“The story invites us to feel triumph and its opposite, compassion, at the same time. And it’s reminding us that we can feel those things. It’s an incredible story and it’s part of a thread that runs throughout Torah, of ambiguity, that is always telling us we can triumph and we can feel compassion. We are human beings with both those capacities.”
—Poet, critic and activist Alicia Ostriker

In this week’s essay, Sharon Cohen Anisfeld, president of Hebrew College, through her d’var Torah goes deep into the story of the Binding of Isaac and invites us to think about the thicket of our own lives; the possibilities that we haven’t seen and the impacts of the stories that we tell ourselves.

Reading Sharon’s d’var Torah we have Alicia Ostriker. Alicia writes Jewish feminist poetry and was one of the first women poets in America to write and publish poems discussing the topic of motherhood. In 2015, she was elected a chancellor at the Academy of American Poets. And in 2018, she was named the New York State poet laureate.

Join us as Alicia takes us through Sharon’s work and what it means to her. Sharon takes us on a journey of conflicting emotion and shows us what’s possible when we extend our hearts and consider all sides—our friends and our enemies—of what Torah has to teach us about compassion and our role in repairing the world.

Listen to the full episode here, or on Apple PodcastsStitcher or Spotify.

What you’ll discover from this episode:

  • Where, like the ram, we get stuck in the thicket in our lives
  • How the stories we tell ourselves keep us stuck in the thicket
  • What the sound of the shofar can teach us about opening ourselves up and extending our hearts to endless possibilities
  • How Sharon invokes simultaneous feelings of triumph and compassion and why, as human beings, we are capable of expressing both


Featured on this episode:

Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld (writer) became president of Hebrew College in July 2018. Rabbi Anisfeld first came to Hebrew College in 2003 as an adjunct faculty member of the Rabbinical School and then served as dean of students from 2005-2006. She went on to serve as dean of the Rabbinical School from 2006-2017. Rabbi Anisfeld graduated from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in 1990 and subsequently spent 15 years working in pluralistic settings as a Hillel rabbi at Tufts, Yale and Harvard universities. She has been a regular summer faculty member for the Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel since 1993 and is co-editor of two volumes of women’s writings on Passover.

Alicia Ostriker (reader) is known for her intelligence and passionate appraisal of women’s place in literature. Ostriker’s poetry and criticism investigates themes of family, social justice, Jewish identity and personal growth. Ostriker’s books of criticism include “For the Love of God: The Bible as an Open Book” (2009), “Dancing at the Devil’s Party: Essays on Poetry, Politics, and the Erotic” (2000) and “Stealing the Language: The Emergence of Women’s Poetry in America” (1983). Of her place in American letters, the writer Joyce Carol Oates noted: “Alicia Ostriker has become one of those brilliantly provocative and imaginatively gifted contemporaries whose iconoclastic expression, whether in prose or poetry, is essential to our understanding of our American selves” (excerpt from PoetryFoundation.org).

Rabbi Jeffrey Summit, Ph.D. (host), is director of the Hebrew College Innovation Lab. He is research professor in the department of music and Judaic studies at Tufts University and senior consultant for Hillel International. The author of several books, among his many awards are a 2018 Hebrew College honorary degree, a Grammy nomination for his album “Abayudaya: Music from the Jewish People of Uganda,” the Edgar M. Bronfman Award for Lifetime Accomplishment in Hillel Professional Leadership and the Tufts Hosea Ballou Medal.

Torah is one of the most profound sources of wisdom available to us. In Hebrew College’s new podcast, “Speaking Torah,” Jewish leaders from around the world read essays from Hebrew College faculty and rabbinical alumni about how Torah can help us navigate the most pressing issues of our time. Together, we explore the ways Torah can help us approach the world with creativity, healing and hope. Find out more at hebrewcollege.edu/podcast.

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