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Community Blog Commencement 2024: Remarks by Hebrew College Shevach Award Winner Joni Blinderman

By Joni Blinderman
Joni Blinderman

Good afternoon everyone.

Susie, thank you so much for those kind words. Sharon, Nancy, faculty, graduates, colleagues, and friends, I am deeply honored and humbled to be receiving the Benjamin Shevach Prize. Thank you so very much for this honor.

I am standing on the shoulders of long-time mentors all of whom left this world too early: Margot Stern Strom, Eli N. Evans, Lisa Goldberg and Harlene Appelman. My mother, Marcy Blinderman, has remained a guiding light. We recently celebrated her 105th birthday where she regaled us with stories and shared the wisdom she has gathered through times of joy and hardship. The love of my life, Michael Levine, has been a true support and partner. We have weathered life’s storms and have also enjoyed many of life’s blessings and our greatest gifts — our children Sam, Zach and Zarah.

We all know the multiplicity of challenges we are facing both here in the United States and in Israel. Those of us in positions of leadership are working together to determine how to move forward with interventions and innovations including opportunities for dialogue across difference.

The programs we are developing with our partners are just the beginning of decades-long work. Responding with complexity, nuance, empathy, compassion and love is what is demanded of us and so we are setting ourselves to the task.

As I was thinking about the graduates today, these words of the Megillah came to mind. We hear Mordechai say to Queen Esther, “Perhaps you have attained this position for just such a crisis as this.” For all of us here today — but especially for those of you graduating — this is just such a moment to be brave. We don’t need to be Queen Esther; we just need to be our authentic selves and step forward into the complexity with kindness and understanding.

You — the graduates — have been called to the practice of the spirit — to help heal — and to the practice of the mind — to teach and learn with those in your care. We know that to be effective you must really see those around you — in other words you must look into people’s eyes and not avert your gaze. This work is taxing and also incredibly fulfilling. In whatever way you choose to use your considerable talents it will be a blessing for all of us across the Jewish communal landscape and beyond.

Thank you for this honor and wishing you all a fulfilling and meaningful journey. B’hatzlacha raba. Thank you.


Joni Blinderman has been the Executive Director of The Covenant Foundation since 2022. Read more about her on our Commencement website.

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