Meet the Staff: Exclusive Rabbi Interview

A conservative, a reform, and an orthodox rabbi walk into a bar… err, a college campus. But what’s the difference? This Long Island campus is known as Hofstra University, home of Hofstra Hillel. Here, students of all religions are welcomed to learn about Judaism and enjoy a diverse community, full of fun rabbis and students.

After walking through the double doors of room 213 in the student center, you’ll be greeted with bountiful hellos and most likely food. The three rabbis stroll through the office or sit at their desks, readily available for a question or amusing conversation. Each rabbi has a different role aside from their rabbinical duties. They enhance Hofstra Hillel with heir wit, charm, and knowledge. Let’s meet these loved rabbis and get to know what they think about Hofstra Hillel.

Rabbi Dave has been at Hofstra for five years now. He is the executive director for Hofstra Hillel, and a conservative rabbi. Rabbi Dave sits at his office desk, listening closely as he considers each answer. “As Hillel, we serve as an umbrella organization for the entire Jewish community.” Rabbi Dave goes on to explain how they each consider themselves “pluralistic educators.” Adding in how he enjoys working with students within other sects of Judaism.

“Even though the three of us are rabbis, our jobs are very different.” They all have the ability to function in different settings, working together to give the students what they need when it comes to religion, education, and personal questions. Rabbi Dave feels working with different branches of Judaism is enriching. “We have so many different people from different backgrounds.” He mentions the mutual respect all three rabbis have with each other, despite their religious differences and personality differences. When asked his favorite part of Hillel, Rabbi Dave responds, “I love the diversity.” He continues, “We’re doing good stuff, and we’re having fun.”

“The beautiful thing about Hillel is we should be able to be there for our students no matter who they are. And I think we definitely accomplish that.” Rabbi Lyle, director of Jewish life and learning, began. Rabbi Lyle is a reform rabbi and has been with us at Hofstra for almost two years. “All of us have different skill sets that make us all unique.” Rabbi Lyle jokes throughout the interview, full of laughter and smiles, he continues discussing his love and appreciation for Hofstra Hillel. “I try to understand where you came from, and your values, and beliefs.” He feels there is no difference when working with students of a different sect of Judaism; the varying in opinions or knowledge enhances the conversation.

He describes Rabbi Meir (Rabs) as a mentor and friend throughout his experience in Rabbinical school and even working with him in Hillel. “Even when the three of us disagree, there is a level of respect.” When asked what the students teach him, Rabbi Lyle paused, “You can never take a class to learn how to be a rabbi. The students teach me how to be a rabbi.” He goes on to discuss how he loves the way Hillel is always changing, “It is one of the most dynamic environments around.” He loves the exciting and vibrant atmosphere of Hillel and how “there is always something impelling going on.”

Rabbi Meir, known as Rabs, is excited to discuss his love for Hillel, his office full of memorabilia. Rabs is an orthodox rabbi and has been a part of Hofstra Hillel for 31 years. He is the director of community outreach and university Jewish chaplain. “It’s probably rare to have an orthodox, reform, and a conservative rabbi all on Hillel staff.” Rabs feels this is important because students can see three different rabbis interact, listen, and discuss. “None of us push our particular branch on people.” He also believes it gives students the opportunity to learn different viewpoints.

“My experience with all students is wonderful, exciting, challenging.” Rabs goes on to explain how working with the rabbis broadens his horizons and different perspectives. And while they each face disagreements, the respect they have for each other and openness to learn and listen improves Hillel just that much more. “I learn a lot from students. Often from questions, some things I don’t know the answer to or haven’t thought about.” Rabs quotes a line from the Talmud, “From my teachers I’ve learned a lot, from my colleagues I’ve learned even more, from my students I’ve learned the most.”

When asked what Rabs loves about Hillel, he responds, “Where should I start? I love everything about Hillel” Then he goes through each individual aspect he adores about Hillel. From working in the Jewish community, to having students of all different backgrounds, the colleagues he feels blessed to work with, the potential for growth and connecting students to the Jewish world, and the community services we do. “The potential to really touch people’s lives.” He also loves connecting people to Israel and the high energy on our campus.

Rabs is inspired by the staff and their creativity. For the future, he wishes “More and more students discover Hillel and get involved in ways that are meaningful for them.” Ultimately, he wants Hillel to have even more years of happiness, health, and to continue to inspire others. “I feel very grateful to have and continue having a job that’s inspiring and fulfilling.”

Hillel is a home for students of different branches of Judaism, as well as non-Jews. They welcome everyone with open arms to experience and learn. Hillel also provides opportunities for students to work on Hillel’s e-board, empowering them to take part in the Jewish community and feel a sense of accomplishment. The students run the social networks, help manage events, and promote Hillel to new students.

Morgan Waisner is a grad student at Hofstra University and the director of special projects for Hillel. She has worked at Hillel for three years now and is grateful for all the opportunities she has here. “We do a good job pertaining to all kinds of students by having perspectives and teachings from rabbis that come from different denominations.” After she was asked how the rabbis influence her, Morgan laughed “How have they not influenced me?” She went on to talk about her Jewish education and how she is constantly learning about Jewish values, “I think my way of thinking and perceiving the world has changed as well.”

Her favorite part about working with the rabbis is their patience and wisdom. “I look at all of them as mentors and learn something different from each one of them. They each bring something different to the table.” Morgan considers herself a cultural Jew. She talks about how she grew up conservatively, but her Jewish education halted when she reached high school, but she considers herself more traditional. This helps students feel less intimidated when introduced to Hillel since she is easily relatable to the many Jewish students that observe Judaism the same way. “I love that any type of Jew or non-Jew can walk in here, learn something, be part of a group, and feel welcomed.”

Amanda is a grad student at Hofstra as well. She works at Hillel as an engagement associate and discusses how Hillel has influenced her college experience. “I transferred here my junior year of college and it was really hard to make friends. I went on birthright and came back with all these friends. Without that my college experience wouldn’t have been as good.” She loves how supportive the rabbis can be. “They’re interested in your life!” Amanda smiled. They were excited for Amanda while she was applying to grad school and were happy for her when she was accepted. She explains how comfortable the atmosphere is within Hillel.

“I think it’s great to have all types of Judaism in one place.” They are also always open and available to answer questions. “It’s very much about the students, they are there to support and give information.” Amanda discusses how Hillel is community based. “Obviously our religion brings people here to begin with, but everyone loves it because they like the people.” Her favorite part about the rabbis is they’re understanding, supportive, and “genuinely care for everyone.” She also loves the people involved with Hillel and the relationships she has made from her experience here.

As an intern at Hillel, I cannot agree more with how grateful I feel to be a part of a community so energetic and welcoming. Watching Hillel grow and being a part of this growth inspires me in so many ways. The rabbis have taught me to ask questions and be honest. They do not judge what I understand about Judaism, what I’m curious about, and what I value. The peers and friends I have made in Hillel remind me there are still people with similar beliefs in college. As a college student, it’s easy to forget religion, and although I always cherished my religion, this can happen without realization. Luckily, Hillel has been there to support and educate me. I am so proud of my culture and thankful to be involved in a community as fun as this one. Hillel has given me opportunities, friendships, and memories.

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