Share Your Story
We love learning about our students! Send your story to Hannah at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will feature it on our website!
Student Edition: 2015-2016
Name: Morgan Ingber
Major: Management and Psychology
Hometown: Basking Ridge, NJ
“My relationship with Hillel began freshman year when my best friend from high school and I walked up to the Annual Welcome Week BBQ at Old Main. A little nervous, we were warmly welcomed by two sophomores. Our two new friends introduced us to as many people as they could and, they even invited us to participate in activities later in the week. With the help of the two sophomores, who are now two of my closest friends, I was able to find comfort in Hillel and begin to create my new “home away from home”.
From that point on, I continued to attend Hillel programming. By the middle of my freshman year, I decided to apply for Hillel General Student Board and was placed on the Religious Life Committee. This position opened up many doors for me. Suddenly, I was fully invested in Hillel, and Hillel had invested in me. As a member of the General Student Board I was able to explore new perspectives of Jewish life that I had never seen before. Soon, an opportunity to become Vice President of Religious life presented itself and I gladly took the opportunity to move up to the Executive Board. Now, three semesters later, and even while studying abroad, I continue to serve as VP of Religious Life!
Penn State Hillel has positively impacted my life more than I ever thought it could. Not only did I meet some of my closest friends through Hillel, but I have also developed my leadership skills and built professional relationships that I can carry with me for the rest of my life. It’s an amazing feeling knowing that Penn State Hillel, an organization that I’ve dedicated most of my extra-curricular time to, has the resources I need to plan meaningful Jewish programming for myself and for other students on campus. Hillel has helped me strengthen my Jewish identity and grow both personally and professionally. Throughout my time on the board, I have learned to take risks and to be confident in my decisions. I am constantly challenged by the different ideas and perspectives of other student board members, and feel empowered to engage in the conversation. As our organization continues to grow, I am excited to take on new and bigger initiatives and to provide Penn State with greater access to Jewish life. I love every minute of working with our team of students and amazing staff. My experience been beyond incredible and I cannot wait to continue and see what the future holds for us.
Morgan Ingber is a junior at Penn State University majoring in Management and Psychology. Originally from Basking Ridge, NJ, Morgan currently serves on the Penn State Hillel’s Executive Board as Vice President of Student. She is also involved in numerous THON activities on campus.
Name: Robby Ost
Major: Environmental Resource Management
Hometown: Bethesda, Maryland
My name is Robby Ost, and I am a sophomore Environmental Resource Management major here at Penn State. I decided to get involved with Hillel right off the bat, and I currently serve as the VP of Marketing for the Hillel student board. During my time in this position, I’ve developed new passions and skills within the marketing field and have had incredible opportunities that have provided me with real world experience, including company branding, large-scale program planning, and so much more! Before college, I studied at a Jewish high school and was involved with BBYO. Hillel has helped me continue my Judaism at Penn State, and it has allowed me to have a vibrant community to fall back on and to meet other students who share similar interests. Shana Tovah!
Name: Becca Lerman
Major: Supply Chain Management
Hometown: Pittsburgh, PA
“’Irons sharpens iron.’
This past week, I sat in a staff member’s office (where you can find me most of the time) engaging in an unscheduled conversation. He asked me how I wanted to grow as a Jewish person, and I began to explain how I felt like I was moving backwards rather than growing. This staff member then quoted from the Torah, “Iron sharpens iron.” As I stared with blank eyes, he explained that in every conversation, and interaction I have, I (the iron) am being sharpened by someone else. Differences, conflicts, and overall engagements with others are good. They help us become stronger people.
To me, Hillel is not only here to give meaningful Jewish experiences and provide Jewish life on campus, but also to help each person who is willing, improve and develop themselves. I have never been more conformable not knowing where I will be in five years, than at this moment. Thank you Rob, and thank you Hillel for helping me find myself.”
Meet The Staff Edition: 2015-2016
Name: Aaron Kaufman
Title: Executive Director
Where are you originally from? Okemos, MI
How would you describe yourself? Easygoing, passionate
Why ‘Penn State Hillel’? At Penn State I get to work with some the brightest, most dynamic students in the country, and we are building the next great center for Jewish student life.
