Remarks Delivered by Rabbi Aaron D. Panken, Ph.D., at the Dedication and Naming of the Zelikow School of Jewish Nonprofit Management

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Shabbat that comes to us next weekend is known as Shabbat Shekalim – based on Exodus 30, a verse in the Torah which reads: “Yitnu kol ha-over lifnei ha-pekudim machatsit ha-shekel.” “This is what everyone who passes before the officials shall pay: one-half a shekel.”

Shabbat Shekalim, the special Shabbat when we announce this communal contribution, is noted by Resh Lakish, a scholar oft quoted in the Talmuds, who suggests that we must announce the coming of this time each year around the beginning of Adar, our most joyous month, and remind everyone of the obligation to give.

This act of giving a half shekel is a fascinating one, because it requires that each and every person contribute the very same amount to support the central organization of the Jewish people: at this point in history, the Tabernacle, later, the Temple, the central place where all Israel worshipped together, where sacrifices and worship took place, and where the people gathered during their most important communal occasions. This act of giving basic support to the most important central organization of the Jewish community, is one that each and every Israelite was obligated to implement.

Now, on this glorious day when we celebrate the Inauguration of our new Zelikow School of Jewish Nonprofit Management (the ZJSNM), there are a three ways I’d like to interpret this passage. First, and most importantly, we express our profound gratitude to our generous and wonderful donors, Marcie and Howard Zelikow, for you acted on the Torah’s obligation to give to support the community, but you have far exceeded the half-shekel that our tradition required in their amazing support. And you exceeded that gift not just in monetary terms, but by putting your heart and soul into everything we do in the ZSJNM. Marcie and Howard, your extraordinary benevolence, foresight, vision and commitment made this day happen, and will motivate further support for and evolution of this school in the months and years ahead.

The first time I met you, Marcie, I will never forget what we discussed: you made clear to me that Howard and you were behind this school one hundred percent, that you knew its students and faculty, its internships and impact, that you saw the tremendous good that already comes from it, that you envisioned the enormous potential for it to grow and increase its influence, and that Howard and you were committed to its future growth. Howard, in our many exciting conversations over this past year, your thoughtful and insightful way of helping us to consider carefully the structure, financing and leadership of this school has been a gift that has helped set a sure course for a very bright future. As a community, we are deeply grateful to you both for your commitment, and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for making this day possible. 

A second interpretation: the giving of the half-shekel was a totally communal act. Each and every person brought a gift, and no adult Israelite was to be left out.  All had responsibility for the building and sustaining of central communal organizations, and all participated. On this spectacular day, we celebrate that fact that the ZSJNM is a central communal organization – one that already offers our community in the Los Angeles area excellence in education, service to a broad variety of agencies and cliental, and leadership that changes lives and communities. In the future, this ZSJNM will expand its horizons: offering training in its areas of expertise to students in our rabbinical, cantorial and education schools; building executive programs that will reach Jewish communities and students across North America; and creating knowledge that will increase the efficacy of Jewish leadership among all those we touch.

Building this school, from its inception as the School of Jewish Communal Service in 1968, was, ultimately, a collaboration that involved so many within our HUC-JIR community in Los Angeles. Its wonderful directors, Jerry Bubis, Jack Mayer, Steven Windmueller, Marla Abraham and now Richard Siegel, along with our talented faculty and staff over the years, have each contributed mightily to its prestige and success. It has grown under the thoughtful guidance of a series of highly skilled deans of our Skirball Campus, with us today, Lewis Barth, Steven Windmueller and my terrific colleague as our current dean, Josh Holo – we are grateful to all of them for their wisdom and hard work. Our partnership with the University of Southern California has truly allowed us to build with a partner second to none, and we are delighted that so many of our friends from USC have joined us here today, especially Interim Provost Michael Quick and leaders of some of the programs that work closely with the ZSJNM – thank you for your ongoing and extraordinary partnership. Our alumni, who now lead institutions around the globe, have contributed to how we think, how we teach and how we lead the field. Our students continue to distinguish themselves in their internships throughout Southern California and beyond, and we welcome and applaud the terrific collaboration we have with so many partner agencies, many of whom are with us this afternoon. We have reveled in the love and care of so many amazing lay supporters, those who give of their time and sagacity to support this school: those who have chaired and served on the ZSJNM Advisory Committee, Rhea Coskey and our current chair, the very devoted Jay Geller, as well as our Overseers led by Sue Neuman Hochberg and our Governors, led by Andrew Berger. To all our partners and leaders, we offer our thanks.

And that leads to a third and final interpretation of this text. Let us reflect on the gratitude the act of giving encompasses. The act of taking from what you have acquired, and giving it to institutions that sustain our people and make possible our future, is a selfless act that focuses not on us here today, but on what is possible. It implies that we are making institutions that will improve our community and bring us together despite our differences, that we will create leaders and acts of leadership that improve the quality and integrity of all that we do. And it signals that we are firmly focused on a bright and optimistic vision of what is yet to be, and surely to come.

Marcie and Howard, perhaps more than anything else, we are grateful today that we celebrate this moment of dedication with you surrounded by loving members of your family, and, most importantly, with its future: with Lori and with Dan; with David, Raina, Caleb and Micah; with Robbie and Bill and with the other members of the extended Zelikow/Rosenblum family, it is a true blessing, and we see in their eyes and in their actions, that your commitment to improving our Jewish community spans the generations. We share their gratitude for the two of you, and we join hands with them and with you, in making this the first step in a meaningful path of building this extraordinary shared legacy for your family and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

It is with great delight, then, that as President of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, I hereby inaugurate this new school, the Zelikow School of Jewish Nonprofit Management. May this moment of Inauguration be the start of many years of exceptional growth, inspiring impact and extraordinary strength.

Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates men and women for service to North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding.