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College junior Katie Hartman, currently studying in Israel, is Hillel's first president to be elected from abroad. 

At around 4:00 p.m. on Nov. 20, Penn Hillel sent an email to its listserv subscribers announcing its executive board for the spring 2016 semester. But not every member of the upcoming executive board received the news at the same time.

Three of the 15 incoming board members are abroad. President and College junior Katie Hartman, currently studying in Israel, is Hillel’s first president to be elected from abroad. Incoming Vice President and College junior Sophie Ranen, and Israel sector chair and College junior Avi Colonomos, are studying in Brazil and Hungary, respectively.

Hartman, who is a member of Sigma Delta Tau and a former 34th Street writer, is also the first woman elected to be president since 2010.

Hartman hopes to continue the trailblazing that has surrounded her election.

“Some people don’t have what they need Jewishly at Hillel right now,” Hartman said. She described many of these people as her friends and cited that there are “a ton of Jewish students at Penn” who have a false impression of Hillel. She added that she hopes to show them that there is “so much Hillel could offer to them,” in the form of a community with a wonderful staff.

Hartman intends to expand Hillel’s community by first understanding students’ needs. She plans to hold office hours when she returns next semester for students to share with her what they’d like to see more of in Hillel. Hartman also plans to bring more Jews of varying backgrounds together through “more social justice opportunities,” she said.

Her vision for greater inclusion is shared by other incoming board members. College sophomore and incoming Social Chair Nicolette Almer said she wants “people to see Hillel as a home.” She plans to organize a master list of students in all classes to arrange study groups, initiate Cafe Hillel, a makeshift coffee bar in the Berkowitz Lounge for people to schmooze and study, and — along with Ranen — create a mentoring program between upperclassmen and underclassmen.

“I want social [activity] to be the SPEC of Hillel,” she said, adding that she hopes to create a vehicle for students get in the building and from there feel comfortable participating in other available programming, namely religious life.

Ranen said she looks forward to “implementing pluralistic programs to welcome all types of Jews.”

Her goals will likely be realized with the help of College freshman and incoming education chair Elana Burack. Burack recognizes that many Jewish students feel culturally Jewish as opposed to religiously Jewish and aims to “incorporate [educational programs] that people don’t turn to Judaism for normally.”

Burack said that she plans to host events exploring how Judaism views self-esteem, to offer a new perspective on Penn Face and other wellness related Penn issues. She’d like to get a dialogue started among various students about universally Jewish issues — like their grandmother’s traditional recipes — and using those links as a portal into deeper learning.

She also looks forward to organizing speaker events between Hillel staff and the faculty of the Religious Studies Department — University Chaplain Chaz Howard may be on the roster Burack said.

All of the board’s events will be publicized by Engineering sophomore Maddie Gelfand, communications co-chair specializing in design, and by College sophomore Zoe Stoller, communications co-chair specializing in social media. Other members of the predominantly female board include holiday chair and College junior Rachel Freilich, Israel programming chair and College junior Zach Nessel, Shabbat chairs and College freshmen Elisheva Blas and Avital Stein, Tzedek social justice chairs and College juniors Dorothy Newman and Rebecca Pritzker and welcoming chairs and College freshmen Talia Seder and Jeremy Wilson.

Hartman has high hopes for the incoming board and Hillel’s next year of leadership.

Hillel is comprised of Penn students, she said. “Penn students have a lot in common.”

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