What is your favorite part about being Jewish? It’s so hard to pick just one! The importance of community, of sacred time and space, and of tikkun olam (repairing the world).
How long have you been involved in Hillel? 20 years, since my freshman year in college!
Your favorite Hillel memory? Meeting my wife at Hillel in college.
What’s playing in your car right now? NPR.
What do you do for fun? Play with my kids, cook, play guitar, hike.
If a genie gave you a wish what would you wish for? More wishes.
Name: Hannah Giterman
Title: Community Engagement Associate
Nickname: Git (if you are interested in other unsolicited nicknames you can ask the other staff members)
Where are you originally from? Cleveland, OH
How would you describe yourself? Caring, passionate, understanding, a good listener, a good friend. I love meeting new people and building new relationships, but I can also hide out with a glass of wine and netflix. I’m an ambivert – a mix between an extrovert and introvert (this is my life: 21 Signs You Might Be An Ambivert). Why ‘Penn State Hillel’? I love Hillel. I started working for Hillel because it gave me an opportunity to give back to a community that gave so much to me. Penn State Hillel is a place that offers so many opportunities for Jewish growth and learning. It is a place where students can go to be themselves and be Jewish. Plus, the staff kicks a$$ (can I swear?) !!
What is your favorite part about being Jewish? My favorite part about being Jewish is that there are so many different ways to connect with Judaism and to be Jewish. For me, Judaism is a community. It is a place where I feel safe expressing my true self and inspiring others to do the same. The Jewish community is a diverse community that offers opportunity to explore different parts of Judaism and to really connect with what is most meaningful to you. Judaism is also family. It is my family harmonizing to Miriam’s Song on our way to every services, no matter what the occasion (we all have terrible voices). It is my mom and aunt spending hours frying hundreds of latkes for Hanukkah, and it is my grandfather’s handmade menorahs lighting up the living room. Judaism is also tradition; the tradition of tikkun olam and the tradition of asking questions and challenging one and other. For me, Judaism is not just a religion; it is a culture, a nationality, and a family. How long have you been involved in Hillel? I first got involved with Hillel my sophomore year of college at Ohio University. I was an intern for the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Drive through Hillel, went on Birthright, and came back as a Campus Engagement Intern. Since then, I have not left the Hillel world and am going on my 3rd year working in the organization.
What do you do for fun? I love spending time with family and friends, trying to restaurants, and going to concerts! I also love watching Netflx in bed… any TV/movie recommendations?
What’s your motto? הכל בסדר (hakol beseder) – it’s all good!
What is your favorite food? Chicago-Style Popcorn
What is the one thing you cannot do without? My family. Who else lets you call them every day without anything new to say?
Name: Lori Thompson-Given
Title: Director of Operations
Where are you originally from? Warriors Mark, PA
How would you describe yourself? Purpose driven
Why ‘Penn State Hillel’? Great staff, great students and a great place to work
How long have you been involved in Hillel? Over 10 years
What is your favorite food? Anything HEALTHY
What character trait do you most admire? Honesty
What do you do for fun? Read
If you were a world leader what would you change? Everything
Name: Alex Bolotovsky
Title: Director of Institutional Advancement
Nickname: The Machine (not really, but I don’t have a nickname and I think I would like to be called “The Machine.”)
Where are you originally from? St. Petersburg, Russia
How would you describe yourself? I am a people person. I am always curious to learn about others and love to be around people. I am sarcastic. I try to be funny and not take things overly seriously. Oh, and I’m really into grammar. Why Penn State Hillel? When I was a student at Penn State, I was working part time for BBYO, however, Hillel was the furthest thing from my mind since it was an organization that was stagnant, unwelcoming, and boring. At the end of my sophomore year, Aaron Kaufman became Executive Director, shared his vision with me, I bought in and the rest was history. I became Hillel student president and it changed the trajectory of my professional life. It seems only right for me to give back to this great organization.
What is your favorite part about being Jewish? This is a hard question. I love that Judaism emphasizes personal growth, that is values debate and learning, and that it stresses the importance of community. I love that there are so many ways to connect to being Jewish and I love that my way to connect constantly evolves—and that’s the point!
