We are excited to welcome David Rittberg to the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Philanthropic Network. David has joined the CLSFF team in Washington, D.C. as senior program officer, where he will help oversee and advance our national Jewish agenda, supporting organizations and initiatives that empower young Jews to embrace the joy of Judaism, build inclusive communities, support the State of Israel and repair the world.
David joins us from the Edgar M. Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life at NYU, Hillel at NYU, where he served as executive director.
We talk to David about his journey in the Jewish professional world, what he has learned through his work with college students and from where he draws his inspiration.
1. Tell us what excites you most about your new position with the Foundation.
Where to begin!
I’ll start with values. It is amazing to find an institution whose values so completely align with my own. I believe in a vibrant Jewish community driven by this generation of youth, and I believe that we should be grounded in a culture of service and inclusivity. I believe in our connection to the state of Israel, and the importance of making Israel relevant and dynamic in the lives of Jews across the world.
Secondly, I get goose bumps when I think about the impact that the foundation has had on the Jewish world and the number of people who have been positively inspired through Schusterman engagement. In beginning to get to know many of the professionals and volunteers involved in the foundation, they all share in a drive and belief that we as Jews can collectively change the world. Everyone is aligned around a vision of creating sustainable and widespread impact.
Lastly, the challenge. I am humbled by the importance and implications of our work, and I will work tirelessly, efficiently, and collaboratively to effectively make the change that we all believe is necessary in the world. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to work with this team on this vital agenda.
2. What inspires you to work in the Jewish professional world?
Admittedly, ten years ago I would not have guessed that I would be embarking on an exciting career in the Jewish world. Now, I couldn’t be more thrilled. Watching Jewish life inspire young people to be entrepreneurs within their community and in the world has served as all of the inspiration I could ever need.
Additionally, I have been very lucky to have stellar colleagues who have pushed me towards a bigger and more sophisticated vision of how Jewish life can look. Big ideas create big excitement!
3. How do you think your work at Hillel will inform your work in your new role?
You cannot mention social change without mentioning the college campus. I would argue that if we are interested in creating a society of more knowledgeable, cooperative and connected Jews, then college life is one of the main points of intervention. At no other point in their life do we have the access to as high a percentage of Jews as we do during the college and “emerging adult” years.
I owe a lot of my personal and Jewish development to my years working at Hillel. Extremely smart and talented students have given me a heightened perspective on the world in which we live. They have also given me firm examples of what success looks like. I have watched real Jewish leaders emerge, and I have witnessed the selflessness, discipline and sacrifice that it takes.
4. What are some of the key lessons and experiences you have taken away from your experiences working with young people?
Most importantly, I have learned that in many ways, my vision is somewhat irrelevant. It is the beliefs, desires, interests and values of young Jews that will direct the Jewish future. It is not mine to prescribe.
As a Hillel director, that can be a hard reality to face. You want other people to be passionate in the same ways that you are. Working with young people requires a degree of “letting go” and being comfortable that the end product may be different than you might have imagined or dreamed.
Also, young people want to interface with diversity. We live in a flat world and in an incredibly diverse country. Creating social capital that extends beyond simply local communities speaks to young people—it is the universe that they live in and understand. Programs that allow young people to experience “otherness,” in the context of Jewish ethics and values, have the ability to positively alter life trajectories.
5. From where do you draw your grounding in the concepts of tikkun olam, tzedek and chesed?
I have been blessed with many positive Jewish experiences and mentors throughout my childhood and early adulthood. From summer camp (Camp Seneca Lake, upstate New York) and youth group (JCY-Jewish Center Youth, Binghamton JCC) to my career navigating three different and dynamic Hillels, I have had much from which to draw my inspiration.
Even with all of those impactful experiences, my drive and values set come from my family. My maternal grandparents were partisans in WWII and fought in the underground resistance with the Raschinsky and Bielski Partisan units. My mother was born in a Displaced Persons camp in Germany after the war. After immigrating to Troy, New York in 1948, they raised a very proud and committed Jewish family. My Bubby, Judith, continues to challenge her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren to be better Jews and better citizens of the world.
In Binghamton, my family was deeply involved in the Jewish community with both their time and their resources. My parents passed down a deep sense of Jewish responsibility and ethics to my sisters and me. It was an unspoken expectation that we give back wherever and whenever we could.