MILWAUKEE – Hillel Milwaukee has grown its full-time staff from three to four, adding a Jewish educator to the team.
The educator, Eric Leiderman, is to bring more ritual and Jewish thought into Hillel Milwaukee activities. But Leiderman isn’t a fan of “frontal teaching.” He prefers a more experiential approach, as with student-led prayers and discussion.
Leiderman’s role as Jewish educator and Springboard fellow for Hillel Milwaukee is funded by Hillel International and an anonymous donor through Milwaukee Jewish Federation’s Jewish Community Foundation of Milwaukee Jewish Federation. He started July 9.
“We added a staff person and we changed the staffing structure,” said Deb Carneol Fendrich, who previously had a student life and learning role and is now assistant director.
“We want to dig deeper than just showing up for Shabbat,” said Executive Director Julie Schack, no longer the interim executive director as of January 2018. “We want to dig deeper for the why.”
Leiderman grew up in New Jersey’s New York City suburbs, a self-described “Jewish day school kid.” A sociology and religious studies graduate of New York’s Binghamton University, he’s well-steeped in Camp Ramah Berkshires, including work on the year-round team. He completed a one-year fellowship at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem. He thinks about “aspirations of becoming a rabbi.”
Interviewing in early August, he talked about how last night he saw an Instagram post about a campus rabbi who completed a conversion process. “I want to do that,” he said.
There was an intentionality to bringing Leiderman aboard for his two-year stint.
“We recognized that we were struggling with our Jewish education engagement,” Schack said. “We applied for the position and we were lucky enough to be granted the Springboard fellow.”
Leiderman has a vision for an ideal Friday night at Hillel Milwaukee, which serves students from a dozen local colleges and universities. His gold standard is a student-run service where students are engaged and participating; oneg afterwards with desserts and storytelling; and singing, creating a “very lively experience.”
It’s sitting around a table, talking, singing and learning. It’s organic. He said he plans to get there “at first by modeling and coaching but with the goal of organic growth and development.”
He added, “I want students to make a whole Friday night out of coming to Hillel. It’s not just coming for dinner.”
Speaking of dinner, Leiderman is a “kosher boy trying to make it in a city known for its bratwurst and cheese curds,” according to his Instagram tagline. Follow his efforts at @veganmke.