Madlik—this Hebrew adjective means something is surprisingly wonderful or something has appeared as magically as if it were a lit flame. It’s also an apt word to celebrate the first decade of alumni of the Hebrew College Rabbinical School. In 2008, the first 11 students graduated from the new school. This year, a decade later, the number of graduates will surpass 100.

In an interview with JewishBoston, Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld, dean of the Rabbinical School, said that on Saturday, Dec. 2, “Madlik: Illuminating the World – A Celebration of Learning and Leadership” will acknowledge the Rabbinical School’s special milestone. “It will be a great time to celebrate how our students and alumni have contributed to the community and how the community has supported their growth and development,” Anisfeld said.


In addition to havdalah and musical performances, there will also be a “taste” of the rabbinical school’s signature beit midrash. The school’s heart and soul, the beit midrash facilitates text study as dynamic engagement with the classical sources of Jewish tradition, and with study partners across the table. In small groups, students and alumni will facilitate learning that aims to solicit an intentionally diverse range of responses to the material. “It will give people a sense of the way we approach the learning process as both dialogical and relational,” said Anisfeld. “We invite people to bring the fullness of themselves to the learning experience and see what kind of creativity emerges from it.”

That kind of creativity has also inspired various paths to the rabbinate. For Rabbi Suzie Jacobson of Temple Israel of Boston, the rabbinate brought her to “different aspects of Jewish education.” Jacobson was in a Ph.D. program in Jewish philosophy before she switched to the rabbinical school. She told JewishBoston she was drawn to Hebrew College for its “beit midrash with its heavy emphasis on text learning.” In addition to ordination, Jacobson earned a master’s degree in Jewish education and a certificate in organizational leadership. “My job is so much of a reflection of those three [degrees], where I’m a rabbi and teacher, educator and manager,” Jacobson said.

Jacobson brought the creativity she experienced as a rabbinical student to Temple Israel, where she started a center for adult Jewish education and The Jewish Spiritual Practice Lab. The Lab allows congregants to express themselves spiritually while exploring prayer and God. “The Lab came directly from my work at Hebrew College, where I learned to be spiritually flexible from rabbis who were creative, nimble and excited about alternative modes while being grounded in tradition,” she said.

Jevin Eagle was a business executive and an active Jewish lay leader before he entered the rabbinate. Eagle, who has another year at Hebrew College before ordination, is also the full-time director of Boston University Hillel. “I wanted to be a rabbi my whole adult life,” he told JewishBoston. What finally sent him on a path to rabbinical school was one simple question: “What do you do for Jewish learning?” The question was posed to Eagle after he had been recruited to be president of Hillel International. He turned down the job but began a course of study that started with the goal of learning Jewish texts in Hebrew.

A decade later, Eagle decided he would “try out Hebrew College for six months.” Eagle, who lives in the Greater Boston area, did not want to uproot his family until he was certain he could commit to rabbinical school. But he found Hebrew College’s emphasis on rigorous text combined with its dedication to pluralism the “perfect fit.” He said he “was looking for serious text, but I didn’t want to be told how to live.” Like Jacobson, Hebrew College’s spiritual flexibility inspired him “to do serious Jewish learning in the modern world.”

Rabbi Suzanne Offit told JewishBoston she started her journey to rabbinical school with a class on the weekly Torah portion taught by Judith Kates. Offit, who had just had twin sons, took her mother’s advice “to keep her brain going.” She recalled the class was like “a fountain of life. It was so intensive; I don’t think we got through 30 verses in the semester.” She continued taking classes at Hebrew College until she enrolled in Me’ah. By then her boys were in preschool, and a third son was on the way. She loved the exposure to Torah and Talmud, all while being an active lay leader in the Jewish community.

But something clicked for her at a friend’s Shabbat dinner when she heard Hebrew College was starting a rabbinical school. “I was so excited,” she said. “I wanted to go back to work eventually. In doing that, I wanted to nourish people. I considered teaching, but knew I had to be a rabbi.” Once she made her decision, there was some pushback. Some acquaintances felt that going to rabbinical school would be too overwhelming for the mother of three young children. “There was no choice. I had to go to rabbinical school,” Offit noted. “The only failure was if I didn’t try.” She began her first day the day before her youngest son started kindergarten.

Like Jacobson and Eagle, Offit has forged her own course to the rabbinate. In between the long nights of studying and the long days of classes and caring for her family, Offit also took on a variety of internships that brought her to Hebrew SeniorLife. “I took my first chaplaincy course in 2007 and knew it was my calling,” she said. After stints through some of the Hebrew SeniorLife (HSL) communities for which she conducted High Holiday services, as well as administered to residents, Offit eventually became a palliative care chaplain. “I do very specialized work,” she said. “And I feel blessed that I could stay in Newton where I live to go to rabbinical school and grow so deeply and broadly as a rabbi and chaplain at HSL.”

At the end of the conversation, Offit pulled out a volume of poetry by Mary Oliver. She pointed out the verse, “My job is loving the world.” And then Offit added her interpretation: “My job is loving people.”

Find more information about “Madlik: Illuminating the World – A Celebration of Learning and Leadership” here.

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