Hebrew College’s response to coronavirus

Torah for this moment

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Updates from President Anisfeld

Dear friends,

I hope that you and your loved ones are healthy and safe, and holding up as well as possible during this time.

I’m writing to let you know that, as of yesterday, we have made the difficult decision not to gather in person for our Commencement exercises and Ordination ceremonies on June 7.

This is a real loss for all of us, but especially for those of you—our graduating students and your family members and friends—who have been looking forward to this moment for years. We are currently in the process of determining how best to mark these occasions, and will do so in close collaboration with you—ensuring that there will be a meaningful opportunity for us to gather as a community to honor and celebrate your accomplishments.

As I’m sure you are all aware, it has become clear that the current social distancing and stay-at-home measures being mandated in Massachusetts and around the country are likely to continue at least through early May, and quite possibly beyond. While none of us can predict the future, we are doing our very best to plan based on the information we have now. As long as non-essential businesses are asked to remain closed in Massachusetts, we will continue to operate remotely, in order to do our part to help reduce the public health risk posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. All of our graduate and community courses will continue to be taught remotely through the end of the spring semester. All of our public programs in April and May will be postponed or moved to a virtual platform.

This has been a challenging period, to say the least, and our uncertainty about what the future will bring only compounds the sense of unease that we all feel. At the same time, I have seen and heard countless daily examples of flexibility, resilience, understanding, and grace as we have collectively adapted to our new reality. I could not be more proud of the way that our community has risen to this challenge, not only sustaining our own teaching and learning with tremendous dedication, but also looking beyond for ways to be of service to the wider community. So many of you have offered your skills, your wisdom, your creativity, and your (virtual) presence to be of service at this time. I hear every day from people throughout the community who are moved by and grateful for your efforts.

Please continue to take care, and be well. And feel free to reach out to me at any time.

Warmly, and with all my very best wishes for continued health and strength,


Dear Hebrew College Community,

In light of Governor Baker’s “Stay at Home” advisory earlier today, effective at noon on March 24, the Hebrew College building will be closed at least until April 7. We will continue to stay in regular communication as we find ways to respond together to this challenging and rapidly evolving situation.

All best wishes for continued strength and good health.


Dear Hebrew College Community,

I hope that, wherever you are reading this, you and yours are safe and well, finding support, strength, and connection amidst the challenges and uncertainties of this time.

As all of us adjust to the rapidly evolving realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, we will do our very best to stay in touch with you, keep you informed about what’s happening at Hebrew College, let you know what resources are available to you, and give you a taste of the life-giving work our students, faculty, and alumni are doing as they continue to study and teach Torah, build community, and care for individuals throughout Greater Boston, all over the country, in Israel, and around the world.

For now, I am writing with an important update about our Annual Spring Event on April 29. While it has become clear that we will not be able to gather in person for this year’s event, we are already planning an inspiring series of virtual programs over the coming months, celebrating our honoree, Rabbi Rim Meirowitz, as well as Esther Award recipient, Jill Segal of blessed memory, and exploring this year’s timely theme: Leadership, Learning, and Love. Stay tuned for more information soon, and please continue to hold April 29 for one of the programs in our virtual series.

These are extraordinary times, and it feels like there is so much that is uncharted and unknown. And yet, such times can also help us focus on what matters most, and can remind us of what we already know—that we need dedicated leaders who are inspired and guided by a deep sense of service and love; that we need to continue learning, to stay connected to each other and to nurture a sense of history as well as a sense of hope; that, even as we are physically isolated from each other during this period, for the greater good, we urgently need to find ways to turn toward each other with love.

We will be following up soon with more details about our plans for virtual spring programming on the theme of Leadership, Learning, and Love. In the meantime, as a hint of things to come, and a treat for the spirit in these troubled times, I invite you to listen to this beautiful piece performed by Rabbi Jessica Kate Meyer, Rab`14, Rabbi/Chazzan at The Kitchen in San Francisco, CA.

Amar Amar on SoundCloud

I am so grateful to be part of a community where people are responding to this unfolding situation with such flexibility, patience, resilience, and shared concern. I look forward to staying in touch, and to hearing from you if you have questions or suggestions about how we can best be of service to you and your community during this time.

With prayers for health and peace,


Dear Hebrew College Community,

I hope that you and your loved ones are all well, and holding up amidst the stress and uncertainty of this challenging time. I’m so grateful for the many ways in which people have been reaching out—within our community and beyond—to offer help, acts of kindness, and both practical and spiritual support.

I’m writing with a brief update on our plans for this week at Hebrew College, as we continue to respond to the unfolding situation with COVID-19.

First and foremost, I am so pleased to share the good news that, thankfully, our adult learning student and her husband, who both tested positive for the virus last week, are recovering and doing very well.

As you have all likely heard by now, Governor Baker put in place this evening a number of public measures for the State of Massachusetts, including banning gatherings larger than 25 people, closing all public schools through April 7, and underscoring the need for as much “social distancing” as possible to try to contain the health risk posed by this pandemic.

We are now moving forward with the following plans for this week:

  • We will resume all courses online as of Wednesday, March 18, and continuing at least until after the Passover break. Graduate courses (rabbinic, cantorial, and education) will be using Schoology, and Community Education courses (adult learning, teen programs, and Miller Center programs) will be using Zoom. Many, many thanks to all of the faculty and staff who have been working so hard to make this transition as smooth and successful as possible.
  • Hebrew College will be closed all week.
  • All public meetings, events, and gatherings at the College are being cancelled or made virtual until further notice. We, of course, very much hope that we will be able to resume public gatherings later this spring, but we don’t yet know whether and when that will be possible. We so appreciate everyone’s understanding and flexibility as we continue to make decisions informed by the best guidance available to us regarding communal health and safety.
  • We are inspired by the wisdom and creativity of this community in response to this crisis—the beautiful teachings that have been shared by students, faculty, and alumni, and the many wonderful ideas for staying connected even while we have to be physically distanced from each other. May we continue to have the resilience to rise to this occasion, as individuals, and as a community.

