Following a semester-long search and input from students, faculty, staff and alumnae, Wellesley College announced the appointment of Rabbi Audrey Berkman as the new Rabbi and Director of Wellesley College Hillel. Rabbi Berkman will begin her role in the 2015-2016 academic year.
“I am delighted that Rabbi Audrey Berkman will be joining us at Wellesley,” President Kim Bottomly said. “Wellesley is committed to fostering a thriving Jewish community on campus and an inclusive and respectful community for all our students. Her leadership and full-time presence on campus will enable us to continue building the strong and vibrant environment we envision.”
Rabbi Berkman received unanimous endorsement from the search committee, which included three members of the Wellesley Hillel Alumnae Board and four student representatives.
“The students on the search committee reviewed every application and interviewed every candidate. Student opinion was very important to the search committee. No decisions in the selection process were made without student input,” Hillel President Rebecca Fishbein ’15 said.
Students not on the search committee had the opportunity to meet the final candidates and their opinions were also very important to the search committee.”
Rabbi Berkman will replace Rabbi Dan Ehrenkrantz, the College’s current Interim Hillel Director. As Rabbi and Hillel Director, Berkman will work to support Wellesley’s Jewish students, connect the Jewish community to the rest of campus and forge connections with other local Jewish communities.
“Having a rabbi here, from our experience this semester, has shown that a rabbi helps to ground the Jewish community and serves as an important source of support and advice for students; a good rabbi is a connector,” Dean of Students Debra DeMeis said.
The announcement of Rabbi Berkman’s appointment signals the end of changing Jewish leadership for Wellesley College Hillel. In November, the abrupt firing of former Jewish Chaplain David Bernat and Hillel Director Patti Sheinman shocked the Wellesley Jewish community. Since then, Hillel staffing has been passed on during the past semester to Jordan Namerow ’05, former Hillel president and interim part-time Hillel director and Rabbi Ehrenkrantz.
“Our interim director, Rabbi Dan Ehrenkrantz, has done a great job of stabilizing Hillel and the Jewish community at Wellesley this semester, which should also help ease the transition to a full-time rabbi. I am confident the transition to a permanent director will be as smooth as possible,” Fishbein said.
Dean DeMeis noted that Rabbi Berkman brings enthusiasm toward women’s education.
“She is very committed to women’s education — for Wellesley, that has to be the first and one of the most important criterion by which we choose. She’s an intellectual, and I think our students will resonate with that approach,” DeMeis said.
Rabbi Berkman shared her excitement to join Wellesley in the fall.
“I am honored to have the opportunity to create and nurture, in partnership with students, faculty, staff and alumnae, a vibrant and pluralistic Jewish community at Wellesley that is rooted in intellectual and spiritual curiosity and depth and in the core Jewish values of respect, dialogue and learning,” Rabbi Berkman said.
A Newton resident, Rabbi Berkman comes from an extensive background of working with members of the Jewish community, particularly in the Boston area. She served as the Rabbi of Shir Hadash Reconstructionist Havurah in Newton for six years, the Jewish chaplain at Center Communities of Brookline and Newton-Wellesley Hospital and a guest cantor at Congregation Mishkan Tefila in Chestnut Hill. She was also a faculty member at Parenting through a Jewish Lens at Temple Emmanuel in Andover and the Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel.
An Oberlin College alumna, Rabbi Berkman received a Masters of Theological Studies with a concentration in Jewish Studies from Harvard Divinity School and later attended The Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem and The Hebrew University of Jerusalem with the support of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship. Berkman was ordained as a rabbi at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.
Following Rabbi Berkman’s appointment, the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life is continuing its search for a Dean of Religious and Spiritual Life. Students are encouraged to join the Multifaith Council in meeting candidates this Thursday, April 9 from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. in Pendleton West 212 and Monday, April 13 from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. in the Multifaith Center and provide online feedback. DeMeis hopes the new Dean of ORSL will be announced before the start of finals period.
Photo courtesy of Richard Howard