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Hillel Work as Art- or, Why I Don't Look Good in Hats

by Erica Frankel |Dec 16, 2013|Comments

Erica Frankel is the Manager of Student Life at the Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life at NYU, where she has worked since August 2008. She is also a professional dancer. Erica lives in Harlem, tweets at @ericafrankel, and rocks a fanny pack.

Erica Frankel NYUWhen I graduated from college with a degree in Dance from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts over five years ago, I knew that I wanted to build a lifelong career as an artist. I didn’t hesitate to get moving: I quickly found an apartment in an “up-and-coming” neighborhood and began working with several modern dance companies in New York City. I had success in auditions, performed regularly, and even got paid for most of the dancing I was doing. Perhaps surprisingly, two months later, when I was offered a job at The Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life at NYU, I also didn’t hesitate. In the last several years of working with Jewish college students, my job and my dancing have both required of me equal artistry. In each -- being a mover, or being a Jewish educator -- I’ve worked to hone a craft, experienced boundless inspiration, and nourished my creative spirit.

The students I meet at NYU are funny, thoughtful, ambitious, and innovative. In our NYU Emerging Jewish Artist Fellowship, I work closely with student artists creating work which explores Jewish ideas, themes and experience. In Hillel we talk about how a student’s ownership of experience can be powerful and meaningful. My students are interpreters of Jewish tradition in ways that are additive, deep, and wholly their own -- expanding the frontiers of how Jewish identity can be expressed. I am sincere when I say that my own creative research in the dance studio (I still perform and choreograph as much as I ever did) is enriched by my work with students.

Erica Frankel NYU HillelAs a dancer, Hillel professional, grad student, arts administrator, partner, sister, and more, I don’t find resonance with the metaphor of “wearing many hats.” Instead I do my darnedest to assume an integrated identity. Much of the credit for this integration, and for my love -- now five years in -- of what I do goes squarely to the Bronfman Center as an exemplary workplace. My colleagues inspire me Jewishly, professionally, and personally. I’ve been urged to pursue opportunities for continued professional development. As such, I can resolutely point to my participation in Hillel’s Harrison LAPID program, my facilitation experiences at Hillel’s staff conferences, and other trainings as moments that helped me feel invested-in and eager to continue my work on campus. Last year I was encouraged by my supervisor to apply for Yeshiva University’s Experiential Jewish Education Certificate Program, and recently -- when reflecting on my experience in the program thus far -- I described it as my Jewish professional Bat Mitzvah: a moment of reaffirmation and re-commitment to this work.

At NYU, we measure our impact in the number of student lives transformed over 4 years. The real work, then, becomes learning and honoring the story of each individual student and working in partnership with them to build, over time, a meaningful, adult, and committed Jewish life. This work is, for me, a radical, critical, and creative art -- one that can be part of a lifelong artistic career.


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  • LAPID
  • Bronfman Center for Jewish Life
  • Arts and Culture
  • NYU Hillel




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