After a year without a rabbi at Hillel’s Binghamton chapter, the organization hired Rabbi Akiva Weiss to lead the congregation.
Weiss was named head rabbi this past summer after spending four years at the Heshe and Harriet Seif Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (JLIC) at Rutgers University. Weiss will be responsible for bringing the JLIC to Binghamton’s campus.
According to the JLIC website, its main purpose is to help Orthodox Jewish students attending secular universities navigate the college environment as well as balance their Jewish commitments with their engagements with the secular world.
Weiss said that he had already begun to feel welcome at Binghamton, and said he was excited to be joining the University.
“So far what we’ve seen here is an open and inclusive community,” Weiss said. “The students care about what they’re doing and about each other. They look to partner and support each other. It’s very special, and it’s very nice to be a part of.”
The rabbi and director couple fills the positions formerly held by spouses Executive Director Shana Kantor and Rabbi Shalom Kantor, who left in 2013.
“We were sad to lose our Rabbi and Director two years ago, since they were a great team and made our Hillel grow in ways students couldn’t have accomplished on their own,” Barnett wrote. “Hillel at Binghamton’s goal was to find an excellent leader for our students, whether that would be a rabbi or not.”
Joshua Jurysta, president of Hillel, said it was important to have a new rabbi filling the position.
“I know that in the coming year, and more years to follow, Rabbi Weiss will be instrumental in providing ways for students to explore their Jewish Identities and further their Jewish journeys,” Jurysta, a senior double-majoring in history and economics, wrote in an email. “Additionally, Rabbi Weiss will be working towards expanding and strengthening Hillel’s Orthodox community through any number of weekly classes, guest speakers, and special events.”
Naomi Barnett, vice president of public relations for Hillel and a junior double-majoring in English and marketing, said that Weiss’ experience with other colleges and students would prepare him for his role at Binghamton.
“It is important to have an intellectual like Rabbi Akiva who will be able to motivate and speak to students with various mindsets,” Barnett wrote in an email. “His previous students have really enjoyed him, and I know he’ll be able to implement some great learning for our students too.”
Other members of Hillel also expressed their excitement for the incoming rabbi.
Sam Levine, a Hillel member and a sophomore double-majoring in Spanish and philosophy, politics and law, said she was hopeful for the changes that come along with having a full-time rabbi.
“With the help of Rabbi Weiss, I expect that we will be able to spark the interest of new students to get involved,” Levine said. “As well as incorporate returning students these upcoming years.”
Weiss said that students have already begun to show interest, and that they have helped him feel welcome in the community.
“The reception from the students has been wonderful,” he said. “The caliber of the students is so incredible; they are self-motivated and passionate. They’re doers; they run things by themselves, rather than waiting to be told what to do. It’s very inspiring.”
Correction 9/8: A previous version of this article stated that Nataly Weiss was a part of the JLIC. Only Akiva Weiss is associated with the JLIC.