Saying Goodbye to Rabbi Yonah Schiller

Saying Goodbye to Rabbi Yonah Schiller

With Tulane Hillel Schillerengaging over 91 percent of Tulane’s Jewish students and having established a model for student engagement that has been replicated at Hillels across the country, it is safe to say that Yonah Schiller’s tenure as executive director of Tulane Hillel has been nothing short of game changing.
In January, Schiller announced that this will be his last year serving as Executive Director of Tulane Hillel. He has taken on a new role as chief R&D officer for the Jim Joseph Foundation effective July 1.Under his leadership, Tulane Hillel found success in a reorientation that was as straightforward as it was massive. When Schiller began as executive director 11 years ago his vision was to put Tulane Hillel in the hands of the students. “Starting with people, rather than starting with the institution, felt critical,” Schiller says. “It’s really been a process for letting young Jews in the Tulane community define what community means and what Hillel needs to be.”

Shelley Freed, director of development for Tulane Hillel, remarks, “Yonah created buy-in, an environment where students were getting their peers excited about what we are doing. It was about putting students at the center of everything—that created the inclusive and relevant community that we have today.”

Schiller credits Tulane and New Orleans for providing an ideal opportunity to reinvent what a Hillel could offer. “Tulane is unique. It’s been a particularly fertile ground to test something like this because the population is decidedly national. Students are far from home and the person who is comfortable [traveling far from home] is the person who is willing to be a little bit open to where they are. Post-Katrina was really a time of redefining things. New Orleans was both rejuvenating and recreating itself.”

And the student-centered model that Schiller developed at Tulane Hillel has gone national. Over 20 different campuses across the country and Canada have begun using the model developed at Tulane, and they experienced impressive growth following the change. As Schiller says, “You can’t go wrong by listening to people, it’s always going to be a winning strategy.”

Of the tremendous success Tulane Hillel has achieved under Schiller’s leadership, Freed says, “It’s bigger than him, it’s bigger than Hillel—it’s truly a movement, and we wouldn’t be here without his leadership and his vision. Yonah set out to engage as many students as possible and get them excited about being Jewish and being a part of their Jewish community, and I think he’s accomplished that, all while making Tulane Hillel the most active Hillel you can find.”

Schiller is confident that Tulane Hillel will continue to thrive far into the future, saying, “I really do believe that we’ve created an infrastructure and a system, a shared culture and outlook that make me very confident that what we have created is sustainable. For me, that’s what success looks like.”

Looking toward the future with the Jim Joseph Foundation, Schiller says, “I’m excited at the possibility of having the ability and opportunity to make an impact. Creating impact has always driven me, and this new opportunity helps me to do that on an even broader scale.”

For more information, you can visit Tulane Alumni Association’s website.

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