The Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale is celebrating the High Holy Days this year under new leadership.
In addition to the appointment of Uri Cohen, the new director of the center, the Slifka Center has added six new positions — mainly staff and clergy — to improve the center’s day-to-day operations.
Juli Goodman, the assistant director for programming at the center, described the changes as “really exciting.”
“There are a lot of new colleagues to work with, which means we are able to create an even better experience for the students,” Goodman said. “We can teach more students, and staff more trips. For providing services like counseling, we can work one-on-one with the students. It’s also easier to work with different cultural communities.”
The new hires join the center after a period of considerable administrative uncertainty. In 2013, the longtime head rabbi, James Ponet, departed the center after three decades of service, and Leah Cohen, a rabbi with a master’s degree in international management, was appointed executive director and senior chaplain. She arrived with the aim of bringing financial stability to a struggling center, which had been hit hard by the 2008 recession. During her tenure, the Slifka Center’s balance sheet appears to have rebounded, with the endowment rising from $20 million in 2013 to more than $28 million as of January this year.
But at times the center’s drive toward financial stability has frustrated students. The departure of large numbers of the center’s dining staff in the summer of 2016 led to widespread discontent among students. And at the end of last year, Cohen left the Slifka Center abruptly, due in part to negative student feedback on a survey about her leadership.
But with a new director at the helm, and a more robust staff than before, the center is focused on improving community engagement and outreach.
Hillel Co-President Margo Feuer ’20, who is also a production and design editor for the News, said the center feels more lively with the presence of additional clergy and staff members. Feuer added that first years who are new to the center have seemed engaged and receptive to the new hires.
“I love celebrating Jewish holidays,” Feuer said. “I think Simchat Torah is the most fun holiday on campus. Around 50 of us run around campus, carrying a physical Torah, singing joyous songs and dancing in circles.”
The Slifka Center typically offers services for all Jewish holidays. Rabbi Jason Rubenstein, who is new to Slifka, said that on Rosh Hashanah, which took place on Sept. 10 and 11 as the first of the Jewish High Holy Days, around 500 people attended across three services, at Battell Chapel, the First and Summerfield United Methodist Church and the Slifka Center itself. During its Rosh Hashanah festivities, the center held an apples-and-honey reception, where the Whiffenpoofs performed
Sophie Huttner ’22, who attended Slifka’s Rosh Hashanah festivities, said she plans to attend breakfast and services at the center for Yom Kippur, the second of the Jewish High Holy Days.
“I really love the Slifka Center because I feel like you’re able to get out of the University and meet new people that you wouldn’t normally see,” Huttner said. “It feels like a great break from the busy campus life we have at Yale.”
Yom Kippur will take place on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Freya Savla | firstname.lastname@example.org