Promoting a Thriving Jewish Life on Campus

Promoting a Thriving Jewish Life on Campus

Photo by Richard Howard

Photo by Richard Howard

Early in April, the College announced the appointment of Rabbi Audrey Marcus Berkman as rabbi and director of Wellesley College Hillel, beginning in the 2015–16 academic year.

Most recently rabbi of the Shir Hadash Reconstructionist Havurah in Newton, Rabbi Berkman also served as the Jewish chaplain at Hebrew Senior Life in Brookline, Mass., and at Newton-Wellesley Hospital. She graduated from Oberlin College and went on to earn a master of theological studies, with a concentration in Jewish text, from Harvard Divinity School. She received her rabbinical ordination from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Pennsylvania, where her rabbinical studies were supported by a prestigious Wexner Fellowship.

A committee of faculty, staff, students, and alumnae was charged with finding a full-time rabbi—a scholar and a teacher who could be the center of a thriving Jewish life on campus. “The committee saw in Rabbi Berkman the qualities of leadership, sensitivity, spirituality, and Jewish learning that will make her an outstanding member of the community,” says Nancy Harrison Kolodny ’64, Heller/Cohen Professor of Health Sciences emerita and co-chair of the search committee.

Kolodny points to the broad diversity of the Jewish student community—from those who are deeply observant in a variety of traditions to those who come from secular backgrounds or “have nothing to do with Hillel.” Rabbi Berkman will develop a wide range of religious, cultural, social, and educational programs for and with Jewish students. She will also be an active part of the multifaith team of chaplains and advisors in the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life.

While the search was in progress, Rabbi Dan Ehrenkrantz was on campus full-time for the spring semester, advising Jewish students and stewarding the Jewish community on an interim basis.

The former president of Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Pennsylvania, Rabbi Ehrenkrantz ran a plethora of programs. These included biweekly Torah study for students (for example, Jewish teachings on peace), a study session with faculty (“First Fruits: Gender Nonconformity in Rabbinical Literature”), a Purim celebration with a math professor reading the book of Esther; and various Shabbat services with students from Tufts, Brandeis, and Babson. He also joined members of the Jewish community at events sponsored by other groups and departments, for example at a lecture by Tal Becker, a senior member of the Israeli peace negotiating team.

Rabbi Ehrenkrantz has also conducted numerous meetings—with Jewish students, listening to their desires for the Jewish community; with the Hillel alumnae board; and with members of College senior staff.

“I have found the administration of Wellesley to be seriously interested in promoting strong Jewish life on campus. And I do think that strong Jewish communal life is the best way to create an atmosphere on campus that is positive for Jewish students, that is welcoming to Jewish students,” Rabbi Ehrenkrantz says. “Rabbi Berkman is very lucky that she’s coming into a campus environment that really wants to roll out the red carpet for her success.”

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