My favorite Jewish memory: When I graduated High School, BBYO (a Jewish youth group) hired me to be a song leader. They sent me to a song leader training called Hava Nashira. I really did not want to go because nothing sounded nerdier than “Jewish Music Camp”. I went. The people there were interesting, smart, talented, friendly, and fun. The music that was made that week was awe-inspiring and the place felt spiritual.
What do you do for fun? I like to eat out, listen to and play music, hang with my adorable puppy, Shoogi, and go for runs and walks with my awesome wife (who I also think is adorable.)
What is the first thing you do when you wake up? Unfortunately, most days, I reach for my phone and check my emails—I would like to get out of this habit.
What character trait do you most admire? I am always impressed with people who are constantly positive and optimistic. I think that is a really cool way to live life and that is an area that I try to work on for myself.
What is your best kept secret? Haha, I see what you did there. You tried to trick me into telling you my best kept secret. I shall not fall for this trickery! I am an awesome secret keeper!
Name: Rob France
Title: Assistant Director
Nickname: Radio – a nickname from my time playing soccer.
Where are you originally from? Wilmington, DE
How would you describe yourself? Teetering on the edge of disciplined and easy going
Why ‘Penn State Hillel’? To connect to Jews with interesting stories that are curious, want to make the world a better place, and like to have fun. What is your favorite part about being Jewish? Being part of a tradition of social justice, questioning, and tikkun olam
How do I manage to stay objective? Lots of charts and graphs
What’s playing in your car right now? The Men In Blazers Podcast – it’s a podcast about soccer, mostly the English Premier League and news about international soccer. Soccer is my favorite thing to talk about and watch on TV, and these guys are pretty funny too.
What is your best achievement? Helping my English language learners grow three years in reading in one academic year. Before working at Hillel I was a Teach For America corps member in Memphis and taught students who just moved to America. It was an amazing opportunity and many of my students and I stay in touch. They’re in college now which is crazy to think about.
What is your secret weapon? Love. I think it solves most of the world’s problems.
What is your motto? Mind. Body. Soul.
Name: Cydney Rae Goldberg
Title: Israel Engagement Coordinator
Nickname: Cyd or Squid
Where are you originally from? Toledo, Ohio
How would you describe yourself? I would describe myself as a caring, understanding girl. I am always there for others and love meeting new people. I am outgoing, loud, and love having a good time! I’m usually laughing and/or smiling and I enjoy traveling and being outside with friends, family, and new people!
Why ‘Penn State Hillel’? When I came to Penn State for the first time, something clicked. The energy of the staff and students is contagious. I love working with the Jewish community and being inspired by the brilliant college students at Penn State. The university is beautiful. I get to walk around every day and accidentally discover new places when trying to return to the Pasq.
What is your favorite part about being Jewish? My favorite part of being Jewish is feeling connected to so many people all around the world. The instant connection after meeting a Jewish person is what excites me; be it similar experiences or already having mutual friends. There are a lot of things I love about being Jewish, but mainly the instant community connection I have always had.
Your best kept secret? If I told you, it wouldn’t be a best kept secret anymore, now would it?
What’s playing in your car right now? Well, my CD player is jammed and my freshman year of college someone stole the antenna off my car so I only listen to Spotify from my phone. Right now I’m addicted to the Afternoon Acoustic channel.
What is your favorite food? TUNA
What do you do for fun? I love going shopping, traveling, being in the sun, and just about anything that involves spending time with my friends and family!
What book are you currently reading? After my flight from Amsterdam to Detroit and hearing my flight buddy giggle the entire time, I began reading ‘Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?’ by Mindy Kaling. HILARIOUS!
Favorite meal? Sushi
Name: Leah Chakoff
Title: Director of Engagement
Nickname: I don’t really have a nickname but my sister calls me Lee
Where are you originally from? Miami
How would you describe yourself? Extremely outgoing but at the same time a very active listener. I really care what people have to say and love learning about their lives! I’d say I’m extremely energetic, to the point that if I don’t require caffeine 🙂 I’m the type of person that loves going on adventures and exploring new places and at the same time can be completely content just reading a book and hanging out.
