Ten years after its “Israel Inspires” campaign countered campus critics of Israel, Rutgers Hillel saluted the staff and student leaders of what became a national model of pro-Israel advocacy.
Thirteen former students on the Israel Inspires team were presented with the Young Alumni Award at Hillel’s annual gala, which drew more than 300 supporters June 17 to the Crystal Plaza in Livingston.
The event also marked the “b’nei mitzva” year of director Andrew Getraer and senior associate executive director Rabbi Esther Reed, who led the Israel Inspires launch; they received Visionary in Partnership awards.
Hillel International president and CEO Eric Fingerhut said that over his first year in the position he had consistently heard great things about Rutgers Hillel and the “great work of Andrew and Esther.”
He said as efforts to delegitimize and attack Israel continue to plague college campuses, it is up to Hillels to respond as they build a new generation of leaders with strong connections to the community and Israel.
Israel Inspires rolled out a series of concerts, speakers, block parties, and other events over the course of the year, drawing national media attention and crowds in the thousands. It served as a model to be replicated at other campuses, said Fingerhut (see related story, page 8).
Getraer and Reed, both Highland Park residents, began at Rutgers July 1, 2001, and quickly formed a partnership.
“We complement each other,” said Getraer. “Where I know I’m weak, that’s where Esther comes in.”
During his tenure, Getraer said, he has had the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of thousands of young people. Rutgers, with 6,000 undergraduate and 1,000 graduate Jewish students, has the second-largest Jewish population of any college in the nation.
Rutgers Hillel is a beneficiary agency of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.
“Given all the factors, I believe Hillel is the second-most important institution in the Jewish world, after Israel, to connect to the community and to Judaism,” said Getraer.
Reed called Getraer her “mentor” and said it has been an honor to work with him. Looking out on the students, parents, and supporters in attendance, she said, “You bring me back into the office those late nights.”
Honored as “rising stars” were seniors Aviv Alter of Morganville, a biological sciences major; Ezra Chefitz of Edison, a cell biology and neuroscience major; Shira Rosenblum of West Orange, an animal science major minoring in biology; and recent social work graduate Kate Thomas of Whippany, who will serve as a Repair the World Fellow before attending graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy and Practice.
Tributes were also held for longtime outgoing federation executive directors Gerrie Bamira of the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County and Max Kleinman of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.
Receiving the Center for Israel Engagement Leadership Award were Michael and Lori Feldstein of Princeton.
Rabbi Adam Feldman of the Jewish Center in Princeton, where the Feldsteins are members, called them “role models,” citing their deep attachment to Israel and their involvement in many organizations benefitting Israel and the Jewish community.
Michael Feldstein is the president of the Central NJ region of the American Jewish Committee, and both are club-level members of AIPAC, where she serves on the Princeton Leadership Council and national council. Both are active in the Jewish Federation of Princeton Mercer Bucks and have served on the board of the Jewish Center, where Michael was president. He credited Feldman for getting him and his wife involved in Rutgers Hillel, since neither of them attended the university.
After meeting the staff and learning what the organization does, said Feldstein, he and his wife were “incredibly impressed.”
“As individuals we wanted to do what we could to support them in what they have accomplished for the Jewish community and what they do to create the Jewish leaders of tomorrow,” he told NJJN.
In saluting Bamira and Kleinman, Hillel board president Roy Tanzman said the two were the driving force convincing other federation leaders to back the organization.
“Now the federation system is one of our biggest supporters,” said Tanzman, former president of the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations.
Bamira, who has been at Middlesex 18 years — 14 of them as executive director — is leaving June 30. Kleinman, who will retire Nov. 1, has been with his federation since 1995.
Kleinman, speaking for both himself and Bamira, cited the strong partnerships with Hillel leaders, ending with, “Andrew and Esther, this is the best b’nei mitzva party I’ve ever been invited to. I’m speechless.”