Naftali Brawer to succeed Jeffrey Summit as executive director of Tufts Hillel

Rabbi Dr. Naftali Brawer, the new Jewish chaplain and executive director of Tufts Hillel, poses for a portrait. Courtesy Patrick Collins

Rabbi Naftali Brawer, a published writer and the chief executive of a London-based think tank, will succeed Rabbi Jeffrey Summit as the Jewish chaplain and Neubauer Executive Director of Tufts Hillel, according to Patrick Collins, Tufts’ executive director of public relations. Brawer has taught in Jewish communities in Chile, Colombia and Venezuela, as well as in London. In 2008, the Jewish Chronicle listed Brawer as one of the 100 most influential Jews in Britain.

“He’s just a really thoughtful, talented, visionary individual, and we thought he could do extremely well in the many roles that the executive director plays,” Ted Tye (A ’79), the chair of the search committee, said.

Tye also was a part of the search committee for Tufts’ new athletic director, according to Tufts’ athletics website. 

The search committee has been active since last summer, Tye told the Daily in an email. He added that the committee was composed of University Chaplain Reverend Greg McGonigle, Tufts Hillel’s student representative and Executive Board President Paulina Ash, a senior.

“Approximately 90 individuals were reviewed, about 10 were interviewed, and five were invited to spend a day on campus,” he wrote, adding that a parallel to Rabbi Summit was not the objective of this committee.

“Our goal was to find a new leader capable of moving the organization forward from the great base that Rabbi Summit has built,” Tye explained.

Summit, who removed himself from the process of searching for his successor, emphasized the importance of finding someone who will recognize the leadership potential in students on Tufts’ campus.

“I just think [this position] is a really important opportunity to engage the people who are going to be running the Jewish community in north America sooner than they realize it,” Summit said.

Before Brawer’s hiring was announced, Rabbi Jordan Braunig, director of Hillel’s Initiative for Innovative Community Building, said that he hoped for a new perspective that recognized the importance of change in the Tufts community.

“[Summit’s successor should] have a vision for what is coming next,” Brauning said, “[but be] able to lead with the same sense of openness that [Summit] has brought to the work.”

Braunig seemed hopeful that Brawer would be able to accomplish this goal.

“In my short time with Naftali, I was impressed by his keen listening, his passion for a pluralistic Jewish community and his understanding that the more spaces we create for meaningful, Jewish engagement, the richer and deeper our time on campus will be,” he said in an electronic message to the Daily.

As Summit prepares to leave the role he has held for 39 years, Tufts has recognized his commitment to the university. On Feb. 8, Summit was awarded the Hosea Ballou Medal by the Board of Trustees, an honor given to only eighteen members of the Tufts community since 1939.

The purpose of the Ballou Medal is to “recognize members of the Tufts community who have rendered exceptional service for the institution,” according to Tufts’ Office of the Trustees website. Summit was given the medal during a ceremony in Breed Hall, according to an article in TuftsNow.

Summit himself spoke at the event, talking about what he calls “resistance against business as usual.”

“I talked about the social justice work we’re doing and the kind of work that we’re doing to get people across differences to be in nuanced deep conversation with one another,” Summit told the Daily in an interview.

Lauren Bloom, assistant director of Tufts Hillel, praised Summit’s career at Tufts.

“[Summit] is open, caring, empathetic, passionate and wise,” she told the Daily in an email. “His vision and leadership has made Tufts Hillel a warm and welcoming organization for all.”

McGonigle described Summit’s contributions over his tenure at Tufts in an email to the Daily.

“Rabbi Summit, over his distinguished 39-year tenure, working with his staff and many students, parents, alumni, and friends, has built Tufts Hillel to be what it is today—truly one of the finest Jewish campus life programs in the country,” he said.

University President Anthony Monaco highlighted some of Summit’s specific accomplishments in an email to the Daily.

“During his time here, Tufts Hillel has been recognized nationally for its focus on social justice and active citizenship, interfaith and intercultural cooperation, Holocaust and genocide programming, Israel engagement and advocacy, and the promotion of coexistence and peace efforts between Israelis and Palestinians,” Monaco said.

Summit, who teaches classes on ethnomusicology and social justice in Tufts’ Music Department, said he was honored by his reception of the award.

“I’ve been so fortunate to work with people who I respect deeply, and to have people who you respect decide to honor you … it’s a really impactful experience in my life,” Summit said.

Summit described how Hillel has grown since he started at Tufts.

“Hillel was in this little room in Curtis Hall … and students had Shabbat dinner in that room. If there were six people having Shabbat dinner, that was a big Shabbat,” Summit said. He noted that now between 80 and 150 people attend Shabbat dinners weekly.

Tufts Hillel has experienced other significant changes during Summit’s career at Tufts, including the construction of the Granoff Family Hillel Center.

“I resisted having a Hillel center for many years [because] I wanted to develop the program…but when it became clear that there were so many more people who wanted to be engaged and involved and there just wasn’t room,” Summit said.

Tufts Hillel under Summit has also been focused on social justice, in addition to creating Jewish life on campus.

“[Hillel] is here to serve the religious, cultural, educational [and] social needs of our Jewish students on campus but also to be contributing to the university as a whole,” Summit stated, citing interfaith and school-wide programming led by Tufts Hillel, including scheduling a visit from President of Planned Parenthood Cecile Richards.

According to Summit, his role at Tufts Hillel includes organizing the Jewish community at Tufts, connecting with outside Jewish organizations and talking to students one-on-one.

Rabbi Summit said that after stepping down as executive director, he will continue to teach classes with the music department at Tufts and be involved in social justice programs outside of the university.