The following individuals were awarded honorary doctoral degrees at Hebrew College's 88th Commencement exercises, held June 2, 2013, at Congregation Mishkan Tefila in Chestnut Hill, Mass.
Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters
Anita Diamant is a Boston-based writer and lecturer whose first novel, "The Red Tent," won the 2001 Book Sense Book of the Year Award. A national bestseller published in 25 countries and 20 languages, "The Red Tent" is based on the biblical story of Dinah. Diamant is also the author of three other novels: "Good Harbor," a contemporary story that explores the importance of women’s friendships as a source of strength and happiness; "The Last Days of Dogtown," which describes life in a poor, rural Cape Ann community in the early 1800s; and "Day After Night," which tells the stories of women who lived through the Holocaust and await the future in a British internment camp.
Diamant has also written a series of nonfiction guides to contemporary Jewish life, including "The New Jewish Wedding"; "The New Jewish Baby Book"; "Living a Jewish Life: Jewish Traditions, Customs and Values for Today’s Families"; "Choosing a Jewish Life: A Handbook for People Converting to Judaism and for Their Family and Friends"; "Saying Kaddish: How to Comfort the Dying, Bury the Dead and Mourn as a Jew"; "How to Be a Jewish Parent"; and "How to Raise a Jewish Child."
An award-winning journalist, she has written articles for Globe Magazine, Hadassah Magazine and Real Simple, Parenting, Reform Judaism, Yankee and Boston magazines. She has published a collection of personal essays, "Pitching My Tent: On Marriage, Motherhood, Friendship and Other Leaps of Faith," which includes several pieces about Jewish life.
One of Diamant’s essays, “Living Waters,” first set out her vision for a reinvented mikveh — a place for study and ritual open to the entire Jewish community. That idea became a reality with the founding of Mayyim Hayyim: Living Waters Community Mikveh and the Paula Brody and Family Education Center, which opened its doors in Newton, Mass., in 2004.
Diamant lives in Newton, Mass., with her husband, Jim Ball, co-founder and director of communications of the Boston Jewish Music Festival. Their daughter, Emilia, is director of programming and initiatives at Prozdor of Hebrew College. They are longtime members of Congregation Beth El of the Sudbury River Valley.
Diamant grew up in Newark, N.J., and Denver. She holds a bachelor’s degree in comparative literature from Washington University in St. Louis and a master’s degree in English from Binghamton University in upstate New York.
Rabbi David Hartman, Ph.D.
Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters (posthumously)
Rabbi David Hartman, one of the world’s leading Jewish philosophers and a promoter of diversity among Jewish theological trends, died in February 2013 at the age of 81.
Born in Brooklyn, Hartman attended Yeshiva Chaim Berlin and the Lubavitcher Yeshiva before continuing his religious education under Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. He was ordained a rabbi at Yeshiva University in New York, and went on to earn a master’s degree in philosophy at Fordham University and a doctorate in philosophy at McGill University. In 1971, when the Hartman family immigrated to Israel, some of Rabbi Hartman’s students moved with him.
Hartman founded the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem in 1976 and was named founding president in 2009, when his son, Donniel, was named president. He also founded the Charles E. Smith High School in central Jerusalem and was professor of Jewish thought at Hebrew University of Jerusalem for more than two decades, during which time he served as visiting professor of Jewish thought at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1986-87, and at the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1997-98.
Hartman viewed his immigration to Israel as an essential part of his mission to encourage greater understanding between Jews of diverse affiliations — both in Israel and the Jewish Diaspora — and to build a more pluralistic and tolerant Israeli society. His work emphasized the centrality of the rebirth of the State of Israel and religious pluralism, both among Jews and in interfaith relations.
From 1977 to 1984, Hartman served as an adviser to Israeli minister of education and culture Zevulun Hammer. He also advised a number of Israeli prime ministers on the subject of religious pluralism in Israel and the relationship between Israel and the Diaspora.
Hartman’s publications in Jewish philosophy have received wide recognition and become standard references in academic scholarship. He received the National Jewish Book Award in 1977 for "Maimonides: Torah and Philosophic Quest" and in 1986 for "A Living Covenant: The Innovative Spirit in Traditional Judaism."
