While I was in rabbinical school, I remember reading a letter written by the great philosopher and jurist Maimonides, who lived in Egypt in the 12th century, to his translator and friend, Rabbi Samuel ibn Tibbon, who lived in Provence. In the letter, Maimonides relates how he spends all morning in Cairo, serving as the court physician to the sultan and his entourage. Then, he returns to his home in Fostat, eats his only meal of the day in 5 minutes, and spends the rest of the day as physician to throngs of people, Jewish and non-Jewish, into the night. Then, if he has a bit of energy, he can study and write, perhaps a response to a query from a far-off Jewish community, or one of his great works. The reader empathizes with Maimonides, realizing how lonely he must have felt while balancing his unique talents. We can also appreciate his deep commitment to making a significant impact in the world through different modalities.
For the last five years as a Hillel Director, I’d like to think I have had a tiny taste for what Maimonides must have felt. Hillel Directors are called upon to be deep generalists. We should be great mentors, educators, fundraisers, communicators, pastors, connectors, and visionaries. It can be difficult and wearying, but the multiple hats of the job are what make it so appealing to me. It never gets boring and there are always new challenges. After a little while, though, we can feel lonely and overwhelmed, like Maimonides in Egypt.
After four years of serving as Hillel Director at Goucher College, I felt like I was beginning to get the ropes of this balancing act, but I needed help to deepen my confidence and skill in several of these arenas. Enter the David M. Cohen Fellowship, an 18-month program designed to help Directors grow in one strategic way in order to reach the next level of fulfillment and competence in their jobs. The genius of the program is this: each Director is empowered to discern and customize the program to their desired area of growth. Then, we are given a year with an executive coach and a national Hillel Board mentor to formulate a plan and guide us to that growth. In the last six months, directors are given an additional grant to further their professional development as they see fit.
For me, the focus has been about being a visionary. So often I would get stuck in the exigencies and dramas of the current semester, unable to project where our Hillel and our students should be going. The Cohen Fellowship has allowed me to capitalize on my own strengths and to gain confidence and organization in order to think broadly and strategically with regard to these questions. For my last six months, my grant involved hiring a fundraising consultant/coach to increase my ability to inspire others to invest in my vision for Goucher Hillel.
This program is a product of a great amount of forethought and trust by Hillel International senior staff and David M. Cohen as the program’s funder. The idea is simple: invest in directors’ growth at a key point in their directorship, and the dividends will trickle down to their campuses, their employees, their boards, and their students. I hope that others will invest in this vision so that more Directors and Hillels can benefit and take the step to their next level. This and other connections for directors fostered by Hillel International ensure that none of us is a lone Maimonides, but that we can share our passion and knowledge with one another as we perform the sacred work of inspiring students to make an enduring commitment to Jewish life.
Rabbi Josh Snyder has been the Executive Director of Goucher College Hillel in Baltimore, MD, since 2008. In his spare time, he runs, plays guitar, and hangs out with his very cute family (1 wife, 3 daughters, and 1 dog).