by Tony Moore
Ted Merwin, director of the Milton B. Asbell Center for Jewish Life and associate professor of religion & Judaic studies, takes a lot of pride in the history of the Asbell Center. You can hear it in his voice, see it in his eyes as he talks about the center's 10-year history.
And now visitors can see it in the form of a commemorative mosaic hanging above the fireplace inside the Asbell Center's High Street location.
"I'm thrilled with how it turned out," says Merwin of the 48- by 36-inch tile mosaic, which was dedicated over Homecoming & Family Weekend, on Sept. 27. "It went through many different iterations as we got a lot of student input, input from alumni. We really wanted to get it right."
And they certainly got it right. The mosaic—made by artist Jonathan Mandell from hand blown-glass shards, ceramic tile and assorted semiprecious stones and minerals—highlights both the history of Jewish life at Dickinson and current activities students are involved with as part of Jewish life.
"For me, the Asbell Center is all about seeing students take ownership of their Jewish lives and mature and see how much it means to them to get involved with Judaism and blossom in that way," Merwin says.
Funded by Jewish organizations, parents, alumni, administrators, faculty members and others, the mosaic features scenes from campus, such as holiday celebrations and building Sukkahs, as well as portraits of two individuals who Merwin cites as foundational to Jewish life on campus: Paul "Pappy" Hodge and Ned Rosenbaum.
Hodge started working at the Phi Epsilon house, which was mostly inhabited by Jewish men, in the teens and lived there his whole life, becoming, as Merwin puts it, "a father figure to the students living there, the unlikely face of Jewish life at Dickinson." The other figure is Ned Rosenbaum, a professor who came to Dickinson in the early 1970s and helped launch the Judaic studies program, making Dickinson one of the first colleges in the country to have a major in Judaic studies.
Merwin says that organizations such as the Asbell Center are more important than ever in keeping tradition and history alive, as more and more people shy away from organized religion.
"There's a whole part of the history that we're not just preserving but is continuing to inform what we do," Merwin says. "The history is a living history, and that's what Judaism is about."
Published October 14, 2013