A Jewish professional shaped by her community… and a community shaped by a Jewish professional
Naomi Rosenfeld, MA/MBA ’16
How do you help small pockets of isolated groups of people — Jewish students on college campuses in this case — feel connected to the larger community? That's what Naomi Rosenfeld, MA/MBA’16 set out to do as director of Hillel Atlantic Canada where she worked before starting her graduate work at the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program at Brandeis University.
“It was a challenge,” admits Naomi. “I was the only Hillel professional working in that sprawling region that's actually larger than California!”
“The region comprised four provinces: New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador. I worked with Jewish students from a number of different universities and post-secondary institutions to develop programming that would help them connect with each other and feel like they were part of a larger community.”
While working for Hillel, Naomi re-initiated a weekend-long Shabbaton for students. She brought experts in Israel education from the main offices in Toronto and Montreal to teach and facilitate conversations about Israel, Jewish identity and building Jewish community, among other things.
Another program she introduced was called Shabbat Across Atlantic Canada, a coordinated Shabbat effort in which student groups across the region received Shabbat kits for the Shabbat celebration.
“I sent Shabbat kits by mail,” says Naomi. “Even though we were far apart we felt like a tight group because we all celebrated Shabbat together, so to speak. It was nice.”
The size and vitality of a community clearly contributes to how one experiences it. “I come from Toronto,” says Naomi. “There's a large Jewish community there. But having worked in areas where Jewish communities are smaller, I've seen how people in small communities need to work hard to step up to the plate and drive and strengthen the community because there's simply not a lot of people to fall back on.”
Naomi Rosenfeld co-chaired the student committee with Evan Taksar on planning the 2015 Milender Seminar in 2015.
“Certainly large communities have their advantages with all their opportunities and diversity. I can also see the strength of living in a small community… You have the feeling like you own a piece of it and you have a hand in shaping it because it's so small.”
As a FEREP Scholar, Naomi will work for The Jewish Federations of North America for two years after she graduates in May.
“I always felt a deep connection with the Federation system, the Canadian Federation system in particular,” says Naomi, “and very much consider myself a product of that system. I believe that Jewish Federations have the ability to positively shape and impact the entire North American Jewish community.”
Where Naomi will travel next will become clear in the months ahead. She's not so much concerned with size of the community in which she'll work as with the opportunities she'll have to successfully apply her analytical skills, grow and make an impact.
“I have many interests in Federation work: project management, operations management, measurement and reporting, strategic planning, program management. I think that my ideal job will involve some combination of all of them.”
In Her Own Words: An Interview with Naomi Rosenfeld
Queen's University is a mid-size Canadian University situated in Kingston, Ontario – almost exactly halfway between Toronto and Montreal. It has about 23,000 students total. The school has a vibrant Jewish student community that has been growing exponentially in recent years and very active Hillel and Chabad chapters. I felt it was a great place to be as an active Jewish student!
In my final year at Queen's, I received an award called the Agnes Benidickson Tricolour Award. That year, there were 8 of us who received it, although that number tends to vary year to year. The award is “the highest tribute that can be paid to a student for valuable and distinguished service to the university in non-athletic extra-curricular activities.” In order to be selected as a recipient, you must be nominated by fellow students and then chosen by a committee of student leaders. I actually didn't know that my friends had nominated me until I received an email telling me the selection committee was interested in interviewing me.
At the interview, I focused mostly on my work with Holocaust Education Week. Holocaust Education Week was put on each year by Queen's Hillel. Well before I got there, Queen's had a strong tradition of organizing professional quality Holocaust Education Week events, and I was lucky enough to learn from the students before me and continue to try and expand the program. Some of the events of which I am most proud were redesigning an interactive walk-through exhibit that we put up in our student center and arranging for survivors to speak to hundreds of students.
I was raised in a Jewish environment. My parents kept a Jewish home and I attended Jewish day school until I graduated high school.
I am also the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, Lazer Rosenfeld z”l and Zelda Rosenfeld, my paternal grandparents. The Holocaust wasn't something they discussed. I was the first of their ten grandchildren to return to Poland. I went on the March of the Living and once I had expressed interest in going, my grandparents, specifically my grandmother, opened up to me and began to share her experiences with us like she never had before.
I do have some recordings. I went back to Poland last year on a program called the March of Remembrance and Hope, and I watched the recordings again, recordings of me talking to my grandmother about what happened.
Being the granddaughter of two Holocaust survivors has directly contributed to my motivation for becoming a Jewish professional and driving reforms in Holocaust education initiatives.
When I graduated from Queen's, I began working for an outdoor education center for populations of children and adults with special needs in rural Ontario. At the time, I still thought I might want to pursue a career in that field. However, as much as I loved my work there and felt that it was an incredibly rewarding experience, I began to realize that I was more driven to work in the Jewish community.
After four years as a student leader in Hillel at Queen's, becoming a Hillel director seemed like a natural next step. I wanted to work in a campus environment that was relatively similar to Queen's — which speaks volumes about the positive experience I had there!
That similarity, combined with my familiarity and love for the Atlantic Canadian Jewish community where I had attended Jewish summer camp all my life, led me to apply for a job with Hillel of Atlantic Canada.
Yes, absolutely. While working at Hillel, I quickly began to realize that I was lacking some of the fundamental skills needed to both act as a Jewish educator and help successfully operate a non-profit business.
I remember one of my first days in Halifax I was asked to develop a budget and I thought to myself, “I've never done that before!” Or when I would get into discussions with the Atlantic Jewish Council's comptroller and she would have to explain to me the very basics of accounting. My education here at Hornstein and The Heller School have provided me with those basic fundamental skills that I sought to improve.
