“We’re starting with a new crew — new director, new fellow,” said Aaron Bergtrom, the new Jewish Student Life Coordinator for the Hillel Foundation-Milwaukee. “We all have to help each other because we are a small team.”
Bergtrom is referring to co-workers Heidi Rattner, the new executive director, and Shira Moldoff, the Jewish Campus Student Corps. (JCSC) Fellow. The three new staff members are all starting at Hillel this month. Rattner, who is coming to Hillel from her position as the director of justice programs at the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee, told The Chronicle that she is “really looking forward to partnering with students to create a welcoming atmosphere, so that the students are excited to participate in Hillel activities.”
She added that she has had “a lot of wonderful experiences at the Interfaith Conference,” and she wants to “help make those experiences available to the students at the universities.”
Born in Israel and raised in New York, Rattner was involved in Hillel while she was a student at Barnard College. And her goal in Milwaukee is to provide “really fun and meaningful programs.”
Rattner will begin her role at Hillel on August 23, but she’s already full of ideas for the upcoming school year, including “open lunches with students to plan activities,” and “encouraging more students to go on birthright israel,” which provides free first time, peer group, educational trips to Israel for Jewish young adults ages 18 to 26.
Rattner met Bergtrom several years ago when she was education director at Beth El Ner Tamid Synagogue and she hired him as a substitute teacher. “When I heard he was hired as [Jewish Student Life Coordinator], I was so excited to work with him again.”
In her efforts to make Hillel “a community-based organization for all Jewish young adults,” Rattner will be calling on the ideas of both Bergtrom and Moldoff. She hopes that together they can create student programs that have “something worthwhile for everyone.”
Bergtrom, who graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2000 with a degree in criminal justice, is looking forward to his new role for several reasons. He spent his junior year in college at Tel Aviv University, and spent a year working in Haiti with the Peace Corps. But, he said, he “missed having something to do with the Jewish community.”
“I have a lot of Jewish background [and] I want to be close to this small community of Jews.”
Bergtrom has worked as a Sunday school teacher at Beth El and later at Beth Torah, the joint religious school of Beth El and Congregation Beth Israel, and also as a camp counselor at the Albert & Ann Deshur JCC Rainbow Day Camp.
Bergtrom will be primarily responsible for program planning for the students, who may attend UWM, Marquette, Milwaukee Area Technical College or other area schools. “It’s different on every campus,” he said.
Part of the challenge, according to Moldoff, “is to find the Jewish students.” And she will spend much of her time facing that challenge, as she visits campuses and works with the “engagement” students, which she defines as “students who wouldn’t walk into Hillel [on their own]. My goal is to get them to be a part of Jewish life.
Originally from New Jersey, Moldoff will spend the next 11 months in Milwaukee. She is just returning from 10 months in Israel with Otzma, a service program that allowed her to work in an absorption center and spend three months as an intern at the Hebrew University-Mount Scopus campus’ Rothberg International School. The internship gave her “a head start on this job,” she said.
She also worked with her federation in New Jersey as their marketing and communications associate.
Though Moldoff is new to Milwaukee, she plans to bring more students to Hillel by working with “student leaders and going to city hotspots.”
“We’re looking forward towards a fun year. We’re big on listening to students and what they want. Any ideas they have we want to work with.”
Rattner agrees with this plan, she said. “We don’t want to plan for people but with them. Our main goal is to have activities for everyone. I’d like it to be fun and inspiring.”
Even more importantly, she said their team’s “main message is that they are open to student ideas, and [Hillel] being the place they want it to be…. We’re building community here.”
Moldoff echoed that statement: “We are going to try and make it as fun, interesting, and dynamic as students want. Our door is always open.”