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So You Wanna Be a Rabbi (or Jewish Community Leader)?

Picture of Michal Goldstein
By Michal Goldstein on October, 9 2022 | 6 minute read

Depending on the year, October always brings with it the onset or recent passing of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and the many (many) holidays that mark the start of the Jewish calendar year. At this time, when Jewish communities around the world gather to celebrate, reflect, and consider the year to come, we thought it was a great time to explore three campus communities that would help you begin your studies in Jewish communal leadership.

 Below is a list of three schools with diverse and engaged Jewish student populations, as well as strong Jewish Studies departments, where you may consider pursuing your “pre-rabb” work. Shanah tovah to you and yours, and may the year ahead be brighter than the one behind.




The University of Wisconsin – Madison

Madison, Wisconsin

Our first stop brings us to the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where there is a well-documented 150-year history of Jewish communal life on campus (seriously: Wisconsin Professor Jonathan Pollack wrote the book on it). Find yourself a place to hunker down in one of the many study or studio spaces at Hillel after you’ve had your academic fill at the Mosse/Weinstein Center for Jewish Studies: UW Madison is here to provide an environment where you can burnish your community leadership credentials.

The 4,200 students on campus who identify as Jewish maintain an active social and academic culture in which both major and extracurricular study are easily accessible. If the robust course listings within the Jewish Studies major aren’t enough to fill your cup, head over to the Hillel on campus where you can dig into weekly Torah or Kabbalah study after baking challah for the broader community. The Hillel’s large student board—with its broad commitment to inclusion, equity, and access—ensures that you’ll have ample opportunities for leadership and service work on campus and off.



Indiana University

Bloomington, Indiana

Looking for a launchpad for future academic or professional study in Jewish life? Look no further than Indiana University, whose undergraduate and graduate communities have an outsized representation among Nachshon Fellows, Jewish Theological Seminary, and HUC rabbinic and cantorial students, and university faculties the world over.

Hoosier Jewish communal life centers around the Simon Hillel Center, where you can work with the university’s Mitzvah Corps and Challah for Hungry Hoosiers after taking for-credit classes with a focus on Jewish cultural life. Professional development opportunities abound through programs like the Business Leadership Initiative. And, at the heart of Jewish academic life on campus is an extensive slate of classes within the Borns Jewish Studies Program, which supports interdisciplinary study through the graduate level. In other words, Indiana represents an ideal place to lay the foundation of a long career in Jewish communal leadership and life.



Brandeis University

Waltham, Massachusetts

Our last stop will take us all the way to Waltham, Massachusetts, where atop a series of hills outside of Boston stands Brandeis University. Brandeis’s varied and growing academic programs make it a unique space in which to live and learn as part of an integrated Jewish community. Though its total student population is smaller than just the Jewish student communities at Madison and Indiana, Brandeis hosts five active religious student organizations—BOO (Brandeis Orthodox Organization), BaRuCh (Reform Chavurah), BRO (Reconstructionist Organization), Masorti (for Conservative Jewish communities), and Shira Chadasha (an Orthodox community minyan that maximizes women’s involvement under halachic parameters)—each of which has student-run religious leadership and executive boards. For a relatively small school, the diversity of its religious representation makes it a place like no other.

In the classroom, Brandeis’s learning opportunities are just as varied: the Department of Near-Eastern and Judaic Studies (NEJS) and Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program host faculty from all over the world that literally wrote the books on Jewish communal leadership and life. After you’ve hit those books, head straight to Sherman Dining Hall for some kosher eats before checking out the Beit Midrash Jewish Study Room in the basement of Shapiro Hall in Massell Quad. From one end of campus to the other, Brandeis has spaces large and small to pursue major, minor, and extracurricular Jewish study.

Overall, whether you're a student looking to get your "pre-rabb" work started or simply interested in immersing yourself in Jewish culture and studies, these three colleges are just some of the many we recommend students consider when creating their college shortlist. 


Check out our other 6 college recommendations as part of our 9 on 9 series:

  • The Top Schools with a Big College Library
  • The Best Small-Sized, Big-Spirited Colleges

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