Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld Community Groundbreaking and Hanukkah Celebration
Below are Hebrew College President Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld’s remarks at the opening of the from our Community Groundbreaking and Hanukkah Celebration on December 5, 2021 . Watch the full program here.
Above: Hebrew College President Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld (right) with Laura Mandel, Executive Director of Boston’s Jewish Arts Collaborative (left).
Words of Welcome
Thank you, Jackson, for helping us fill this space with spirit and song.
Thank you, Dan, for helping us fill this space with words of vision and hope.
Thank you to everyone joining us both in person and on livestream this afternoon.
This is a moment of both arrival and anticipation,
achievement and aspiration.
We simultaneously feel like shouting—“Wow. We made it!”
And—“Wow. Here we go!”
Are we crossing the finish line?
Or, are we just getting started?
Of course, it’s both.
We are here today because of the work of so many hands
And the wisdom and generosity of so many hearts.
And, we know that work has just begun.
There are several building projects described in the Torah
The first is the Tower of Babel.
because the people paid more attention to what they were building than to how they were building, how they were working together.
The midrash says that when a brick would fall, they would grieve and mourn, but when a worker would fall, they would pay no attention.
Later, there is the building at the beginning of the Book of Exodus. Slave labor ruthlessly imposed by Pharaoh,
and still later the building of the golden calf.
They teach us about other existential dangers inherent in building projects.
Absence of faith.
These serve as important warnings.
But the model we seek to emulate
Is the building of the mishkan,
The building of a sacred dwelling place for the divine
on our journey through the wilderness.
The building of the mishkan
begins with nedivut halev
And ends with v’shachanti b’tocham.
It begins with the generosity of the human heart
And it ends with creating space for God’s presence to dwell
Within us and between us.
That’s the starting line.
And that’s the finish line.
And still, the work of building the mishkan doesn’t end there.
In fact, the whole point is:
It doesn’t end.
with the daily tending to the menorah
To the seven-branched candelabrum
That sits in the holy tabernacle
and later in the holy Temple in Jerusalem.
with the Ner Tamid –
The eternal light that burns
in every synagogue
in every place and period of Jewish history.
with the lights of the Hanukkiah
That we will kindle together with our new campus partners and neighbors
in all its luminous fullness
on this eighth and final night of Hanukkah.
May those lights always be a reminder
Of why we’re here
And of how we want to build together.
It’s my honor now to introduce
Andy Offit, the Chair of the Hebrew College Board of Trustees
My friend and partner
A person who embodies the quality of
Generosity of heart
A person whose devotion to community and commitment to the well-being of others
Is so natural, so intuitive
That he can’t fathom another way of moving through the world.
A person who knows that what we’re building matters
Only if we pay careful attention to how we’re building and why.
Andy, for your steadfast leadership and companionship
For your generosity of heart
For your patient attention to every niggling concern—
I will never be able to thank you enough.
Words of Gratitude and Blessing
We are so grateful for your leadership and honored by your presence today.
This project began in earnest two years ago.
It has taken shape
During a global pandemic that is sadly still not behind us
And during a period of deep polarization and division
in our nation and in the world.
For me, personally,
this project has been
Something of an act of spiritual resistance,
of friendship and of faith.
Throughout the planning process,
I have held close to my heart the words of an ancient midrash
about our ancestor Abraham
Who “stitched together all who inhabit the earth”
she’icha et kol ba’ey ha’olam
Who saw connection everywhere.
Who created connection everywhere.
In the face of forces that conspire to tear us apart,
I want to be with people
Who show up
to help stitch together
the fabric of our communities
the fabric of our lives.
In the words of the poet Marge Piercy,
“I love people who harness themselves,
an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo,
with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.”
I echo Andy’s words of gratitude
to so many of the people who
made this project happen.
We arm-wrestled and he won, so he got to thank each of you personally –
But I also thank each and every one of you from the bottom of my heart.
Howard, to everything that Andy said
I will just add that you have shown me what it looks like to harvest the fruits
of a lifetime of good work and good will—
and to treasure the deep and abiding friendships that flow from both.
Thank you for the extraordinary professionals and human beings
You have brought into this project and into my life.
To our fiercely loving and laser-focused campaign cabinet—
Beverly, Nancy, Susan, Myra, and Diane—
Our weekly meetings have been a haven
Of light, wisdom, and warmth.
Together with the remarkable Rosa Franck
And the wonderful Wendy Linden
and the small but mighty development and marketing teams they lead—
You have galvanized our community with your vision and devotion.
Together, we have raised more than $13.2 million
And we are still going strong.
To our growing circle of donors
who have so generously extended heart and hand—
Both longtime sustainers of Hebrew College
and new supporters inspired by our educational mission
and this shared campus vision
Those who have stretched to give at every level—
And those who have been willing and able to commit leadership gifts including:
Mark Atkins and Miho Sato
The Jack, Joseph, and Morton Mandel Supporting Foundation—
under the leadership of Jehuda Reinharz, who saw the potential of this vision from early on—
Myra Musicant and Howard Cohen
Rabbi Suzanne and Andy Offit
And other anonymous donors.
Every single participant in this campaign
Has embodied that quality of nedivut lev
Generosity of heart
That is the beginning of all that we are building here.
Thank you, thank you, thank you—
Each and every one of your gifts is a precious contribution
To Hebrew College, to our shared campus, to the Boston community and to the world.
To our partners and neighbors,
New friends and old
To our campus collaborative committee
So skillfully shepherded by Cathy Gildesgame—
Our work is just beginning.
I am honored and inspired to partner with you
And excited for what we will discover, learn, and build together as we go.
to my friend and colleague Rabbi Dan Berman
and to those individuals at Temple Reyim
who have held fast to this dream
to those who have been striving to build our partnership
On a foundation of mutual trust, kindness, and respect.
May everything we do together grow and flower from that place.
As we celebrate 100 years since Hebrew College first opened its doors in 1921,
We are thrilled to begin our next chapter with other mission-aligned organizations
Creating a vibrant communal hub
That brings together so many different expressions of Jewish life
locally, nationally, in Israel, and around the world.
Each of these is an opening—
to deeper learning and growth,
to a heightened awareness that we are each part of a greater whole.
A final word of gratitude to all of my colleagues at Hebrew College
To our Trustees for your courageous and caring leadership over these last four years.
To our entire faculty and staff
for your sustaining partnership, extraordinary dedication, and shared sense of purpose.
To our students and our alumni—near and far—
for the Torah you are bringing into the world
and the hope you give me every day.
May we be partners with each other and with the Holy One
Who is zorea tzedakot
Who plants and sows the seeds of tzedek and tzedakah
So that the ground we break together today becomes a garden
Of justice and righteousness
Blossoming and bearing fruit for many years to come.