Rabbi Josh Bolton will depart from Penn at the end of the semester to serve as executive director of the Brown University and Rhode Island School of Design Hillel. Bolton, who serves as the director and senior Jewish educator of the Jewish Renaissance Project at Penn Hillel, has worked at the University for eight years.
On June 15, Bolton will begin his role at Brown RISD Hillel where he will manage Hillel activities for both schools, which share a Hillel center.
Hillel Co-president and Wharton senior Samantha Brooks said Bolton is “unexpected for a rabbi."
“I definitely think [his] leaving is going to leave a little bit of a void in the community at Hillel.” Brooks said, “I think people will definitely miss his compassion, his warmth, his energy. But I also think people are largely just really proud of Rabbi Josh. He has built something from the ground up here at Penn."
Penn Hillel Executive Director and Campus Rabbi Mike Uram said Bolton’s departure is bittersweet.
"The dream is that you work with awesome people, and that working at a place like Penn Hillel gives them a chance to grow and to develop professionally so that they land one of the best Hillel jobs in the country," Uram said. "So, we’re just proud.”
While at Penn, Bolton has led several programs for JRP, including the Beren Greek Life Seminar, a year-long fellowship for sophomores in fraternities and sororities to foster discussions about Judaism with their peers. In another program, the year-long Pincus Fellowship, Bolton guides a small cohort of students in discussions about what it means to be a Jewish person in the 21st century.
Bolton said one of his main goals was to cultivate relationships with students through JRP. He described JRP as an experiment meant to create a space for students who are not compelled by ideas of belonging to traditional Jewish institutions but who may be interested in “Jewish growth.”
"I never would have gotten involved with Penn Hillel in the first place had it not been for Rabbi Josh’s influence,” JRP member and College junior Levi Cooper said. “He makes it easy to ask questions. He makes it easy to discuss things that are on your mind in a way that I don’t know I would have been willing to do with anyone else.”
Bolton said Hillel professionals are able to operate in a unique space because they are not a student’s parents, professors, or friends.
“I’ve thought of myself as someone who can break down the barriers between students and what they expect Judaism to look like and feel like and who a rabbi can be,” Bolton said.
Bolton said he hopes to continue similar work with students at Brown.
“I’ve come to really identify with the students," Bolton said. "I’ve come to really identify with my colleagues on the student-life side of administration and the other student centers on campus. This has been home for me. There’s no doubt about that.”