The four were hired in a recent effort by Maryland Hillel to expand its reach to non-Orthodox Jewish students, bolster Birthright programming
By Charles Summers
This university’s Hillel hired four new staff members over the summer to help increase student engagement with Jewish life on campus. The employees will focus on outreach to non-Orthodox students and Birthright Israel-related programming.
CJ Torcellini and Alex Garber are Maryland Hillel’s new engagement associates. They will be meeting with students and planning events throughout the year, each focusing on groups that they themselves are a part of or have experience with.
Torcellini has made it his mission to resurrect Ruach, the now-defunct Reform group on campus.
“A lot of my upbringing and my Jewish identity is really embedded within the Reform movement,” he said. “My plan over the next couple weeks is to figure out how I’ll build the movement up.”
Raised in Charlotte, North Carolina, Torcellini grew up going to a Reform synagogue and day school. While he was a student at the College of Charleston, he led services and was a youth group advisor for the Reform community on campus.
Garber, a UMD alumnus who graduated in December 2021, will be reaching out to students in Greek life and organizing community service events. He was a member of the Jewish fraternity Zeta Beta Tau while enrolled at Maryland.
“We’re looking for five interns at the moment to help plan events, we’re trying to plan one event a month to create a bigger community service atmosphere around campus,” Garber said.
As Hillel’s IACT Coordinator, Dan Kling will manage campus Birthright trips and Israel-related programming for students going on Birthright. This programming will take place before and after the 10-day trip. His position deals mainly with the activities of the Birthright Israel organization.
Adam Bershad will oversee Israel-related programming in a broader capacity as Director of Engagement and Israel Experiences. He will be running Hillel’s Israel department and supervising Kling, Torcellini and Garber.
26-year-old Bershad worked in student engagement at the University of Central Florida Hillel for four years. He took a job at UMD out of the desire to work closer to his home state of New Jersey.
“I’m focusing on Israel as a whole — Israel education classes on campus, Israel programming, partnering with the Israel clubs, the Onward internship program,” Bershad said.
This fall, Bershad will be running an extracurricular class called Kol Yisrael, which aims to inform students about Israeli society and its internal divisions. The class was taught last semester by former IACT Coordinator Mal Goldenberg.
In his new position, Bershad hopes to better involve Jewish students and groups on the frays of campus Jewish life, such as Jewish freshmen and other groups outside of Hillel’s Orthodox core.
“Obviously I’ll be working with everyone, but my main focus now is to enhance first-year Jewish student life, as well as the Jewish Conservative movement,” Bershad said.
Kling, 23 years old, has been working in Jewish communal life since he graduated college. Before coming to Maryland, he worked in DC at the Milton Gottesman Jewish Day School. He began his career as a Jewish professional during his time as a student at George Mason University, while chairing the college’s AEPi chapter and Israel Student Association.
“I really fell in love with the idea of working for the Jewish community in college, so that was sort of the natural direction for me,” Kling said.
Kling’s position of IACT Coordinator exists across multiple campuses with large Jewish populations. In 2007, the Boston-based nonprofit Combined Jewish Philanthropies launched IACT in an effort to support students throughout the entire process of the Birthright tour, aiming to keep them involved in campus Jewish life after the trip’s end.
According to Kling, IACT exists to help form a “pre-trip and post-trip community” among Birthright participants. “People were coming back from trips and they had a great time, but there was no secondary engagement to bring them back into Jewish programming on campus,” he said.
Kling plans to be proactive this coming semester and ensure that Jewish students don’t have to search far to find community.
“I want to see myself on campus, not just in the Hillel building, but sitting out at coffee shops, at McKeldin Mall, being out and about, and being the face of Birthright for people,” Kling said. “I want to build that community by being outward.”