News Highlights Passing the Gavel: Nancy Kaplan Belsky to Chair Hebrew College Board of Trustees
“Having invested over 40 years in nonprofit leadership, I have chosen to make Hebrew College my philanthropic priority,” said Nancy Kaplan Belsky, who picks up the reins as Hebrew College’s next board chair on July 1, 2023. Belsky brings to the role decades of leadership experience and a longtime connection to Hebrew College—as a student, donor, and board member—at a time in her life when she says the College speaks to what is most important to her: religious pluralism, Jewish study, leadership, strengthening the rabbinate, and commitment to interreligious programs.
“Why at the ripe age of 70 would I consider leading a board of Trustees? Having studied for over a decade with [Hebrew College President] Rabbi Sharon in a group we call ‘The Torah Babes,’ I became deeply connected to the Hebrew College mission. I experienced first-hand the importance and therapeutic value of pluralistic Jewish and rabbinical education. Hebrew College ignites the power of possibilities in a complicated and troubled world,” said Belsky. “The College is a laboratory of learning and leadership, exploring opportunities to instill hope in humanity and faith in Jewish study and practice.”
For Belsky, committing to Hebrew College’s mission is a natural extension of her family’s lifelong Jewish community service work. As President of the Rita J. and Stanley H. Kaplan Family Foundation, she helps guide her family’s mission supporting the arts, education, health, Jewish, and social organizations to help people gain access to opportunities that enrich their lives. “Hebrew College reinforces some of my parents’ priorities: success through higher education, rabbinical school sustenance, and religious/spiritual growth through transformative study. Embedded in the Hebrew college mission are the numerous causes to which I have devoted myself over the past 40 years of community service, including advocating for more vulnerable populations, social justice, social welfare initiatives, Jewish continuity and education, and combatting antisemitism and intolerance of all kinds.”
Belsky adds that as president of her family foundation, she has learned a lot about grants, philanthropy, and how to lead in a Jewish way, according to Jewish principles and values—often applying the lessons on leadership from the writings of contemporary thought leaders. She also says being a part of a family foundation gives her entre to meet with other foundations, which she hopes creates funding opportunities and enriching collaborations. “One might say that if one can withstand the sensitive dynamics of a family foundation, one can lead any board!” she jests. “Decision making can get complicated; listening and respecting each member’s point of view are essential. I have learned the value of a sense of humor and not taking issues personally.”
After attending the College’s June 4 Commencement and Ordination ceremonies, Belsky said she was inspired by how Hebrew College feels like “a womb that gives birth to more seekers” who will venture into communities to plant seeds of joy, hope, love of Torah, tzedakah practice, and Jewish study. “I was struck by the personal comments and blessings faculty members shared with each ordained rabbi and cantor. They began blessings addressing each student with ‘rabbi’ or ‘cantor,’ followed by words that not only introduced me to the uniqueness of each graduate but also taught me Jewish text, whether it be from midrash or Torah. It is abundantly clear that Hebrew College approaches every sacred moment as an opportunity for more intimacy and depth of learning. One walks away with Jewish wisdom as one’s ‘GPS.’”
Capital Campaign co-chairs Myra Snyder, Nancy Kaplan Belsky, Diane Troderman, Susan Schechter, and Beverly Bavly with President Anisfeld (center) on Hebrew College’s new shared campus construction site.
Having started her Hebrew College journey as a student herself, Belsky brings an adult learner’s perspective to her new role. The Torah Babes, a group of seven adult women, have been learning together for more than twenty years, studying with several Hebrew College faculty—and most recently for the last decade with Rabbi Sharon. “’Each Torah Babe feels a special connection to Hebrew College and with Rabbi Sharon and I’m no exception. Over the years first as her student and later as her educational partner—my family foundation has supported Hebrew College programs—it now feels immensely gratifying to give back to Rabbi Sharon. When she asked me to co-chair the College’s Capital Campaign I was all in.” And when Rabbi Sharon approached Belsky this spring to serve as the College’s next Board Chair, it felt like a natural next step. “The opportunity to lead with her is an extraordinary honor. She is a remarkable woman, rabbi, poet, truth-seeker, and leader. I envision a passionate partnership propelled by purpose,” said Belsky.
Among Belsky’s goals as board chair is energizing philanthropy to enhance Hebrew College’s educational mission. She hopes to discover innovative approaches to engage investors in the College’s work, develop meaningful donor relations, increase grant writing to support educational programs, and to establish an endowment for student scholarships. “To attract the best and the brightest candidates we need to offer substantial scholarships. Our educational mission is dependent upon visionary philanthropists. This will be a high priority and hopefully a legacy our board will leave for Hebrew College,” she said.
“Nancy is a wise and reflective leader, a deep listener, a creative and strategic thinker, and a passionate lover of Torah. She brings the ideal blend of qualities to lead Hebrew College’s Board of Trustees through this next chapter and to inspire even deeper and wider communal investment in the College’s educational mission. I’m so honored to partner with her and looking forward to the work ahead,” said President Anisfeld.
Andy Offit, Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld, and Nancy Kaplan Belsky
Belsky is grateful for outgoing Board Chair Andy Offit’s mentorship during the eight months before passing the gavel and is thrilled he will remain on the board in significant leadership roles. “Andy is a dedicated leader who pays close attention to what needs to be accomplished. I value his encouragement and confidence in me. His open-mindedness makes room for different approaches and considerations in problem solving. He has earned the board’s admiration and gratitude and leaves an incredible legacy, moving Hebrew College to its new home and managing a complicated process during unprecedented times. Andy inspired me and others to envision more, accomplish more, and become more, all with extraordinary benevolence and a sense of humor that has propelled the success of his unfaltering leadership.”
When Belsky steps into her new role in July, she will look to Torah to guide her. “Hebrew College fills my life with learning, meaning, and joy. To realize the College’s aspirations with an energized board and devoted staff and faculty, I know we can plant seeds of hope for the future. Andy and the board have left an enduring legacy. With our eyes on today and tomorrow, we will climb the next mountain.”