Hartman was awarded the Avi Chai Prize in 2000 and the Guardian of Jerusalem Prize in 2001. He was the recipient of honorary doctorates from Yale University, Hebrew Union College and the Weizmann Institute of Rehovot, and was awarded the Samuel Rothberg Prize for Jewish Education by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Morton L. Mandel
Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters
Morton L. Mandel is a leading philanthropist, business executive, and social entrepreneur who has been widely recognized for his initiatives in the corporate world, the nonprofit environment, the public sector and the international Jewish community.
With his two brothers, Jack and Joseph, Mandel co-founded Premier Industrial Corp., where he served as chairman and chief executive officer until the company’s 2006 merger with Farnell Electronics. Today, he serves as chairman and chief executive officer of Parkwood LLC, a private trust company, and of the Mandel Foundation, which supports leadership-education programs in its own institutions and at selected universities and organizations. These include the Mandel Center for Nonprofit Organizations and the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences, at Case Western Reserve University, as well as the Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education and the Mandel Center for the Humanities, at Brandeis University. In Israel, the foundation established the Mandel School for Educational Leadership, the IDF Educational Leadership Program, the Mandel Center for Leadership in the Negev and the Mandel School for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at Hebrew University.
Mandel believes that in business and philanthropy, great management makes great accomplishment possible. Earlier this year, he published "It’s All About Who You Hire, How They Lead and Other Essential Advice from a Self-Made Leader," a compelling exploration of the fundamental principles that shaped his career and beliefs. Mandel is a generous supporter of a wide array of Jewish causes, many of which he has also led. He has served as president of the Council of Jewish Federations and of the JCC Association. In his home community of Cleveland, he presided over both its Jewish Community Center and the Jewish Federation. He is founding chairman of the National Jewish Democratic Council and founding president of the World Confederation of Jewish Community Centers.
Mandel has been awarded nine honorary degrees from schools including Brandeis University, Hebrew Union College, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. He was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, received the Presidential Award for Private Sector Initiatives and was named Business Statesman of the Year by the Harvard Business School Club of Cleveland.
Barry Mesch, Ph.D.
Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters
Barry Mesch, a scholar, teacher, and administrative leader, has served since 1990 as provost and Stone-Teplow Families Professor of Jewish Thought at Hebrew College. His work focuses on medieval and modern Jewish thought, theology and the Holocaust, and on the history of biblical interpretation. His book, "Studies in Joseph Ibn Caspi: Fourteenth-Century Philosopher and Exegete," was published in 1975.
In his duties as provost, Mesch has been responsible for the development of the Jewish studies and Hebrew language programs as well as the administration of the schools comprising the college’s academic programs — the Rabbinical School, Shoolman Graduate School of Jewish Education and School of Jewish Music. In 2001, Mesch guided the creation and administration of the first online Master of Arts in Jewish Studies program in the country.
He holds a Bachelor of Science from Columbia University, a Bachelor of Religious Education from the Jewish Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. from Brandeis University.
In addition to teaching Jewish-thought courses both on campus and online, Mesch oversees the Graduate Research Seminar course, which brings together Jewish studies and Jewish liberal studies candidates as they work on their final capstone projects required for their degrees. Guiding students as they develop their research and particular interests at the beginning of each semester, and helping them gain expertise and confidence in their projects, culminating in both oral and written presentations, are highlights of the academic year for Mesch.
Prior to his arrival at Hebrew College, Mesch was founding director of the Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Florida, Gainesville, where he had a 20-year career. He later served as associate professor of religion and taught undergraduate-level courses at the university. A key part of the center’s development and growth was the acquisition of several large collections of Judaica, which Mesch was instrumental in acquiring for the university. These collections became the Isser and Rae Price Library of Judaica, the largest Judaica collection in the Southeast. While at the University of Florida, Mesch directed a National Endowment for the Humanities summer seminar for high-school teachers, focusing on the teaching of religion in American public schools.
Mesch will step down as provost at the end of June, and continue to teach and serve as a special adviser to President Daniel L. Lehmann.