POUGHKEEPSIE – Rabbi Bryan Mann has been named Vassar’s next Rachlin Director of Jewish Student Life, according to Rev. Samuel Speers, Associate Dean of Religious and Spiritual Life. Mann is currently the senior rabbi at Congregation Beth Shalom in Brandon, Florida, and will start his new job on August 15. The position was previously held by Elizabeth Aeschlimann, who resigned last month to move closer to her family.
The Rachlin Director is responsible for overseeing the religious activities and programs for Jewish students on campus. In addition to these duties, Mann will have inter-religious responsibilities as Assistant Director of the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life and Contemplative Practices. He was hired following a nationwide search conducted by a committee of students, faculty, and administrators. Mann holds a bachelor’s degree with distinction in Jewish Studies from Temple University in Philadelphia and received his ordination in 2018 from Hebrew College Rabbinical School in Newton Centre Massachusetts. He also earned a Master’s degree in Jewish Studies from Hebrew College.
“The search committee was impressed by Rabbi Mann’s animating commitments to social justice, his evident abilities as a community-building educator, and his thoughtful understanding of ‘discomfort’ as a teacher,” Speers said. “In short, Rabbi Bryan Mann’s gifts and passions are ideally suited to help us address what’s challenging, difficult, and inspiring about this current moment.”
Mann said he has known Aeschlimann since both were active in Kavod, a social justice-focused Jewish community in the Boston area while he was a student at Hebrew Rabbinical School. When he first heard of the job opening, Mann said, he contacted Aeschlimann, who recommended that he apply. “When I asked her about Vassar she said, ‘I really love this job, my students, and my colleagues. I’m only leaving because of geography, and I’m really glad you’re interested in the position,’” he said.
Mann said he grew up in a Jewish household in Concord, New Hampshire but was not especially interested in Judaism as a child. “I generally felt that Judaism was something adults do,” he said.
It was while he was taking part in a youth program in Israel when he was 19 that he decided, quite suddenly, to become a rabbi. He was struggling with being a part of the program when he went off by himself away from the group one day in the Negev Desert.
“I was saying to myself, ‘This program isn’t what I thought it was, so what’s the point of staying?’” Mann said. “I was on my own, in the middle of the Negev, voicing these thoughts under my breath when a Divine voice said, ‘Bryan, you’re going to become a rabbi.’ When I came out of that moment, opened my eyes, and looked around the Negev to ground myself to where I physically was, with the ego of a1 9-year-old I responded something like, ‘Thanks for the life plan, but what about tomorrow? Should I stay on in this program or not?’ I did ultimately end up staying, but that’s a longer story.”
Mann said he is looking forward to meeting the students when he and they arrive on campus next month and is eager to begin exploring ways to support them. “I’m ready to hit the ground running,” he said.
Mann added that as a queer rabbi, he believes he can provide support to Vassar’s LGBTQ community as well as the Jewish community on campus. “Whether they are LGBTQ Jews or other LGBTQ students seeking support in their journey, I feel it is important to give the students the opportunity to know they have a queer clergyperson on campus that they can talk with, dream with, vision with, along with the other LGBTQ staff and students on campus,” he said.