I’m an accidental Hillel professional.
Growing up, my family celebrated Chanukah next to our Christmas tree, attended synagogue just long enough for my siblings and I to get Bar and Bat Mitzvahed, and loved bacon on our breakfast sandwiches. During college, I studied international relations to prepare for my future career as a diplomat. By chance, I met one of the founders of Gather the Jews at a Shabbat dinner near the end of my senior year, and I decided to apply for the Director position on a whim.
Gather the Jews (GTJ) is a start-up project in Washington, D.C. that helps young professionals connect to the D.C. Jewish community. I joined GTJ as its first ever employee, and in April 2013, GTJ officially became a project of Hillel at The George Washington University. While I was still working with young professionals, I began working from the Hillel building and became a member of the staff.
Although I was now a Hillel employee, I was not working directly with students. Despite my young professional role, I found myself beginning to build relationships with the students who came through our door, and they started to tell me their stories. Our Executive Director joked that there were more students hanging out in my office than all the others and it was not even my role. I was asked to staff the winter Taglit-Birthright Israel trip, which I happily agreed to.
I thought the trip would be a cool way to get to know more students, and a fun way to get back to Israel, but it turned out to be so much more. I got to know the students, but I also got to encounter Israel through their eyes as they experienced it for the first time. I helped them explore, learn, grow, and connect with each other, and in return I also grew and connected with them. For the few months prior to the trip, I had been feeling like GTJ was not the right professional fit for me; leading the Taglit-Birthright Israel trip made me realize how much I wanted to be working with students every day. I returned home, and shared my realization with my co-workers. I am now GW Hillel’s Senior Associate for Programming and Engagement and a member of the inaugural cohort of the Engage2Educate Fellowship. I am so excited to learn and grow in this new role and with my E2E peers!
Rachel Giattino is the Senior Associate for Programming and Engagement at GW Hillel, and an Engage2Educate Fellow. After graduating from the University of Delaware in 2012, Rachel spent the past two years running Gather the Jews.