Why ‘Penn State Hillel’? My old BBYO director (Alex) told me about the job and said it might be something I would really enjoy. He specifically told me about the opening at Penn State, thinking that I would really get along with the staff and students here. I looked into openings at other schools but none seemed appealing to me. Plus, I have always loved the state of Pennsylvania. Now that I’m here, I know I made the right choice. The students here are incredible, the staff has become like a family to me and the overall spirit of Penn State is something that you simply can’t find anywhere else!
What is your favorite part about being Jewish? My favorite part about being Jewish is that there is always opportunity to grow and learn more. Throughout my life I have learned that Judaism is not about doing things a certain way but it is whatever you make of it, and I have always loved that. This has made me interested in learning more about Judaism through Jewish learning, community service, trips to Israel and now being able to connect to Jewish students on campus and make a difference in their lives.
What is the first thing you do when you wake up? The first thing I do when I wake up/start my day is either I read or I play some music. Both put me in a really good mood and help me to start my day off right!
What is playing in your car right now? Hold My Hand by Jess Blynne. I love the beat, it puts me in such a good mood!
What can’t you live without? Talking to loved ones every day. I think even from far away it’s important to keep in close contact with those who you really care about.
What is your favorite Jewish memory? Alternative Spring Break to Israel. I was able to explore the land of Israel, make some amazing friends while really making a difference in the lives of others.
What can’t you resist? Reeses. If I see one anywhere in sight I can’t help but to go for it!
Name: Lindsey Skerker
Title: Engagement Associate
Nickname: Linz or sometimes friends call me Skerk/Skerks
Where are you originally from? Randolph, New Jersey.
How would you describe yourself? I consider myself to be pretty easy-going and fun-loving, and I would say that I’m a people-person. I am open-minded and am always up for a new adventure, whether it’s trying a new food, trying out a new activity, or traveling and/or living somewhere new and exciting. I also would like to think that I am both responsible and respectful as well as kind and caring.
Why ‘Penn State Hillel’? After spending time living in Israel, I wanted to come back to a job in America where I could still incorporate my love of Israel and Judaism. The Jewish community both here in America as well as in Israel has given me so much, and I can only hope to give back to young Jewish adults here at Penn State in the same way. Plus, the amazing staff and the school spirit here really made me that much more excited to come back to America and start working.
What is your favorite part about being Jewish? First, definitely the food! I love a good bagel with lox or challah french toast or matzah ball soup. While living in Israel, I of course ate a ton of falafel and lots of borkeas (pastries in various flavors). And during Hanukkah time, I ate so many amazing sufganiot (donuts). But besides the food, the Jewish peoplehood and community is a huge reason why I love being Jewish. Our history and traditions that have lasted for over 5000 years through the good times and the bad is something truly amazing. Am Yisrael Chai!
Tell us a bit about your favorite Jewish memory? My Bat Mitzvah has been my favorite Jewish memory so far. I was lucky that the year of my 13th birthday was on a Saturday, so I got to celebrate my birthday and becoming a Bat Mitzvah with all of my friends and family! I’m also a huge animal lover, and it just so happened that the torah portion that week was Noah, so I really enjoyed that I could connect my love of animals into my Bat Mitzvah. A close second favorite memory would be living in Israel for 10 months and getting to experience all of the holidays surrounded by a whole society full of Jewish people.
What’s playing in your car right now? I’m really excited to be back in America, the land of country music! After living in Israel for the year, I didn’t get to hear a lot of it, so it’s great that Pennsylvania has lots of country music on the radio.
What is your favorite food? I LOVE rice! There’s just so much you can do with it and so many foods to pair it with. I could live off of rice and eat it for every meal.
If a genie gave you a wish what would you wish for? I would wish I could apparate like in Harry Potter, so that I could just snap my fingers and teleport myself anywhere without having to walk or drive or take a plane.
What can you simply not resist? My guilty pleasure that I simply cannot resist would be watching the Bachelor and Bachelorette. Even though the couples hardly ever last more than a few weeks after the show, I still watch it! I’ve watched almost every season since the first one in 2002 when I was 10 years old (*insert embarrassed emoji face here* )