Naomi Rosenfeld MA/MBA'16

Naomi Rosenfeld
MA/MBA ’16

Naomi Rosenfeld was born in Toronto, Ontario. She completed her undergraduate education at Queen’s University in Kingston, ON where she graduated first in her class and received the highest non-academic honour awarded by the university. Upon finishing her studies, Naomi became the Hillel Director of Atlantic Canada where she spearheaded innovative Jewish programming on university campuses spanning four different provinces and a landmass larger than the state of California.

Naomi is completing the Hornstein/Heller dual-degree MA/MBA program as one of the Jewish Federations of North America's FEREP graduate scholars. She is also currently working at Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP), Boston’s Jewish Federation, using her research experience to help CJP develop a comprehensive system of measurement and develop new innovative programming.


Naomi's Network

Visit the websites of the Jewish organizations mentioned in Naomi's profile:

Professor Mark Rosen is Naomi's advisor. She will graduate in May 2016. 

Hornstein Student Profile

Naomi Rosenfeld
  A Jewish Professional
Shaped by Her Community…
& A Community Shaped
by a Jewish Professional 

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 reinitiated 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.”

“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.”  

Naomi Rosenfeld, Milender Seminar 2015

Naomi Rosenfeld cochaired the student committee with Evan Taksar on planning the 2015 Milender Seminar in 2015. 

In Her Own Words:
  An Interview with Naomi Rosenfeld

Q: Tell us about Queen’s University where you received your undergraduate degree.

Naomi: Queen’s University is a mid-size Canadian University situated in Kingston, Ontario – almost exactly half way 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!

Q: Can you tell us about the award you received at Queen’s and the work you did as chair of Holocaust Education Week?

Naomi: 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.

Q: What was your upbringing like?

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.

Q: Do you have any of these conversations with your grandparents recorded?

Naomi: 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.

Q: What led you to work at Hillel of Atlantic Canada? Can you tell me about the programs you initiated/developed?

Naomi: 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.

Q: Was it through your work at Hillel that you realized you could benefit from a Master’s education? If yes, how did that come about?

Naomi: 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.

Q: You are a FEREP award recipient. Can you explain how that happened?

Naomi: 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.

Q: What brought you to the Hornstein Program? Were there other programs you also considered?

Naomi: 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.

Q: Is it important or not important to you that Brandeis has a Jewish heritage?

Naomi: 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.

Q: Do you think Brandeis has supported you as a Jewish student in ways that you didn’t feel supported at Queen’s? Or has there been no difference? Is this important or not important to you?

Naomi: 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.

Q: Professor Len Saxe’s report on antisemitism on North American college campuses found that students who participated in Jewish groups in college and took a Birthright trip felt more connected to Israel but also perceived more antisemitism. What is your personal and professional experience? What is the experience of students and staff you worked with while a director at Hillel?

Naomi: 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 antisemitism, 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.

Q: Professor Saxe’s report found that there is more antisemitism on Canadian campuses than on campuses here in New England. What are your thoughts about that?

Naomi: 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 antisemitism, it probably has something to do with broad differences in the campuses’ cultures.

Q: Professor Saxe’s report also found that while there is a growing feeling of connection to Israel for Jewish college students who’ve participated in Jewish groups and went on a trip, they don’t often know too much about Israeli politics. What is your experience? What is the experience of students and staff you worked with while a director at Hillel?

Naomi: 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.

Q: For many years, Hillel was the dominant campus organization. In recent years, Chabad centers on campus have been growing rapidly and attracting many different kinds of Jewish students. What is your take on the new place of Chabad on campus as a (former) Hillel professional? Do you see ways for Hillel and Chabad to interact in a mutually beneficial fashion?

Naomi: 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.

Q: What role, in your personal and professional experience, does participation in Jewish groups at college have on one’s connection to Judaism and Israel? If you could, what would you do to improve and/or strengthen these Jewish programs?

Naomi: I myself am a perfect case study as to how participation in Jewish groups at college strengthen 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.

Q: Last year, with Professor Amy Sales providing guidance, you co-chaired with Evan Taksar the organization of the Milender Seminar. Was there something in particular that drew you to participate? What was your experience?

Naomi: 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. 

Q: Do you think gender influences career opportunities and outcomes in the Jewish community? Are these different or the same as in non-Jewish organizations?

Naomi: 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.

Q: What opportunities do Jewish women currently have in shaping the future of the Jews? What opportunities should they have that they don’t now have, if any?

Naomi: 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.

Q: Who is your Hornstein advisor? Your fieldwork supervisor? Are there specific ways they have helped you/are helping you organize your career goals?

Naomi: 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.

Q: What are your thoughts about Jewish peoplehood?

Naomi: 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.

Q: What does Jewish leadership mean to you?

Naomi: 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.

Q: You will be working for the Federation for two years after you graduate. What’s your ideal job there?

Naomi: I’m still trying to narrow down my idea 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. 

Q: How has your education at Brandeis and Hornstein informed you as you continue to shape your career goals?

Naomi: 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.

Q: If you had all the resources available to you and the position of authority to make it happen, what would you do for/in the Jewish community?

Naomi: 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.