With appreciation and admiration,


Dear Hebrew College Community,

I have been awed—over these last few days—by the dedication, resilience, compassion, and calm of our community in the face of this difficult and unsettling time. My deep admiration and appreciation go out to you all.

As we prepare to move into Shabbat, I am writing with a couple of important updates, and some very brief words of Torah.

Our commitment to learning continues

Our commitment to learning continues, as we move all of our classes to virtual learning environments until further notice.

As of Wednesday morning, March 18, we will be resuming all graduate classes (Rabbinic, Cantorial, and Education) through our online Schoology platform.

As of Wednesday morning, March 18, we will be resuming all community education classes (Adult Learning, Teen programs, and Miller Center programs) through Schoology and/or through the use of enhanced Zoom technology.

Thank you to the extraordinary faculty and staff in all of our programs for their tremendous efforts to ensure that—while we are physically separated for now—our dedication to meaningful, passionate Jewish learning and community is creatively adapted, yet undiminished. Thank you to our dedicated IT team for their tireless work to ensure that this transition is as smooth and successful as possible. And, finally, thank you to our students—we are inspired by your fierce commitment to and love of learning, and appreciate your flexibility and patience as we adjust to this rapidly evolving situation.

Our commitment to staying safe and connected continues

Our physical campus remains closed until further notice. We are in the process of doing a deep cleaning and disinfecting over the next few days, and hope to reopen for limited staff and faculty use by the middle of next week. We will, however, continue to urge people to work remotely for as long as necessary, both to prioritize the health and safety of our own community, and to do our part to help minimize the public health risk at this time.

That said, we are actively developing creative ways of staying connected—not only through online learning, but through virtual prayer, community-building efforts, special online programs, and more. Stay tuned for much more information about this over the coming days!

Our commitment to sharing Torah continues

We are blessed to be part of a community that is thinking about how to bring the resources of our tradition to bear on this moment—spiritually, intellectually, ethically, interpersonally. Please go to our website if you are interested in reading or listening to some of what our students, alumni, and faculty are writing in response to the challenges of this time.

For now, I offer just a few brief thoughts as we prepare to move into this Shabbat.


As we move into this Shabbat and beyond, many of us are—among so many other things—adjusting to the idea of davening alone, physically isolated from the communities that nourish us, and the sense of connection that helps lift and carry our prayers.

This midrash from Shemot Rabbah (Parashat B’Shallach) has been echoing in my mind as I think about the spiritual task before us. It is part of a series of sustained reflections on what it means for God to be “shome’a tefilah” (One who hears prayer).

“In the hour that Israel prays, you do not find that everyone prays as one – but rather each and every community prays in its own way and time, this congregation first and after that another congregation, and after all the congregations have finished all of their prayers, the angel appointed over all tefilot gathers up all the prayers that all of the congregations have prayed and makes out of them a crown and places it upon the head of the Holy Blessed One. Davar acher [another interpretation]: A human being can’t hear a conversation of two people speaking at once; but the Holy Blessed One is not like that.  Everyone is praying at the same time and God can hear and receive all of those prayers.”

Somehow, I am finding it comforting to keep this image in mind right now. I have loved it for a long time, this exquisite idea that God wears a crown made of human longing and praise. But, suddenly, the midrash also speaks to me in a new way in this moment – I think because it speaks to the sense of deep connection in the face of separation that many of us are aching to hold onto now.

As I wrap myself in my tallit tomorrow morning, I will be keeping all of you in my heart and in my mind’s eye—along with countless others around the country and around the world—knowing that wherever we are, in whatever small corner of the world we have each privately taken a few steps, bent our knees, and opened our hearts, we are standing together before a God who hears, receives, and holds us all.

With love and wishes for a safe, sweet, and peaceful Shabbat,


Dear Hebrew College Community,

I am writing to let you know that, unfortunately, we learned this afternoon that one of our community learning students tested positive for the coronavirus (COVID-19). Our thoughts are with her and her family and we wish them a quick and full recovery.

Because this student attended a class at Hebrew College last week, we made the decision, in consultation with local medical professionals, to close the building as of the end of the work day today for deep cleaning and disinfecting. While the risk of exposure remains relatively low, we are acting swiftly and prudently because the health and well-being of our students, faculty, and staff are the College’s highest priority. We also feel a deep sense of responsibility at this time to do our part to contribute to collective efforts to address and contain this serious public health risk.

This new development has accelerated our plans to move all of our graduate and community learning classes and Beit Midrash study to virtual instruction for the coming weeks. As of March 11, we are canceling all classes that meet in the Hebrew College building until further notice. We hope that it will not take more than a few days to prepare for a full transition to remote learning. During this time, staff will be working remotely. Please check this page for updates on our progress toward that goal, and our plans for ensuring that our teaching and learning as a community continues.

We also want to take this opportunity to remind you of the general precautions recommended by the CDC. For easy access to clear and detailed information, follow this link.

I am proud and grateful to be part of a community where people are responding to this unfolding situation with such flexibility, patience, resilience, and calm. I look forward to continuing to find ways to stay connected and care for each other, even as we take these precautionary measures that require greater physical distance for the time being.

With much appreciation,

Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld
President, Hebrew College