Skip To Content Skip To Menu Skip To Footer

Celebrating the Past, Present and Future of Jewish Learning and Leadership at Dickinson

Celebration of Jewish life event

Photo by Dan Loh.

Events commemorate anniversaries for Dickinson's Jewish community

Dickinson's Jewish community celebrates important milestones this year, as the college marks the 50th anniversary of its Judaic studies program, the 20th anniversaries of the Milton B. Asbell Center for Jewish Life and South American day school admissions initiative and the 18th anniversary of the Sophia Ava Asbell Chair in Judaic Studies. On Sunday, April 16, alumni and the campus community gathered to recall the past, share the present and look toward the future of Jewish learning and leadership at Dickinson.

The event began with a welcome brunch kicked off with remarks from President John E. Jones III ’77, P’11, on Dickinson's long history of embracing the importance of Jewish life and Judaic studies and the vital role Yale Asbell '78 and the Asbell family played in helping those priorities thrive at Dickinson.

"I am thrilled that we are joined by so many people who have been instrumental in sustaining the strength of our Jewish life program over the years," said Jones, noting that Asbell established the Milton B. Asbell Center for Jewish Life at Dickinson, created the Sophia Ava Asbell Chair in Judaic Studies and launched a scholarship to enroll Jewish students from Uruguay and Argentina through significant gifts to the college in 2001. "First and foremost, of course, the Asbell family. Without the foresight and generosity of the Asbells, past and present, we would literally not be here today celebrating this momentous occasion. Dickinson's rich Jewish history is no accident. It is a testament to the truly transformative power of philanthropy. The Asbell family has been an integral part of building and sustaining this community at Dickinson College."

President John E. Jones III ā€™77, Pā€™11, and Professor of Religion Andrea Lieber present Yale '78 and Audrey Asbell with a handmade paper cut tree designed by local Judaica artist, Susan Leviton, based on a quote from Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, which says in Hebrew, "Tzedakah," followed by the English translation, "Generosity of the heart." The inscription reads, "In gratitude to Audrey and Yale Asbell, for your philanthropic vision which continues to transform Dickinson College and bring many blessings."

President John E. Jones III ’77, P’11, and Professor of Religion Andrea Lieber present Yale '78 and Audrey Asbell with a handmade paper cut tree designed by local Judaica artist, Susan Leviton, based on a quote from Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, which says in Hebrew, "tzedakah," followed by the English translation, "generosity of the heart." The inscription reads, "In gratitude to Audrey and Yale Asbell, for your philanthropic vision which continues to transform Dickinson College and bring many blessings." Photo by Dan Loh.

The brunch also included remarks from Leah Soibel ’00, who majored in Judaic studies and history at Dickinson. As founder and CEO of the award-winning Fuente Latina and founder of Activista Media, Soibel has partnered with Latino journalists and influencers around the world to bring millions of Spanish speakers an accurate image of the Jewish people and break down stereotypes between Latinos and Jews. This work, she said, would not have been possible, without her experience at Dickinson, where she felt welcomed and supported.

"When I got to campus, I did not have to hide my identity," she said. "I never felt ashamed of my identity as a Latin Jew which was not always the case growing up in the '80s in the Midwest. When I got to campus, I thrived. I took every course available to me that I could take, and those that didn't exist, like Arabic, which wasn't in the syllabus at the time, I found professors who would support me in building programming that I wanted. ... Dickinson taught me to be innovative, and Dickinson taught me that I can use my voice to create impact."

Leah Soibel '00

“Over the last 10 years, Fuente Latina has brought hundreds of journalists to Israel,” Leah Soibel ’00 said of her work. “We've facilitated thousands of interviews that have resulted in more than 60,000 accurate news stories about Israel and the Jewish world, and our work even resulted in two TV Emmy wins and an Associated Press broadcasting award. But the best recognition that we've received is that last month the White House invited me to honor the work that we are doing to strengthen the Jewish community through the work of Fuente Latina, and none of that would be possible without Dickinson. Dickinson and my mother and my father taught me everything that I know.” Photo by Dan Loh.

The full-day event continued with a talk about Judaic studies in the context of a liberal-arts education by Professor of Religion Andrea Lieber, a scholar in late antique Judaism and emerging Christianity who has led Dickinson’s Judaic studies department since 1998 and has served as the college’s inaugural Sophia Ava Asbell Chair in Judaic Studies since 2001. The celebration culminated with a discussion of the future of Jewish life at Dickinson. It was facilitated by Lieber and Sophie Asbell ’24, a double major in religion and Judaic studies and namesake of the Sophia Asbell Chair and the 13th member of her family to attend Dickinson.

Soibel, Lieber, Asbell and many other alumni who returned for the event are part of a longstanding movement to enrich Jewish life at Dickinson, which finds roots in the early 20th century, when the college gained a reputation for welcoming Jewish students at a time when a substantial number of peer institutions limited or banned Jewish enrollment. Alfred Louis Tuvin, class of 1910, memorialized as benefactor of the ATS auditorium, was among those pioneers, along with Milton Asbell ’37, namesake of the Asbell Center, who attended Dickinson with brothers Nathan ’29, Leo ’32 and Joseph ’47.

21st-century milestones in Jewish Life at Dickinson include:

  • 2001: Establishment of the Milton B. Asbell Center for Jewish Life at Dickinson, the Sophia Ava Asbell Chair in Judaic Studies and a scholarship to enroll Jewish students from Uruguay and Argentina.
  • 2003-05: Dickinson’s Milton B. Asbell Center for Jewish Life opens in 2003. The Ned Rosenbaum Research Award for Judaic Studies is established in 2005 (Soibel was the 1999 recipient).
  • 2010-2020: Dickinson opens the KOVE and builds partnerships with Israeli universities to facilitate study abroad in Israel. The college’s partnerships with the local Jewish community are strengthened through sponsored faculty lectures.
  • 2013: Dickinson launches the Alternative Spring Break program and develops the Jewish Environmental Ethics service-learning course.
  • 2014-present: The Ned Rosenbaum Memorial Endowment Fund and a High Holy Day Fund are established, along with the globally integrated course Food and Energy in the United States and Israel. Rabbi Marley Weiner becomes the first full-time director of the Milton B. Asbell Center for Jewish Life in 2019. The Grace Eva Katz Wolf ’55 Jewish Life Fund is established in 2022.

Alumni and campus community members will keep the anniversary-year fetes going during an Alumni Weekend celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Asbell Center for Jewish Life, held Saturday, June 10.

The celebration will include an Asbell Center for Jewish Life exhibit of artifacts, stories, and photos depicting Jewish Life at Dickinson over the years and the Ned Rosenbaum Lecture, “Celebrating the Past, Investing in the Future: A Conversation With Rabbi Lauren Tuchman ’08.” A Kiddush Luncheon will follow. For more information, view the Alumni Weekend schedule.

TAKE THE NEXT STEPS 

Published April 16, 2023