BU Hillel welcomes senior Jewish educator

By: Rabbi Rachel Esserman

Rabbi Marley Weiner
Hillel at Binghamton announced that Rabbi Marley Weiner will be its new senior Jewish educator. Weiner, who graduated this year from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, will provide educational and outreach services to the campus Jewish community. Her focus will be on the Conservative, Reform and unaffiliated communities, with the hope of increasing student involvement in Jewish life on campus.
Weiner said that by the time she was in high school, she knew she wanted to be a rabbi. Although she had very positive experiences in the Reform synagogues she attended, her father suggested she apply to RRC. While Weiner noted that one reason for her father’s suggestion was because her parents lived not far from the school, RRC turned out to be a good match. Its anthropological approach to Jewish history was compatible with her own view of Judaism and her college studies. Weiner had graduated from the Double Degree Program of Barnard College (anthropology) and the Jewish Theological Seminary’s List College of Jewish Studies (Jewish philosophy).
After college, Weiner spent several years in the Jewish nonprofit sector, including two years working with interfaith families at the Jewish Outreach Institute. She also volunteered for Limmud NY and served on the steering committee of the independent minyan Kol Zimrah. During her initial visit to RRC, Weiner attended a class about rabbinic history led by Dr. Elsie Stern and “fell in love” with the college’s style of learning.
Weiner debated whether or not to become a pulpit rabbi or to work for a campus Hillel. She originally thought about working on campus due to the “wonderful experiences” she had at the Barnard Hillel, particularly with Hebrew Union College students Mara Young and Lyle Rothman, who were rabbinical interns while she was there. However, during her second year at RRC, she had a “lovely experience” doing pulpit work. What cemented her desire to work on campus was her rabbinic internship at the Temple University Hillel the next year.
“I fell madly in love with the students,” she said. “Daniel Levitt, the executive director of the Hillel, was such a great mentor. He was really helpful.” Weiner noted that while Levitt is Orthodox and she is Reconstructionist, their different orientation was never a problem. He showed students that not only were there different ways to be Jewish, but that they should respect each others’ choices. After two years as an intern, Weiner knew that campus work was a perfect fit.
One reason Hillel work appeals to Weiner is that fact that during college, many students are thinking about the kind of person they want to be and how they will connect to Judaism. “The students are thinking seriously about their lives,” she said, “and it’s great to be with them while they are doing this.” As an educator, Weiner offers students options and suggestions about different paths to explore – whether they are looking for God, want to connect with Jewish texts or examine other ways of being Jewish. That means helping them feel comfortable enough to take risks. However, she noted that, while she aids them in their exploration, the students make the final decisions about how to live their lives.
Weiner sees an additional aspect to her work: to give students an understanding of Reconstructionism. She plans to focus on the difference between uppercase Reconstructionism – the college and the movement – and lowercase reconstructionism, whose theology she sees as underlying much of contemporary liberal theology. She’s not daunted by the task, though, noting, “Both my parents are teachers and teaching is in my blood.”