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Community Blog Hebrew College Presidential Installation Address: Rabbi Arthur Green

By Rabbi Arthur Green

.בעוד שלוש שנים, תחוג המכללה העברית מאה שנה להיווסדה

Three years from now, Hebrew College will celebrate the hundredth anniversary of its founding. Throughout this near-century, this institution and the community of faculty, students, alumni, and supporters who constitute it have been committed to the goal of building and strengthening the Jewish future. We do so through education, teaching the great literary and spiritual treasures of the Jewish tradition, whenever possible in the original Hebrew, drawing on their insights to shape new and creative approaches to Jewish life appropriate to the current generation and those to come.

We have done this against the background of an amazing century in the history of the Jewish people. We have gone from the heady days of 1920’s Hebraism, spurred on by the recent Balfour Declaration, to the terrible ravages of the Holocaust and its aftermath, leaving an unprepared American Jewry as the mainstay of Jewish survival. The creation of the Jewish State, the ingathering of exiles, and the ongoing struggles of Israel have played a central role in Jewish history as we have experienced it. But so too has the ongoing assimilation of American Jewry, the growing indifference to our shared Jewish heritage among so many. In response to this, new educational efforts, including day schools, summer camps, adult learning programs, havurot, and more have been created, transforming and enlivening the American Jewish community. The full inclusion of women in shaping the Jewish future, including serving in positions of leadership, has been a new and groundbreaking departure within our memory.

The work of building the Jewish future has two major components: articulating a dynamic and compelling vision for that future and training a cadre of leaders, both professional and lay, who are imbued with the spirit of that vision and empowered to carry it forth. Hebrew College has been fully engaged in both of those efforts. Our vision is one that sees Jewish living as a sacred journey of both individual and community, one that seeks out sparks of divine light throughout the world, even in the darkest places. It is a vision inflected by our re-inclusion of the mystical tradition within the broader Jewish canon. It calls for a love of God to be fulfilled through care for God’s creation and raises up every human being as a unique and precious divine image. Training future leaders to read the Jewish tradition through this lens is the work in which we are engaged every day.

Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld has stood at the very center of carrying forth this vision. Since joining the Hebrew College team in the Rabbinical School, first as dean of students, then serving for many years as dean, she has modeled that true leadership means building a caring community. The authority of such a leader rises from within the admiration and esteem in which that community holds her. She then makes use of that authority to challenge the community to grow, to become more open, and to live more fully the values to which it is committed.

With a teacher’s pride and the wisdom of hindsight, I can say that Sharon was always in the top rank of the many rabbinical students I have been privileged to teach over several decades. From the start, she had a unique love for Hebrew language and literature, surely based in part on her mother’s roots in pre-state Erets Yisra’el. Raised and educated in the Reform movement, she combined the best of its progressive values with a love of text study and an openness to traditional forms of Jewish expression. Her seriousness as a teacher, thinker, and Jewish role model, as we have heard, grew over her years in Hillel at Tufts, Yale, and Harvard, and through her many years of leading the Bronfman Youth Fellowship. In her years as dean, I have watched her teachings, writings, sermons, and blessings to students grow in depth and insight – always the result of long hours of careful thought and preparation.

Sharon: I, and we – we the faculty, the staff with whom you work so well, the students, and your loving fan club of alumni, know that you are ready for this role, and happily place our trust in you as captain of our ship. In the crowded sea of Jewish institutional life, our vessel may appear small, but the cargo it carries is vital. We are uniquely positioned to think out of the box as we train leaders for an unknown Jewish future.   Unhampered by denominational labels, able to think beyond conventional categories of what it means to be “religious” or “secular,” embracing the entirety of Jewish tradition, we look toward new models of both community and leadership, suited to Jewish life in the 21st century. You are the one who will lead our vessel to new shores, both physically and in the spirit. We offer you our collective blessing and support in this great effort.

Rabbi Arthur Green is Rector of the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College. He delivered these remarks on the occasion of Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld’s installation as the ninth — and first female — president of Hebrew College in Newton, MA.


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