This past week I electronically sat down for an interview with Brandeis’ Hillel President Jessica Goldberg ’13! We covered how she became pres, what plans she has for Hillel, and the level of inclusiveness she sees Hillel as offering. Unfortunately, we didn’t get into Judaism’s biggest questions: Who Killed Tupac?
A handful of Brandeis students contributed questions, so if you like what you read, take part in this series by submitting questions for Brandeis Dems President, Jake Weiner ’13!
Oh I Just Can’t Wait To Be King!
IMP: So Jess, how do you feel about being Brandeis’ new Hillel President?
JG: I’m really excited about it! I definitely never expected to be in this position – I’ve always had my eye on Hillel Education Coordinator – but a couple of people wanted that one, so I guess this will do.
IMP: Were you already officially inaugurated? If so, what was that like?
JG: Yes. I was inaugurated on May 6th after Shabbat dinner in Sherman Function Hall. The ceremony began with speeches by Executive Director Larry Sternberg, Associate Director Cindy Spungin, three wonderful senior speakers, and outgoing President Andrea Wexler ’11. Then Andrea conducted a ceremony in which each of last year’s Board members inaugurated his or her counterpart, and finally I gave a speech. It was a fun yet poignant evening!
Where’s Hillel Going?
IMP: What are some of your plans for Hillel for the upcoming year?
JG: I actually have a lot of specific plans, as do the nine other Hillel Board members. However, some of my overarching goals include fostering greater Hillel unity (and making it a stronger community); incorporating the voices of non-Board members into our plans; forming close relationships with each member group; making the Hillel Board and Staff more accessible; and celebrating our pluralism through greater intra-Hillel collaboration and dialogue.
IMP: Are there certain social events and areas of social justice/activism you are hoping to focus on?
JG: Dillon Ang is the new Tzedek/Social Action Coordinator, and while I hope that he and his minyan counterparts will address many areas of social justice, a huge focus for us has always been and will continue to be hunger and homelessness awareness. I’m hoping that this year we will reunite with the different activist organizations we’ve worked with in the past for various projects, and I’m also interested in starting an annual “Tzedek Shabbaton.” In terms of social events, besides beloved traditions like the Latke-Hamantaschen Debate and the Purim Party, I hear Social Events Coordinator Danny Reisner is planning two dances (another Bar Mitzvah party and a more formal one).
Hillel’s Presence on Campus
IMP: What role do you see Hillel playing on the Brandeis campus?
JG: Overall, Hillel is a loud and proud, but always inclusive, force on campus – we even have a Board member (Ariel Milan Polisar) whose entire job is campus relations! As the Foundation for Jewish Campus Life and an umbrella organization for at least twenty sub-groups, Hillel’s job is to provide for all of your needs and interests as a Jew (or someone just interested in Judaism).
I also hope that we can accomplish amazing things this year with all of the groups with whom we’ve collaborated in the recent past (Trisk/QRC, the Justice League, SEA, BIG, MSA, JVP, and several academic departments) and more. Hillel is also behind some of the biggest social action efforts and greatest parties of the year and all students are more than welcome to be a part of that.
IMP: What do you think the role of the Hillel minyanim are? (And could you please explain what this term means)
JG: A minyan is really a prayer group. Technically, Hillel has seven – Orthodox, Traditional Egalitarian, BaRuCH/Reform, BRO/Reconstructionist, Sephardi, Ruach, and Shira Chadasha. The Orthodox minyan is affiliated with BOO and the Egal minyan is affiliated with BUCO. BOO, BUCO, BaRuCH, and BRO all exist as vibrant Hillel member groups outside of their minyanim.
BOO, BUCO, BaRuCH, and BRO each represent a unique school of ideology, and they each need an outlet through which to explore that in ways other than just prayer. Though the nature of these quasi-independent clubs is conducive to clique formation and not quite recognizing that they are part of Hillel, I don’t intend to ask them to abandon their social events or anything like that. I really think that we can work on solving inter-minyan awkwardness by collaboration and by working toward embracing and understanding our differences. This year’s Board is dedicated to fighting assumptions and tension with “active engagement” (Education Coordinator Eliana Light has a great Facebook note about it).
IMP: Will we be seeing efforts for the construction of a (physical) Hillel building; a communal place for all denominations of Jews to interact on a day-to-day basis?
JG: Honestly, I don’t intend to raise the issue this year unless I hear an especially convincing argument. The Hillel building or Hillel center is a vital tool at many colleges, but the realities of our organization render it impractical. In terms of a space where all Jews can interact on a day-to-day basis, this is precisely the purpose of the Hillel Lounge, which is almost never empty and is home to people from all walks of Hillel life.
Over the course of one day, you might have great conversations with a BZA person, a BOO person, a Shalem person, and more. I will also tell you that I have plans to make the Lounge more open and welcoming to everyone, regardless of one’s member group affiliation (if any!).
Hillel- Inclusive Enough?
IMP: Sometimes the less observant Jewish students on campus stay away from Hillel because they feel they are in an environment where they are judged for not being religious enough. How do you intend as Hillel president to make less observant Jewish students feel comfortable attending Hillel events?
JG: I’ve definitely heard accusations of Hillel catering to the more religious crowd, and if people are uncomfortable then this is a problem. I don’t make assumptions; in fact, my current project for Shabbat and Festival Meals Coordinator Leslie Golden and Eliana Light is to revamp the “Shabbat Dinner 101” table literature that explains the meaning of various rituals you might see observed (by many but not all!) at Hillel’s Shabbat dinner.
Some of my friends and I also try to set an example by doing things like studying in the Beit Midrash (House of Study) even though we are clearly liberal Jews. At the same time, I can say pretty confidently that very few Hillel members judge anyone – so you should come to events or dinner sometime and get to know someone completely different!
IMP: Are there any openly LGBT members of Hillel? If not, why do you think this might be? Do you have any ideas for how to create a more open and affirming Hillel community?
JG: THANK YOU for this question! Yes, there are absolutely openly LGBTQ members of Hillel – they are involved in just about every facet of Hillel. The real question is whether or not Hillel has an LGBTQ community.
Shalem is our official LGBTQ group, and unfortunately it has been less than thriving in recent times. This summer I’ve started the process of revitalizing Shalem – anyone who wants more information can email me and I’ll add you to the mailing list. And if Hillel or any of its affiliated member groups come off as closed-minded, I want to hear about it so that we can fix it and make this a welcoming environment for everybody.
JG: Finally, I would like to thank Elly and Innermost Parts for this opportunity to share my thoughts with the Brandeis community, and I invite anyone to email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Facebook message me if you have any more questions or ideas for Hillel! Also, I tried to pay tribute to all of my Board members in this interview, but I couldn’t get them all in there, so: Ariana Berlin (Religious Life), Rachel Mayo (Finance), Michelle Sinnreich (Israel), and Sarah Sue Landau (Communications) – you guys are awesome too!
Note: Some lines were taken out from the above interview in the interest of clarity and brevity.