Brandeis at 75

Jewish Life at Brandeis through the Decades

Generations of Brandeisians came together for a discussion on the vibrancy and diversity of Jewish life on campus.

Panelists sitting on a stage
Eitan Marks ’24, Samantha Brody ’24,Rabbi Elaine Zecher ’83, Rabbi Herbert Tobin ’75, P’16, Nancy Kaufman ’72, and Jeremy Novich ’08

By Kennedy Ryan
Photography by Ashley McCabe
October 16, 2023

“The state of Jewish life at Brandeis is as strong as ever, and rich in all of its diversity of experience,” President Ron Liebowitz said in kicking off the panel discussion, held as part of the university’s 75th anniversary celebration.

Panelists included Samantha Brody ’24, Eitan Marks ’24, Nancy Kaufman ’72, Jeremy Novich ’08, Rabbi Herbert Tobin ’75, P’16, and Rabbi Elaine Zecher ’83. Each shared their unique path to Brandeis and the university’s impact on their lives. It was moderated by Rabbi Seth Winberg, executive director of Brandeis Hillel and director of the Center for Spiritual Life.

Kaufman, the former CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women, recalled how she could fully embrace her Jewish roots during her time at Brandeis, embracing her identity and engaging in volunteer opportunities with the Waltham Group.

“Coming to Brandeis, I felt I had come home because of the values I felt I could live and learn,” said Kaufman. “My Jewish values were put into action every day of the week.”

Zecher, senior Rabbi at the Temple Israel in Boston, applied to Brandeis with a college essay that described her dream of working with children in the Jewish community. Coming to Brandeis from a small Jewish community, she found herself with peers who had similar values.

“We talked about Jewish topics and Jewish ideas,” said Zecher. “I was very interested in the American Jewish experience.”

Nancy Kaufman
Nancy Kaufman ’72
Rabbi Elaine Zecher and Rabbi Herbert Tobin
Rabbi Elaine Zecher ’83 and Rabbi Herbert Tobin ’75

Tobin, senior consultant to Hillel International and the Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, looked back fondly on his time on campus, particularly his coursework in the Near Eastern Judaic Studies program.

“I had four of the most wonderful years I could have. What a feast. It was a smorgasbord of Jewish life,” said Tobin. “The NEJS department was everything it was cracked up to be. It was the mothership of Jewish departments across the country.”

“What is Jewish life at Brandeis? It’s everything. I can’t think of something we don’t offer. We care about our Judaism in every shape or form it comes in.”

Samantha Brody ’24

Novich is a psychologist for Jewish Queer Youth, an organization that supports LGBTQ youth from the Jewish community, focusing on those from Orthodox, Hasidic and Sephardic backgrounds. His time at Brandeis provided him with the foundational skills for leadership in the Jewish community. He served as the president of BOO, the Brandeis Orthodox Organization.

“It was a crash course in Jewish leadership for me,” said Novich. “Rabbi Aharon Frazer, (then) the Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus rabbi here, was super helpful for me. He saved my relationship with orthodox judaism. He helped me understand the gap of where I should be and where I was as a jewish leader at the time.”

Nancy Kaufman and Jeremy Novich
Nancy Kaufman ’72 and Jeremy Novich ’08
Eitan Marks and Samantha Brody
Eitan Marks ’24 and Samantha Brody ’24

Samantha Brody ’24, Hillel International Student Board chair and the former student president of the Brandeis organization, described how vibrant Jewish life remains on campus today.

“What is Jewish life at Brandeis? It’s everything. I can’t think of something we don’t offer,” said Brody. “We care about our Judaism in every shape or form it comes in.”

Eitan Marks ’24, the current student president of Brandeis Hillel, highlighted the ways Jewish values intersect with everyday life on campus, from receiving mentorship from Rabbi Seth Winberg to academic advisory from University Professor Jonathan D. Sarna ’75, GSAS MA’75.

“Jewish life at Brandeis today is a well-rounded picture,” said Marks. “I’m so grateful that we have so many opportunities for Jewish life activities to intersect with academic activities.”