Q & A
Rabbi Kate Palley
In September, Rabbi Kate Palley became Susquehanna’s first director of Jewish life. Working independently and as part of the university chaplain’s office, Palley oversees the activities of the Jewish student organization, Hillel, and teaches academic courses supporting the Jewish studies minor and Central Curriculum. She initiates programs; facilitates interreligious dialogue; and coordinates religious celebrations, learning opportunities, and social and cultural events as part of her position. Susquehanna Currents caught up with Palley during the festival of Sukkot, and even the 20-mile-per-hour winds that threatened the sukkah constructed on the lawn of the Charles B. Degenstein Campus Center couldn’t extinguish her enthusiasm for the job.
SC: As the first director of Jewish life at Susquehanna, what do you hope to bring to campus and what changes do you hope to see here?
KP: I’m hoping to bring a Jewish voice to campus diversity. The campus has not really encountered active Jewish life; we’re learning together. A lot of people aren’t really sure what Judaism means. It’s a living religion, and I want to celebrate and infuse the joy of Judaism as a living religion.
SC: How have your previous experiences prepared you for the new challenges you’ll encounter at Susquehanna?
KP: I worked at Oberlin College with Hillel, striving to make Jewish life vibrant there. The number-one way I’m trying to approach this experience is by listening. I see myself as a facilitator as we evolve and create a uniquely Susquehanna Jewish culture.
SC: What kinds of dialogue would you like to see taking place at SU, especially within individual religious life groups, but also on the campus as a whole?
KP: There are so many conversations to be had, again, because we’re all learning. But in particular, I think there are two kinds of conversation to engage in. One is how we’re similar, and, of course, there are a lot of similarities. But I think it’s OK to say we’re different as well. As a result, I’m interested more in modeling than dialogue, creating a model of living Judaism— a new, modern image of what a Jew can be. I want to look at individual practices, too. There are a lot of suppositions about who a Jew is and what a Jew is supposed to be; it’s difficult even within the Jewish community.
SC: What excites you most about your work here?
KP: The fact that this campus is actively embracing diversity and working hard to achieve it is huge. I got here and just had this sense that people were hungry for it—that students, faculty and staff want to know and learn. We want everyone to be embraced, and in a supportive environment like this, the sky is really the limit.
Contributing writers to The ‘Grove are Heather Cobun ’10 and Billie Tadros ’10.