi Chaim Koritzinsky wrote the following to me in an email message:

Betty Ann’s resilience always inspired me … so much so that I would often forget what she was going through physically. I remember once I was so excited to see Betty Ann that I gave her a huge hug after which she replied, “Chaim, you can’t do that to me!”

One manifestation of Betty Ann’s wisdom was her ability to delve deeply into Jewish text and tradition, and actively engage with people from other religious and cultural traditions. She was one of the founders of Journeys on the Hill, the joint student interfaith group with Andover Newton Theological School. This pioneering group of students catalyzed much of the good work the two schools have done together over the last 10 years.

Betty Ann’s dedication to interfaith engagement was not simply a reflection of an academic interest in comparative religion, but more deeply an expression of an existential commitment to help improve relations between Jews and Christians, and her conviction that such healing can only take place through genuine dialogical encounters.

To be in dialogue with Betty Ann was a gift. Not only was she a smart, reflective and strategic thinker, but she was also a gifted listener. She exhibited an unusual ability to take in what others said (or left out, for that matter) and ask thoughtful and penetrating questions with care and sensitivity. As her JOTH co-founder, Rabbi Van Lanckton, said, “Betty Ann demonstrated genuine concern for others in every conversation we had as a group.” In the words of the book of Proverbs (31:26), “she spoke words of wisdom and conveyed a Torah of kindness.”

In this context, I also want to say a brief word about Betty Ann’s voice. Among her health challenges was a throat condition that made it difficult for her to speak. In listening to her speak it was clear that she chose her words carefully. She was both measured and precise in conveying her thoughts and feelings. As both Professor Mesch and Rabbi Koritzinsky said, one of Betty Ann’s many strengths was her “still small voice” (I Kings 19:12), which helped so many others find their authentic voices.

Through my relationship with Betty Ann, I have also been blessed to get to know her loving husband, Dan, who is a member of the board of trustees of Hebrew College and a fellow Bruins fan! A humble, thoughtful and upright man, Dan was a rock for Betty Ann throughout her many years of illness. As our mutual friend, Jamie Kotler, said, “Dan and Betty showed us all the sustaining power of love.”

In want to extend my heartfelt condolences to Dan and his sons, to Betty Ann’s parents and sister, and to the entire Greenbaum and Miller families.

I pray that Betty Ann’s memory inspire all who knew her or were touched by her to live with greater presence, purpose and compassion.

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