Q&A: Get to know Seth Winberg, director of Brandeis Hillel

Seth WinbergPhoto/Mike Lovett

Seth Winberg

Seth Winberg hasn’t wasted any time since he started as the director of Brandeis Hillel at the beginning of the school year. He’s met with hundreds of students and immersed himself in the university community.

Winberg comes to Brandeis from Metro Chicago Hillel, one of Chicago’s fastest-growing Jewish organizations, where he served as executive director since 2014. He also has experience in a college setting, having previously served as assistant director and rabbi of the University of Michigan Hillel. In addition to leading Brandeis Hillel, Winberg serves as the university’s senior Jewish chaplain.

Winberg took some time to answer questions with BrandeisNow:

What are your initial impressions of the Brandeis community and Brandeis Hillel?

I came to Brandeis at the end of August. Right away I was struck by the Shabbat experience. At least 200 people share a communal meal every Friday night. Regardless of background or level of observance, Shabbat at Brandeis is a full day of meals, singing and learning. All are welcome. This is the only school in the country with a regular Reconstructionist service and it has the largest concentration of modern Orthodox students outside of Yeshiva University. There is so much potential here for a tolerant and diverse Jewish community rooted in pluralism and solidarity.

Long term, how do you see Brandeis Hillel growing/changing/improving?

College is one of the only points in life when Jews from diverse backgrounds will interact. As the main feeder school for American Jewish leadership, we have an added responsibility to develop a robust community.

We couldn't do it without an outstanding Hillel board, which now includes several Brandeis trustees as well — Ellen Kaplan, Steve Reiner, Marty Kupferberg and Meyer Koplow.

We want to reinvigorate Hillel, the pluralistic approach to Jewish life, by offering the most compelling educational and spiritual experiences that give participants a sense of belonging. Mentors are also a vital resource for young adults to imagine their future lives. We want to provide thoughtful and caring mentorship to students as they form their Jewish identities.

Over time I suspect Brandeis Hillel might evolve from a club model to various networks of friends who create the social, intellectual, political and spiritual experiences that matter to them and their friends.

What are you working on now?

I'm excited to have met with hundreds of students one-on-one and in small groups to brainstorm how we build a community that they are proud of. Today across the country so many campus conversations are about civility and decency. These are important, and at the same time we should set our ambitions higher: cultivating friendships, the foundation of a community and of a society. I'm thrilled to take a full bus of students to Israel next month on a Birthright trip. And we have several innovative plans for next semester, so stay tuned.

Categories: Student Life

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