Rabbi Devorah Jacobson to leave college

Associate Chaplain and Acting Assistant Dean Devorah Jacobson is leaving Williams at the end of this week. The community is surprised and saddened by her decision.

Jacobson came to Williams from Smith and Mount Holyoke in 1997. She was the first Associate Chaplain ever hired at Williams on a half-time basis; before her, Associate Chaplains came only once a week. She assumed the position of Acting Assistant Dean in the fall of 1998.

Jacobson explained that she is leaving for personal reasons. “I need and would like full-time employment, and my appointment as Chaplain is half-time,” she said, adding that her position as Acting Dean ends at the end of the year. She also mentioned a desire to work closer to her home in Amherst, Massachusetts.

As such, she will be the new Executive Director of the Jewish Endowment Foundation in Springfield, Massachusetts.

“I am very interested and eager to get into philanthropic foundation work,” Jacobson said.

She had only positive things to say about her time at Williams. “I’m very sad about leaving Williams. It has been a great place to be,” she said. “I’ve absolutely loved my experience here, especially with the addition of the Dean’s job. I’ve felt there have been some wonderful new challenges.”

Jacobson was very modest about how well she has met those challenges, mentioning only her work with Jewish faculty. “That’s made a contribution and been very satisfying,” she said of her efforts to involve more Jewish faculty in the campus Jewish community.

Chaplain Robert Buckwalter highlighted some of her other accomplishments. “She’s done a number of courses on the Talmud and Jewish texts,” he said. “The rabbi as teacher to the community will cease momentarily, and perhaps temporarily with her departure,” he said.

Buckwalter also praised Jacobson’s re-organization of the JRC library. “That was a pain-in-the-neck project that needed to be done, and she organized that and oversaw it. The library is infinitely better condition than it was in when she came,” Buckwalter said.

Dean Peter Murphy also commended Jacobson’s contribution to the Dean’s Office. “She has great ‘deanly’ qualities. She is smart, very straightforward, and likes to make things work. . . And I think she is just a lot of fun,” he said.

President of the Jewish Student Association Max Weinstein ’00 also spoke highly of Devorah Jacobson. “She has a knack for reforming and condensing your own thoughts on religious and secular matters. . .. She has a remarkable way of making people feel comfortable,” he said. “Devorah was really a resource for many, many people on this campus, beyond the Jewish community.”

Because she has enjoyed her time at Williams so much and because she has been so well accepted by students and faculty alike, her decision to leave surprised and disappointed people.

“No one that I know expected her departure, especially because she was hired only a year and a half ago,” Weinstein said. “Her decision was of course very saddening. . .. We’re somewhat crippled at the JRC now,” he said.

“I’m devastated that she’s leaving,” said Professor of Astronomy Karen Kwitter. “She was quite an asset to Williams.”

“I personally will miss her very much, as will the Jewish community,” added Chaplain Buckwalter. “She was a very valued member of our staff, and I’m sorry to see her go.”

Buckwalter said that they are in the process of forming a search committee for a new Associate Chaplain for the Jewish community. “I’m not too hopeful that we will find someone by the end of the spring semester. I’m hopeful that we will find someone by the fall,” Buckwalter explained.

In the meantime, some rearrangements will be made in the Chaplain’s Office and the Dean’s Office.

Buckwalter said the Associate Chaplain for the Jewish community would temporarily revert to a once-a-week position. “It looks like we’re immediately back in a lesser role,” he said.

Dean Murphy explained the shifts that will be made in the Dean’s Office: “We will find a strong liaison for her JA’s (she was the Dean for Morgan), and we will work out new relationships for her Advisees and other people she regularly worked with.

“I hope we can replace her, but I think she was unique,” commented Professor Kwitter.

In face of the sadness about her departure, Rabbi Jacobson emphasized that she will maintain her connection with the Williams community. She will still attend some faculty seminars and the monthly Shabbat group for Jewish faculty. “There are some very nice things that I’ve been able to do here, that I want to continue,” she said.