Eleven years ago, staff and students at Rutgers Hillel were shocked and saddened when a student active in the organization killed himself by jumping in front of a moving train at the New Brunswick train station.
“Nobody saw it coming,” Hillel executive director Andrew Getraer told NJJN. “We realized we needed someone to support our students who may be struggling with issues we can’t see and aren’t trained to deal with. We also needed someone who could educate our students on emotional and mental health issues.”
After years of searching for a solution, Hillel has formed a partnership with the university that will bring a part-time counselor in September to be on duty in the Littman Family Wellness Center. Endowed by Leonard and the late Barbara Littman, the center is located in the Eva & Arie Halpern Hillel House on the main Rutgers campus in New Brunswick.
Getraer announced the partnership April 7 at the Hillel gala, which drew more than 300 to the Hillel building and raised more than $500,000, a record for the annual event.
The new counselor, who will be a university employee, will be funded through a donation from Arthur and Betty Roswell of Bridgewater, Rutgers Center for Psychological Services, and the Rutgers University Foundation, the school’s fund-raising arm.
Getraer declined to give the amount being given by the Roswells but said the university would pick up at least half the salary. Although the counselor will start by working 20 hours, the position could possibly be made full-time if there proves to be a need.
“We couldn’t find funding or a partner for years, although we kept talking about it,” said Getraer. Then the university’s counseling service, which wanted to embed a counselor in a student unit, showed interest in collaborating with Hillel, and so became, Getraer said, “the perfect partner.”
The separate Littman space will provide a “discreet” place “to offer this important service to our students,” said Getraer.
Before Hillel had offered that program, it conducted a focus group to see if students felt that having a counselor in this area was needed and asked if they would be more likely to seek help if it was available at Hillel rather than through university psychological services; “the overwhelming response was yes,” said Getraer.
During the dinner, university president Robert Barchi noted the partnership that had developed between Hillel and the university on other fronts, citing the collaboration between Getraer and himself on such issues as combating hate speech and anti-Semitism.
“Being partners doesn’t mean you agree on everything,” said Barchi. “It means you can sit down and talk things through and move forward.”
Among those honored at the dinner were Barry Ostrowsky of South Orange, president and CEO of RWJBarnabas Health, Visionary in Partnership Award; Pam and Mark Gelbert of Denville, Rabbi Julius Funk Alumni Award; Scott Siegel of Denville, Young Alumni Award; and Elisheva Sherman of Highland Park, Segev Kanik of Deal, and Zach Steinhardt of Morris Plains, all student Rising Stars.
Ostrowsky, a 1972 graduate of Rutgers College, oversees a 33,000-employee system of health-care facilities spanning nine counties. Robert Wood Johnson-Barnabas Health and Rutgers have formed the state’s largest and most comprehensive academic health system and one of the nation’s largest multi-specialty medical groups.
Ostrowsky said that Jewish values align closely with the initiatives and values of the health-care system he oversees. While Jewish values teach the importance of reaching out to those in need, in health care, “We understand we have an obligation to help others,” he said.
The Gelberts met at a Rutgers Hillel Chanukah party — he graduated in 1980, she in 1983. Both are attorneys; Pam is in private practice, and Mark is now chief scientific officer for the Nature’s Bounty company.
Long active in the Jewish community, Pam has been president of the Morris County chapter of Hadassah and active in Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, now splitting her time between Greater MetroWest and the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County. She served on the board of Adath Shalom in Morris Plains and is currently on the board of Mount Freedom Jewish Center in Randolph. Her husband is also a longtime supporter of the Greater MetroWest Jewish community.
The couple has cared for 17 foster children and is active in the Morris County Foster Parents Association. As a 25th anniversary gift to each other, in 2009 they endowed Hillel’s Chanukah party for many years to come.
Siegel is a 2013 graduate of the Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences honors program and is now a practicing attorney. At Hillel he was active in Koach, the organization’s Conservative community, and the Jewish Mentoring Initiative. As a sophomore he was selected as one of two student representatives on the Hillel board and was named a Rising Star his junior year. He was music director for Kol Halayla, the campus Jewish a cappella group. While at University of Virginia School of Law, Siegel was Jewish Law Students Association president for two years. He recently joined Rutgers Hillel’s board as a full member.
Kanik, who is completing his junior year, is Hillel’s Israel chair. He began annual Israel advocacy fund-raising events, raising more than $3,000 for pro-Israel organizations. He helped to organize the first Hillel Israel Leadership Initiative trip, bringing Jewish and non-Jewish student leaders to Israel.
Sherman, also a junior, is active in Mesorah, the Orthodox campus community, expanding its social agenda and co-organizing a panel discussion on LGBTQ issues in the Orthodox community during Hillel’s Pride Shabbat. She is Hillel’s Shabbat and social chair, runs monthly challah events for the entire community and weekly student hospital visits, and started a raw-food waste and recycling collection at Hillel.
A graduating senior, Steinhardt served this year as the campus Reform community cochair, significantly increasing its membership. He came to Rutgers in 2017 after serving for a year in the federal AmeriCorps.
Included in the evening’s program was a tribute to longtime Hillel board member Gerald Cantor of Westfield, who died in October. Stanley Stone, executive director of the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater MetroWest NJ, paid tribute to Cantor, citing his many accomplishments in the Jewish community and his understanding of the importance that an organization like Hillel plays in engaging the next generation of Jews. Stone concluded by saying that Cantor’s “wisdom will be sorely missed.”