New Faces at Towson University and Goucher Hillels


McKenna Bates can hardly believe how lucky she is. In a year, when many of her friends are struggling to find work, after graduating from college, she landed her dream job.

Bates, a 2020 graduate of George Mason University, is the new Israel engagement associate at Towson University Hillel.  In this newly created position, Bates will look for opportunities to mentor students in building a foundation of pro-Israel activism on campus and beyond, according to Towson Hillel Executive Director Lisa Bodziner.

Under this new model, the brainchild of The Associated and local Hillels, Goucher and Towson have created innovative ways to teach students about Jewish culture, politics, global awareness and further explore the nuanced view surrounding Israel, explains P.J. Pearlstone, immediate past co-chair of The Associated’s Israel and Overseas Leadership Committee.

While recruitment for Israel immersion experiences is still a priority when it is safe to travel, both campuses are looking to cultivate one-on-one relationships with Jewish students by meeting them where they live, work and/or study, even virtually, during the pandemic. “What better time to pilot something new,” says Tammy Heyman, immediate past co-chair of The Associated’s Israel and Overseas Leadership Committee.

Through the new Israel Learning Fellowship, an eight-week conversational seminar, Bates will bring Israel to Towson, despite the pandemic, in a safe space for participants to explore their identity and connection to Israel.

Bates’ counterpart at Goucher College, Beth Vander Stoep, originally from Washington state, stepped into her new role at Goucher and is excited to develop innovative programming as well that will help bolster students’ Jewish journeys, connecting them with Israel and Jewish communities across the globe.

“There was a real need to expand programming to look at Jewish life from a holistic perspective. As someone with an academic background specifically focused on building Jewish community, my greatest hope for this position is to have students know they are welcomed in the Hillel space and the greater Jewish community,” says Vander Stoep.

“I think an advantage of me being American and growing up in a place that wasn’t very Jewish is that I can connect with Jews who’ve grown up just like me,” shares Bates.

According to Goucher Hillel Executive Director Rabbi Josh Snyder, broad engagement beyond Israel and Jewish communities worldwide is a key element of the work of the global Jewish life and engagement coordinator position at Goucher.

“I’m proud that The Associated and Goucher and Towson Hillels are fostering connections to Israel and the global Jewish community by inspiring young adults to connect in ways that are meaningful to them,” says Heyman.

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