Friday, June 03, 2011

Hebrew (Teachers) College ע"ה

It is with profound sadness, that I must record the death (for me) of an institution for which I have hitherto felt nothing but affection and gratitude, Boston Hebrew College (aka HTC). It was there that I received the broad Hebrew, Jewish education upon which I subsequently built much of my personal and professional life. It was there that I had the privilege of studying under some of the most remarkale teachers ever to walk the face of God's earth: Rose Bronstein ע"ה, R. Arnold Wieder, R. Isaiah Wohlgemuth ז"ל, Israel Levin, Ehud Luz, Reuven Kritz, David Schapiro, Solomon Schimmel and others. In addition, it was R. Schapiro who, while teaching there, arranged for me to start learning under the Rav זצ"ל and who urged me to pursue my doctorate at Harvard.

HTC was also an intimate Jewish community that was integrally and intensely attached to the State of Israel (and previously, to the Yishuv). Indeed, it was founded by Palestinian Jewish educators. The Hebrew culture we imbibed was inextricably tied up with that of Israel. Despite the fact that it was officially a secular institution, it was open and accepting to a broad panoply of Jews, and eminently respectful of tradition. One thing that bound us, in particular, was a profound sense of Jewish Peoplehood.

The school was headed, for many years, by Eisig Silberschlag, who was an accomplished poet and a member of Bialik's inner circle. He embodied, in many ways, all of the best the school sought to represent. I will never forget the assembly of thanksgiving that was held in the wake of Israel's miraculous victory in June, 1967. We were all so thankful that the Second Holocaust that we had feared just days before, had ended in the liberation of our people from destruction, and the reunification of Jerusalem. I don't recall all that was said in that electric moment. I will, however, never forget how Dr. Silberschlag kept saying (his voice choked with emotion): כל הכבוד לצה"ל!!!!

It grieves me to say that this school, the one I loved so much, is dead. Its death has, I admit, been a long, drawn out affair. It started when Hebrew (its ostensible, raison d'etre) was dropped. It continued as it diluted its academic content. It sank deeper, as it ominously entered the fabian world of post-denominational Judaism with its rabbinical school. It has now, for me, finally died a death worthy of Peretz Smolenskin.

Yesterday, as I travelled home from New York, I read Daniel Gordis' column in which he describes the post-modern, relativist posture that the institution adopted toward Yom ha-Zikkaron. The message, and the PC disingenuous response by the school's dean, has so filled me with pain and rage that I urge you to read Gordis' piece (with which I fully agree). The school has effectively denuded itself of Jewish national sentiment, of substantive Jewish and knowledge and abandoned the Hebrew Language. I have contacted the school asking to be removed from their mailing list, or to be referred to as an alumnus. I will continue to treasure the school that once was.

The institution, however, that pretends to be its continuation is a mere knock-off.

The real Hebrew College is dead.

תהי נשמתה צרורה בצרור החיים.

I received the following response from Hebrew College. (I don't think they got it.):

Dear Dr. Woolf,

Thank you very much for your email. We have removed you from our mailing lists. I am glad you have positive memories of your time here and thank you for reaching out.


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