Dear OLLI at ASU community,

Richard C. Knopf

Selah (Hebrew: סֶלָה). Selah is an ancient Hebrew word that defies translation. While many scholars have attempted to interpret its meaning, the reality is that most scholars agree there is no way to translate selah into modern language. In other words, though we may repeat history, modernity cannot always adequately express ancient sentiment, felt across time and space.

Scholars do agree upon one thing: when used in ancient writings, selah was a cue that pause is in order. The kind of pause that invites people into deeper reflection, deeper connectivity, and deeper revelation. The kind of pause that prompts us to break away, reinterpret, and reground. 

And so it is with the pandemic. There is no doubt that it has been a negative disruptor. The vile effects of pain, disruption, and loss are threaded deep into our psyches. Words cannot express the depth of what we have all experienced. So we find ourselves in moments of selah, of pregnant pause. What is our purpose? What do we dwell upon? Among all the disruption, how do we move forward with the way we live? What light shatters the darkness?

Selah has deeply and positively impacted OLLI at ASU’s resolve to be there for members as you all have moved into experiences of selah. To stop and take stock. To focus on the big questions. To vigorously rediscover curiosity when the pandemic was intent to diminish it. To build connectivity when connectivity wanted to escape us.

In her letter to you last fall, fellow OLLI at ASU member Nancy Wolter profoundly captured these kind of saleh moments:

“OLLI at ASU is offering a lifeline of online classes we could access on a desktop, a laptop, a phone. Classes that pried open our foggy minds and connected us with each other, with our curiosity, with our thirst for learning. And look at what that taught us! That we were adaptable, flexible, open-minded and that we could transcend our physical boundaries.

OLLI at ASU invested in me at a time when I felt forlorn and fearful. Instead, I could tap into classes on poetry and memoir writing and get knocked sideways by the power of the writing and talent of my fellow students… I could learn about art, history, science – all from the comfort of my very familiar room.”

In closing, I want to call attention to two OLLI at ASU success stories from this past year. First, a hearty THANK YOU for our successful fundraising campaign, which netted just over $87,000 with 20% of you participating! Those resources literally enabled our community to survive through the ravishes of the pandemic. This year, we want to sustain that energy – our goal is to match last year.

Second, please join me in congratulating the extraordinary efforts of OLLI at ASU staff this past year, each of whom went beyond the call of duty to also ensure that our community could survive throughout the pandemic. In the plenary session of the Osher National Conference in October 2020, OLLI at ASU was applauded for epitomizing excellence in our rapid shift to online instruction and community building when the pandemic hit. It was your staff who accomplished this, and they did it for you! Please thank them for their valiant efforts and this recognition.

With that spirit, as we move into this new year, we encourage you to practice selah with us, to marvel as we grow, and to join us in the uncharted adventures of 2021. We are honored to offer 160 classes this semester, five Learning Enrichment Groups, countless opportunities for community building, and mechanisms for self-reflection through your twice-weekly Community Care Letters. The best is yet to come!

Yours in learning and purpose,

Richard C. Knopf
Richard C. Knopf, PhD, Director, 

Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at ASU

Spring 2021