Rabbi Julie Roth, Executive Director of the University’s Center for Jewish Life (CJL) and Jewish Chaplain at the University, will be leaving Princeton at the end of this academic year to pursue a position as a Pulpit Rabbi at Congregation Shomrei Emunah in Montclair, N.J. The announcement of her departure was made on March 2.
Throughout her 17 years serving the University community at the CJL, Roth built connections throughout the Jewish and non-Jewish community members, oversaw a renovation of the CJL’s building, and led efforts to triple the organization’s endowment.
In an interview with The Daily Princetonian, Senior Jewish Educator Rabbi Ira Dounn emphasized Roth’s widespread impact on the Princeton community.
“It's hard to imagine the Center for Jewish Life without Rabbi Julie. Her impact in every facet of the Center for Jewish Life is significant — from the renovations that happened a couple years ago, to our value of welcoming and including Princeton students from a variety of different backgrounds,” he said. “It's really hard to know what part of the CJL she hasn't impacted really deeply; her presence is felt everywhere.”
The CJL is part of Hillel International, a Jewish campus organization operating in over 550 colleges. In 2013, Hillel International awarded Roth the Richard M. Joel Exemplar of Excellence Award, its highest professional honor.
Before joining the CJL in 2005, Roth graduated from Brown University with a degree in Comparative Religion, worked as an administrator at Tufts Hillel, and then studied at the Jewish Theological Seminary as a Wexner Fellow.
Dounn commended Roth’s dedication to “living life as a sacred gift,” specifically noting her father’s influence on her outlook on life.
“It's nice also to think that she's channeled the people who've given to her and that their legacy will live on through her as well,” Dounn said.
Sara Sacks ’22 served as the 2021 CJL student president and worked closely with Roth in that capacity.
“As I became president, I found her to be a really thoughtful leader and mentor, bringing me through all different challenges facing the community and trying to think outside of myself … thinking about [how] we have a very diverse community. What's best for that?” Sacks said. “She's really given so much of herself to this institution over the last 17 years … I don't even know all the levels that she has permeated.”
The days after the announcement were emotional and busy for Roth.
“It's been a reminder of all the relationships I've built in my 17 years here,” she said of the many messages received in the days since the campus became aware of her imminent departure.
Looking back on her time at the CJL, Roth said that she was especially proud of the connections built between members of the community through Jewish Learning Fellowships, the Community Engagement Internships, anti-Semitism workshops, trips to Israel, and Shabbat dinners.
Current CJL student president Amichai Feit ’23 emphasized Roth’s role in making the CJL an inclusive space. Feit told the ‘Prince’ that Roth’s inclusive vision is “open to all Jewish students, and that plays a central role in the campus community.”
Roth’s departure follows earlier announcements this year that Associate Director Marni Blitz and Co-Directors and Torah Educators of OU Seif Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus Rabbi Matityahu Kahn and Shira Kahn will also be leaving the CJL in the coming months.
“So much of the core CJL staff is leaving next year, and I think there’s a little apprehension about what the transition and the turnover is going to be,” Sacks said.
“It's obviously sad to see them go,” Feit added. “But we also know that the CJL is a very well-run institution. And ultimately, we'll be able to find really talented people to fill those roles.”
Dounn echoed that no matter who is hired next, the strong student leadership foundation of the CJL will allow many functions of the center to continue as usual throughout all the change.
“Rabbi Julie had a very big role in creating a CJL that could allow for such success to happen,” Dounn said. “And that success will last long after she leaves.”
According to Roth, the search committee to find her replacement is nearly ready to begin and will include student representatives. The committee will be tasked with deciding whether the executive directorship of the CJL and Jewish chaplain should remain a singular role. It will also consider searching for an interim director to allow more time for a long-term search.
Roth expressed hope that whoever fills her shoes will continue to make the CJL an inclusive, pluralistic space for University community members, and that they will continue to be a strong partner to Chabad, the other Jewish organization on campus.
“I really hope that the person who comes as the next executive director makes as much time as he or she can to connect with students,” she said. “Students are the center of what we do, and they bring the most joy to the work.”
“There’s maybe no more exciting time in a person’s life than college in terms of what people are thinking about,” she said. “What do they want to do with their lives and who do they want to be in [a] relationship with… That's why I love college work.”
An honorary member of the Princeton Class of 2021, Roth hopes to stay connected to the Princeton community. But she also told the ‘Prince’ that she is excited to have “intergenerational relationships and to build relationships over a much longer period of time.”
Roth is looking forward to working in Montclair, which she described as a community with a dedication to social justice.
“I wanted to be able to exercise moral courage in my work, and to be able to advocate for my own point of view on social justice issues,” she said.
Roth is also excited about the prospect of connecting Jewish learning to salient issues in people’s lives in her new role.
“That sense that you can study Judaism in a way that applies to the questions you're asking in your life and your other passions is something I also want to bring to Montclair,” she said. “I am just immensely grateful for the opportunity for 17 years to try to bring some of that dynamic Judaism and opportunity for leadership to the Princeton community.”
Marissa Michaels is an associate news editor emeritus at the ‘Prince’ who often covers town affairs and campus events. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @mmichaels22 on social media.