Recalling the words of the great Jewish sage Rabbi Hillel, best-selling author Anita Diamant urged Hebrew College graduates June 2 to take a "fearlessly inclusive" approach to teaching fellow Jews the words and meaning of Torah.
"Rabbi Hillel said, 'Teach everyone,'" Diamant told a crowd of approximately 250 graduates and their guests at Congregation Mishkan Tefila in Chestnut Hill. "Teach everyone, because there were many sinners of Israel who were brought nearer to God by studying Torah and from whom descended righteous, pious and honorable people.
"I would add, 'Teach for the beginner' — and teach with a beginner’s mind," she said. "This does not mean dumbing anything down, it means staying in touch with the amazement and awe of learning Torah for the first time. It means thinking outside the "bimah" (platform), thinking outside the comfort zone of the yeshiva."
She urged graduates to be patient, translating words and explaining even the most basic concepts, when teaching or engaged in conversation with others. Failing to do so "closes doors" to learning and runs the risk of alienating Jews of all backgrounds and denominations.
"Everyone is a beginner in some area of Torah," she said.
Prior to her address to graduates, Diamant received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the college. She was accompanied on stage by her daughter, Emilia, director of programming and initiatives for the Prozdor supplementary Hebrew high-school program at Hebrew College.
Diamant, who rose to national prominence with the publication of her first novel, “The Red Tent,” in 1997, asserted that, despite the "dizzying rate of change" we experience in today's world, graduates have a great opportunity to effect change as they enter the workforce.
"As far as I’m concerned, there’s never been a better time to be Jewish — not for me and not for my daughter," she said.
Honorary doctorates were also awarded at Sunday's ceremony to business leader and philanthropist Morton L. Mandel, Hebrew College Provost Barry Mesch and, posthumously, to Rabbi David Hartman, the renowned Jewish philosopher who died in February at the age of 81.
In addition, the college recognized two accomplished educators for distinguished achievement in Jewish educational leadership. Dr. Naomi Stillman, associate director of Hebrew College’s NETA Hebrew-language program, received the Sidney Hillson/Rose Bronstein Memorial Award for distinguished leadership and commitment to the centrality of the Hebrew language in Jewish education and the advancement of Jewish culture and civilization, and Charlotte Katz Abramson, P’63, ’66, received the Dr. Benjaman J. Shevach Award for distinguished achievement in Jewish educational leadership.
Hebrew College granted rabbinical and cantorial ordinations, master’s degrees, bachelor’s degrees and certificates to 67 students at morning exercises. During afternoon ceremonies, the college awarded degrees to 66 Prozdor graduates. Both proceedings were led by Susan Ain, chair of the Board of Trustees, and Rabbi Daniel Lehmann, president of Hebrew College.
On Thursday, June 6, Hebrew College conferred certificates to 102 members of its Me’ah adult-learning program during ceremonies at Hebrew College in Newton Centre.