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Rabbi Sharon Anisfeld named first female president of Hebrew College

Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld. Photo courtesy of Hebrew College

DECEMBER 7, 2017 – NEWTON CENTRE – Hebrew College made history last month, and didn’t have to go far to do it.

The Board of Trustees on Nov. 30 selected Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld, current dean of the college’s Rabbinical School, to serve as the 96-year-old institution’s first female president. A nationwide search couldn’t find anyone more suited for the post.

Rabbi Anisfeld will oversee the Newton college’s full array of campus and online programs in educational and spiritual leadership, and youth and adult learning. She will succeed Rabbi Daniel L. Lehmann, who earlier this year announced his intention to step down as president at the end of this academic year.

“I am honored to serve this extraordinary community that I have called home for the past 14 years, and I am excited and ready to embrace this new leadership role,” said Rabbi Anisfeld. “I am endlessly inspired and sustained by the vision and dedication of the faculty, students, alumni, and staff with whom I am privileged to work.

“We are blessed to live in a time when so many are seeking an approach to Judaism that transcends denominational boundaries – drawing deeply on the wells of the past, and making Jewish wisdom accessible to a world in need of healing and hope. Our work – providing compelling opportunities for lifelong Jewish learning and educating the next generation of Jewish leaders – has never been more important.”

A graduate of Brown Univ­ersity, Rabbi Anisfeld was ordained in 1990 by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. She joined Hebrew College in 2003, first as an adjunct faculty member and then as dean of students, before taking over as dean of the Rabbinical School in the fall of 2006.

For the past 14 years, Rabbi Anisfeld has brought her strong leadership skills and compassionate presence to Hebrew College. She has exhibited a passion for pluralism, intellectual and spiritual depth, and communal responsibility in all of her leadership roles, inspiring students and alumni to bring Torah to bear on contemporary issues of personal meaning and social justice.

Under her stewardship as dean, the Rabbinical School has become integral to Hebrew College’s mission to promote excellence in Jewish learning and leadership within a pluralistic environment of open inquiry, intellectual rigor, personal engagement, and spiritual creativity. The Rabbinical School has experienced strong institutional growth. This year, it welcomed the largest incoming class of any single campus rabbinical school in the country.

Over 300,000 Jews worldwide are touched by Hebrew College Rabbinical School alumni in congregations, on college campuses, in pastoral care settings, and in organizations promoting social justice, Jewish education, and Jewish creativity. The school expects to ordain 13 rabbis in June 2018, bringing its total alumni community to over 100.

“I want to thank the Search Committee for their outstanding work on this process,” said Andy Offit, chair of the Hebrew College Board of Trustees. “I couldn’t be more confident that Rabbi Anisfeld is the right person to steward Hebrew College’s next chapter.”

Prior to assuming her position at Hebrew College, Rabbi Anisfeld spent 15 years working as a Hillel rabbi at Tufts, Yale, and Harvard universities. She has been a 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.

In 2015, Rabbi Anisfeld was named one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world by The Jerusalem Post. From 2011 to 2013, she was named to Newsweek’s list of the Top 50 Influential Rabbis in America.

Rabbi Anisfeld will assume full responsibility for leadership of the college beginning Jan. 1. Rabbi Lehmann, the current president, will be on sabbatical from January to June 2018, during which time he will provide guidance and help ensure a smooth transition. Hebrew College is currently engaged in a process to identify a successor to Rabbi Anisfeld as dean of the Rabbinical School.

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