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Community Blog Gratitude Abounds: Remarks from Hebrew College’s President-Elect

By Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld
Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld

This summer I spent a lot of time with an article called The Gift Must Always Move By the translator and poet Lewis Hyde. It is about gratitude, And about cultures of gratitude. It’s about living with an awareness of the gifts we have received And are constantly receiving – And the generosity that flows from that awareness.

To know how much one has been given By other people By the Source of all life Is to long to give something in return. In that article, Hyde writes that we are lightened and enlivened when we know that “our gifts rise from pools we cannot fathom.”

I am lightened and enlivened today. I’m both honored by this opportunity and sobered by this responsibility To try to wisely lead an institution that I care about so deeply And a mission that I believe in so passionately.

There are many real challenges ahead — But I am lightened and enlivened. By the awareness that we are drawing on a very, very deep reservoir here Of blessing Of Torah Of community and friendship Of devotion and love and hard work.

Throughout this search process I have become more and more deeply aware Of the commitment and dedication of so many people both inside and outside of this building So many who care about what is happening here And who want to give what they can – Who want to give of their knowledge, their skill, their talent, their time, their energy, Their connections, their financial resources, their inner resources — to help the College thrive and grow. We stand within vast concentric circles Of generosity and creativity and vision and resilience and grit and sheer effort.

Speaking of which. I am so grateful to Danny for his leadership over these 10 years, literally making it possible for us to survive and to be here today. There were moments when our survival was in doubt – and Danny bore the weight of that knowledge with an ever-renewing well of energy, creativity, and faith.

I also want to say briefly in this moment that my gratitude to my teacher Art knows no bounds. For the Torah he has brought into the world and into my life; for his vision in creating our rabbinical school that has become my spiritual, intellectual, and professional home in such deep and life-giving ways; and for his trust in me as a partner and colleague.

And I am overwhelmed with gratitude to Andy for stepping up to lead the board at this critical time of transition – to help shepherd and sustain the institution as we prepare to mark our centennial in just 3 years (!) and as we carry the vision of the College forward into our next phase of growth and development. I couldn’t feel luckier to work with him and the rest of the board in this sacred task.

I feel so honored by the opportunity they’ve given me to lead this beloved institution, I feel sobered by the responsibility, And I feel very, very energized and excited for the work that lies ahead.

To all of you who make this place happen — Faculty, staff, students, alumni, board members, donors, friends, family — To all of you who tend to it and fill it with life I want to offer this image. I recently returned to a haunting poem by the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai Called The Diameter of the Bomb (Koter ha’pe’tza’tza) Which talks about the ways in which A single explosion A single act of violence Causes devastation far beyond the damage done to those in immediate proximity of the blast. Amichai writes:

“The diameter of the bomb was thirty centimeters And the diameter of its effective range about seven meters, With four dead and eleven wounded. And around these, in a larger circle Of pain and time, two hospitals are scattered And one graveyard. But the young woman Who was buried in the city she came from, At a distance of more than a hundred kilometers, Enlarges the circle considerably, And the solitary man mourning her death At the distant shores of a country far across the sea Includes the entire world in the circle.”

We all know this to be true. But what we sometimes forget – And what we need to remember, especially at a time when we are acutely aware of so much pain and violence in our world– Is that the same is true of every act of goodness Every act of generosity, compassion, connection. The ripples that extend from the work that we do here

From the teaching and learning that happens here From the prayer and music and creativity that happens here From the conversations and questioning and seeking that happens here Those ripples also know no bounds. We are affecting countless people and Enriching communities and individuals we’re not even aware of in Boston, around the country, and around the world. If you’ve seen Andy’s beautiful letter – the Power of Numbers – that went out as part of our annual campaign this year – that’s what he’s talking about. “Our gifts rise from pools we cannot fathom” – And their waters also flow into and nourish places we cannot imagine.

I really look forward to working with all of you. I’m sure there are lots of questions and there will be more as we move forward. We will be scheduling opportunities for further conversation. For now, I do want to let you know that we are already working on a leadership plan for the Rabbinical School and will say more about that in the weeks ahead. In the meantime, know that my door is open to each and every one of you. We’ll have to pace ourselves – but I want to hear from you, and to be in conversation As we shape the future together.

May we be lightened and enlivened. May we go from strength to strength.


Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld is President of Hebrew College in Newton Centre, MA.

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