Vassar College has tapped a religious leader with experience in Jewish leadership, racial justice, the sanctuary movement, and community organizing to become the next Rose and Irving Rachlin Director for Jewish Student Life, responsible for religious, spiritual, and cultural leadership of Jewish student life at the college. Elizabeth H. Aeschlimann, a graduate of Harvard Divinity School and Carleton College, begins at Vassar this week.
“This is a critical position, and we wanted to make certain we found someone with both the spiritual and community-building experience to take it on,” said Vassar President Elizabeth H. Bradley. “I’m extremely pleased to be bringing Elizabeth Aeschlimann on. I am confident she will add a tremendous element to the already vibrant Jewish student life here on campus.”
Aeschlimann said she knew right away that Vassar was a special school and presented a tremendous opportunity.
“The fact that the college and its generous donors fund this position demonstrated an incredible investment in Jewish life, and the fact that the position is situated within the broader Religious and Spiritual Life office signaled an important relationship between Jewish student life and other spiritual and religious programs here at Vassar.” Aeschlimann said. “I was also drawn to the close collaboration between Religious and Spiritual Life and the ALANA, LGBTQ and Women's centers, and the International Services Office. Again, it signaled a recognition of the rich resources religion and spirituality offer all of us as we seek to better understand who we are in the world, how we connect with one another, and how we seek to leave the world better than we found it.”
As a leader in a young adult Jewish community in Boston, Aeschlimann facilitated the planning of biweekly Shabbat services, holiday rituals and Jewish text study. She also helped to lead a creative process reimagining communal membership through the lens of Jewish text.
Aeschlimann’s work also includes experience in advocating for racial justice and teaching others compassionate action through meditations on receiving and extending care. As the associate director and community organizer of an interfaith group, Aeschlimann led efforts in which dozens of synagogues and churches worked together to collect enough signatures to qualify ballot questions to raise the Massachusetts minimum wage and ensure earned sick time benefits, and led a city-wide education reform campaign that resulted in the opening of a public elementary school for the arts in New Bedford, Mass.
Aeschlimann also participated in an interfaith coalition that provides sanctuary to undocumented immigrants. And, while at Harvard Divinity School, she organized events and advocacy to provide anti-racism education and healing.
Vassar students were a key factor in Aeschlimann’s decision to come.
“I heard about an incredibly engaged group of students who worked for justice and who took the lead on planning ritual observance and programs,” Aeschlimann said. “I have always wanted to be more of a facilitator than a top-down expert, and it was clear this was a group of students who valued that.”
“I'm excited to build on the vibrant and varied life of the Vassar Jewish community. I look forward to reaching out to students who have not previously been engaged to build an even more pluralistic community. And I’m eager to help students reach into Jewish tradition expansively and creatively to find practices that are meaningful to them as they navigate life at Vassar and the complexities of our time.”
“We are thrilled that Elizabeth Aeschlimann has accepted our offer; the combination of her Jewish community-building experience, her pastoral sensibilities, and her skills in facilitation and dialogue make her an ideal fit for campus work,” said the Reverend Dr. Samuel Speers, Director of the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, and Assistant Dean for Campus Life and Diversity, who chaired the search committee. “We were especially impressed by the ways she grounds her evident calling to repair the world in mussar, the wonderful Jewish tradition of character development.”
As the Rachlin Director, Aeschlimann will also maintain the role of Assistant Director for the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life (RSL). In this capacity she will balance her primary commitments to Jewish student life with general college responsibilities for inter-religious programming, advising, and mentorship. The RSL Office regularly partners with the ALANA Center, International Student Services, LGBTQ Center, and Women’s Center, each of which is part of the college’s larger Office of Campus Life and Diversity, led by Dr. Edward Pittman, Associate Dean of the College.
Aeschlimann earned her B.A. in Cognitive Science from Carleton College, and her Master of Divinity with Judaism Concentration from Harvard Divinity School.