Amy Aaland, former executive director of the Joseph Slifka Center, died at her home Jan. 3 after a prolonged battle against breast cancer. She was 48.
Aaland joined the center one year after it was founded and expanded the center’s programming during her 10 years as executive director. Rabbi James Ponet ’68, Yale’s Jewish chaplain, said Aaland spearheaded several significant projects, including a vist from ex-prime minister of Israel Shimon Peres and a 50th anniversary celebration of the founding of the state of Israel, for which she commissioned a symphonic piece performed at Woolsey Hall.
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Ponet said Aaland sought to extend her time at the center despite her illness and continued to serve as director until December 2008, when her disease left her too weak to continue.
“She was a ferociously hard worker,” Ponet said.
In addition to religious programming, Ponet said Aaland enjoyed planning food and arts-related events at the center. She brought playwright Tony Kushner to campus in 2004 and poet laureate Robert Pinsky to campus in 2008.
Deborah Berman, director of development at the Drama School, described Aaland as an advocate of the arts. Aaland regularly attended plays at the Drama School, Berman said, adding that she and Aaland co-curated an exhibition of collages by Berman and theater professor Donald Margulies in 2008.
Aaland also worked closely with students to promote art at the Slifka Center, said Susan Jeannette, who works in communications at the center. Jeannette said Aaland would display student work in Slifka’s gallery space.
In an e-mail Sunday, Hillá Meller ’07 recalled how Aaland encouraged her to visit and photograph her 85-year-old grandmother in Israel after Meller expressed a desire to “capture” her grandmother’s cooking. Meller said she made the trip and printed 20 posters on her return, which Aaland hung in the Slifka Center kitchen for the year.
“It was, for me, an example of how much she pushed those she knew to follow small dreams, things we want to do but put aside,” Meller said.
Other recent alums also remembered Aaland for her warmth and mentorship.
Sarah Kellner ’08, a former co-president of Yale Hillel, said in an e-mail Jan. 4 that Aaland was a source of “endless career advice and general inspiration” and approached her work with “tremendous energy and love.”
“You couldn’t be around her and not just be elated,” said Avi Kaupfer ’10, another former Hillel co-president. “She had so much joy from living and from making others happy, and you could see that. She was a mentor and a friend simultaneously, which are difficult things to balance at once.”
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.
Aaland’s influence in the Jewish community extended beyond Yale: Aaland played a role in establishing the Yale Jewish Community Cemetery in Meriden, where she was buried last week, Ponet said.
Aaland is survived by her husband, Jonathan Freiman, and three sons, Gabriel, Elijah and Caleb.