The Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale has seen a shake-up in its leadership in the past year.
This summer, two of Slifka’s three rabbis — Orthodox Rabbi Noah Cheses and Reconstructionist Rabbi Megan Doherty — left the center in favor of congregational jobs. In response, the center hired a new Orthodox rabbi and also established three new positions on its leadership team. These changes follow a line of structural shifts that Slifka has implemented in recent years.
Cheses and his wife Sarah both accepted job offers at a large synagogue in Toronto after spending three years at Slifka. Doherty ended her four-year term to move to a congregation in Connecticut.
Regarding her departure, Doherty joked that she “graduated with her class.” Both Noah and Sarah Cheses joined Slifka through the Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (JLIC), a national organization that helps Orthodox or Traditional Jewish students navigate campus environments. JLIC representatives are typically full-time rabbis whose wives work part time, and both usually stay an average of three years on a campus.
Replacing Noah and Sarah Cheses, Orthodox rabbi Edmond “Shlomo” Zuckier GRD ’18 and his wife Chana Zuckier LAW ’17 have joined Slifka as the new JLIC representatives. Students at the center have quickly embraced their presence, along with that of their infant daughter Meital.
Instead of a direct replacement for Doherty, Slifka has hired rabbinic intern Simeon Cohen, a student at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in New York, to work part time, predominantly with Egalitarian Conservative Jewish students.
The center has also created two other positions for rabbi Joshua Ratner and Juli Goodman — the new Director of Jewish Engagement and Director of Jewish Student Life, respectively.
Slifka’s executive director, rabbi Leah Cohen, co-directed the search for a new JLIC couple, soliciting input from members of the Yale community along the way. Cohen worked with undergraduate and graduate students to interview and eventually hire Doherty, Simeon Cohen, Ratner and Goodman.
Rebecca Bakal ’16, president of Slifka said in an email that Slifka is characterized by “intense interaction of Jews of all different streams.”
“We always look for staff who are interested in and capable of working with both students and staff from a variety of religious backgrounds,” she said.
The new positions aim to broaden programming to reach all of Slifka’s constituencies. Leah Cohen, who stepped into her role in May 2013, serves the liberal Jewish community, and the JLIC program is designed to focus on Orthodox students. The three new positions target conservative Jewish students and those previously less involved with the center.
Slifka is familiar with high staff turnover, as rabbis rarely remain at a Hillel for their entire careers. Many rabbis leave seeking the diversity of a congregation not provided by a college campus.
“When [Doherty] and the Cheses’s decided to do congregational work, I had to support that,” said Leah Cohen. “Much like our students, they were developing in their careers…Change is part of growth, development and vibrancy.”
Edmond Zuckier is a doctoral student in the Religious Studies department studying ancient Judaism. He hopes to bring back the Shibboleth journal — an undergraduate publication that covers Jewish thought and ideas — from its yearlong hiatus, he said.
Ratner is an ordained rabbi with a background in law. He graduated from JTS with training in clinical pastoral education and holds a position on the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater New Haven.
Goodman is a JTS graduate as well, with an education-based master’s degree. She has taken on much of Doherty’s former programming and works closely with the Hillel board.
Leah Cohen said she is hopeful about the changes and the perspectives the new staff will bring to Slifka.
“It feels like baking. You know how it is supposed to turn out, but you don’t know exactly how it will,” she said. “Each person brings their treasure trove of what they are going to offer.”
Another change at Slifka this year came in the form of the departure of Amir Sagron, the center’s former Israel Fellow who recently left to return to Jerusalem. Amit Efrati is the new Israel Fellow.
Correction: Sept. 5
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Rabbi Edmond “Shlomo” Zuckier’s year within the Graduate School.