Mission from God

May 3rd, 2007
It's the same old story. Growth follows success, and more bureaucracy follows growth. For a rabbi, this kind of success can take time away from the basics of providing personal guidance. That's one reason Rabbi Alan Flam, who has led the University's Jewish community for eighteen years, is making a career change. Not only has he resigned as Hillel director and senior associate chaplain, he says his next job might be a secular one.

"I want to work with college students to explore issues of meaning and conviction," he says, "but I'm not certain I'll do it, quote-unquote, as a rabbi." While he has no specific job in mind, he hopes to remain at Brown helping students of all faiths figure out how to act on their beliefs and passions.

Flam became a Hillel rabbi fresh from rabbinical school twenty-three years ago. "There's something about universities and youth that speaks to change," he says. "There's this energy that flows through the veins of students ages eighteen to twenty-two." Yet as the Brown/R.I.S.D. Hillel has grown, the rabbi's job has entailed more supervising and administering, leaving less time for students. During Flam's tenure, for example, Hillel has doubled its staff, quadrupled its budget, and fought for a major building expansion opposed by some of its neighbors. "I feel a bit worn down by it after eighteen years," Flam says. "My real passion and where I can do my best work is in real, direct human contact."

Still, the decision to leave, Flam says, was not an easy one. "I've been given a precious opportunity to touch people at very formative moments in their lives," he notes.

University Chaplain Janet Cooper-Nelson praises Flam for stepping back and allowing students to set Hillel's agenda. "It's not just that he listens well," she says, "but he kind of helps as a midwife for you to give birth to an idea. I told him it's fine to step out of Hillel as long as I can glue his shoes to the floor and he doesn't leave Brown."

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Related Issue
July / August 2000