Hillel Board of Directors Chair Bea Mandel (from left) Susan Rudd Cohen, Hillel Jewish University Center Director Aaron Weil, Board Member Philip Cohen, Hillel President Wayne L. Firestone.
At the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly in New Orleans, Hillel named 31 students as finalists and honorable mention recipients of the Philip H. and Susan Rudd Cohen Student Exemplars of Excellence award. These young people demonstrated outstanding leadership through their extraordinary contributions to Jewish life on their campuses.
In addition, the Jewish University Center of Pittsburgh and Goucher College Hillel received a Philip H. and Susan Rudd Cohen Campus Exemplar of Excellence Award. The Hillel Jewish University Center of Pittsburgh was cited for continuing to create and develop initiatives to help students achieve meaningful Jewish experiences. Goucher College Hillel was named for being a leader in building relationships across campus and throughout the greater community.
The eight finalists, selected from across North America, were singled out for their tireless devotion and transformative impact by inspiring others to act and lead, building meaningful relationships, fostering innovation and creativity, and modeling and inspiring Jewish growth.
Meredith Aaron, Northwestern University
Beginning as president of the First-Year Students of Hillel program and later taking on the role of president of Hillel’s Student Leadership Council, Merrie has welcomed students into and broadened the scope of Jewish life at Northwestern. Understanding the importance of collaboration, she has built valuable relationships with organizations such as the Admissions Office and Office of Alumni Relations and Development to enhance Hillel’s role on campus as an indispensible university partner. Both reaching out to prospective students as well as mentoring underclassmen, Merrie inspires students along their Jewish journeys by serving as a role model through her passion and commitment to Jewish life. She has made innumerable contributions to and a significant impact on Fiedler Hillel.
Michal Berns, Penn State
As Hillel student president, Michal is motivated by an overwhelming desire to create a dynamic Jewish student community, to build bridges to the larger campus community, and to grow as much as possible both as an individual and as a leader. Her leadership of the Hillel student board engendered a culture of open discussion and collaboration, and her desire to cultivate new leadership has made mentorship a high priority. Michal has not been afraid to bring challenging issues like the Arab-Israeli conflict and LGBT issues in the Jewish community to the forefront by creating campus-wide initiatives through partnerships with other communities. She continues to inspire and engage her peers through her dedication and commitment to Jewish life on campus.
Ellen Brown, Goucher College
As Goucher Hillel’s GAN (Greening and Networking) Intern, Ellie incorporates a passion for the environment into Jewish engagement of her peers. She works to connect students with meaningful Jewish experiences that speak to them through that existing passion. This semester, Ellie is planning a Shabbaton around the topic of the Jewish Environmental Movement, just one example of her creativity and enthusiasm for sharing this passion with her peers. Reaching even beyond her own campus, Ellie has also made significant contributions to the work of the Kayam Farm, a Jewish organic, educational farm nearby. By exploring her passions and connecting them with Jewish exploration, Ellie models and inspires her peers to grow Jewishly and make a difference in their communities.
Joe Gettinger, Stanford University
As the JSA board president and an involved Jewish community member, Joe exemplifies visionary leadership and Jewish growth. Modeling the value of pluralism, he strives to ensure that all students can practice and explore Judaism on their own terms, drawing on his personal Jewish knowledge to educate students and help them what is meaningful to them. His deep relationships with students of other backgrounds and faiths have also enabled Joe to facilitate dialogue and conversation among Jewish and Muslim students on the Middle East and campus politics, as well as identity and beliefs. Such strong leadership and relationship building has resulted in an Invest for Peace initiative uniting the two groups. Joe is both an exemplary leader within the Jewish community and a critical Jewish leader on the Stanford campus.
Jennifer Johnson, University of Michigan
Through her leadership of the Kol HaKavod a cappella group, the Jewish Women’s Forum, an upcoming AJWS alternative break trip, and as Hillel’s social outreach chair, Jennifer infuses creativity and Jewish learning into all of her work. Whether reaching out to prospective students, leading Kabbalat Shabbat services, or partnering with other groups on campus, she not only creates meaningful Jewish experiences for others but also lives out her own passions. As expressed by her campus professional, “Jen amazes me and all her peers in her tireless efforts to enhance Jewish life on campus through a multitude of opportunities and access points, and her efforts will have a long, enduring impact on the way in which we work at Hillel.”
Gita Karasov, University of Maryland, College Park
Gita supports and fosters Jewish pluralism through her leadership and mentorship on campus. Constantly examining her own Jewish beliefs, she participates in a broad variety of programs and experiences, hoping to also help others find Jewish experiences they are passionate about. As a participant in Hillel’s Alternative Break Fellowship, she has developed and led peer trips to Atlanta and New Orleans. Now in her third year, Gita is working with Hillel professionals to create reflective learning pieces for the fellows – not only does she impact the experience of the trip participants, but of the facilitators as well. Many of the students she has impacted have gone on to become student leaders in their own right, which furthers and continues Gita’s impact on Jewish life at Maryland.
Nathan Sigal, University of Nevada Las Vegas
Sharing his passion for Judaism and Israel, Nathan has been a leader in many facets of the Jewish community at the University of Nevada Las Vegas and beyond. Nathan has contributed to national conversations on Israel through his involvement with AIPAC, and has shaped student initiatives on Israel advocacy as Hillel student president, an Grinspoon-MZ Israel Advocacy intern and a strong Zionist voice in AEPi. His personal Jewish growth through his passion for Israel and community outreach has inspired his peers to engage in conversations and experiences that can help them have similar meaningful Jewish experiences. Nathan has been an invaluable asset not only to the students at UNLV, but also to Jewish professionals, lay leaders and organizations across the country.
Michael Zimmerman, University of Pittsburgh
As the chair of the Social Action Committee of Hillel’s student board, Michael devotes his energies to community outreach and building relationships to involve students in social action and volunteering. From creative initiatives like the Steel City Sukkah Competition to spreading awareness about autism, Michael fosters relationships with other organizations and groups to create meaningful synergies and partnerships. Mentoring underclassmen and supporting the programs and interests of his fellow student leaders, he is known as humble and a good listener but is never afraid to stand up for what he believes in. Michael models the value of tikkun olam and Jewish leadership in the way he leads and lives his life as a college student.
1. Rachel Hodes, Rutgers University
2. Aryn Shelander, UC Berkeley
3. Nora Freyman, University of Kansas
4. Stephen Lamb, University of Cincinnati
5. Natalie Epelman, George Washington University 6. Andrew Weiss, Northeastern University
7. Rachel Racoosin, University of Wisconsin
8. Avi Greenberger, Brooklyn College
9. Michelle Golan, San Diego State University
10. Micah Kamrass, The Ohio State University
11. Adam Kohn, Lehigh
12. Amy Randel, Portland State
13. Aviva Buechler, Barnard College
14. Jeff Reinstein, CSU Fullerton
15. Daniel Zimmerman, Queen's University, Toronto
16. Eden Heather Schutzer, SUNY Fredonia
17. Samantha Steinberg, NYU
18. Jessica Goodman, University of Texas at Austin
19. Ilana Goldenberg, Florida State University
20. Katie Dreier, Cornell University
21. Rebecca Rother Goucher College
22. Noam Gilead University of British Columbia
23. David Cohen University of Kansas