By Nicole Bauke
Students were shocked and saddened when Rabbi Aaron Potek announced his plans to leave Northwestern at the end of the school year, for a position with the organization Gather the Jews.
Rabbi Aaron, Hillel’s educational and spiritual leader, joined the Fiedler Hillel at NU in July 2013 after getting his ordinance at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School in New York. He places importance in connecting with Jewish teens in the community, whether they are involved in Hillel or stand on the periphery.
“Rabbi Aaron is very good at experiencing levels of religion—not imposing his own beliefs but discussing differences to lead to understanding,” said Arielle Cooper, a junior from New York.
“It’s any moment where I see that I made a difference,” Rabbi Aaron said, describing his favorite Hillel memories.
Gather the Jews is an organization in Washington DC that works with post-college students discovering the next steps in Judaism and their lives. Rabbi Aaron believes this is natural growth from his responsibilities at Northwestern.
“I went to rabbinical school to be a campus rabbi. I joked when I first got here that I don’t like adults because they aren’t as open to growth and change. It wasn’t really a joke though,” he states. “One big thing I’ve learned is that students actually want to hear real and provocative opinions. I started this job worried about offending people or pushing too hard, but I’ve learned that people want to be challenged.”
According to students, the 27-year-old Rabbi encouraged them to think deeply about their actions.
“Because he’s pretty young himself, he is able to connect with college students in a way older rabbis wouldn’t be able to,” says Ethan Cohen, a Medill sophomore.
“Someone as good at connecting in a nonjudgmental way and meeting students whenever he can,” is what Naomi Kunstler, a psychology and theatre double major, said she is looking for.
“Rabbi Aaron, again?” joked Becca Dale, a senior who credited the growth of her Jewish identity largely to him.
Students echoed similar sentiments of gratitude and thanks for Rabbi Aaron’s contribution to their education.
“He has made me think about how to be a better Jew and be more intentional about how I incorporate Judaism into my life,” said Ariella Hoffman-Peterson, president of ZOOZ, Hillel’s service-learning group.
“I can’t thank him enough, and am lucky to have been active in Hillel during his time as campus Rabbi.”