Amy Aaland, former executive director of the Joseph Slifka Center, died Monday night after a five-year battle against breast cancer. She was 47 years old.
Aaland joined the center in 1996 and filled several different posts before eventually becoming executive director. Rabbi James Ponet ’68 said Aaland sought to prolong her time at Slifka despite her illness and continued to serve as director until December 2008, when the disease left her too weak to continue.
“She was a ferociously hard worker,” Ponet said.
Aaland was active in the Jewish religious community on campus and enjoyed planning food and arts-related events, Ponet said. She brought playwright Tony Kushner and poet laureate Robert Pinsky to campus, and as a gourmet cook she would organize “exquisite” meals, Ponet said.
In addition to organizing major events, from the visit of ex-prime minister of Israel Shimon Peres to a 50th anniversary celebration of the state of Israel, Ponet said Aaland worked closely with students.
Recent alums remembered Aaland for her warmth and mentorship.
“She gave me not only an appreciation of Jewish life (at Yale and beyond), but also endless career advice and general inspiration,” said Sarah Kellner ’08, a former co-president of Yale Hillel, in an e-mail Tuesday. “She made Slifka a welcoming place — and a family — for me and for so many students who came through its doors, and applied
tremendous energy and love to her work with students and community members.”
Marjie Galler ’10, another former Hillel co-president, described Aaland as a role model and a friend.
“She opened her heart and her home to me, welcoming me to celebrate holidays with her beautiful family, offering me her guest room when I was sick at school,” Galler said.
Her influence in the Jewish community extended beyond Yale: Aaland played a role in establishing the Yale Jewish Community Cemetery in Meriden, where she will be buried, Ponet said.
Aaland is survived by her husband, Jonathan Freiman, and three sons, Gabriel, Elijah and Caleb.
Her funeral will be held at noon tomorrow, Jan. 5, at Congregation Beth El-Keser Israel at 85 Harrison Street (at Whalley Avenue).
Correction: January 9, 2011
An earlier version of this article misreported Amy Aaland’s age as 47. She was 48.