10 Questions with Rabbi Marley Weiner

Rabbi Marley Weiner comes to Dickinson as the Milton B. Asbell Center for Jewish Life's first full-time director since the center's 2003 inception.

Photo by Carl Socolow '77.

by Nicole Beidleman ’20

Rabbi Marley Weiner, the first full-time director of the Milton B. Asbell Center for Jewish Life, discusses her background, her transition to Dickinson and her vision for the future of Jewish programming.

1. What brought you to Dickinson?

I came to Dickinson because I was looking for the next step in my career working with college students. I love working closely with students, faculty and administration (which is unusual for most Hillel directors). Having the opportunity to be in control of the vision and culture of the Asbell Center is really exciting. And I’m very appreciative of the warm welcome I’ve received on campus!

2. What is your vision for Jewish life at Dickinson?

College is a great time to take risks. I want the Asbell Center to be a place where people feel comfortable taking a risk, whether that’s doing Jewish learning for the first time, taking on a leadership role or just coming to a program and meeting new people. I want students to feel welcomed and supported so they can come here and try something new!

3. There’s a lot of excitement on campus about having a full-time director. What are you most excited about?

Programs like Sukkot on the Farm were not possible where I went to school in New York. It’s so neat to be able to partner on such out-of-the-box programming. I’m excited to offer opportunities I would have enjoyed when I was in school. I have also started offering opportunities for Jewish learning, both as classes and as one-on-one study sessions. In the fall I offered a class where we examined the Jewish values in the NBC comedy The Good Place. This spring I’m offering Spiritual Care for Social Activists, which discusses how to keep your values intact while pursuing social change.

“I see my work as a campus rabbi as helping students discover what they are passionate about and how that can become part of their lives.”

4. Where did your “lifelong love of Hillel” begin?

Lifelong is a bit of an exaggeration, but I was active in my college’s Hillel and it very much shaped the rabbi and the Jew that I am today. I was a regular attendee at both the Conservative and Reform services. I served on the pluralism committee, and I was the vice president for the Reform group when I graduated from Barnard College in 2010. The staff taught me that there are so many valid and engaging ways to be Jewish, and my fellow students (many of whom were more religious than I was) showed me what it means to fully immerse in Judaism as a way of life. I want to bring some of those lessons to the students here at Dickinson.

5. How do you plan to engage students from within and outside of the Dickinson Jewish community?

I think the most important thing in engagement is relationship building. There’s something very powerful and valuable about sitting down with someone one-on-one and just talking. As I get to know what students are passionate or curious about, I can shape the programs here at the Asbell Center around what they want to see.

 6. You are the head supervisor of the kashrut in Dickinson’s dining hall. Can you explain what “kashrut” means?

Kashrut is the series of rules that govern Jewish eating and cooking. In order to ensure that food is properly kosher, a rabbi or someone else knowledgeable in Jewish law must supervise the kitchen to make sure everything is being done properly. I visit the kitchen once or twice per week to check ingredients and make sure everything is being done properly.

7. Can you expand on the idea of Torah Lishma and how it will be a part of Dickinson’s Jewish life?

Torah Lishma means “Torah for its own sake.” In college, so much of our learning is for a larger purpose: to get a good grade, to get an internship or a good job or to get into grad school. The idea of Torah Lishma is that sometimes learning is its own reward. I want to offer classes that are fun and that help students reflect meaningfully on their lives, values and the choices they are making. One example of this was the class on The Good Place I mentioned earlier. It was not for credit, but it was an opportunity to do something fun and relaxing that also transmitted Jewish values. 

8. You mention your plan to shift the programming to better reflect how students draw connections between their faith traditions and everyday life. How do you plan to make this shift?

I see my work as a campus rabbi as helping students discover what they are passionate about and how that can become part of their lives. That’s going to be different for different students. For one student, learning about early American Jewish history is a passion. For another, it’s Jewish feminism. For yet another, it’s art and music. And I am reevaluating our speaker series this year to invite speakers from a broad range of Jewish experience so that our speakers reflect the broad diversity of Jewish experience that already exists on our campus. Our speakers for the spring include a historian of LGBTQ+ Jewish history and a Dickinson alum who is a disability activist and rabbi. My goal is to bring experts who can show, through their stories and expertise, a little bit of the many different ways it is possible to fit into the broader spectrum of Jewish life and community.

9. Your mentors at Barnard College Hillel shaped who you are today. How do you plan to be a mentor to Dickinson students?

The thing about my mentors at Barnard is that they did not necessarily, consciously, try to educate me on the qualities I found most powerful. They simply showed up and acted from the courage of their convictions. I was impressed by their behavior and found it worth emulating. As a rabbi, so much of my work is showing up and doing the work by being true to myself and clear about my values. Some values that I hope to embody as a rabbi are that Judaism is fun and meaningful, that you should never judge someone until you have really listened to their side of the story and that the most important thing in life is to act in a way that you can be proud of.

10. You are a big believer in student-led culture. How do you plan to foster this on campus?

Part of building relationships with students is helping them to see that they can build things they are passionate about. Any time a student comes to me with an idea for a program, I say, “We can do it if you find four friends who want to do it too.” And then I invest in those ideas. So far this year, that policy has led to a class with coloring and discussing Jewish texts, The Good Place class and a trip to Philadelphia to see the Ruth Bader Ginsburg exhibit at the Museum of American Jewish History. And hopefully next semester there will be many more similar programs!

Hear more from Rabbi Marley in the September 2019 edition of The Good, Dickinson's award-winning podcast.

Read more from the winter 2020 issue of Dickinson Magazine.


Published February 20, 2020