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Jewish learning Helping Hebrew College to Grow

By Sydney Gross

Nancy BelskyWhen Nancy Belsky thinks of Hebrew College, she pictures a garden—cultivating rabbis, cantors, and Jewish educators; teen and adult learners; and interfaith and artistic experiences—all in the process of “growing” a more diverse and peaceful world. At its helm is Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld, with whom Belsky has studied in the “Torah Babes” group for more than a decade.

“Studying with Sharon has been profoundly meaningful. Sharon’s teaching is deeply rooted in texts but deeply relevant today,” Belsky says. “Sharon penetrates the inner being and reveals our holiness that’s hidden there, the good in us, the blessing within us, the light within us. Sharon is a gardener in the garden of God. She is assigned to cultivate this garden, to plant seeds of joy and generosity and gratitude, and to guard it. That is also what Hebrew College is for our community.”

Belsky was invited to join the “Torah Babes” group with Rabbi Anisfeld about a decade ago. She had taken Me’ah, Hebrew College’s two-year in-depth adult education program and other classes through her synagogue—Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley—but had never felt engaged with or connected to Hebrew College or considered Hebrew College to be a “go to” place for adult learning.

Over the years of studying with Rabbi Anisfled and other wonderful teachers, however, her perception changed. She took so much from the classes that she wanted to start giving back. She said to Sharon, “This is such an important experience for me. It has been so transformational, I’d like to reciprocate by understanding what your dream sheet is, philosophically,” Belsky says.

Through her family foundation, the Rita J. and Stanley H. Kaplan Family Foundation, Belsky began contributing to that “dream sheet,” first by funding a social justice certificate program for rabbinical students, then by creating an internship for rabbinical students at 2LifeCommunities, a senior living center in Massachusetts that did not at the time have a rabbinical presence. The program is now in its fourth year, and has been so successful that some of the seniors have become b’nai mitzvah.

“I’m so proud of this,” she says. “it was wonderful to see a collaboration that really injected a study of vitality and life.”

Last year, at Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld’s request, Belsky joined the Hebrew College Capital Campaign committee. She is committed to helping the College “engage and excite more donors,” especially adult learners such as herself. And she has great hopes that the shared campus will excite the community—because, she says, it will “bring the community together.” She is proud that her Torah Babes group has already raised more than $1 Million for Hebrew College’s move to Temple Reyim’s campus on Washington Street in Newton, Mass.

When she thinks of Hebrew College, Belsky thinks of a commentary on the Proverbs that she read in a “Torah Babes” class:

The Book of Proverbs advises, “Teach a child according to his own path, and even when he grows old, he will not stray from it.” Commenting on this verse, Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, the rebbe of the Warsaw Ghetto, writes: “Teach the child” means “to penetrate to his inner being and reveal the holiness that is hidden there. A teacher is a gardener in the garden of God, assigned to cultivate it and guard it.”

Belsky sees her teacher, Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld, as that gardener. But through their passion for their teachers—and their commitment to Hebrew College’s compelling mission and future vision—Belsky and her classmates are also helping that garden to grow.

“What I get out of studying is the invitation to have a transformational experience,” says Belsky. “By transformational, I mean it really does change the way I look at a situation or relationship—it has made Torah extremely meaningful and relevant. It has made me understand that happiness is a choice, and you can choose a way to get there. I’ve been very grateful to be in a community, to learn and feel connected.”

Join the Hebrew College community on May 2 from 5-5:30 p.m. when we honor Nancy Kaplan Belsky and four other visionary leaders at our Virtual Spring Event. Information and reservations are available here.

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