New Jersey Jewish News Story
Pinch-hitter heeds the call at Princeton student center
Josh Kashinsky is one young man who has mastered the fine art of pinch-hitting.
Take, for example, his experience in the spring of 2004, when he was the Hillel program director at the University of California at Santa Barbara. When the longtime executive director there left unexpectedly, Kashinsky stepped in as acting director. His 18-month stint in that role earned him the national recognition of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, which recently named him a 2005 Richard M. Joel Exemplar of Excellence.
Now, the 27-year-old Kashinsky has once again stepped up to a passing challenge by stepping in as interim assistant director of the Center for Jewish Life, a Hillel affiliate, on the campus of Princeton University. As the search for a permanent assistant director goes on, Kashinsky will spend the remainder of the academic year overseeing special projects and providing programming and fund-raising support to CJL executive director Rabbi Julie Roth.
This was an exciting opportunity, Kashinsky said as he took time out from settling into his office at the CJL in early January. The interim position sort of gives both of us the option of feeling each other out for an extended period of time. It also gives us the opportunity to get a sense if this is a good fit with the ability for long-term growth.
An experienced playwright and director who graduated from Santa Barbara in 2000 with a degree in philosophy and dramatic art, Kashinsky is bringing his theatrical talents to the CJL just in time for the launch of a high-level theater initiative funded by an alumni grant.
The idea of doing a Jewish theater project is really to reach out to Jewish students engaged in the arts, he said. Certainly for me, personally, with my background, its a super exciting project. It was definitely one of the things that were extra exciting about this opportunity the opportunity to do theater as a large portion of my day job, so to speak.
One of the other major projects Ill be working on is a Web site redesign, he added. At the moment, our Web site is underutilized. Were looking to aesthetically shape the Web site, and were looking for ways to make it more useful to the student community, the community at large, and alumni. I think theres a lot of unrealized potential there. Our goal is to have the new Web site launched by the spring.
The unique nature of his job a six-month position that might or might not go longer gives him a unique perspective on his work, according to Kashinsky.
What Im really hoping to do here is to be as helpful as possible, he said, and to add a lot of value to get some things running and to see some things to a stage of completion so I can further the mission of the CJL and be really productive for the time I know Im going to be here.
Really good fit
Kashinsky also brings a different perspective as something of an outsider. Although he celebrated his bar mitzva at a Conservative shul in the San Francisco Bay area, he said, he grew up without a strong religious identity.
There was no strong religious Jewish home life although I grew up with a strong sense of Jewish identity, Kashinsky said. I was always clearly aware that I was Jewish and that it was important to me, even though I couldnt have defined what that meant or told you why it was important.
So when I was in college, I didnt go to Hillel at all, he said. My perception was, if I wanted to do religious stuff, thats where I would go, and since I didnt, I didnt go. I think I still retain some of that outsiders perspective in terms of why students dont want to engage.
Kashinsky plans to bring those insights to his efforts to engage more Jewish students at Princeton. Currently, the CJL touches the lives of only one-half to two-thirds of the estimated 700 Jewish students who comprise 11 percent of the universitys undergraduate student body of 6,300.
Thats often the challenge of the CJL, he said. Theres a diversity of programming here, but there might be the perception that theres not. And theres a diversity of students, but there might be the perception that theres not. I want to make sure that the face we show to the world adequately reflects who we are and reflects the energy and depth of whats going on here. I want to make sure thats being conveyed in different ways. We have to be a little more creative about the ways we try to reach out and expand the ways we connect with students.
To those challenges, Kashinsky said, he brings energy and excitement and a propensity for approaching possibilities with a sense of Why not?
I have a lot of faith and confidence in the students by virtue of the fact that theyre here, he said. I think a lot of my job is to be providing resources and support and encouraging students to accomplish whatever they want to accomplish.
Clearly, the students here are top-level students, so the ability to connect with those students at this time is a really powerful opportunity, he said. It feels like a really good fit and a really good opportunity.
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