‘Revitalize your Board’ by Campus Ambassador David Abayev

David Abayev, Tali Gilberg, Roni Rappaport, Shirrie Shamah, Claire Marshak, Emily Binstein, Jackie Gelman, Mathan Poller, Sam Friedman, Phil Melnik
Not Pictured:
Josh Snyder, Rebecca Korabelnikov, Julia Forman, Rachael Crowthers, Rachel Goodman


Coming to a campus as large as Rutgers University (67,000 students!), I sought a close-knit community that I would be able to call my “home away from home.” As cliché as that may sound, I was yearning to find just that, in order to make a big campus a bit smaller. Which is why, when I found my local Olami organization, MEOR at Rutgers - Rutgers Jewish eXperience (RJX), I knew that I wanted to be a part of their welcoming community.


My passion for MEOR was quickly ignited and I knew from early on that I wanted to get more involved. I wanted to help out a community that has helped me so much in my own personal, professional and spiritual growth. In my Junior year of college, I was selected as Recruitment Chair for RJX and I was excited to share my experiences with other new and incoming students. RJX has been a huge part of my life and the opportunities I’ve been blessed with through this organization just had to be shared with others! When I joined the student board, I was excited to help make a difference but although I had known everyone I was serving alongside with, I felt the dynamic in the board could be improved. I wondered how this could be changed but thankfully, I didn’t have to wait for long. 


This past summer, I was invited to attend Olami’s Jewish Leaders Foundation trip to Israel. I was one of 40 delegates invited to develop their leadership skills and to each pitch an initiative for funding to help improve their local Olami organization. At this point, I was chosen to serve as President, alongside my co-president, Tali Gilberg. At the Olami convention, I decided to focus my efforts on enhancing our student board. It was then and there that I realized that I truly had the power to make a difference. With a strong board, we could do so much more. After multiple meetings with our Rutgers rabbis - Aharon Grossman, Shlomo Cohen and Meir Goldberg, I was able to narrow down a few ideas of how I could better not only the student board, but the entire RJX community as a whole. Feeling the disconnect from the student board only a year ago, I knew that I had to do something that was captivating yet productive.


I knew what we had to do. Should we receive the funding, I hoped to take my board on a leadership retreat to the Poconos. After ten days in Israel of meticulous planning, organizing and networking, all forty young professionals had their pitches ready to go. With ambition running high and only five teams to be selected for major funding, you could feel the nervous energy engulfing the room. One by one, each team rose to pitch their incredible ideas and in the end, Rutgers Jewish eXperience was one of the teams selected to receive the major funding. Realizing the magnitude of this opportunity, the minute I got back from Israel, I began to plan. 


From booking the lakefront house, to creating customized sweatshirts in order to establish unity amongst the board, I wanted to make this retreat one for the books. The day of the two-day retreat came, and I was blown away with the outcome. The goal of the retreat was twofold; to plan together as a Board for the coming year, and to bond as individuals. We had many planning and strategy sessions, broken up with sporting activities offered aplenty in the Poconos - kayaking, ATV-ing and more! The ability to work together, create visions, timetables and work-plans together, but then also to laugh and relax together, was a magical combination. At our meeting, we spoke about ways to increase our local Olami community, which indirectly would also increase Olami’s incredible global community. During our meetings we discussed ways to revamp our social media presence, how to approach students in a fun and engaging manner, and we were able to finalize important dates for our events far in advance than before. By the end of the retreat, we were sad to go home, but more importantly, we were excited to start the school year off on a positive note! 

The topics covered have already been proven worthwhile, as we have seen an incredible difference in our RJX community. I am convinced that it is because of this retreat, that we are currently on track to having the largest Maimonides Leader Fellowship than ever before! 

I am beyond grateful to Olami and the JLF Convention for totally reigniting the spark that I knew every board member had within them. I am humbled to be able to serve as President for an organization that I am so passionate about. The future looks bright for Rutgers Jewish eXperience, and I cannot wait to make it even brighter, alongside my incredible board. Rutgers Jews, stay tuned.