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Chalutzim student leaders take on new responsibilities, redefine roles

From top to bottom: Amelia Geser ’19 preparing Shabbat meal in the Chalutzim kitchen; Students help decorate the Sukkah for Sukkot at an event hosted by Chalutzim and the CRSSJ. Photos Contributed

By Julia Anderson

It came as a surprise to many students to hear that Rabbi Rob Cabelli would not be returning to Grinnell College this fall. For those involved in Chalutzim, Grinnell’s organization for Jewish students, the news meant more than losing a member of the Grinnell community: it signaled a major restructuring in the group’s organization and leadership.

Fortunately, students on the Chalutzim board have worked with Stacey Cannon, technical assistant for the Center for Religion, Spirituality and Social Justice (CRSSJ) and the Dean of Religious Life, Deanna Shorb, to maintain Chalutzim’s active presence on campus.

“While we don’t have an associate chaplain and rabbi, it’s certainly my expectation that Stacey and I would help — as far as possible — Chalutzim continue to be able to celebrate cultural and religious holy days and activities,” said Shorb.

Shorb and Cannon help organize certain details for Jewish events, such as inviting former Grinnell Rabbi Deborah Brin back to campus to lead services during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. For the most part, though, students have completely taken over the group’s responsibilities.

“I really didn’t know how much [Cabelli] did until he left,” said Amelia Geser ’19, a member of the Chalutzim board. One of the most challenging tasks for students to administer has been financial, as Cabelli previously oversaw the organization’s budget. 

“We’re pretty lucky that this year we already have strong student leadership across different years,” said Noah Segal ’19, also a member of the Chalutzim board. More students have become involved with the board this semester, motivated to support the continuation of Chalutzim and provide a welcoming Jewish community to the campus following the rabbi’s departure.

The leaders of Chalutzim volunteer around five hours a week to maintain Jewish life for students, notably through hosting a weekly Shabbat table. This event involves meal planning and preparation, coordinating cooking groups, leading Shabbat blessings, cleaning the kitchen and more. It requires considerable assistance, but students have been enthusiastic about helping.

“From what I’ve seen, there’s more engagement, and I’m hoping that that turns into more campus-wide Jewish community engagement,” Segal said.

Despite the initial adjustment and challenges, Chalutzim leaders are optimistic about the future of the organization and Jewish life at Grinnell as a whole.

“I think that structurally, this has been kind of a blessing in disguise. I think that we’ve really come into our own as an organization. People who previously took a backseat have stepped up and taken more of a leadership role,” Geser said.

Chalutzim leaders emphasized that essentially all multicultural organizations on campus are completely student-run, and Chalutzim is inspired to revamp their student leadership. In this period of transition, students have the opportunity to reconsider the structure of the group and to offer their own ideas for changes.

“I think that having it be more student-led is going to be more valuable in creating a stronger community and in students taking initiative and responsibility,” Segal said.

“We’re all sad that we lost our leader, and we’re all going to miss Rob, but this is a chance for us to rethink our mission and to grow as an organization,” Geser said.

As for the future, the Chalutzim board aims to continue student involvement and to further increase Jewish life and community on campus. Though they acknowledge that it is difficult to hold religious events without a rabbi, the group anticipates hosting more social and cultural events in addition to weekly Shabbat table.

Nonetheless, Jewish students recognize the need for a rabbi on campus. “We’ve all taken on new roles that we didn’t know we had, but the one role that none of us can fill is that of a spiritual leader,” Geser said.

The search for a new associate chaplain and rabbi is underway, though no developments are certain yet. The Chalutzim board will be involved in the hiring process.

Students can email [chalutz] to be added to the Chalutzim email list and keep up with Jewish life at Grinnell.


From top to bottom: Amelia Geser ’19 preparing Shabbat meal in the Chalutzim kitchen; Students help decorate the Sukkah for Sukkot at an event hosted by Chalutzim and the CRSSJ.
Photos Contributed
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