After a months-long search, Minnesota Hillel hired Rabbi Ryan Dulkin to be agency’s first full-time staff rabbi in nearly 10 years. Dulkin officially starts the position July 10, shortly after his wife Joanna begins her tenure as the new cantor at Adath Jeshurun. Dulkin is currently finishing a visiting assistant professorship at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Penn.
“I love teaching and I love being in the college environment, but I wanted to see where I could make the most impact and the most of my skills,” Dulkin said. “The experience I had at Maroon & Gold Shabbat and seeing Hillel in action, and the partnership between Minnesota Hillel and the community, this is where I feel like I can make the most of who I am and what I bring.”
Minnesota Hillel Executive Director Benjie Kaplan said that Dulkin’s wide variety of experiences as a rabbi was a big plus. In addition to working as a visiting assistant professor at a variety of schools over the past seven years, Dulkin had spent time at: Hillel at Washington University in St. Louis, worked in Jewish summer camping, was heavily involved in the Hillel at San Francisco State University as an undergraduate, and had a rabbinic internship at an LGBTQ synagogue in New York City.
“When you put all those pieces together and add the fact he’s a very charismatic guy, he has a great opportunity to work with the students,” Kaplan said.
The new position is funded for the first three years from a grant from Hillel International. Kaplan said that across the Hillel movement, there is a push to try and get as many Hillels as possible to quantitatively and qualitatively measurably excellent. The five areas that Hillel looked at were: Having an excellent executive director; having the ability to raise the funds and have the financial resource development plan in place to sustain programs; quality Israel engagement; quality engagement and leadership development for the students; and a depth of experience in Jewish learning.
“For the last three years, we have grown in all of those areas,” Kaplan said, citing the addition of Shira Lavintman two years ago as a junior educator as part of the Hillel International Ezra Fellows program. “But we knew that In order to take the next step towards becoming an excellent Hillel, we needed to add a senior educator with the background that Ryan has to make that next leap forward.”
Matthew Berger, the senior adviser for strategic communications at Hillel International, said that adding a senior Jewish educator to as many campuses as possible has been a goal for several years.
“We know it’s a proven and highly-effective way to have meaningful conversations on campus,” Berger said. “Each connects with 200-plus students per year who may not otherwise be engaged.”
Berger said the goal is to have each campus engage with 30 percent of their Jewish population in a deep and meaningful way, which Hillel considers six or more engagements per year or one high-impact experience, like Birthright Israel or a Jewish learning program. “We know a certain number of engagements per year has a lasting impact. The SJE builds that strong connection that leads students to make Jewish connections.”
Dulkin is excited to be able to be able to have those meaningful opportunities work with college students in a non-professorial situation.
“I’m looking forward to removing the barrier of judgment on students where I’m not grading them,” he said. ” I’m bringing the skills I’ve honed with college students not just as thinkers but as human beings.”
Kaplan said that the hiring process wasn’t an easy one.
“We found that one of the hardest things in finding the right person was that it needed to be someone that had a connection to Minnesota or were able to make a commitment to being a part of the Minnesota Jewish Community, not just being the campus rabbi,” he said. “We got lucky that the timing that the Dulkins happen to be moving here at the same time we were looking for somebody who had the skills and background we were looking for. It was bashert.”