On Campus: Hillel building ‘renaissance’ at Texas A&M

By Ben Tinsley


Photo: Ben Tinsley Texas A&M students and Rabbi Matt Rosenberg give the “Gig ’em” hand sign around the Hillel marker on campus.

COLLEGE STATION — Matt Rosenberg, campus rabbi and executive director of Texas A&M Hillel, is focused on increasing the Jewish student population and quality of available Jewish programs on campus.
The rabbi is making great strides in this direction by teaming with students looking to create a Jewish life renaissance at Texas A&M.
Rabbi Rosenberg, who started here in 2013, said as the first new Texas A&M Hillel executive director on this campus in decades, he was forced to realize he was going to have to get creative to expand the college’s Jewish population and curriculum.
“Last year, I was essentially drinking from a fire hose and trying to figure things out — what exactly I was dealing with,” the rabbi said. “I took this job because I didn’t want to go someplace where I would simply continue what my predecessor had been doing. I wanted a challenge. . . . But it was a puzzle to me. Why was A&M’s Jewish community so small when it’s such a fine institution?”
The administration was very open to ideas such as Modern Hebrew being added as a language and the eventual creation of a Jewish studies program. But inspiration was still clearly needed on his part to develop more programs and attract more students here.
Specifically, the rabbi discovered that working and planning together with one ambitious student — in this case, sophomore Dan Rosenfield — was just what the doctor ordered.
In particular, Rosenfield was quite adept at networking and helping create new organizations.
“With Dan starting this past year and me starting here last year, it was a perfect storm in terms of the development of the Jewish community,” the rabbi said.
Dan Rosenfield said his motivations for attending Texas A&M in the first place were very similar to the rabbi’s.
“I just wanted to make a name for Aggie Jewish life,” Rosenfield said. “I think that is one of the main reasons I came to A&M. I could have gone to (the University of Texas) like all my family … But I saw I could come here and have the opportunity to really do something. … Here is the home of the 12th Man and every student plays a vital role. Every student should feel welcome and important.”
The rabbi and student’s work resulted in the creation of “Aggie Students Supporting Israel,” a group that works with organizations such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
Rosenberg’s work with AIPAC, by the way, won him the “Ally of the Year” award for his work supporting pro-Israel efforts at Texas A&M at the 2015 AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, D.C.
Rosenberg is one of three campus professionals nationwide to be given that Ally of the Year award for 2015.
And then there’s the magnificent new building, crafted from Jerusalem stone. The A.I. and Manet Schepps Hillel Building, Hillel’s new 18,000-square-foot facility, houses the Abe and Annie Seibel Center for Jewish Campus Life and the Abe and Annie Seibel Crypto-Jewish Center.
Students have around-the-clock access to the facility and can study there at that new facility at any time.
These days, the Texas A&M Hillel building operates as a planning center for the next generation of Jewish leaders.
National, state and local matters are discussed here, as a very tight-knit student group works closely with the rabbi — Rosenfield and other students such as Jacob Arnett, Jonathan Rahmani, Celeste Swanson and Emily Schneider.
These students have helped revitalize the Hillel student board and are working on tzedek and social justice programs as well as programs such as Aggie Students Supporting Israel, and Challah for Hunger.
Senior Jonathan Rahmani said the work that the rabbi and Rosenfield are doing is really helping the cause.
“They’re busy meeting with people — people in the administration building and people in the chancellor’s office,” Rahmani said. “This is how we get acknowledged. We have people who are Jewish becoming involved in these many other organizations.”

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