I always felt a deep connection with the Federation system, the Canadian Federation system in particular. I very much consider myself a product of that system. Using myself and others I know as examples, I believe that Jewish Federations have the ability to positively impact the entire North American Jewish community. So when I was offered the chance to be a FEREP, I jumped at it.
While I did look into a few other programs, I didn't consider any as closely as Hornstein. I originally heard about Hornstein from some of our Canadian alumni and decided to apply because I was intrigued by its dual-degree structure.
Once I interviewed here, I was hooked. I spent more time interacting one-on-one with faculty in that one day as a visitor at Hornstein than I did in four years of previous university education. And to get to see how enthralled and engaged the current students were while listening to a guest speaker in Professor Rosen's Organizational Behavior in Jewish Nonprofits class really impressed me. Before coming to Brandeis, my smallest university class had 150 students in it. I knew by coming to Hornstein I was getting myself into the type of academic environment I had always wanted.
I don't think it would have deterred me from coming here had it not had a Jewish heritage, but I certainly think it's very cool. We don't have anything like it in Canada as far as I know.
The biggest difference I've noticed so far has been automatically getting time off for Jewish holidays. At Queen's I was always overwhelmed by the amount of school I would have to miss, especially near the chaggim in the fall and Pesach in the spring. I don't know if I would call this difference one of support, but I feel it's a real benefit to Jewish students.
As for Jewish programming, despite the fact that there are many more options at Brandeis than there were at Queen's, mostly as a function of Brandeis's significantly larger Jewish student population, I still felt supported as a Jewish student at Queen's, so I don't see this as an important difference.
As a Hillel director, I definitely experienced the effects participation in Jewish groups on campus and Birthright trips had on feelings of connection to Israel. I saw many instances of students becoming engaged with Hillel on the subject of Israel after coming back from Birthright.
As for anti-Semitism, I think this is context dependent. I could see how an engaged student who was tabling in a student center about Israel might attract this sort of attention, but I never experienced it or saw my students experience it themselves.
Honestly, my thoughts are that campuses in Canada and New England are really different. After being here for almost a year and a half, to me the physicality of the campuses feels different, the atmosphere feels different, the politics feel different. I'm no expert, but if I had to guess why Canadian campuses reported more anti-Semitism, it probably has something to do with broad differences in the campuses' cultures.
In my experience, a lot of students are afraid to even broach the subject of Israeli politics. They fear both its complexities and possible repercussions. Additionally, many times it is hard for these students to find a safe environment to learn about Israeli politics. Professor Saxe's findings don't surprise me.
I absolutely do. As an active Hillel student leader at Queen's, I was a huge supporter of bringing a Chabad to Kingston. I adamantly believe that Jewish students need different options with which to engage. Additionally, providing the entire spectrum of Jewish programs to students is a lot of work for just one organization, and I think that to be able to split that role between Hillel and Chabad can be beneficial for everyone.
That being said, I think it takes a lot of effort from both the Chabad and Hillel on any given campus to make this partnership work. It takes compromise both in the form of coordinating calendars and compromising on joint events, and it requires a mentality of cooperation versus competition. I've seen firsthand the amazing results that can come from these partnerships and I am a strong advocate of them.
I myself am a perfect case study as to how participation in Jewish groups at college strengthens one's connection to Judaism and Israel. Especially in my case, when these groups let me explore and develop those connections in a supportive yet explorative context; I do believe this outcome is probable. My suggestion for improving these programs is to keep providing Jewish students with more and more opportunities to explore these relationships on their own in a safe and supportive environment.
I knew I wanted to take on a leadership position in Hornstein, and I hadn't yet been presented with any options that really piqued my interests. When I heard that we were bringing in Rabbi Sharon Brous from IKAR for a multi-day educational seminar, I was very intrigued. And, on top of that, I had just started taking a Jewish identity course with Professor Sales and was very excited to work more closely with her. In the end, my experience was amazing. I learned an astonishing amount from both organizing the seminar and learning with Rabbi Brous.
Yes, I definitely think it does. Even though women make up a majority of the professional workforce in the Jewish community, our representation at the highest levels of leadership does not reflect that. I'm sure there are some elements of this struggle that are generalizable to non-Jewish organizations and other elements that are unique.
Jewish women have endless opportunities to shape the future of the Jews. So do Jewish men. The question for me isn't so much about whether we have these opportunities as whether or not we're driven enough to see them to fruition.
Professor Mark Rosen is both my Hornstein advisor and fieldwork supervisor. He has been amazing in helping me organize my career goals, from ensuring I am getting the most out of my fieldwork to helping me narrow down my areas of focus within Jewish Federations.
I'm no expert, but to me Jewish peoplehood can be summarized by Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh Bazeh. Jewish people look out for one another. No matter if in the Former Soviet Union, Israel, North America or here at Brandeis.
To me, Jewish leadership is less about who you lead and more about how you lead. Jewish leaders lead in a Jewish way. Now, what that means is up to interpretation.
I'm still trying to narrow down my ideal job in a Federation. I have many interests in federation work: project management, operations management, measurement and reporting, strategic planning, program management. I hope that my ideal job will involve some combination of all of them.
In many ways. It's helped me hone in on my interests and skills; it's helped give me a much broader perspective of the Jewish communal sector; it's given me professional skills and habits that I didn't have when I entered the program; and it's given me a network of vastly different examples after whom I can choose to model my own career trajectory.
I'd send every Jewish kid to summer camp, or an equivalent Jewish informal educational experience to which they wanted to go.
This interview with Naomi Rosenfeld was published in the Hornstein Program's Impact Newsletter, December 2015. If you would like to quote any part of this conversation, please attribute content to Naomi Rosenfeld and the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program at Brandeis University and link to this page. All rights reserved.