Hillel Society welcomes new director
After nine months and a search that attracted an outstanding group of rabbis, Jewish educators and youth professionals from across the nation, Rabbi Danielle Stillman has been named the new director of Jewish student life at Lehigh.
“Danielle comes to us with experience in the Hillel movement, as well as an interesting and varied background,” says Roger Simon, professor of history, longtime faculty adviser to Lehigh’s Hillel Society, and co-chair of the search committee that recruited Stillman. “I’m excited about her appointment. She will connect well with the students.”
Stillman brings nearly a decade of Hillel experience to her new role. She comes to Lehigh by way of Ursinus College, where she has been the Hillel director and campus rabbi since August 2008. Stillman previously served the Harvard Hillel for two years as program director for the Netivot Fellowship. The position marked a return to Stillman’s alma mater, where three years earlier she earned a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School.
Attracted by Lehigh’s “dynamic student environment,” Stillman views her new position as an exciting way to build on the work she has been doing on campuses throughout the years.
“I love working with students because they are at a point in their life where they are really deciding what kind of life they want and what kind of community they want to live in,” says Stillman. “Judaism has a lot to say about that.”
A journey that began at that same point in Stillman’s life inspired her path to the rabbinate. After earning a B.A. from Oberlin College, the new graduate received a prestigious scholarship to study Tibetan Buddhism in Nepal and India. Along the way, she met many fellow Jewish travelers who were searching for a new path in Eastern religions. Resolving to bring a new spiritual relevance to the Jews of her generation, Stillman enrolled in the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and was ordained in 2009.
“Judaism must continue to evolve, as it always has, to demonstrate its relevance to the Millennial generation. This is clear from the recent Pew survey on Jewish life in America,” says Stillman.
Lloyd Steffen, university chaplain and co-chair of the search committee, is confident that Stillman is the ideal person to engage the estimated 600 Jewish students at Lehigh.
“Danielle brought to us a unique combination of creativity, maturity and spiritual depth in addition to superb academic training, relevant work experience on the college campus, and recognized accomplishments as a rabbi, teacher, writer and spiritual leader. She has a keen critical intelligence and is able to reflect deeply on matters of faith and spirituality important in people’s lives. She is a person of high energy, able to provide wonderful opportunities for our students to grow in their own reflections on questions of faith. She will be a spiritual resource not only for our Jewish students but for the entire Lehigh community.”
Serving as both director of Jewish student life—Stillman’s primary role—as well as associate chaplain, Lehigh’s new rabbi believes she is well-situated to impact many facets of student life on campus.
“Judaism was never meant to be a religion that only takes place in one building, be it a synagogue or a Hillel,” says Stillman. “It is about integrating moments of ritual, gratitude, mindfulness and intellectual inquiry into the most mundane aspects of one’s life beyond the walls of a building. My vision is to make Judaism more accessible and visible in many areas of the campus.”
As the university continues to reflect on what it means to be a community of inclusion and hospitality, Stillman is hopeful that Jewish Lehigh can contribute much to the campus dialogue about diversity.
“Social justice is an integral part of Judaism. I support initiatives to pursue such work and push students to take it beyond volunteerism. When we seek to address injustice and equality in our world, we have to educate ourselves about why it is there in the first place and accompany any service we do with advocacy work to change the systems perpetuating or causing the inequality.”
A creative thinker, mentor and ally
The Hillel Society of Lehigh University sees a promising new start in its new director. For her part, Stillman will inherit a hardworking and dedicated group of students eager to increase their numbers.
Sara Green ’15, the past president of the Hillel Society and a member of the search committee, recalls the importance of taking the time needed to find the very best candidate.
“We needed a leader who was passionate, outgoing, approachable, and able to communicate well with students while promoting Hillel and Jewish life in general,” says Green. “Danielle is qualified, has experience with college-age students, and new program ideas that can involve more students on campus.”
Stillman promises an open door and an invested presence. “I bring my whole self to my role. I consider listening to be at the core of the rabbinate, and I believe that all students need adult mentors who will listen to them—whether their concerns be theological, social, or about how much work they have.”
When Stillman arrives at Lehigh in August, job one will be to immerse herself in the campus culture. Her enthusiasm for the work ahead is palpable.
“I see enormous potential for Jewish life on campus. I think Lehigh can become known as a dynamic place of Jewish life if we continue to build our reputation by getting the word out to current students, alumni, and prospective students, about all the great things that are happening here.”