Make at Georgetown
Category: University News

Title: Georgetown Welcomes New Rabbi to Support Jewish Student Life

Georgetown has hired Rabbi Ilana Zietman as the new director for Jewish Life.

Zietman will start her role in Campus Ministry on Aug. 1. Zietman has served as the senior rabbi for the past five years at GatherDC, an organization that builds community for Jewish young adults in the Washington, DC, area. As the senior rabbi, she facilitated Jewish learning experiences, led holiday celebrations and immersive retreats and offered pastoral care for the Jewish young adult community. Portrait of Ilana Zietman

Prior to GatherDC, Zietman earned her master’s degree in Jewish education and was ordained as a rabbi through the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College in Boston.

The move comes as Rabbi Daniel Schaefer, the interim director for Jewish Life, prepares to leave Georgetown this summer to serve as the rabbi of his hometown synagogue in Hamden, Connecticut, after ministering to the university’s Jewish community since 2022.

“Jewish life is an integral part of so many students’ lives here at Georgetown, and I’m happy to know that the students will have a tremendous spiritual leader in Rabbi Ilana,” Schaefer said.

Zietman joins Campus Ministry along with another new colleague, Brahmacharini Shweta Chaitanya, who will serve as the director for Dharmic Life. Together with Rev. Ebony Grisom, the director of Protestant Life, the hiring of Zietman and Chaitanya will mark the first time in Georgetown’s history that half of Campus Ministry’s chaplaincies will be led by women. 

“I am excited to welcome Rabbi Ilana and Brahmacharini Shweta to the Georgetown community and look forward to supporting their ministry to our Jewish and Dharmic communities,” said Rev. Mark Bosco, S.J., vice president for Mission & Ministry. “To have three women lead our chaplaincies is a significant milestone and a testament to all that women contribute to our spiritual life at Georgetown.”

Making Judaism a Meaningful Home For All

Growing up in an observant Jewish family, Zietman always felt drawn to Jewish life, from its religious traditions to the many family and community gatherings Jewish life fosters. As she came of age she wanted to go deeper and understand why Judaism was important to her.

“I wanted to explore what Judaism meant to me on my own terms, not just the Judaism that was handed down to me by my family. This set me on a path of exploration that allowed me to see that Judaism and Jewish people are even more than I had thought  – it is a spiritual tradition that emphasizes love, morality and the celebration of life, and a community with an inspiring history and incredibly vibrant and diverse cultures. ” Zietman said. “I ultimately wanted to become a teacher of all that Jewish life has to offer us today.”

Zietman said she was simultaneously drawn to Georgetown’s engaged Jewish community and the university’s emphasis on interreligious understanding. She was struck by how Georgetown’s Jewish students thoughtfully approach their own Jewish lives as well as their community. She also emphasized the importance of engaging with other religious and cultural backgrounds and being in relationship with diverse groups of people. 

“I think that an intercultural and interfaith environment like Campus Ministry fosters a sense of true understanding of one’s own commitments as well as personal growth because interreligious encounters ask you to really think,” she said. “There is an important civic engagement piece of interfaith dialogue that we all need to keep pursuing, too.”

Throughout the past years, the university has made renovations to the Makóm, a Jewish gathering space that’s existed on campus since 2011. The space, which includes a kosher kitchen, now holds an ark that’s reoriented so that members of the Jewish community will face Jerusalem when they pray. The space also includes a larger sanctuary space and separate social space, so that students can connect and worship in separate areas at the same time.

As Zietman prepares to join Georgetown this summer, she’s eager to build relationships with students and wants all students, regardless of their faith or secular backgrounds, to know that her door is always open. She’s excited to explore what Judaism can mean to each and every student, support them in their own exploration and growth, and continue developing Jewish Life’s festive Shabbat and holiday celebrations. She is also eager to engage in text studies and discussions and is even looking forward to showcasing her challah-baking skills at Shabbat dinners.

“I know people are coming from all kinds of Jewish backgrounds and experiences. I hope to be able to fulfill both the comfort and nostalgia students seek in being with Jewish community when they are away from home while helping students introduce each other to Jewish customs, ideas, traditions that might be new to them, too,” she said. “ At the end of the day, I want Jewish life to be a supportive and welcoming home no matter where students are coming from.”