New campus rabbi brings comedy to discussions about Judaism


Source: Aaron Potek

Aaron Potek is a new rabbi at Hillel. After joining the staff in July, he has initiated a series of campus discussions surrounding Judaism.

Rebecca Savransky, Assistant Campus Editor

When Aaron Potek isn’t doing improvisation shows at comedy clubs in Chicago, he moonlights as the campus rabbi at Fiedler Hillel Center.

After joining the staff in July, Potek said he is beginning to settle into the job and to bring humor into discussions in the Jewish community.

“I love comedy,” he said. “So I do improv in the city, and I’m also just a comedy junkie in terms of TV shows and movies and all that.”

After Danya Ruttenberg, the previous campus rabbi, left NU last year, Hillel put together a rabbinic search committee. Although the team started the recruitment process late, Potek’s relatable personality and diverse background made him the obvious choice in the process, Hillel executive director Michael Simon said.

“We had a very fortunate circumstance that Rabbi Aaron was still on the market,” Simon said. “He has the capacity to really reach and really engage a real variety of people just in a very warm and authentic way.

Before coming to NU, Potek studied engineering at the University of Michigan. After moving to Israel for several years following graduation, he decided to move to New York where he earned his rabbinical degree at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School.

Throughout his time at NU, Potek said he has mainly focused on transitioning into the community and on forming close relationships with students. As a recent graduate of rabbinical school, he said he is taking time to learn more about what his role entails through this experience.

Although Potek said he hasn’t made any big changes at Hillel yet, he has put into place a variety of informal discussion-based programs focused on incorporating religion into different areas of life. Potek said he is willing to lead conversations on any topics that interest students, ranging from the meaning of Shabbat to the college hookup culture.

“I feel like there are so many different things on campus that we avoid talking about or we only talk about with a select group of people from a very particular mentality,” he said. “So as much as we can bring together different perspectives and explore issues in different ways, I’m kind of open to anything.”

Potek also established a Shabbat tradition called “Rabbi Rants,” where he chooses a different topic to talk about each week. Up to 30 students stay after Shabbat dinner Friday nights to engage in the dialogue, Potek said. He said the most important part of the job to him is helping students realize the relevance and importance of Judaism in their lives.

“If I can have a couple of deep, meaningful conversations everyday, I can teach a class that helps students understand something, that’s success for me,” Potek said.

Potek said he also communicates and offers guidance to multiple Hillel-operated student groups, including ShireiNU, the Jewish a cappella group, and the Jewish Theatre Ensemble.

Potek also advises and assists with several other student groups including Questions that Matter, a group of students focused on initiating deep conversations throughout campus, and Jews and Comedy, a new program being developed by a member of Hillel’s Campus Engagement Corps.

Hillel vice president Andrew Rodheim said Potek has been very involved in the community, and he is excited to see what new ideas and programs Potek will bring to the organization in the future.

“He’s just really good with working with students and relating to students,” the Weinberg senior said. “You definitely feel him being around and kind of making everything better in a way.”

Simon said students are able to relate to Potek due to his diverse background and interests, making him a great addition to the NU community.

“From the beginning, he’s just demonstrated a tremendous commitment to building Jewish life on campus and to enhancing student life in general,” Simon said. “It comes from really his own investment of his time and his energy.”

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Twitter: @beccasavransky