The college hired a new campus rabbi who will also serve as assistant director of the Center for Religious and Spiritual Life (RSL), as announced in a Nov. 30 email to Jewish students, ending a nearly seven-month stretch where Amherst was without a Jewish spiritual leader.
Rabbi Shahar Colt will work for 10 hours per week as campus rabbi next semester before taking up a full-time position as both rabbi and the RSL’s assistant director in the fall. This marks the first time that the college has had a full-time rabbi.
The college has been without a rabbi since last May, when Rabbi Bruce Seltzer resigned. This semester, to account for the lack of a rabbi on campus, Jewish students have worked closely with RSL Director Harrison Blum and Rabbi Benjamin Weiner, of the Jewish Community of Amherst, a local synagogue. Other RSL staff have also helped out with Shabbat dinners and assisted Jewish students.
In the spring, Colt’s limited hours will be spent on campus on Fridays so that she can attend Hillel’s Shabbat dinner. The other hours will be open for students to reach her on Zoom and email throughout the week.
Colt earned a bachelor’s degree in American studies with a concentration in education from Barnard College. She received her master’s in education from Tufts University, focusing on social studies, political science, and political philosophy. She attained her Rabbinic Ordination in 2016 from Hebrew College in Newton, Massachusetts.
Colt previously worked part-time at Westfield State University as a spiritual leader and Jewish chaplain. There, she supported Jewish Student Organization leaders and led Jewish spiritual life on campus. Currently, she works at Community Hevra Kadisha as their executive director.
Colt elected not to speak with The Student until she begins her job at the college.
Blum attributed the long job search to the fact that the double role of RSL assistant director and campus rabbi meant that the campus was “looking for a combined skill set that doesn't always come together in one candidate.”
Blum acknowledged that among the candidate pool that was offered, there were not many candidates that were able to fit the criteria for both positions. Blum added that Colt “stood out among that smaller group,” and that he’s thrilled that she will start next semester.
Blum said that he hoped Colt would “offer support, education, validation, and religious leadership to our Jewish student community.”
Also, as it is relevant to the modern political climate, Colt “brings skills in teaching about antisemitism and the diversities of Jewish identity that our whole campus could benefit from,” Blum said.
In the position of RSL assistant director, she will “supervise our team of student staff and liaise with other Office of Identity and Cultural Resources (OICR) assistant directors on collaborative and intersectional programming,” Blum said.
Colt is only working 10 hours a week next semester because she lives in the Boston area with her family, and has previous commitments that “will need some transition time to wind down,” Blum said.
“It definitely was harder not having a rabbi. It was a lot on the students especially in this climate,” said Lilliana DeLise ‘24, Hillel president. “But we’ve worked well with RSL, as they’ve tried to support us.”
DeLise was on the search committee, as the only student representative, along with Blum, Lauren Kelly, assistant director of health and education, and Haram Hwang, assistant Director of the Center for International Student Engagement (CISE).
To fill the gap of there not being a rabbi on campus, DeLise and other Jewish students have worked closely with Blum and also Rabbi Benjamin Weiner, of the Jewish Community of Amherst, a local synagogue.
Ruth Zuraw ’25, who is a member of the Hillel E-Board, expressed hope that Colt will “bridge some divides between Jewish students on campus who differ in religious practice and background.”
Zuraw added that she hopes “prayer and services will become more regularly offered at the College,” alongside more “staff support and organization of Jewish holidays, events, and discussions.”
“[Blum] has been very generous with his time and energy this semester, and it would be great if Rabbi Colt could take on some of that logistical burden and partner with students to organize events,” Zuraw said.