Rabbi Sara Paasche-Orlow

New rabbi brings spirit of inclusion to Northeastern Hillel



New rabbi brings spirit of inclusion to Northeastern Hillel

Rabbi Sara Paasche-Orlow

As the new executive director of Northeastern University Hillel, Rabbi Sara Paasche-Orlow looks forward to growing an atmosphere of inclusion, celebration, and education in the 60-year-old organization.

Paasche-Orlow began her rabbinical journey through Hillel at Oberlin College. She came from an interfaith family, and when she began college she immediately walked to the Hillel rabbi’s office to join the group. Through Hillel, she visited Israel, where she first considered the rabbinate.

She was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. During her time in rabbinical school from 1990 to 1996, she had the opportunity to intern at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, an LGBTQ synagogue in Greenwich Village. During this period, many members of the LGBTQ community were suffering from the AIDS crisis, and Paasche-Orlow felt a calling to take the chance to serve this community although the seminary was not yet welcoming of LGBTQ Jews.

“I had to call my dean from Israel and say, ‘I want to do this even though I know that the seminary doesn’t allow this.’ He said, ‘Well, give me a good argument.’ And I said people are dying and they’re Jews, and it would be morally wrong, morally vacant to not respond,” said Paasche-Orlow.

At Simchat Torah, she spent 16 hours a week doing pastoral care and leading services to hold a community together that was grieving and suffering. “That had a huge impact on my understanding of what it meant to be a spiritual leader, what it meant to be a rabbi,” said Paasche-Orlow.

A year after rabbinical school, she had a fellowship to study at the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, where she learned more about facing the challenges of theology and how to be a Jew in the modern world.

Paasche-Orlow’s career has been oriented to social justice. When she began working at Hebrew SeniorLife – a cluster of homes for the elderly – in 2004, the person giving her a tour of the facilities said to Paasche-Orlow, “We have a job open for a rabbi. But you know this population really needs a middle-aged man with a beard.” She perceived this as an inspiration and message that there needed to be a change. She eventually became director of spiritual care.

“What was incredible was that the senior women in particular, and the women who make up the vast majority of elders in senior care, were so happy and inspired by the fact that women could now become rabbis,” said Paasche-Orlow. “And they were my biggest cheerleaders.”

One of her initiatives during her 18 years at Hebrew SeniorLife was an institution-wide training program for 2,400 staff members focused on grassroots education and raising awareness during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder.

“We did focus groups with all of our frontline staff to talk about what their needs were at that time and how COVID impacted them and how we could be more attuned to creating an anti-racist atmosphere and health care organization,” said Paasche-Orlow.
Now, as the new executive director and in-house rabbi for Northeastern Hillel since December 2022, her job is to ensure students have every opportunity to grow as Jews in college.

Northeastern Hillel is student-run and offers over a dozen communities and committees. Over winter break, the organization brought 80 students to Israel.

Paasche-Orlow has countless goals, including figuring out how to fit all students in the Hillel building near Northeastern’s campus for a Shabbat dinner, and a long-term goal of bringing more representation for Jews of color to Hillel.

Additionally, Paasche-Orlow is joining the Northeastern Center for Spirituality, Dialogue, and Service as a spiritual adviser. “I’m happy to be part of that community and able to work collaboratively with all the different groups on campus, including the other Jewish groups and interfaith efforts,” said Paasche-Orlow. “The more we can partner with university programs and groups, the better.”

Ariel Walovitch, the assistant director of Hillel, is organizing a six-week study group for students who want to learn more about antisemitism, an area in which Paasche-Orlow believes more education will strengthen the community.

“I hope through education and through partnerships that we can continue to strengthen a campus that seems to have really been doing a pretty good job of supporting its Jewish community and [diversity, equity, and inclusion] efforts in general,” said Paasche-Orlow.

Paasche-Orlow is grateful to join a Hillel that is blessed with community support, and looking forward to connecting further with all of the students, parents, and alumni.

“I’m happy to be able to be hearing those voices and getting energy and support from people all over who have a connection to this Hillel,” she said. Θ

One Response

  1. I have known Sara since she was a child growing up in Toronto Canada. The sentiments she shared in this article are exactly what I would expect from Sara. She is a wonderful caring woman and her attitude towards inclusion has always been evident.

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