Foundation selects U.’s Hillel rabbi as leadership mentor
Program helps guide, empower graduate fellows
After reviewing more than a hundred applicants, The Wexner Foundation Mentoring Program selected Rutgers Hillel’s Rabbi Esther Reed to mentor a Foundation Graduate Fellow for the upcoming year.
The Wexner Foundation’s goal is to encourage Jewish leadership in Jewish communities through intensive training and scholarship, said Cindy Chazan, vice president of the foundation.
“We selected 20 people who we thought would do a tremendous job and Rabbi Reed is one of them,” Chazan said.
Reed, senior associate director for Jewish Campus Life, will partner with Wexner Graduate Fellow Adina Allen, a rabbinical student at Hebrew College in Boston, for one year, Chazan said.
Reed said the foundation awarded her the same Wexner fellowship when she attended the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City.
“It’s really a tremendous gift that I was able to receive while I was in school,” she said.
Leslie Wexner, owner of Victoria’s Secret, Bath and Body Works and Layne Bryant founded the Wexner Foundation to cultivate Jewish leaders around the world, Reed said.
Reed has worked at the University’s chapter of Hillel for 11 years. She said she also serves on the University’s Committee to Advance Our Common Purposes and the Bias Prevention and Education Committee.
Reed’s background in Hillel began at the Tufts University chapter where Allen currently interns.
“I’ve had the experience of actually working in the very location where she is doing an internship now so it’s wonderful to be able to have that in common,” Reed said.
She spent one year working at Tufts University Hillel after her undergraduate education and before entering a five-year rabbinical school program in New York City.
The mentoring program is an opportunity for Reed to use her skills to help guide a Jewish leader of the future through their last few years of study, Reed said.
“I have the benefit of having worked all of these 11 years at [the University] and to really build up my portfolio to be able to advise her,” Reed said.
Rutgers-New Brunswick has the second largest undergraduate Jewish population in the country. Reed said the University is very diverse, and the same diversity is reflected in the different cultural, religious, political and denominational backgrounds of Jewish students she encounters.
“Our idea is to empower students so they can really own their own Jewish experience — their Jewish story,” Reed said. “We have a reform rabbi, a conservative rabbi, an orthodox rabbi on our staff and whatever type of Jewish … experience a student is interested in, we will help … make that happen.”
Students who are non-practicing Jews also have opportunities to participate in Jewish life on campus, she said. Hillel runs alternative breaks and sends groups of students to Missouri and Nicaragua during the spring break to do humanitarian relief work.
Reed said she sees the University’s Hillel as a place for students to grow into themselves — not into any particular Jewish narrative.
“This diversity within Hillel itself is actually something that we celebrate and that we encourage,” Reed said.
She said a student recently returned from a national leadership conference and directly thanked her for encouraging diversity in Jewish life on campus.
“[He said] every Jewish student can be embraced by Hillel no matter what their background and [he] just wanted to thank [me] for making this such welcoming place for so many different kinds of students,” Reed said.
A wide variety of students come into Hillel unsure of what being Jewish means to them, said Andrew Getraer, executive director of the University’s Hillel.
“Its our job at Hillel to help them discover themselves and take that journey without bringing any specific agenda … so that they’re discovering something that’s essential about themselves,” he said.
He said the Wexner Foundation’s perspective on Jewish life is similar to Hillel’s.
“There is a clear similarity in their approach to Jewish-life Hillel’s approach,” Getraer said. “We want people to be proud and connected to their Jewish identity.”