What made you take the role of Jewish Chaplains at Hamilton?
Michael: Hamilton is a really special place, as we’ve come to appreciate and learn, and the size of the school [lets you have] the opportunity to intimately get to know people. We’re coming from campuses of over 50,000 students, where at times it felt impersonal. I think something really special about Hamilton was and is the ability to connect with people individually. It’s not just about the big function that brings 100 people, but sometimes the meaning and significance [that] comes from a coffee date or having lunch with four students. Also, students are coming to discover themselves, and that means a multitude of different things to different folks — academically and social-emotionally … [through] identity, however you define it. How we can support and partner on that journey, inspire and provide guidance on the way, really excites us. I think it’s fair to say that that’s not reflective of every post-secondary institution, and that philosophy was really inspirational.
Jenn: I also think it’s unique that the two of us work together. We bring different things and skills to the table in terms of Jewish chaplaincy. I think there’s something very special about an institution that embraces a husband-and-wife team coming to work together. We have some relationships with students that we’re forging together, and some of them we have our own relationships with. There isn’t necessarily one voice in the Jewish chaplaincy office, and with the percentage of Jewish students that are on campus, being able to connect with more than one chaplain is really awesome.
What are your backgrounds? What positions did you have prior to Hamilton?
Jenn: Michael and I both took these very interesting paths that are quite similar to each other. We both have backgrounds in religious studies, Jewish studies, and education. We both have bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education. We had a flip in our careers at one point. I worked as a teacher for a number of years before I got into synagogue and community programming and engagement, really working on community building. Michael worked in that synagogue community building [and] programming, working with families … [and] communities first, and then his career flipped in the opposite direction of mine. He began transitioning into the school system and administration. Of course, that part of his journey is what brought us to Central New York, when he was brought in as the new head of the Jewish day school [in Syracuse].
What have you learned about the community at Hamilton so far?
Jenn: The community has been so incredibly warm and welcoming. We just moved from another country and planted ourselves on campus, and it’s been really awesome connecting with so many members of staff, faculty, and students. The greatest way to meet members of the Hamilton community is not by sitting in our offices but by being out on the campus, walking around, and grabbing coffee with students, staff, and faculty. Also, when we come to campus for the Jewish Sabbath, we bring our children with us. I think having that family atmosphere has been a big draw for a lot of people and having a family to come and hang out with has been really wonderful. It’s been mutually beneficial in terms of our children, and we love the experience, but I think the students have really connected well on a personal level with our family.
Has anyone inspired you at Hamilton?
Michael: It’s so amazing to have a network of people around you from many different backgrounds, experiences, and roles. I consider many different people my mentor … and at Hamilton, Jeff McArn, [College chaplain], has been very inspirational for us. He’s been instrumental in terms of our integration on campus, but I think the opportunity to connect with folks in different communities around the world [has also been integral]. Some may be coming from a similar space and some may not, and [it’s important] to get that perspective. I know that allows me to be challenged and grow, embracing a growth mindset.
Jenn: [Jeff] has been super supportive and very excited, cheering us on along the way. I feel that he just has an open mind to possibilities. Just because things have been a certain way doesn’t mean that’s the way that they should continue, and he’s open to innovation and partnership opportunities and how we can really strengthen the students’ experience.
What are your plans to engage with the Jewish community on campus?
Jenn: There are a lot of great things happening already within chaplaincy, and we want to see how we can enhance the offerings and diversify them. One area Michael and I feel very committed to is bringing a diversity of voices and people from different Jewish walks of life to campus … to present a diverse picture of what Judaism looks like. As students are figuring out their place in this world more broadly, [they should] be able to see themselves in the different speakers and guests we bring. We have an upcoming speaker coming who is a Jew of color. We have a commitment to bringing speakers who work in untraditional roles. Our background in social justice and different types of social justice initiatives is something we really hope to enhance on campus, both for the Jewish student experience and more broadly.
Expand Your Perspectives
Learning takes place when students encounter new ideas, are exposed to new experiences and opportunities, and interact with people who have different perspectives. More than most organizations, colleges bring together people with different ideas and backgrounds. At Hamilton, we embrace that.