KINGSTON – This fall, Aaron Guttin, 23, is going back to school – again. But this time, he heads to the campus of the University of Rhode Island in Kingston, where he will serve URI Hillel as its Jewish student life coordinator.
“[Jewish] education is important,” said Guttin, “and developing programs that help students incorporate Judaism into college life is especially important.”
News of Guttin’s URI Hillel position may not surprise members of our Jewish community, as his life has always revolved around Jewish education.
Five years ago, Guttin became a part-time teaching assistant at Temple Emanu-El’s religious school in Providence; in 2010, he became the full-time youth coordinator at the Conservative synagogue, a post he held until this past June.
Guttin credits much of his growth as a Jewish professional to two mentors at Temple Emanu-El: Miriam Abrams-Stark, director of congregational learning, and Rabbi Elan Babchuck.
“I learned a lot from them,” said Guttin. “Of course, I’ve learned an unbelievable amount from my mother.”
His mother Ronni is director of Camp JORI on Worden’s Pond in Wakefield.
“My mother always wanted to be involved in Jewish education – specifically the Jewish camping world – [and] so do I,” said Guttin, whose family’s roots run deep in Camp JORI.
His late maternal grandfather, Norman Saltzman, was JORI’s head counselor before World War II; Aaron’s maternal grandmother, Harriet, marks her 12th summer as JORI’s secretary.
This is Guttin’s eighth season as a JORI staff member. Becoming head counselor in 2009 was a full circle moment for him.
“It was the summer after my grandfather passed away and it was special to become head counselor 65 years after he did,” he said.
At JORI, Guttin participated in many professional development programs. As a Goodman Institute Fellow, he completed a two-year program through the iCenter, an organization that assists dozens of Jewish camps across North America in making Israel an integral part of the camp experience.
“It really changed the way I looked at Israel education,” said Guttin. “Everyone knows falafel, the army and camel rides – but Israel is so much more than that.”
Guttin also attended annual conferences to learn new ideas and cutting-edge initiatives.
“You get to see what works and what doesn’t work elsewhere, and learn different ways of bringing Judaism to camp,” he said.
He feels fortunate to have logged a decade of Jewish life and work experience so early in his career. “I was living it before I was formally learning it,” he added.
Born and raised in Rhode Island, Guttin grew up in Cranston where his parents still reside. He attended Harry Elkin Midrasha from 2003 to 2008; in May 2008, as a Cranston East High School senior, he visited Israel with March of the Living, a trip that begins with visits to Eastern Europe’s concentration camps and culminates in Israel.
“That experience really shaped my future,” said Guttin.
From 2009 to 2011, he taught cultural and current events classes at Midrasha, staffed community trips and taught at the Jewish Community Day School of Rhode Island for two years.
In 2012, Guttin earned a B.A. in history with a concentration in American Cold War era history and American Judaic history from Rhode Island College. He plans to pursue an MBA in nonprofit management.
Guttin intends to stay local. “I want people to know why Providence is on the map in a Jewish sense,” he said. “There are a lot of young Jewish professionals coming up through the ranks right now and we are the future.”
As a proponent of experiential learning – a teaching philosophy he attributes to his Jewish camping background – Guttin envisions student basketball games as an opportunity to learn about sports in Israel, students cooking Shabbat dinners together as a chance to learn about Israeli-style dishes and Jewish students studying side-by-side.
“URI Hillel is an extremely warm, welcoming environment – one that makes it easy for students to do what they want to do Jewishly,” he added.
“Aaron’s camp background, his experience as a youth coordinator at Emanu-El and his engaging personality make him an ideal person to create meaningful Jewish experiences for students at URI,” said Amy Olson, executive director at URI Hillel. As a Rhode Island native, he “can hit the ground running.”
“There are so many ways to connect young Jews with the Jewish world around them,” said Guttin. “Helping them find that connection is a really wonderful thing – and that’s why I’m doing what I’m doing.”
Nancy Abeshaus (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a contributing writer for The Jewish Voice.
Aaron Guttin (email@example.com)
If you are a young adult who grew up in greater Rhode Island and now work in the Jewish communal world, we welcome your story. Contact Nancy Kirsch at 421-4111, ext. 168 or firstname.lastname@example.org, Subject Line: Where Are They Now?