Slifka center in flux

Since last spring, the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale has undergone several structual changes that aim to revamp the organization given new economic realities.

Over the past several months, the Center has seen multiple staff transitions, including the re-appointment of the Slifka Center Board of Trustees, the selection of David Raphael as interim executive director, as well as two additions and two departures within the Slifka Center’s day-to-day staffing. The changes have arisen largely due to financial concerns associated with recent dips in the Slifka Center’s endowment. The Center’s staff said they hope to maintain previous programs offered by choosing leaders who possess experience in organizational management and financial budgeting.

The economic downturn in 2008 caused the Slifka Center’s endowment to fall significantly, prompting organization leaders to reevaluate the Center’s structure and priorities, said David Rosen ’69, who has served on the Board of Trustees for 15 years. In June, the Board was reconfigured to bring on new members with greater experience in finance and business management, he said. Since then, he added, two-thirds of the Board has been replaced and David Slifka ’01 was selected to be the new chairman of the Board of Trustees.

“The last Board of Trustees was composed a lot of Yale professors,” said Samantha Greissman ’14, co-president of Yale Hillel. “There wasn’t a lot of specific expertise on board. We really need people that could help us act as consultants and help us build and expand the Slifka Center.”

Following the resignation of former Executive Director Steve Sitrin, who left for personal reasons last May, the Center hired Raphael to temporarily fill his place as the interim executive director, said Sarah Marx ‘14, co-president of Yale Hillel. In a Tuesday email to the Slifka Center community, Raphael said a new executive director will be appointed by the end of the 2012-’13 academic year.

Two staff members, Rabbi Jordie Gerson and Director of Operations Jim Hess, also left the organization last spring while part-time rabbinical intern Sarit Horwitz and Israel Fellow Amir Sagron were hired, Marx said. She added that she thinks the existing staff has recently had to handle a larger workload because Raphael is only in the building a few times a week and, without Gerson, the Center has one fewer rabbi.

Rabbi James Ponet ’68 said his duties have also been modified to focus on his role as a spiritual leader and exclude administrative functions.

“What this [new] Board has done [is say] that they will take responsibility for administrative and financial functions of the Center and [that they] want [me] to function exclusively in what [I] love. It’s a very good turn for me,” Ponet said.

Greissman said the Center has been able to offer students the same amount of events and activities as in previous years despite the personnel changes. Horwitz and Sagron have helped create new programs, such as weekly classes on the Talmud led by Horwitz that begin this week and the expansion of the birthright program led by Sagron, she added.

“Everyone recognizes [the change] in the building, and I think everyone in the building has been making a huge effort to make things happen and pick up extra slack,” Greissman said.

Student organizations affiliated with the Slifka Center have received equal financial support as in years past but worked with fewer staff members, said Leah Sarna ’14, president of the Young Israel House at Yale. She said she has noticed more substantial changes in dining rather than programming — hot breakfasts have been canceled and the amount of alcohol offered at events has been reduced.

Rosen said the Slifka Center staff often changes because several of its members come to Yale only for a few terms or to work during one particular period of their professional lives.

“Every year, the most important thing that is happening at the Slifka Center is change,” Rosen said. “What Slifka’s task is today, like yesterday and tomorrow, is to keep that change going and have it be exciting, productive, stimulating and enriching.”

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