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News Highlights Hebrew College Holds 2024 Commencement & Ordination Ceremonies

By Hebrew College
Ordainees

On Sunday, June 2, 2024, Hebrew College celebrated our 2024 graduates at Commencement & Ordination Ceremonies on the College’s shared campus, conferring 13 Master of Jewish Education degrees, one Master of Jewish Studies, and ordaining 13 rabbis. One hundred percent of the 2024 rabbinic class will transition into an array of roles across the spectrum of Jewish life, from congregational life to academia, hospital chaplaincy to community organizing — securing positions across the country, from Pittsburgh to Colorado to our own “neighborhood”, enriching the Jewish community of Greater Boston and beyond with their vision and leadership.

Rabbi Jessica Lowenthal, president of the Hebrew College Alumni Association, opened commencement with a blessing for the graduates: “May you embrace each day as a potential revelation within the mundane. And may you all be haosak, the ones whose lives are caught up in the holy business of being Jewish, of leading our people, and finding moments of divine inspiration.”

Hebrew College President Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld echoed this theme in her own remarks: “You are stepping into leadership in a moment that will call upon you to live and work from a place of deep empathy, humility, courage, and compassion. The Jewish people is in great pain. Our world is drenched in grief. But you have not reached this moment alone, and you do not leave here alone . . . May the Torah you have learned together here continue to accompany and anchor you wherever you go. May you continue to seek out teachers and friends and, in these unforgiving times, try to offer a little grace and judge others favorably.”

The College awarded three honorary degrees during the ceremony. Dr. Cochav Elkayam-Levy, Dr. Parker J. Palmer, and Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum each exemplify how teaching can form the center of a professional life dedicated to serving others. An unceasing advocate for gender equity and social justice in Israel and globally, Dr. Cochav Elkayam-Levy, founder and chair of the Dvora Institute for Gender and Sustainability Studies, teaches at Hebrew University and Reichman University, and currently chairs the Civil Commission on Oct. 7th Crimes by Hamas against Women and Children. President Anisfeld recalled meeting her in Israel last January: “She has been in almost perpetual motion over the last several months, meeting with leaders at the U.N., at the White House, and all over the world. And yet, she also sat and wept openly with our group of women leaders from the Boston Jewish community…Cochav…to witness the work you do and the way you do it, is to be exposed to an abundance of humanity.”

Writer and activist Parker J. Palmer built a professional legacy over decades of service supporting and empowering change agents and compassionate leaders, eventually founding the Center for Courage & Renewal, where he holds a position as Senior Partner Emeritus. “As my students know, except for Yehuda Amichai, there may be no person whose writing I have returned to more frequently, whose teaching I have quoted more often in my own teaching, than Parker Palmer,“ said President Anisfeld.

In his video message to the graduates, Palmer shared lessons he learned from Jewish mentors who influenced his work. They “taught me what it means to transform profound suffering into transcendent life,” and to hold “the paradox of chutzpah and humility, chutzpah meaning knowing we have a voice that must be used in service of the common good. Humility meaning knowing that sometimes we get things wrong, so we must learn to listen as well as speak.” Palmer concluded by inviting the graduates to feel similarly empowered by their mentors and the long tradition of Jewish wisdom: “Please carry the living torah with you into this wounded world. Take your mentors with you in mind and heart.”

Concluding more than three decades on the pulpit of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, honorary degree recipient Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum built her community — the first LGBTQ synagogue in Manhattan — into a powerful and resilient spiritual community of resistance and love whose impact is felt throughout the world. Rabbi Anisfeld invoked this legacy while awarding her degree. “You are the rare visionary leader who simultaneously sees that a different future is possible and sees the human being standing before you. The ripples of your visionary leadership have been felt locally, nationally, and globally.” Rabbi Kleinbaum picked up on this thread in her own remarks, offering the graduating class lessons from her tenure on the bimah: “Joy is an act of spiritual and political resistance. We can learn much from our ancestors, especially those who suffered and lived through terrible times. Don’t focus on the grievance. Build something for the future.”

Hebrew College also honored two leaders who are shaping the future of Jewish education with special awards. Rabbi David Gedzelman, President & CEO of The Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life, received the Hillson/Bronstein Award for Promotion of Hebrew Language and Literature for his dedication to revitalizing Jewish identity through innovative educational and cultural initiatives. Rabbi Gedzelman has played a leading role in the Foundation’s efforts to develop a network of Hebrew language charter schools and immersion programs. Joni Blinderman, Executive Director of the Covenant Foundation, was awarded the College’s 2024 Benjamin Shevach Award for Excellence in Jewish Educational Leadership. Her work focuses on family education and engagement, climate and climate anxiety in youth, the relationship between text and creativity, the arts, and the social-emotional health and wellbeing of educators.

Hebrew College rabbinical student Rafi Ellenson offered a concluding prayer: “I bless you that you will live your life aware and awake to the possibility of godliness and the divine in all moments, in all people, in the music you hear and make, the students you teach and learn from, and in texts both holy and mundane.”

At the Commencement ceremonies, the College also conferred one Certificate in Jewish Sacred Music, and two Certificates in Jewish Spiritual Education and Jewish Educational Leadership. The ceremonies featured music from a student ensemble led by Hebrew College Rosh Tefilla and Artist-in-Residence Rabbi Jessica Kate Meyer ‘14.

Learn more, view photos, videos, and speeches on our Commencement website.

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